March 16, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 46 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Five years ago, when the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) was first established, their charge was placed within the context of Pope John Paul II’s letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, the pastoral exhortation the Pope sent us to build on the fruits of the Great Jubilee of 2000. The reason that became the “basic text” for the DPC was simple: there was no better explanation of the elements that make up a vibrant Church in the 21st century than what the Holy Father wrote to us in that letter.
As Popes John Paul and Benedict continued to explore the various elements in what they came to call The New Evangelization, that letter became the key to guide us all as we struggle with the challenges we face and turn them into opportunities for growth in the Spirit and witness to the world.
The first task they tackled illustrates this. The members of the DPC, who are lay men and women chosen from parish pastoral councils around the diocese and augmented by people who “fill out” the face of our local Church, were asked to look at all the material that had been harvested for a possible diocesan synod. This included listening sessions in 2002/2003, study groups that met in 2004/2005, review groups in 2005/2006, all of which was then given to the Gallup organization to analyze and review. The Gallup group then did a new scientific survey of the attitudes and understandings of a cross section of Catholics, both active and “inactive.” For over a year the DPC itself examined and discussed the contents of all this material.
At the end, the DPC opted to suggest that a diocesan synod would not be the best vehicle for the new evangelization of this local Church in the 21st century. Rather they preferred that we focus on one major issue that seemed to have a direct impact on all aspects of Catholic life: the decline over a 25-year period of regular attendance at Sunday Mass. This challenge, they thought, represented the core issue that would affect all other aspects of Church life. Addressing it would lead to opportunities to renew the life of the Church in her worship, her faith formation, her outreach and her witness to the world.
While a diocesan synod had been a favorite project of my own which I had included in my first homily as Bishop of Rockville Centre, I agreed to follow the wisdom of the lay men and women in the DPC. As is my custom, this proposal was brought to the Presbyteral Council, and after listening to their suggestions, the proposal to have a campaign “to bring Catholics home” to Sunday Eucharist was sent to all the priests of the diocese for their reactions and their suggestions.
The response was overwhelmingly positive but the priests added a number of insights and suggestions which made sense and expanded the vision and deepened the challenge beyond just an invitation to Catholics to become more actively present at Sunday Mass.
One of their suggestions, for example, was that it would be too confusing to try to implement the new Roman Missal for Advent 2011 and, at the same time, attempt to mount a campaign to bring Catholics back to Mass at the very time we were preparing regular Sunday Mass-goers for the new third edition of the Roman Missal. That meant we had to re-think the calendar. A steering committee of men and women from the diocesan offices began that and then organized a wider committee to test and deepen their ideas. That is how we arrived at our current project. This year we are preparing ourselves to implement the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal on the First Sunday of Advent.
The Office of Worship with the Office of Faith Formation and the project committee are doing that now. The convocation of all the priests of our diocese on February 25 was a highlight of this process. However that is just the beginning. There are workshops for parish staff going on now. There will be workshops for deacons and for school personnel and for the directors of religious education during the rest of the spring. In the fall we will have a coordinated effort of outreach to all Catholics in our parishes. Our aim is not just to get people ready to hear a new translation or to memorize some new responses at Mass. The real aim is consistent with Novo Millennio Ineunte. It is to make this an opportunity to deepen our understanding and our participation in the Mystery of the Eucharist, hearing the Word of God anew and entering more fully into the Eucharistic Sacrifice that proclaims the death and resurrection of the Lord and invites us who participate as members to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus.
If this goes as we hope and pray, then next year we will be ready as a whole Church, laity, consecrated women and men and clergy to “put out into the deep” and be involved in a great act of the New Evangelization. We will be so caught up by the mystery of Christ alive in the mystery of His Body, the Church, that we will become the evangelizers to all our brothers and sisters, Catholics who need to be invited back to regular participation in Sunday Mass.
We all need to belong more deeply. And the more deeply we belong to Christ, the more deeply we belong in the Church and belong to one another as brothers and sisters in Him. And the more we deeply belong, the more we will be inspired by the Spirit to pray and witness to others, inviting them to share what is the great birthright we have received at the baptismal font: life in Christ and life we witness to the world that Christ might be all in all.