Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is Every Parish a Good Parish?

This question, of course, leads to a more fundamental one: What makes a parish “good”?

Subjectively, a good parish is perhaps one in which a majority of parishioners think that it is good. But this is not saying much, at least not these days. Today, if someone does not like his parish, he will often switch to another parish that is more to his liking, or he may drop out of participating in any parish altogether. Thus, most everyone today who cares to stick around thinks rather highly of the place.

Not that Catholics think highly of all of the parishes in town. Many of the folks at Saint Martha’s may be quite positive about their own parish but rather critical of Saint Mary’s down the street. And the feelings may be mutual.

Is there anything more to be said about what makes a parish good besides the positive self-assessment of its parishioners? Might a parish be a very good one, even if some of its parishioners don’t realize it?

And if every parish is good, then why do such a small percentage of today’s Catholics participate in any parish at all?


  1. Hi Father! Though any parish may have eccentricities in liturgy that may not be to my liking; if the message is that the Eucharist is the pinnacle of the celebration and it is appropriately reverenced it should be a "good" parish. Sadly, in may parishes that message is lost in favor of individual creativity.

  2. You bring up a good question.

    I often say my parish is a "good parish". I do not mean it's perfect; in fact, I despise the music and have considered purchasing stock in earplugs, or perhaps finding a way to pay someone to ensure the sound system doesn't work.

    Music can contribute to a good parish, of course, but it's not everything. I call it "good" because of the reverence of our priests. They don't mess with the liturgy; they don't treat it as their own personal sandbox, but rather, as what it is; the prayer of the Universal Church in all times. I call it a good parish because of the Eucharist Adoration chapel, of the devotion of many of the parishioners, and the desire of so many for holiness. I call it good because of the availability of the Sacraments every day, several times per day, and see how this bears fruit in the form of new Vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

    I think that to consider a parish "good", the defining characteristics should point not towards what's popular "now", but rather, what is true, what is eternal, and what bears the fruit of true holiness and new life.

    Just my two cents, for the little they may be worth.

  3. One thing about Cat-licks, especially the two who commented before me, they're not very shy and retiring when it comes to liturgical opinions. They can be depended upon to have an opinion on just about everything. If they become regulars on "Tranny Today", you'll be up in 7 digits on the stat meter pretty quickly.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of blogs, Father.

  4. Thanks, Cathy of Alex. Your comment leads to at least one question: How frequently does the parish priest proclaim and teach the great truths and Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist in his homilies at Sunday Mass?

  5. Thanks, "adoro." I appreciate your comment that a parish is good if it has good priests. In tomorrow's message, I will make a rather simple point about this, namely, that wise and holy parish priests are too busy being wise and holy parish priests to write much about it or go on speaking tours ... or create blogs like this one.

  6. Thanks, "Ray from MN." You have done all of us in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and its environs a great service with your "Stella Borealis" blog, offering a chronicle of important matters in the local Church.

  7. Father: Aye, there's the rub. But, is the onus always on Father? We need to listen as well.

  8. Thanks, Cathy_of_Alex. You have noted the importance of listening. In the Scriptures, "to listen" is to obey. It is not correct to say that we have "listened" to God, perhaps respectfully, or even prayerfully, if we have then have decided not to obey Him. Rather, if we do not obey God, we have not truly "listened" to him.

    Over the past several decades, there has been a renewed attention to the relationship between authentic listening and obedience, with frequent references to the Rule of Saint Benedict. It is noted that the Latin root of "to obey" is "ob" + "audire," that is, "to listen under." The interpretations that flow from this definition of obedience can be quite interesting.

    Here are two passages from Saint Benedict's Rule: the opening of the Prologue, which begins famously with the command, "Listen," and the opening of Chapter Five, "on Obedience":

    Beginning of Prologue:

    Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.

    Beginning of Chapter Five:

    The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This becometh those who, on account of the holy subjection which they have promised, or of the fear of hell, or the glory of life everlasting, hold nothing dearer than Christ. As soon as anything hath been commanded by the Superior they permit no delay in the execution, as if the matter had been commanded by God Himself. Of these the Lord saith: "At the hearing of the ear he hath obeyed Me" (Ps 17[18]:45). And again He saith to the teachers: "He that heareth you heareth Me" (Lk 10:16).

  9. Father,
    (and Cathy, I guess!)

    Wasn't it St. John Vianney who spoke of the importance of the holiness of the Priest?

    Indeed we as the laity need to listen and to put into practice what we are told and follow the example we are given. But as the good Saint explained, if the priest isn't living a life of holiness, or is doing the bare minimum, or of course, even those who are outright disobedient and preaching things contrary to the Church....what is going to be followed? Where is the example?

    We need to be built up, too. Father, I recently graduated with my MTS from Ave Maria and STILL need someone to preach to me about holiness. I may know the theology, but I need the example and I need to be sat down just like everyone else and told, "This is what you are to do to become holy."

    I still need the example to obey; I'm not even close to being a Saint yet and unfortunately, the onus DOES fall upon Father (of any given parish). He's who I look to for spiritual guidance.

    Can I become holy even if Father gives in more to his fallen nature than to a life of holiness himself? Certainly, but it sure is going to make my efforts that much more difficult.

    We all need each other; our priests need us to be holy and support them, maybe even provide example ourselves to them. And we need them to provide the spiritual leadership God has called them to provide.

    It IS a two-way street; one without the other simply isn't the Church.

  10. Welcome to the blogosphere, Fr. Baer!

    Doesn't 'good' mean (roughly speaking,)'conforming to what it's supposed to be'? Going with that definition, I'd like to add that a good parish would be/do two more things:
    1. it would be a center of lay formation;
    2. it would seek to fulfill the mission of the church; evangelise.

    For reference, see , "Parish: Mission or Maintenance."

    (sorry if this posts twice....)

  11. Yay -- another priest blog! Thank you!
    Father, my two cents worth -- a good parish is one that:
    1. is faithful to the magisterium
    2. has a reverent liturgy
    3. Has a holy priest who is unafraid of speaking the truths of the faith (including the ones many modern Catholics don't want to hear).
    4. Encourages Catholics of all ages to deepen their faith and (very important!)to learn more about it
    5. Encourages devotions
    6. Encourages participation by all, without giving ultimate control over to laity.
    7. Has a pastor who understands the importance of beauty in music and church architecture and furnishings
    8. Has a humble priest

  12. Father, welcome to the blogosphere. I am enrolling you in my roster of Allies for Victory.

    I think it's possible to have a good parish that many of the parishioners dislike. In fact, I am acquainted with one fifty miles from home, in the diocese next door. Father preaches the subjects his flock needs to hear; removed the heterodox from positions of power in the parish; says the black and does the red at Mass; and offers Mass in the Extraordinary Form four days a week and one Saturday evening a month. I go to the EF Masses as often as I can because, at the moment, this is the only parish within a 300-mile radius of where I live that offers it. Very few of the local parishioners attend these Masses. I wish they could appreciate the treasure they have right in their own backyards.

    I hate to say it, but many of us would rather have a baloney sandwich than a Thanksgiving dinner.