2.1 What Does It Mean To Be Church?
The New Testament Church emerged through communities of worship, service and proclamation of the Good News. At the heart of these was an understanding of the dynamic of Koinonia. This ancient Greek term expresses the communion into which the believer is drawn through baptism and the Holy Spirit - a communion with God and a communion with fellow believers.
Throughout two thousand years of Catholic tradition the Church has used a variety of expressions to help explain itself. In recent times the Second Vatican Council returned to an affirmation of Church as Communion and used terms such as Body of Christ and People of God to describe this mystery.
The Church has been described as:
a communion for mission: a communion of variety and gift, formed by God for the mission of Christ the Lord; a communion bound together and enlivened by God's spirit; a communion of partnership where all share dignity and respect and responsibility; a communion in which people are called according to their gifts to exercise various roles and responsibilities, giving structure and order to its life; a communion in which all have a role in the mission, for the life of the world.
Pope John Paul II said:
?Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion.? (Christifideles Laici, n.32)
The concept of Communion for Mission recognises that each person is called to participate in the community according to his or her own gifts and background. We all have a role in the mission of the Church, to proclaim in a variety of ways the transforming message of the gospel and to serve others, particularly the poor, the marginalised and those unjustly treated.
In an era of significant social, technological and economic change, the life and mission of the Church are inevitably affected. Some factors which are currently affecting the Australian Church include:
- a Catholic population composed of people from many different nations and cultural backgrounds,
- an increasing number of lay people engaging in theological studies and formation and in full and part-time pastoral work,
- a large network of primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions,
- a decline in the number of priests, an increasing average age of priests and a smaller number in training for the priesthood,
- a decline in regular attendance at Sunday Mass,
- an increasing number of attractions and commitments in people's lives which reduce time available for parish involvement.
While we may not fully understand or be able to control the causes of these changes and the concerns they create in us, we can recognise that there is a climate pregnant with challenge and opportunity. The increased involvement and formation of the laity for ministry means that there are people of service able to share community leadership and to carry forward the life and mission of the Church.
Our path into the future is not clear but our call to follow Jesus by being Church: a communion for mission is as clear as ever. A reflection composed by the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador helps us to put all these matters into perspective and to appreciate the importance of taking the long view.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work ...
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well....
We may never see the end results, but t that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.2
It is upon these understandings of Church that the role and activities of a Parish Pastoral Council are built. Members of a Pastoral Council are in a special way responsible for encouraging, supporting and initiating action in their community which puts into practice the Church as communion for mission.
Next: 2.2 What is a Parish Pastoral Council? >>>