The Pastoral Council:
Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines
The Mission of the Church
The Mission of Saint Mary Catholic Church is to glorify God by being a
faithful and inclusive community who, in the name of Jesus Christ, enables
the parish to grow in their relationship with God and with one another
through witness, worship and service.
"A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established
on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the
parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority
of the diocesan bishop" (Canon 515).
Clergy, religious and laity together form a parish, a portion of God's
People whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor so that all can
continue the mission of Jesus here on earth. The People of God have
different gifts, roles and responsibilities, yet all are under one head,
Christ Jesus – sisters and brothers in Him.
Duties of Pastor
A pastor has responsibilities, which are uniquely his arising from his
ordination and appointment to the pastorate by the Bishop.
The pastor (parochus) is the proper pastor (pastor) of the parish entrusted
to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under
the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been
called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions
of teaching, sanctifying, and governing, also with the cooperation of other
presbyters or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of the Christian
faithful, according to the norm of law.(Can. 519)
When a priest accepts a pastorate, he becomes the appointed leader of the
parish, the bond of communion, the designated head, and the father in the
faith to this community of believers. He is also called to be a servant
of the people. Moreover, he is to be the animator, motivating his people
to work together, and at the same time to be the healer, bringing peace and
unity to avert division and anger. Consultation with parishioners, as
individuals and as a community, is required for a pastor to carry out
his duties responsibly.
The Code of Canon Law insists on consultation at every level of
decision-making among all God's people. The Code also makes it clear
that pastors have certain responsibilities which are theirs alone.
Cardinal Leo Suenens noted that a misinterpretation of the Council
has caused some people to believe that the Church is a democracy:
"The Church is not a democracy and not an aristocracy...but a
On December 30, 1988, Pope John Paul II, referring to the ecclesiology
of communion, said, "The Council's mention of examining and solving
pastoral problems 'by general discussion' ought to find its adequate
and structured development through a more convinced, extensive and
decided appreciation for 'Parish Pastoral Councils,' on which the
Synod Fathers have rightly insisted."
Role and Function of the Parish Pastoral Councils
Canon Law provides for the formation of Parish Pastoral Councils in Canon 536 #1.
"In every parish of the diocese, a Pastoral Council shall be established,
if the diocesan Bishop, after consulting with the Council of Presbyters,
so decides. The pastor presides over the Pastoral Council. The Pastoral
Council is composed of members of the congregation together with those
of the parish staff who have pastoral care by reason of their office.
The Pastoral Council assists in promoting pastoral action in the parish."
The Parish Pastoral Council is a consultative body, pastoral in nature,
because it strives to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit among God's
people in the parish. A Parish Pastoral Council gives its help to the
pastor in fostering pastoral activity; it investigates, under the
authority of the pastor, all those things which pertain to pastoral
works to ponder them, and to propose practical conclusions about them.
It is essential that Council meetings occur in the context of prayer
and openness to the Holy Spirit, so that at all times the common good
Specifically, the Parish Pastoral Council's purpose is to enhance
the process of:
- pastoral planning
- developing pastoral programs
- improving pastoral services
- evaluating the pastoral effectiveness of various programs and services
Although the Council is not a body which makes binding decisions, the
recommendations of the Pastoral Council are to be taken seriously when
grounded in prayer, discernment and communal wisdom.
The pastor presides over the Parish Pastoral Council. The pastor
is responsible for the final approval of Council recommendations
concerning pastoral planning, programs, and services for the parish,
as well as for their implementation. While the pastor is not
obliged to follow the recommendations of the Parish Pastoral
Council, it is understood that he ought to do so unless there
is a compelling reason to do otherwise. If there is such a
reason, the pastor should share this with the Council.
Parish Pastoral Council Membership
The process used for identifying new council members will vary from
parish to parish, but ought to include some opportunity for parishioners
to participate. The entire process needs to be permeated with private
and public prayer to the Holy Spirit. The intention should be included
in the prayers of intercession at each Mass.
Ordinarily, the composition of the Council should be a balance between members:
- nominated and elected by the parish at large
- appointed by the pastor
The number of council members should consist of not less than 6, or
more than 15 members. Councilors are to be chosen so as to truly reflect
the wisdom of the parish community. When parishioners understand the
Council ministry and have an opportunity to discern which parishioners
are suited for it, they can contribute enormously to the selection of
Serving on the council is a ministry to the whole parish. When
considering membership on the council, the following criteria should
be kept in mind. Potential candidates should be:
- of proven faith,
- with sound morals,
- demonstrating the gifts of wisdom and prudence,
- willing to commit their time, talent and wisdom in a consultative and collaborative manner.
Council members should have the ability to study and reflect prayerfully,
and to recognize and respect the viewpoints of others.
Official Church documents state that the Pastoral Councils are to
represent the people of God, but not in the legal sense. Rather,
council members are representative in that they are a witness or a
sign of the whole community. They make its wisdom present. (Sacred
Congregation for the Clergy, Private letter on Pastoral Councils, # 7).
The Pastoral Council is a representative body rather than a body of
representatives. A council member is not a representative for a particular
neighborhood, age bracket, special interest group or organization.
Members are required to attend monthly meetings of the Council.
Considering the responsibility entrusted to them, Parish Pastoral
Council members are expected to participate in an ongoing formation process.
Ongoing formation at the parish level may include an annual evening of
recollection and other prayer experiences, adult Faith Formation, or a
personal spiritual development experience. In addition, Council members
are encouraged to attend presentations at the archdiocese level on
pastoral planning, goal-setting, visioning, conflict resolution,
discernment or other applicable presentations.
The Parish Pastoral Council Constitution needs to explain how items
may be proposed and placed on the agenda. The pastor is the primary
selector of the Council's agenda, inasmuch as he is the presider.
However, any member of the Council may raise items for the agenda.
Ordinarily, the Council meets monthly or at least nine times a year
for one to two hours.
Minutes should be recorded by the Parish Pastoral Council Secretary
and archived as part of the parish permanent record.
Terms of Service
It is recommended that Council members serve a two-year term, renewable
once. Further details regarding operation of the Council should be
specified in the Parish Pastoral Council Constitution.
The Council does not deal with acts of administration which are
distinct from pastoral policies and planning. Acts of administration
concern the daily operations of the parish, which includes the
implementation of the pastoral plan and policies, parish programming,
budgeting and personnel matters.
The pastor has the responsibility for these matters and for the staff.
Some elements of administration belong to other groups, such as the
Parish Finance Council.
Following are some of the pastoral activities which could constitute
agenda items for the Parish Pastoral Council:
The Essential Elements of Parish Life:
- instruction in the full range of the faith and catechetical formation
- programs promoting gospel values, including issues of social justice
- responsibilities to people with special needs
- outreach to alienated Catholics
- programs of sacramental life and preparation
- promotion of Eucharistic devotion
- enhancement of programs for the sacraments of penance and Eucharist
- inculcation of prayer life, especially within families
- effective participation in the liturgy
- methods of acquaintance with parishioners
- the welcoming of newcomers
- home visiting
- efforts at building community
- motivation of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy
- efforts of special care for the sick and dying
- tangible concern for the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, the exiled
- fostering of solid Christian family life
- promotion of the lay apostolate
- strengthening of extra-parochial relations with the bishop, diocesan-pastoral efforts and a worldwide Catholic identity
- special role with parish stewardship activities
- outreach to and inclusion of youth and young adults in the life of the parish
- Sunday Eucharist
The essential elements of parish life relate to the basic mission of
the parish and will become the foundation of the parish’s dialogue
and reflection when creating a pastoral plan for the future.
Parish Pastoral Council members are encouraged to learn about these
elements, reflect on them in their own experience as a parishioner,
and develop strategies and methods to engage the larger community in
a reflection around these elements and taking responsibility for
Vacancy of the Office of the Pastor
When a parish becomes vacant due to death, resignation, or transfer
of the pastor, the Parish Pastoral Council ceases. In the interest
of continuity in the parish's work and mission, the new pastor/parochial
administrator/parish steward will establish the Parish Pastoral
Council anew within two months of the date of installation.
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At Large Council Members: