For most of us, the ultimate way we experience Christ’s active presence is in our parishes. It is there that we hear the Word of God and are nourished by the Eucharist. So, this Thanksgiving let us offer prayers of gratitude for our parishes, pastors, pastoral teams, parish leaders and all the faithful who gather together to give witness to Christ’s presence.
What does it mean to be a parish, though, and how is a parish a unique manifestation of the Church? Sixty years ago, when Saint John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962, he urged the Council Fathers to reflect on the mystery of the Church present throughout the world. One of the major descriptions employed by the Council Fathers to describe the Church was “communion.” The very opening words of the first document of the Council, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church proclaim: “The Church is a kind of sacrament or mystery; a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all people.” Note that the Second Vatican Council made a deliberate choice to refer to the Church as a “communion” rather than simply using the term “community.” While the term community refers to independent persons working toward a common goal, the term communion conveys a much deeper reality, persons sharing the same sacramental life. Our communion is literally a “sharing of gifts” as sisters and brothers of the one Christ Jesus whose Spirit brings us into unity not only with God but also with each other. Sacramentally, we manifest the mystery of the divine communion of the Blessed Trinity. Sharing the Trinity’s communion in love, as a Church, we have been called to live together in unity for the sake of following the Gospel and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
As a communion of faith, as a Church, we are born out of and live within the Paschal Mystery. As a communion of faith we experience and celebrate these mysteries of Christ’s life in and through its daily and weekly sacramental life. All of this means that a parish is not simply a human creation, it is God’s work. The Holy Spirit calls us into being and bonds us together in communion and mission with God and each other. Jesus assures us that we are not left to our own devices when we walk in his footsteps and gather in his name. He has given us the Holy Spirit, who teaches, guides and protects us. And that is accomplished most uniquely through the sacramental life of our parish. This month, let us give thanks to God for our parish and re-commit ourselves to participating more fervently in its life and mission.