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Vol 42 No 3

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David George and Chakri Castillo
WYD08 AN UNFORGETTABLE EVENT: Two young people share their experiences of WYD08

Richard Rymarz

Paul Monkerud
THE MODERN URBAN PARISH: Challenges and Opportunities

Daniel Ang
DIMINISHING MASS ATTENDANCE: A pressing ecclesial concern

Michael Putney

Joseph Sobb SJ

John Grace

Kevin Mark


The modern urban parish: Challenges and Opportunities


ON ANY SUNDAY morning in winter, children and their parents converge on parks close to our parish church to savour the delights of the world game. This Sunday ritual unites and delights on a grand scale. Dads are able to spend rare time with their sons, while mums delight in the advances of gender equality as they adjust their daughters’ shin pads. Meanwhile, at the parish church, organisers struggle to find enough families to fill roles for the 10am children’s Mass. Welcome to life in a modern Sydney parish.

Sunday sport is one of many challenges that confront urban parishes. This article identifies some of these challenges and ways by which a parish might respond. It is divided into three sections. The parish is the Church in specific time and place. It must appreciate the core elements of its ecclesial identity if it is to encounter challenges and grasp opportunities creatively. The first section identifies six principles of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that constitute a parish as a local ecclesial community. The second section identifies some of the opportunities and challenges that the local world presents to the parish. The final section argues that the most constructive response of the parish to these challenges is to develop the Sunday Eucharist as an engaging and enlightening celebration of faith, which forms and motivates the parish as a strong, vibrant community of faith in the world.

The Parish as Local Church

In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici (1988), Pope John Paul II describes the parish as an ‘ecclesial community’ and a ‘Eucharistic community’.1 The shift in the self-understanding of the Church from institution to communitas, that is, a human and divine community, was the first defining feature of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council.2 The Church as communitas was called to be the ‘sacrament’ of the mystical community which God, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, yearned to establish with every human being and between all human beings, and which Jesus identified as the reign of God.3 The mission of the parish is to highlight and promote the presence of the reign of God in its local world by encouraging the growth of every parishioner in this communion, and through it, making the universal offer of God’s reign apparent to the world. The Church and parish are not the ultimate end of mission but the means for promoting the reign of God as that end. The capacity of the parish to be a sacrament of communion depends on the quality of its communitas.

A second defining feature of the Council’s ecclesiology was the shift in the Church’s attitude to the world. The climate of suspicion prior to the Council4 was replaced by a more positive view of the world as the ‘whole human family in its total environment’.4a The Church no longer saw itself apart from or against the world but as a partner in dialogue with the world about the fundamental questions of human origin, purpose and destiny. The Church’s contribution to this dialogue was to present Christ’s universal offer of salvation as the ultimate solution to these questions. The focus of the modern parish, therefore, must be outward and not inward if it is to engage its local world in dialogue. In other words, it must be about mission rather than maintenance.

A third characteristic of the ecclesiology of Vatican II was the description of the Church as a charismatic community. Charisms, whether sacraments, ministries or persons, were a diverse range of gifts of the Holy Spirit for building up the Church as the sacrament of the reign of God. The hierarchical ministry was identified as the unique charism of leadership, called to encourage, test and order all other charisms for the benefit of the Church’s mission.5 This charismatic interpretation of ecclesial office recognised that the hierarchical ministry was not the only manifestation of grace in the Church. Consequently, the flow of grace must be understood not as one-directional, from the hierarchy as if a monologue, but two directional, from the hierarchy to the people, and from the people to the hierarchy, as in a dialogue or conversation. As a charismatic community, therefore, the parish is called to assist its members to identify, develop and offer their gifts in service of the Church in a process of open and ongoing conversation.

The documents of Vatican II acknowledged for the first time that grace was active not only within the Church but also in other Christian and religious traditions, and in people of goodwill.6 Consequently, the mission of the Church to the world also needed to be a dialogue, in which the Church not only enlightened the world but was also enlightened by the world.7 The task of the Church was to adapt the universal and timeless principles of the gospel to the unique circumstances and diverse methods of interpretation of different peoples and cultures.8 By dialoguing with, rather than seeking to dominate, peoples and cultures, the Council chose to adopt a new approach to mission.9 The task of the parish is to engage local peoples and cultures through its willingness to converse with other Christian traditions, other faith traditions and people of goodwill within the local civic community.

A fourth feature of the ecclesiology of Vatican II was to abandon the image of the Church as a ‘perfect society.’ Rather, the Council acknowledged the holiness and sinfulness of the Church as a pilgrim people who shared the existential restlessness and struggle between good and evil with all humankind. The mission of the Church was to reveal to the world that life with Christ through faith was the only definitive response to this restlessness.10 The parish should assist its members to acknowledge the tension between their call to holiness and their experiences of limitation and sinfulness, to live this tension with hope and courage in the world, and hence, to witness to the presence and power of Christ to the world.

The description of the Church as a hierarchically structured community was a fifth defining feature of the ecclesiology of Vatican II.11 Bishops formed an apostolic ‘college’ with the pope in the same way as, and as the ordained successors of, the apostles and Peter.12 Their threefold apostolic ministry of word, sanctification and leadership was shared by priests and deacons to lesser degrees.13 The hierarchical ministry was to be exercised as a service and not power, as a model for all ministry in the Church. Furthermore, the principle of collegiality was to operate at every level of Church governance.14 Accordingly, collegiality should characterise the presbyterium of each diocese, through collaboration and consultation between the bishop and clergy, and between the diocese and its parishes. Collaboration and consultation should also define the relationship between the pastor and his parishioners, particularly in decision-making processes.

A sixth feature of the ecclesiology of Vatican II was its description of the Eucharist as the ‘source and the culmination of all christian life’,15 and the most complete expression of ‘the sort of entity the Church really is.’16 Consequently, any study of the challenges and opportunities that confront a typical Australian urban parish should begin with, and focus on, the Sunday Eucharist.

The ‘World’ of the Australian Urban Parish

Results of the National Church Life Survey in 2001 indicated that Catholics represented about half the number of Christians who worship every week in Australia.17 However, while regular church attendance across all denominations fell by about 7% between 1996 and 2001, attendance in Catholic parishes fell by 13%.18 Most of those who stopped attending did not appear to transfer to other denominations.19 Comparisons between the 1996 and 2001 censuses suggest that of those who identified themselves as Catholics, the number who claimed to worship regularly fell from 18% in 1996 to 15% in 2001.20 Of those Catholics who attended Mass weekly in 2001, 76% were aged 40 or older. Young people between 15 and 29 years of age accounted for only 12% of regular worshippers (or less than 2% of all Australian Catholics in this age range).21

The results indicate that while the local Catholic parish remains the most popular expression, and hence, the most influential forum of worship in Australian Christianity, it faces some major challenges. The remainder of this article identifies some of these challenges, both in the local world of the parish, and within its own worship and life. It also proposes some ways by which the parish might respond to these challenges.

Before identifying some of the challenges that the modern world presents to the parish, it is important to recognise several positive features of the world that can support the parish in its mission. The freedom that Australians enjoy to practice their faith and to choose a faith-based education for their children enables the parish to participate in the affairs of the local community without fear of persecution, and with significant political influence. While most Australians avoid traditional religions, social commentators recognise a widespread spiritual hunger in the population, especially among young people, for meaning and belonging.22 The success of some Pentecostal churches suggests that a significant number of Australians are open to the message of Christ, provided it is presented in ways that are relevant to their lives. The Judeo-Christian ethic that permeates legislature and government means that Australian society in general is still reasonably sympathetic to the core message of the gospel. The support that Catholic education receives from government enables the Church to retain a high profile in the business of the nation at all levels. The decline in Christian sectarianism makes ecumenical dialogue possible in ways that were unimaginable in the past. This not only facilitates the dialogue between the parish and its world but also enables the broader Christian family to present a more united face to the world.

The main challenges that confront the parish stem from the three related worldviews of materialism, individualism and consumerism.23 In its broadest sense, materialism is synonymous with atheism. It rejects all notions of spiritual reality. A narrower interpretation would describe it as ‘an interest in sensuous pleasures and bodily comforts.’24 This kind of materialism places little value on sacrifice, charity or even justice, where the needs of another might conflict with the wants of the self. Individualism promotes the rights of the individual over those of the community. Consumerism measures happiness and self-worth in terms of material possessions and personal wealth.

The impingement of these worldviews on Catholic life is evident, for example, where Catholics view the parish only as a supplier of their needs, particularly in relation to the sacraments and Catholic schooling; where they are prepared to make formal and solemn commitments in relation to faith that they have no intention of honouring; or where they refuse to see that every member of the Church is responsible for building up the parish as a vital community of faith, by participating in its worship and life and supporting its financial and capital aspirations. The tendency for Catholics to ‘shop around’ for a parish, simply for the convenience of experiencing a particular kind of priest, style of liturgy, form of church architecture or method of sacramental preparation, can be another manifestation of an individualistic or consumerist mentality. The combination of a consumerist view of faith and the mobility of modern society makes the task of building stable, local faith communities difficult.

The sheer busyness of people is another challenge confronting the parish. For many Australians, Sunday is their only full day away from work, when they must find time for their spouse and children, their extended family, home maintenance, rest and perhaps even to prepare work for Monday. In this context, Mass becomes a ‘good’ that must compete for time with many other ‘goods’, even for practising Catholics. Unless Sunday Mass is perceived to add value to individual and family life, it will be set aside in favour of other choices.

The pluralism of modern society licenses Catholics, especially young people, to satisfy their spiritual needs in forums other than the parish. Research suggests that for Generation Y young adults, their peer group is the primary influence in their decision making, and the main focus for their need to belong.25 Pluralism diminishes the profile of the Church in the world, because the Church is just one voice among many. It legitimises a kind of secular humanism, which appropriates the title ‘Christian’ to arbitrary sets of values that require neither faith in Christ nor active membership of the Church. To the uninformed, this can undermine the claim of the parish to be a legitimate representative of the person and message of Christ in the marketplace.

There are other issues that alienate individuals from the Church. Divorce and remarriage exclude many Catholics from full membership of the parish community. Teachings on contraception and homosexuality attract widespread criticism that the Church is out of touch, against pleasure, and insensitive to major tragedies like the AIDS epidemic. Its high profile in world affairs and extensive assets cause some to view the Church as just another rich and powerful multi-national. Sexual abuse by clergy has precipitated a decline in respect for Church authority. Finally, the increasing numbers of ‘chronically unchurched’ Catholics mean that there are generations who are completely alienated from parish worship and life.

The Australian Urban Parish as a Faith Community

The most constructive response that a parish can offer to these challenges is to develop the Sunday Eucharist as an engaging, formative and consistent celebration that builds up the parish as a mature community of faith, with confidence to dialogue intelligently, honestly and compassionately with its local world. The following section identifies key elements of the Sunday Eucharist, and how it, and aspects of parish life that flow from it and support it, can enhance the development of the parish as a faith community.


The configuration of the gathering space, the skill and disposition of the celebrant as presider and preacher, and the standard of liturgical ministries all contribute to the quality of worship in the Sunday Eucharist. At the outset, a parish liturgy committee that is well informed and meets regularly to coordinate the Sunday Masses and other liturgies is essential if consistent, high quality celebrations are to be maintained.

The liturgical ministries of preaching and music are particularly important. The documents of Vatican II identified preaching as part of the primum officium of priests—their first office.26 The task of the preacher is to assist the congregation to relate the Word of God in scripture and doctrine to the circumstances of their lives. This is a demanding task, particularly when the pastor must address many of the same people each week. It requires up-to-date knowledge of scripture, doctrine, theology and cultural issues, public speaking skills, deep faith and a close identity with parishioners. The homily may be the only opportunity for faith formation for many parishioners. The task is even more challenging where parishioners are exposed daily to highly skilled communicators and sophisticated methods of communication, especially through the media. Yet despite the importance and demanding nature of preaching, there is little systemic expectation or provision for clergy to engage in regular professional development and assessment. In my view, this needs to be addressed.

Providing ‘live’ liturgical music of sufficient quality and variety at all Sunday Masses every week is a major challenge. There are far fewer parishioners suitably skilled and willing to serve as musicians and singers than parishioners who can minister in other ways. Yet good music and singing are crucial for engaging and uplifting worship. Conversely, substandard music and singing destroy liturgy. The challenge to find suitable musicians can discourage the search. Yet, accepting that a few musicians will provide most of the music limits the possible styles and vibrancy of the liturgies that a parish can offer. Because it is ministry, ‘live’ music is preferable to recorded music. However, the latter is always a better option than any substandard alternative. Hymns need to be readily accessible and invite congregational participation. The music ministry should have a representative on the liturgy committee to ensure that music always serves the liturgy, but musicians also must have some say in the music they play so they can express their ministry joyfully.

The parish is more inclusive if it encourages a variety of liturgical styles across its Sunday Masses. Liturgies designed particularly for children, families, young adults or more traditional tastes encourage a broad-based music ministry and provide more scope for individuals to find a style of celebration that suits their spirituality. Encouraging children and young adults to participate in the music ministry, whether at special focus liturgies or as part of the general roster, develops the musical culture of the parish. Coordination between the parish and local Catholic schools is a key component of this strategy. In some cases, it may be possible for local parishes to share music ministers. Because of the significance of music to the liturgy, it may be time for more parishes or groups of parishes to employ paid music coordinators.

Sense of Belonging

While sound preaching and good music are essential for life-giving liturgy, there is one element of Catholic spirituality that can hinder the formation of the parish as a community. In Enriching Church Life,27 John Bellamy and his co-authors reflect that:

In Australia, Protestants are more likely than Catholics to have a strong sense of belonging to their local church. But for Catholics their sense of loyalty to their denomination is much higher than for Protestants.’28

The sense of belonging to the universal Church is one of the strengths of Catholicism. Catholics feel that they are part of a faith family and religious tradition that extends beyond their immediate circumstances, across the globe and back in time. They can enjoy a deep spiritual connection with the pope, bishops, clergy and lay people throughout the world, though they may not share the same language or culture. They can maintain spiritual relationships with deceased loved ones and past heroes of the Church by virtue of the community of saints. The Eucharistic rites enhance this connection with the universal Church.

However, if the celebration of the Eucharist does not encourage a commensurate appreciation of the local Church, it can reinforce a privatised form of faith, whereby individuals pray for other members of the congregation without feeling obliged to engage them in ordinary human ways. They can fail to appreciate their call to build up their parish as the universal Church in particular time and place: as a faith community rather than a spiritual service centre. The tendency to privatised faith is exacerbated by interpretations of the Eucharist that focus exclusively on the presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, while ignoring the Body of Christ in the gathered assembly.29 It can be reinforced where weekday Mass is viewed solely as an opportunity for private prayer. If a parish is to be an authentic Eucharistic community, parishioners must be formed in a sound theology of the Eucharist.

The sacred character and formal structure of the liturgy provide few opportunities for worshippers to connect personally. Facing the backs of other worshippers is not conducive to personal exchanges. Worshippers are invited to speak only in response to the celebrant. Week after week, they listen to one man’s interpretation of the scriptures without a chance to ask questions, seek clarifications or offer suggestions. When invited to offer a sign of peace to others, they may not even have the opportunity to introduce themselves. Inviting parishioners, from time to time, to introduce themselves and converse together, perhaps as part of the greeting, the homily or sign of peace helps to establish real rather than anonymous connections between worshippers. Simple blessing rites that mark arrivals and departures of parishioners, and significant milestones like wedding or death anniversaries also encourage belonging and connectedness within the congregation. People want to make connections in church, but they need permission. When such opportunities are offered in our parish, the people embrace them enthusiastically, the volume of singing and responding rises and more people linger after Mass.

Some may see these initiatives as diminishing reverence for the liturgy and the church as a sacred space. Such views raise questions about whether the primary purpose of the modern parish church is for building up the community of faith or for private prayer. Churches without a Eucharistic chapel must fulfil both purposes at different times. It is unrealistic to expect modern worshippers, particularly young people, to refrain from respectful conversation in the church, particularly after Mass. Indeed, such conversations may well indicate that worship has achieved its purpose.

Initiatives that encourage parishioners to connect before and after Mass can complement the lack of opportunities for connection during the liturgy. Ministers of welcome, who greet parishioners and visitors with a smile facilitate connection between worshippers and augment the welcoming spirit of the liturgy. In our parish, the ministers of communion assist the ministers of welcome with a view to making the exchange at communion more personal. An informative parish bulletin, accessible hymns and information about special features of the liturgy prior to Mass add to the spirit of hospitality. Morning tea and other social gatherings after Mass not only enhance the sense of belonging but challenge parishioners to put into action after Mass, what they are called to be, and receive, during Mass—the Body of Christ.30 They allow new members and visitors to connect with established parishioners. When linked to special moments like the celebrations of a sacrament within Mass, they affirm the significance to the parish community of the sacrament and those who have received it. The experience in our parish is that after-Mass opportunities only work if they are offered close to the church, if a special team is assigned to coordinate them and if particular parishioners, such as ministers of welcome, are designated to reach out to new parishioners, visitors and others who may otherwise find connecting difficult.

The sense of belonging at the Sunday Eucharist can be enhanced by initiatives in the parish that draw people together who might not meet otherwise. For individuals who may be unfamiliar with, or alienated from, the Eucharist, such as some engaged and recently married couples, parents of newly baptised children or non-Catholic family members, social gatherings can be a less confronting way of initiating themselves into the faith community. In this way, the social agenda of the parish becomes an important strategy for parish outreach.

Parish Ministry

The National Church Life Survey in 2001 found that only ‘about 38% of Catholics said that they had a role in their church compared with 63% of Anglicans and Protestants.’31 Encouraging parishioners to serve in a well organised, well resourced network of ministries deepens the sense of community and mission in a parish. Such networks animate the parish as a charismatic community. Ministry should be interpreted personally and relationally rather than functionally; as a means of expressing personal and communal faith rather than merely fulfilling tasks. Initial and ongoing formation should be an essential requirement for ministry. In this way, ministry becomes a major vehicle of faith formation in the parish. Because most parishes lack the means to run ministerial programs, the diocese can assist by developing such programs, in consultation with parishes and designed specifically for their needs. These programs could also be offered as deanery initiatives, to make them more accessible to parishioners and to affirm the deanery as a forum of collaboration between parishes in the diocese.

The role descriptions of all parish ministries should be readily available for the information of parishioners and as an invitation for others to join. Ministers should be appointed for fixed terms with the option to renew. The parish needs to resource its ministries appropriately, develop a workable rostering system and a structure of ministry coordination that provides ministers with up-to-date information and pastoral care.

Faith Formation

The National Church Life Survey in 2001 noted that ‘… only one in 10 Catholic attenders are regularly involved in study, discussion and prayer groups compared to 31% of Uniting Church attenders, 39% of Anglicans and over 50% of attenders in some denominations.’32

Evidence suggests that while most Catholics receive a comprehensive religious education in a Catholic school, they undertake little faith formation after they finish school. Consequently, even highly educated individuals can possess only a rudimentary knowledge of their faith.33 For this reason, many never grasp its relevance and so cease to practise it. Some view faith as a kind of tribal mark that entitles them to certain benefits from the Church. Others practise their faith simply as a moral duty, but fail to relate it to the complex issues and circumstances of their lives. As a result, they lack confidence to witness to their faith in the marketplace.34 In his work on faith development, James W. Fowler found that many practising Christians manifest low levels of faith development that support only a privatised faith and prevent them from embracing a more mature, communal faith.35 Raising the ‘faith literacy’ of parishioners, therefore, is another key strategy in developing the parish as a faith community, focused on mission.

The most important aspects of faith formation in a parish are preaching, liturgy, religious education in Catholic schools, catechetics in state schools and sacramental preparation. Apart from the liturgy, support of the catechists and members of the sacramental teams should be a primary concern for the parish. No other aspects of its mission offer so much potential for evangelisation and conversion. Scripture study groups, Advent and Lenten programs and diocesan based initiatives are other ways by which parishioners can develop their faith.


Another strength of Catholicism has been the close pastoral relationships that parishioners have long enjoyed with their pastors. Celibacy and living close to the parish church have enabled the pastor to be highly visible and accessible to his people. This relationship is now threatened by the declining number and increasing average age of priests.36 One priest cannot be as visible or accessible as two or three. The extra load reduces his capacity to establish strong pastoral relationships. Clergy from overseas offer a broad range of priestly backgrounds and styles that can enrich the presbyterium and improve the pastoral care of ethnic groups in parishes. At the same time, limitations in English and a lack of understanding of Australian secular and ecclesial culture can hinder their capacity to communicate and relate, and hence, to build the parish as a community.

While the numbers of active clergy decrease constantly, few parishes close. Dioceses face the dilemma for the foreseeable future of too many parish demands being placed on too few clergy. Unless there are fundamental changes to the number and mode of operation of parishes, pastors will be unable to satisfy the demand for services or develop pastoral relationships that are so necessary for establishing parishes as ecclesial communities.

The apparent reticence among Church leaders to establish mandatory programs of ongoing personal and professional formation and appraisal for diocesan clergy is further cause for concern, given the increasing demands and complexities of priestly ministry and life. Clergy conferences, which provide an important forum for fellowship, are more likely to offer information than formation. A lack of regular formation and appraisal reduces the capacity of a pastor to exercise pastoral leadership effectively and devalues his professional standing and authority, particularly when he works alongside professionals for whom regular in-service and assessment is mandatory.

The National Church Life Survey in 2001 found that leaders who inspire their congregations to share a common vision are more effective than either directive or non-directive leaders in developing local ecclesial communities.37 A clear, shared pastoral vision is one of the most powerful catalysts for community growth.38 The Survey also revealed that without a vision, most Christian communities tend to remain inward-focused on maintenance, rather than outward-focused towards mission.39 A pastoral vision and associated pastoral plan encourage parishioners to offer their gifts for service to the parish in ways that are most constructive for themselves and their community.

Magisterial documents since the Second Vatican Council have recognised the value of pastoral planning.40 When establishing a pastoral plan, the parish needs to reinterpret the diocesan pastoral plan according to its local circumstances and priorities. In this way, the parish planning process can form parishioners in the close relationship that the parish is called to maintain with the diocese and the bishop. Their sense of belonging to the diocese is enhanced when the pastor, who represents the bishop in the parish, is committed to constructive relationships with the bishop and clergy of the diocese. The relationship between the diocese and parishes, and between the bishop and pastors, must be grounded in genuine collaboration and consultation, so that parishes are not treated merely as branches of the diocese or the diocese regarded as superfluous by parishes. As far as possible, consultation should cast parishes and pastors as participants in the decision-making processes that affect them rather than merely the recipients of the outcomes of those decisions.

 The experience of formulating the inaugural pastoral plan in our parish revealed that the process of producing a vision and plan is as important as the final result. In a spirit of building community, every effort should be made to ensure that parishioners understand not only how to participate in the planning process but also its purpose. This is not a simple task. The concept of pastoral planning is a new feature of Catholic life. The time and energy required for parishioners and pastors to understand its purpose and method should not be underestimated. When completed, the parish vision and plan should be ratified by the community, displayed prominently, referred to constantly and reviewed regularly.

In the spirit of collegiality, the pastor should promote the establishment of a leadership group, such as a Parish Pastoral Council, to assist him oversee the implementation and revision of the parish pastoral plan. The selection of this group should also be broadly consultative. Its constitution needs to ensure that its primary task is not to run the parish as an executive but to keep the parish vision before the community and help it achieve the objectives of the plan. The pastor and leadership group should seek to establish a community whereby they become a ‘sacrament’ of what the whole parish is called to be.


The National Church Life Survey in 2001 indicated that Australian Catholics exhibit less motivation to mission than other Christian denominations.41 The need for a renewed sense of mission was recognised by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio (1990), in which he called the Church to a ‘new evangelisation’, focusing particularly on Catholics who do not participate actively in the worship and life of the Church.42

The parish primary school is the most fertile setting in the parish for this new evangelisation.43 Through school liturgies, parish liturgies with a school focus, sacramental programs and a positive, regular presence of the pastor in school life, the parish can present an inviting profile to many who are sympathetic to its mission but separated from its worship. Programs that reach out to alienated or lapsed Catholics are another expression of the new evangelisation. Parish prior-to-school care centres offer new possibilities for the new evangelisation while responding to a growing need in the community.

The outreach of the parish to non-Catholics has two foci. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults provides a forum for those who may be interested in joining the faith community. The identification of the parish with other Christian churches, other religious congregations, local civic communities and those whom it serves through its works of practical charity are all key aspects of its mission to the world.

The effectiveness of parish outreach depends greatly on the quality of its communication with its world. A friendly, efficient and well resourced parish office, informative parish bulletin, visible signposting and particularly in the modern context, an informative, inviting website, all contribute to the effectiveness of the parish’s mission.


The challenges that confront the modern urban parish are substantial. Most are beyond its power to control. The most authentic and constructive response that it can make to these challenges is to develop as a strong community of faith, defined by quality celebrations of the Sunday Eucharist. Such celebrations require a great deal of investment by the pastor and parishioners. They demand thorough planning. They call for the pastor to be present to his people. This will not be possible if he is overwhelmed by other demands.

If parishes are to develop the kind of Sunday Eucharistic celebrations that build vibrant, missionary communities, confident in, and motivated for, the new evangelisation, then the traditional structure of parishes and their modes of operating must change significantly. It is a daunting prospect.


Fr Paul Monkerud is the Parish Priest of Ryde. He graduated with a Doctorate in Ministry in 2007. He has served on several committees of the Syd-ney Archdiocese, in-cluding the Committee for Continuing Educa-tion of the Clergy.



1. John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (30.12.1988) (hereafter referred to as CL), (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html0 art. 26.

 2. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium (21.11.1964) (hereafter referred to as LG), 8.

 3. LG 1.

 4. The depiction of the world in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) was typical. It described the Church as ‘… that society of all the faithful who still dwell on earth, [which] is called militant, because it wages eternal war with those most implacable enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil.’ (emphasis added). The Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. by T.A. Buckley (London: 1852), q. v., quoted in Eric G. Jay, The Church: Its Changing Image through Twenty Centuries, Vol. 1 (London: SPCK, 1977), 198.

 4a. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes (07.12.1965) (hereafter referred to as GS), 2.

 5. LG, 7, 12; Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem (18.11.1965), 3.

 6. LG 8, 14, 15, 16.

 7. GS 44.

 8. GS 4, 44, 53.

 9. GS 59.

 10. LG 6, 48.

 11. LG 20.

 12. LG 20, 22.

 13. LG 28.

 14. LG 24; The increased implementation of synods and bishops’ conferences after the Council was one manifestation of collegiality.

 15. LG 11.

 16. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium (04,12.1963) (hereafter referred to as SC), 2.

 17. John Bellamy and Keith Castle, 2001 Church Attendance Estimates, NCLS Occasional Paper 3, http://www.ncls.org, (Sydney South: NCLS Research, February 2004), 5.

 18. Bellamy and Castle, 7.

 19. Sam Sterland, Ruth Powell and Keith Castle, Inflow and Outflow Between Denominations, NCLS Occasional Paper 8, http://www.ncls.org, (Sydney South: NCLS Research, March 2006), 18.

 20. Bellamy and Castle, 10.

 21. ‘Age profile of church attenders’, www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=136. Accessed 22 May, 2008.

 22. Hugh Mackay, Advance Australia … Where (Sydney: Hatchette, 2007), 14, 282.

 23. Secularism is not included here because its meaning is ambivalent. It has been defined as ‘a movement in which the attention and energies are directed towards the world and away from any other world or form of existence.’ Secularism would reject religious sentiments that distract or divert human endeavour away from present realities. On the other hand, it would support religious perspectives that encourage individuals to respect and respond creatively to the real circumstances of people in the world. Michael Downey, ed. The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (The Liturgical Press: Minnesota, 1993), s.v. ‘Secularism’, by Michael Dodd.

 24. Michael Downey, ed. The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (The Liturgical Press: Minnesota, 1993), s.v. ‘Materialism’, by Michael Dodd.

 25. Mark McCrindle, ‘Understanding Generation Y’, http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au/Colleagues/files/links/UnderstandingGenY.pdf. Accessed 7 November, 2007.

 26. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis (07.12.1965), 4.

 27. John Bellamy, Bryan Cussen, Sam Sterland, Keith Castle, Ruth Powell and Peter Kaldor, Enriching Church Life (Sydney South: National Church Life Survey, 2006).

 28. Ibid, 16.

 29. SC 7.

 30. ‘You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members. If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: `Amen’; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: `The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: `Amen!’ Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your `Amen’ may be the truth.’ St Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 272”, http://heritage.villanova.edu/vu/mission/Eucharist/augustine.htm. Accessed. 29 May, 2008.

 31. National Church Life Survey, ‘A Summary of Attender Level of Involvement’, http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=33#Inv_Summary. Accessed 22 May, 2008.

 32. Ibid.

 33. The NCLS 2001 found, for example, in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity, ‘there are some areas of difference between the denominations with Catholics indicating the lowest acceptance of a Trinitarian understanding of God at 72%, ranging through the Uniting Church attenders at 84%, Anglicans at 88%, and Pentecostal attenders at the highest level 98%.’ 65% of Catholic attenders gave assent to the doctrine of the virginity of Mary, compared with 62%, 67%, 90% and 95% respectively of Uniting, Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal Church attenders. National Church Life Survey, ‘Attender Beliefs and Practices’, www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=31. Accessed 22 May, 2008.

 34. C.f. 1 Pt 3:15.

 35. James W. Fowler, ‘Religious congregations: varieties of presence in stages of faith’, in Jeff Astley and Leslie Francis, Christian Perspectives on Faith Development (Leominster: Gracewing, 1992), 370-383.

 36. The NCLS 1996 indicates that only 4% of Catholic clergy were under 40. 52% were aged 50-59; and 44% were 60 or more. National Church Life Survey, ‘A Demographic profile of church leaders’, www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=2338. Site accessed 22 May 2008.

 37. Bellamy, Cussen, Sterland, Castle, Powell and Kaldor, 20.

 38. Ibid, 19.

 39. Ibid, 18.

 40. CL 57; Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests (31.01.1994), 65; John Paul II, Novo Millenio Inuente (06.01.2001) (Strathfield: St Pauls, 2001), 29; John Paul II, Ecclesia in Oceania (22.11.2001) (Strathfield: St Pauls, 2001), 11, 22, 48.

 41. ‘…Anglican and Protestant attenders are more likely to emphasise roles associated with drawing people closer to God while Catholics tend to place greater emphasis on roles associated with school education and charity for the poor. … Pentecostals, who selected converting non-believers to the faith as the most important role for the churches, are much more likely to value reaching the unchurched than Catholics, who regard converting non-believers as a low priority.’ www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=2224.

 42. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (07.12.1990) (Boston: Daughters of St Paul, 1990), 33.

 43. The connection of the parish, mainly through its pastor, with the local Catholic high schools, is another key arm of the new evangelisation. However, this connection will likely be less potent than with the primary school because the presence of the pastor is less frequent and less visible.




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