- Making Parish Councils Pastoral
Mark Fischer has written a book which should prove to be very useful for a pastor and the members of any parish who are looking for a road map to help them understand the origins and the purpose of their parish pastoral council. He writes that the aim of this book is that,
. . . the pastoral council is a specific type of council first recommended in Vatican II's Decree on Bishops of 1965. That decree viewed the pastoral council as the servant of the pastor's particular apostolate or mission. It serves that apostolate in a three fold way. Under the pastor's direction, the council investigates some practical aspect of the church's life, ponders it, and recommends its conclusions to the pastor.(1)
In other words, this book is ". . . to help existing parish pastoral councils understand what they are and become more faithful in their mission." (6)
He begins in a very unique way: he has created a "true-false" pretest which he suggests that pastors and members of pastoral parish councils take before reading the rest of the book. He further suggests that the pastors and councilors discuss their responses and only after that discussion should they refer to the verifiably correct answers which he has supplied. Having been a pastor of three different parishes for 20+ years, I am convinced that this pretest would lead to a very valuable discussion among the members of any parish pastoral council and will undoubtedly lead to further questions and insights about the identity and the mission of the parish pastoral council and become a valuable frame of reference against which they could mea sure themselves.
Chapters 2-7 present a number of true stories about actual parish pastoral councils throughout the United States. Like the pretest, these stories will easily lead a pastor and his councilors to an even deeper discussion about the parish pastoral council's identity and function. Although the stories may not be the exact experience of any given council, they will undoubtedly strike a chord of familiarity which the pastor and councilors will be able to recognize and discuss.
Chapters 8-13 describe the Church's official teaching about councils, beginning with Vatican II's Decree on Bishops (Christus Dominus) and concluding with the 2004 Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops (Apostolorum successores) of the Congregation for Bishops. Fischer was wise [End Page 299] enough in writing this book to "hook" the reader with the pretest and the true stories and, once having gotten the interest of the reader, introducing the various documents. Even in these chapters, Fischer writes with a compellling and understandable style which makes the material easily accessible to canonist and lay reader alike.
Fischer should also be commended for his very detailed endnotes, his extensive bibliography and a brief section entitled Appendix, in which he directs the reader to various Websites and links, including a discussion room. These will all prove to be extremely valuable to pastors and to councilors who wish to have an even broader and more in-depth knowledge of this topic.
The book well fulfills the purpose for which it sets out. I could quibble about small points (for example, Fischer's constant repetition of the threefold purpose of the parish pastoral council) but overall, this book is well worth the read. It is both informative and entertaining and is a most important addition to the work and understanding of what it means to be a pastoral parish council, what it means to be a councilor and what the relationship of the pastoral council is to the mission of the parish, its relationship to the pastor and the pastor's relationship to the pastoral parish council.
Archdiocese of Detroit