By Fr. Jeff Lorig, Pastor
Perhaps one could argue that while the Church’s mission is to make disciples, this is not actually the primary mission of the parish. The parish, one could argue, is merely to provide for the pastoral and spiritual care of its current members, ie, sacraments, sacramental prep, catechesis, liturgies, etc.
Canon Law, the official law of the Catholic Church, doesn’t say much about the purpose and function of a parish other than it “is to be territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory” (518). So really, a parish is nothing other than a geographical plat on a map.
Canon Law does however mention more specifically the function of the pastor.
The parish is “entrusted to him” and he “exercises the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ [emphasis added] 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…” (519).
The ministry of Christ, which is handed on to the bishops, is then handed on to his pastors. This is the primary mission of the pastor – the ministry of Christ.
Canon Law goes on to say in paragraph 528 that the pastor is…
- “Obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish.”
Remember, the parish is a territory of geographical boundaries. Notice it doesn’t say the word of God should be proclaimed only to Catholics. This obligation to proclaim the Gospel includes everyone in that territory. However, it does say that…
- “He is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith…
- He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice.
- He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth.
- He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful [emphasis added], so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith [emphasis added].
What I’ve highlighted here is the ministry of the pastor and therefore the ministry of the parish. Without a pastor, the parish loses its identity and mission. There’s a lot more activity happening in the parish than the ministry of the pastor such as clubs and other apostolates.