A Theological / Pastoral Reflection
To help understand the many suggestions receivereceived, the Committee on the Laity prepared a theological / pastoral reflection which on the survey. It gives an overview of the response and their theological significanceoffers some ideas about the theological and pastoral significance of the responses.
The sheer number of responses to the lay survey shows that the Church in the United States is very much alive and vibrant. The incredibly broad range of the responses shows that many Catholics do take great interest in the life and mission of the Church. It also shows how high are the expectations that Catholics have regarding the Church. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the resounding response to the first issue, adult faith formation and education (selected by 41,177 respondents).
A reflection on the results of the survey can be focused on three themes: Church, Liturgy and Formation of Lay Ecclesial Ministers. The vast majority of concerns expressed in the responses can be gathered under these headings. It is obvious from the responses that Catholics vary considerably in their understanding of the Church and its tradition. This points again to the issue of adult faith formation. The responses also verify the centrality of liturgy, especially the Eucharist, in the lives of Catholics. And finally the responses and the needs of Catholics for adult formation and solid liturgical experience point to further development of lay ecclesial ministries.
A review of the responses in general reflects what anyone who has been involved in ministry on a parish and diocesan level will have heard from people or read in popular periodicals. All the positive developments of recent years, all the disappointments and criticisms, all of the hopes and recommendations that have been and continue to be voiced are to be found in the responses. The fact that all the respondents see themselves as Catholic, though their responses cover such a broad range, demonstrates the remarkable ability of the Church to hold together the variety of theological and pastoral approaches within the unity of the essentials of the Catholic tradition.
The results of such a survey as this can be an occasion for the celebration of debate within the Church as well as a call to patience and understanding in the midst of debate. More than a hundred years ago, "Cardinal Newman", reflecting on the phenomenon of constant debate throughout the history of the Church, described Catholics as being "brought together as if into some moral factory, for the melting, refining, and mouldingmoulding, by an incessant noisy process, of the raw material of human nature, so excellent, so dangerous, so capable of divine purposes." (Apologia pro Vita Sua, 1873 , Chapter V).
Not all the responses, however, have equal validity or equal urgency, because not all the participants in the debate are equally grounded in the tradition of the Church or aware of the challenges from contemporary culture that the Church faces. Here is where the issues of the knowledge of the faith and formation come into play. There is no question, however, that Catholics are looking for such knowledge and formation (cf. the responses to 1 A-1D and 3 A-3E). A further example would be the number of responses regarding the parish as helping people to pray as a community (26,845) and as individuals (27,927). Parishes need to continue developing programs of ongoing education and formation. They need to be schools of prayer, as Pope John Paul II has urged, developing a spirituality of communion (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte, nos. 33 and 43). It is within this spirituality of communion that parishioners can develop habits for constructive dialogue and collaboration through consultative structures ppressently envisioned by Canon Law (cf. NMI, no.45).
Since liturgy is the highest form of the Church's prayer and its most important formative action, it is necessary to look at issues regarding liturgy that emerged from the survey.
It is obvious that people want good liturgy, especially Eucharist. Following the large number of responses regarding how the parish celebrates Sunday liturgy (33,148) comes the number of responses regarding preaching (32,201). However, preaching comes up very frequently in other responses to the survey and thus it merits particular attention, especially because it is also very closely linked to the thirst for formation and knowledge that is so often expressed in the survey and that is revealed in its urgency by the lack of familiarity on the part of some respondents regarding the Catholic tradition in its fullness. More effective preaching can also create greater harmony and consensus among Catholics on issues within the Church and outside.
The Sunday homily needs the greatest attention, since that is the time of contact with the largest number of Catholics on a regular basis. Three aspects of the homily perhaps respond most effectively to needs expressed in the survey.
- Homilies should appeal to the imagination. Like the Scriptures, homilies should be rich in images. Images serve many functions, but two of them are particularly relevant in light of the survey. First of all, images can foster unity. Images have a way of rallying people and so can bring together people of varying views into a consensus on action and in thought. Therefore - and secondly - images can motivate. A striking image can move people's hearts into action. The Scriptures themselves are an infinite source of images for the homilist.
- Homilies should be formative. People want formation (cf. especially the responses to 3A, 3B, 3E, 4A-D, 6A-F). Formation ultimately means ongoing conversion of mind and heart leading to a daily life in ever greater conformity to the Gospel. The goal of the homily ultimately is this ongoing conversion, fired by appeals to the imagination and based on solid knowledge.
- Homilies, therefore, should also be informative. People want to know what the Scriptures mean (cf. 1C), what the Eucharist is, what is the significance of the particular liturgical season, what is the teaching of the Church (cf. 1A, 1B and 1D, but also quite extensively throughout other responses). While the homily is not catechesis in the strict sense, there is room for imparting some information.
So many of the responses indicate the high expectations that Catholics have of the leadership and teaching of bishops and priests. This places an immense responsibility on them in their role as preachers, especially through the Sunday homily. It may seem ironic that this survey of the laity points strikingly to the role of clergy. But the importance that Catholics place on the Eucharist, homily, and formation affirms the role that bishops and priests have in these and the requirement that they be competent in fulfilling that role. What becomes all the more pressing is programs of ongoing formation for clergy to continue to develop this competence.
It is also clear that many Catholics want to be able to participate more actively in the Eucharist, although a number of responses indicate that at least some Catholics prefer to be more passive. This indicates the need for further education regarding liturgy. Many also expressed a desire for a greater sense of the sacred in liturgical celebration. This points again to the cultivation of parishes as schools of prayer for all - laity and clergy - so that a community of prayer brings that prayerfulness into its liturgical celebrations.
The many responses regarding lay ministries (cf. 3D and 5F) indicate that there is also great need for further development of the formation of lay ecclesial ministers. (Lay ecclesial ministers are lay people serving in a formal leadership role in the name of the Church. See Lay Ecclesial Ministry: The State of the Questions for a more comprehensive description.) The demands of adult formation in parishes requires not only the efforts of clergy but also the work of well-trained laity. The survey leads to the conclusion that what is increasingly imperative is a holistic and professional formation of lay people for service on the diocesan, inter-parochial and parochial level. By holistic is meant a formation that is human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. By professional is meant a formation that also leads to an academic degree. It is doubtful whether thirty-six credits for a master's degree in theology will be sufficient for the future or to respond to the needs expressed in the survey. In collaboration with priests and in accord with the principles of "like-to-like" ministry, lay ecclesial ministers will need to be able to work with laity not only in teaching but also in spiritual formation, for which they will become competent only through a holistic formation which takes into account their own human and spiritual development.
The number of responses asking that the parish help couples grow in their commitment to married life (21,079) points to a particularly important and appropriate focus for lay ecclesial ministers. Many respondents also look to their parishes for guidance in order to be able to live out the Gospel in the context of their profession and work. Here too is an important area of focus for lay ecclesial ministers.
There are so many hopes and expectations expressed in the responses with regard to diversity, evangelization, justice, service and stewardship. The Church lives in parish communities and its vitality is enhanced by the vitality of parishes, which is made possible by their becoming schools of prayer with a spirituality of communion, strengthened by prayerful liturgy and superior preaching, and served by well-formed clergy and lay ecclesial ministers.