Part I: Vatican II Texts

Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
(Gaudium et Spes) ,  December 7, 1965


Introductory Statement the Situation of Men in the Modern World

4. To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. Some of the main features of the modern world can be sketched as follows.

Today, the human race is involved in a new stage of history. Profound and rapid changes are spreading by degrees around the whole world....

Technology is now transforming the face of the earth, and is already trying to master outer space. To a certain extent, the human intellect is also broadening its dominion over time: over the past by means of historical knowledge; over the future, by the art of projecting and by planning.

Advances in biology, psychology, and the social sciences not only bring men hope of improved self-knowledge; in conjunction with technical methods, they are helping men exert direct influence on the life of social groups....

Thus, the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one. In consequence there has arisen a new series of problems, a series as numerous as can be, calling for efforts of analysis and synthesis....

6. ...New and more efficient media of social communication are contributing to the knowledge of events; by setting off chain reactions they are giving the swiftest and widest possible circulation to styles of thought and feeling....

It is also noteworthy how many men are being induced to migrate on various counts, and are thereby changing their manner of life. ...


Constitution on the Church
Vatican II, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964, translated by Colman O’Neill, OP, in Austin P. Flannery, General Editor, The Documents of Vatican II. Preface by John Cardinal Wright (New York: Costello Publishing Company, 1975).

37. The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments (6*). They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by virtue of their knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, they are permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church (7*). When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ. ....

A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill is mission for the life of the world.

Vatican II, Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church (Christus Dominus). 1965

16.   In exercising his office of father and pastor, a  bishop should stand in the midst of his people as one who serves. Let him be a good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him....

In order to be able to consult more suitably the welfare of the faithful according to the condition of each one, a bishop should strive to become duly acquainted with their needs in the social circumstances in which they live. Hence, he ought to employ suitable methods, especially social research. He should manifest his concern for all, no matter what their age, condition, or nationality, be they natives, strangers, or foreigners. In exercising this pastoral care he should preserve for his faithful the share proper to them in Church affairs; he should also recognize their duty and right to collaborate actively in the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ....

     Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity,
Apostolicam Actuositatem. November 18, 1965

The Various Fields of the Apostolate

10. ...The parish offers an obvious example of the apostolate on the community level inasmuch as it brings together the many human differences within its boundaries and merges them into the universality of the Church.(1) The laity should accustom themselves to working in the parish in union with their priests,(2) bringing to the Church community their own and the world's problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which they should examine and resolve by deliberating in common. As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.

They should develop an ever-increasing appreciation of their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, ever ready at their pastor's invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, to fulfill the needs of cities and rural areas,(3) they should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries but strive to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national, and international fields. This is constantly becoming all the more necessary because the daily increase in mobility of populations, reciprocal relationships, and means of communication no longer allow any sector of society to remain closed in upon itself. Thus they should be concerned about the needs of the people of God dispersed throughout the world. They should especially make missionary activity their own by giving material or even personal assistance. It is a duty and honor for Christians to return to God a part of the good things that they receive from Him.


Part II: Canon Law

John Paul II, Pope (Karol Wojtyla),Code of Canon Law. Latin-English Edition, Translation prepared under the auspices of the Canon Law Society of America (Washington, D.C.: Canon Law Society of America, 1983).

The Obligations and Rights of All the Christian Faithful Can. 208. In virtue of their rebirth (Baptism) in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.
Can. 212. §l The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church. §2. The Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the church. §3. In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, they have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.

The Pastoral Council
Can. 511. In each diocese, to the extent that pastoral circumstances recommend it, a pastoral council is to be established whose responsibility it is to investigate under the authority of the bishop all those things which pertain to pastoral works, to ponder them and to propose practical conclusions about them.

Parishes, Pastors and Parochial Vicars

Can. 536.
§1. After the diocesan bishop has listened to the presbyteral council and if he judges it opportune, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish; the pastor presides over it, and through it the Christian faithful along with those who share in the pastoral care of the parish in virtue of their office give their help in fostering pastoral activity.  §2. This pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by norms determined by the diocesan bishop.

Can. 537. Each parish is to have a finance council which is regulated by universal law as well as by norms issued by the diocesan bishop; in this council the Christian faithful, selected according to the same norms, aid the pastor in the administration of parish goods with due regard for the prescription of can. 532.


Part III: Most Recent Documents

Christifideles Laici John Paul II, Pope (Karol Wojtyla), “Christifideles Laici: Apostolic Exhortation on the Laity,” based on the 1987 World Synod of Bishops, January 30, 1987, Origins 18:35 (Feb. 9, 1989): 561, 563-595.

26 .... The Synod Fathers for their part have given much attention to the present state of many parishes and have called for a greater effort in their renewal: "Many parishes, whether established in regions affected by urban progress or in missionary territory, cannot do their work effectively because they lack material resources or ordained men or are too big geographically or because of the particular circumstances of some Christians (e.g. exiles and migrants). So that all parishes of this kind may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster the following: a) adaptation of parish structures according to the full flexibility granted by canon law, especially in promoting participation by the lay faithful in pastoral responsibilities; b) small, basic or so-called "living" communities, where the faithful can communicate the Word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centers of evangelization, in communion with their pastors"(99). For the renewal of parishes and for a better assurance of their effectiveness in work, various forms of cooperation even on the institutional level ought to be fostered among diverse parishes in the same area.

Ecclesia in Asia

Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II presented in New Delhi, India, on November 6, 1999 to more than 100 Asian Bishops. It is based on the work of the April 19 - May 14,1998 Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops, one of the regional synods called for by the pope as part of preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000. Published in Origins 29:23 (November 18, 1999): 357, 359-384.

“In every diocese, the parish remains the ordinary place where the faithful gather to grow in faith, to live the mystery of ecclesial communion and to take part in the church’s mission. Therefore, the synod fathers urged pastors to devise new and effective ways of shepherding the faithful, so that everyone, especially the poor, will feel truly a part of the parish and of God’s people as a whole. Pastoral planning with the lay faithful should be a normal feature of all parishes.” (Paragraph 25, p. 372).


Ecclesia in America
 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II , presented in Mexico City, Mexico on January 22, 1999, published in Origins 28:33 (February 4, 1999): 565, 567-592.

Renewing parishes

41.Because of the particular problems they present, special attention needs to be given to parishes in large urban areas, where the difficulties are such that normal parish structures are inadequate and the opportunities for the apostolate are significantly reduced. The institution of the parish, however, retains its importance and needs to be preserved. For this, there is a need “to keep looking for ways in which the parish and its pastoral structures can be more effective in urban areas”. (140) ...
Moreover, “this kind of renewed parish needs as its leader a pastor who has a deep experience of the living Christ, a missionary spirit, a father's heart, who is capable of fostering spiritual life, preaching the Gospel and promoting cooperation. A renewed parish needs the collaboration of lay people and therefore a director of pastoral activity and a pastor who is able to work with others. Parishes in America should be distinguished by their missionary spirit, which leads them to reach out to those who are faraway”. (145)

Novo Millennio Ineunte
Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennia Ineunte (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”), January 6, 2001, published in Origins 30:31 (January 18, 2001): 489, 491-508.

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a "new programme". The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millennium.

But it must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community. The Jubilee has given us the extraordinary opportunity to travel together for a number of years on a journey common to the whole Church, a catechetical journey on the theme of the Trinity, accompanied by precise pastoral undertakings designed to ensure that the Jubilee would be a fruitful event. I am grateful for the sincere and widespread acceptance of what I proposed in my Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. But now it is no longer an immediate goal that we face, but the larger and more demanding challenge of normal pastoral activity. With its universal and indispensable provisions, the programme of the Gospel must continue to take root, as it has always done, in the life of the Church everywhere. It is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified — goals and methods, formation and enrichment of the people involved, the search for the necessary resources — which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.
I therefore earnestly exhort the Pastors of the particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God's People, confidently to plan the stages of the journey ahead, harmonizing the choices of each diocesan community with those of neighbouring Churches and of the universal Church.

It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the "universal call to holiness". The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. The rediscovery of the Church as "mystery", or as a people "gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit",15 was bound to bring with it a rediscovery of the Church's "holiness", understood in the basic sense of belonging to him who is in essence the Holy One, the "thrice Holy" (cf. Is 6:3). To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized.

But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: "This is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: "All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity".16

31. At first glance, it might seem almost impractical to recall this elementary truth as the foundation of the pastoral planning in which we are involved at the start of the new millennium. Can holiness ever be "planned"? What might the word "holiness" mean in the context of a pastoral plan?

In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: "Do you wish to receive Baptism?" means at the same time to ask them: "Do you wish to become holy?" It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).

As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few "uncommon heroes" of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear however that the paths to holiness are personal and call for a genuine "training in holiness", adapted to people's needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations and movements recognized by the Church.

The primacy of grace
38. If in the planning that awaits us we commit ourselves more confidently to a pastoral activity that gives personal and communal prayer its proper place, we shall be observing an essential principle of the Christian view of life:the primacy of grace. There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that "without Christ we can do nothing" (cf. Jn 15:5).

Pastores Gregis
          Pope John Paul II, Post-synodalapostolic Exhortation on the Bishop,  Pastores Gregis (“Shepherds of the Flock) responding to the Sept. 30-Oct 27, 2001 assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  Published in Origins 33:22 (November 6, 2003:353, 355-392.

 Pastoral style of governance and diocesan communion

44. A lived ecclesial communion will lead the Bishop to a pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all. There is a type of reciprocal interplay between what a Bishop is called to decide with personal responsibility for the good of the Church entrusted to his care and the  contribution that the faithful can offer him through consultative bodies such as the Diocesan Synod, the Presbyteral Council, the Episcopal Council and the Pastoral Council.170
The Synod Fathers made clear reference to these means by which episcopal governance is exercised and through which the pastoral care of the Diocese is organized.171 The particular Church involves not only the threefold episcopal ministry (munus episcopale), but also the threefold prophetic, priestly and kingly function of the entire People of God. All the faithful, by virtue of their Baptism, share in a proper way in the threefold munus of Christ. Their real equality in dignity and in acting is such that all are called to cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ, and thus to carry out the mission which God has entrusted to the Church in the world, each according to his or her respective state and duties.172

The text of John Paul II's greeting and address, delivered Saturday September 11, 2004, to the U.S. bishops of the ecclesiastical region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Synod of Bishops acknowledged the need today for each Bishop to develop "a pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all" ("Pastores Gregis," 44), grounded in a clear understanding of the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the baptized (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 10). While the Bishop himself remains responsible for the authoritative decisions which he is called to make in the exercise of his pastoral governance, ecclesial communion also "presupposes the participation of every category of the faithful, inasmuch as they share responsibility for the good of the particular Church which they themselves form" ("Pastores Gregis," loc. cit.). Within a sound ecclesiology of communion, a commitment to creating better structures of participation, consultation and shared responsibility should not be misunderstood as a concession to a secular "democratic" model of governance, but as an intrinsic requirement of the exercise of episcopal authority and a necessary means of strengthening that authority.

4. The exercise of the "munus regendi" is directed both to gathering the flock in the visible unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Every act of ecclesiastical governance, consequently, must be aimed at fostering communion and mission. In view, then, of their common purpose and aim, the three munera of teaching, sanctifying and ruling are clearly inseparable and interpenetrating: "when the Bishop teaches, he also sanctifies and governs the People of God; when he sanctifies, he also teaches and governs; when he governs, he teaches and sanctifies" ("Pastores Gregis," 9; cf. "Lumen Gentium," 20, 27).

Experience shows that when priority is mainly given to outward stability, the impetus to personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and missionary zeal can be lost and a false sense of security can ensue. The painful period of self-examination provoked by the events of the past two years will bear spiritual fruit only if it leads the whole Catholic community in America to a deeper understanding of the Church's authentic nature and mission, and a more intense commitment to making the Church in your country reflect, in every aspect of her life, the light of Christ's grace and truth. Here I can only state once more my profound conviction that the documents of the Second Vatican Council need to be carefully studied and taken to heart by all the faithful, since these normative texts of the Magisterium offer the basis for a genuine ecclesial renewal in obedience to the will of Christ and in conformity with the Church's apostolic Tradition (cf. "Novo Millennio Ineunte," 57).


Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Third Group of Bishops from Mexico on Their "Ad Limina" Visit, Friday, 23 September 2005

Confronted by today's changing and complex panorama, the virtue of hope is subject to harsh trials in the community of believers. For this very reason, we must be apostles who are filled with hope and joyful trust in God's promises.

God never abandons his people; indeed, he invites them to conversion so that his Kingdom may become a reality. The Kingdom of God does not only mean that God exists, that he is alive, but also that he is present and active in the world. He is the most intimate and crucial reality in every act of human life, every moment of history.

The planning and implementation of pastoral programmes must therefore reflect trust in God's loving presence in the world. This will help lay Catholics face the growing secularism and take part responsibly in temporal matters, in the light of the social teaching of the Church.

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops from Ghana on Their "Ad Limina" Visit,   24 April 2006

In many countries, including your own, young people constitute almost half of the population. The Church in Ghana is young. In order to reach out to today's youth it is necessary that the Church address their problems in a frank and loving way. A solid catechetical foundation will strengthen them in their Catholic identity and give them the necessary tools to confront the challenges of changing economic realities, globalization and disease. It will also assist them in responding to the arguments often put forward by religious sects. Consequently, it is important that future pastoral planning at both national and local levels carefully takes into account the needs of the young and tailors youth programs to address these needs appropriately (cf. "Christifideles Laici," No. 46).

          Meeting of His Holiness Benedict XVI with the Priests of the Dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso, Italy, 24 July 2007 (Origins, 2007.  37:12)

                                         In response to the question of a priest present:     “...pastoral and administrative requirements in addition to the reduced number of priests impel our bishops to review the distribution of clergy, resulting in an accumulation of tasks for one priest as well as responsibility for more than one parish....How is it possible to live this change in pastoral organization, giving priority to the spirituality of the Good Shepherd?


                                         ...I think it is very important to find the right ways to delegate.  It is not right that the parish priest should only coordinate other bodies. Rather, he should delegate in various ways...

                                         (The parish priest) should not be reduced to being mainly and above all a coordinating bureaucrat.  On the contrary, he should be the one who holds the essential reins himself but can also rely on collaborators.  I believe this is one of the important and positive results of the (Second Vatican) council: the co responsibility of the entire parish, for the parish priest is no longer the only one to animate everything.  Since we all form a parish together, we must all collaborate and help so that the parish priest is not left on his own mainly as a coordinator, but truly discovers that he is a pastor who is backed up in these common tasks in which,  together,  the parish lives and is fulfilled.

Back to Top