My good friend Fr. Gerald Murray (of all the priests who regularly appears on network TV clearly the best prepared), wrote for First Things a review of a recently published book by William E. Simon, Jr., Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive.
Simon, apparently, identified in order four characteristics of a thriving (successful) parish, namely: Great parishes share leadership; they foster spiritual maturity and plan for discipleship; they excel on Sundays; and they evangelize.
Fr. Murray remarked precisely about the point that occurred to me when I read Simon’s list. None of you regular readers will be surprised at my gentle dissent. Thus, Fr. Murray:
I would have preferred that the third characteristic of thriving parishes (“they excel on Sundays”) be the interpretative key that guides the discussion of the other three. Simon rightly emphasizes the importance of good preaching and sacred music at Mass. People are more motivated to attend Mass regularly at a parish where the homilies and the music are good. This has always been true, but it is perhaps more important today than in the past. Why? Because of the breakdown in our day of the previous discipline of Sunday attendance at one’s geographical parish.
I maintain that everything starts from and flows back to and then flows forth more and flows back again to… sacred liturgical worship of God, which we owe to God’s Divine Majesty by the virtue of religion and common sense. Without solid and vital liturgical worship of God, to initiate, fuel, carry forward and frame all our activities as a Church, we will not achieve our goals except in a superficial way.
Fr. Murray also touches on two other controversial points which can stifle the life of a parish. The changing demographics of parishes, most of which are territorial or at least somewhat territorial and/or ethnic, etc., and the widespread practice in these USA, of moving pastors every six or twelve years. Both of these issues serve to inject a could of unknowing – and not in a good way – into the identity of the parish.
Ease of transportation and the breakdown of doctrine, liturgy and good taste in many parishes, with the resulting vast diversity between parishes, has resulted in large numbers of people who still bother to go to church to hunt down places where they are comfortable rather than go to the local territorial parish.
Constant change of pastors results in the sense that he and his role are not that important. Stability rests with the volunteers and some staff. Also, the priest doesn’t have long enough really to get to know families (also a problem from the mobility issue, above). This will certain have a negative impact on, for example, vocations.
Be sure to read Father’s review. Just to track back to the book Fr. Murray reviewed, it is only fair to post also his final observation:
In Great Catholic Parishes, Simon has gathered a useful set of facts and analyses. His conclusions should prompt all Mass-goers, including pastors, to ask themselves whether they are doing their share to make their parishes thrive.
Make Parishes GREAT Again!