April 11, 2014
Jesus, the Son of God, founded the Roman Catholic Church on His 12 Apostles and chose St. Peter to be the visible head of the other Apostles and disciples. This same arrangement of the Church has continued down through the centuries and will continue until the end of time.
The nature and visible structure of the Church founded by Jesus is hierarchical: the pope, as Successor of Peter, is responsible for the universal Church; the bishop, as a successor of the Apostles, is responsible for a local church or diocese; the pastor, appointed by the bishop, is responsible for a parish.
In practical terms, what does this mean for you, the Catholic laity? There are several important things to keep in mind when you respond to your pastor’s requests for cooperation and participation in parish life.
- All of our parishes are territorial, that is, all have set, physical boundaries.
- Every Catholic living within the boundaries of a parish is considered by the Church to belong to that parish.
- If Catholics wish to officially belong to a parish other than the one in which they live, only the bishop can give permission after receiving a written request.
- Every parish in the Diocese of Bismarck, for civil purposes, is incorporated separately and the officers of each civil parish corporation are: bishop as president, vicar general as vice-president, pastor as secretary/treasurer, and two lay Catholic parishioners as trustees appointed by the pastor.
- In a parish, only the pastor may sign any and all official documents for or from the parish, such as checks, sacramental certificates and all contracts. At the request of the bishop from the pastor, the bishop may allow another person to sign such documents in the absence of the pastor.
- Every parish in the Diocese of Bismarck is required by Church law to have a Finance Council and a Pastoral Council. These two councils are advisory and do not have any decision-making responsibility. The Finance Council is to help the pastor with advice in the right stewardship of the parish’s assets and liabilities. The Pastoral Council is to help the pastor fulfill his responsibilities regarding the educational, spiritual and liturgical life of the parish.
- In every parish, the Catholic laity are encouraged to participate in its liturgical life as extra-ordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist, sacristans, readers, ushers and greeters, and permanent deacons; in its spiritual life as leaders of prayer groups and participants in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; in its educational life as leaders of Bible study groups, teachers of religious education, adult faith formation and RCIA.
- All of these areas of parish life, in addition to serving a term or terms on the parish Finance or Pastoral Council, are the responsibility of the pastor to guide for the spiritual and temporal benefit of all in the parish and in the diocese.
Since I became the Bishop of Bismarck two and a half years ago, I have been not only edified but heartened by the active practice of our Catholic faith by you, the lay faithful, but also by your good and devout participation in parish and diocesan life. Please continue this for the strengthening of your own faith and parish life and for the continued setting of the good example for your children and grandchildren.
Finally, I ask one favor from all of you: Please continue to pray for all of our priests, but especially for your parish priest and continue to pray for an increase in vocations among the young men and women of our Diocese of Bismarck to the priesthood and the consecrated life.