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Fr Billy Swan

In the fourth of a ten part series, I explore the features of what a 'New Irish Catholicism' might look like. This week, we highlight the changing features of the Irish parish from one of geographical space to a community where one belongs, worships and ofers their lives a gifts.

Traditionally, the Catholic parish in Ireland has been understood geographically. It was a defined territory associated with a school, graveyard, Church and village. Belonging to a parish depended on where you grew up. The rapid social changes in recent years have seen a shift away from the parish as a spatial area and towards a faith community to which one belongs and identifies with. St John XXIII beautifully described the parish as ‘the village fountain to which all can come and slake their thirst’. This metaphor takes us back to the spiritual roots of a faith community where people witness to Christ, worship and gather around the Word of God and for the sacraments. It seems inevitable that parishes of the future will be spaces where people know each other, form friendships to counteract isolation, welcome newcomers into the faith and sustain each other in that faith commitment. Going forward, parish communities will need to take greater responsibility for the faith formation of their members and to nurture a mature adult faith that endures a life-time. This will mean a necessary reform of our sacramental system where the sacraments of initiation in particular – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – are grounded in the life of the faith community itself. While the ongoing contribution by parish personnel to Catholic education is vital, the loss of meaning of sacramental celebrations as mere occasions to be facilitated, needs to be addressed. Being ‘sacramentalised but not evangelised’ is a problem that can be ignored no longer. In the words of Bishop Michael Duignan: ‘We need to avoid the temptation to turn our churches into mere sacramental dispensing stations – where people come to pick a religious product rather than be nourished to live the Christian life’ (Pastoral Reflection on the Future of the Church in the Diocese of Clonfert, 28th April 2021). The system that has been in place for decades is no longer fit for the purpose for a prophetic Church that needs to put a greater value on what she stands for and what she has to offer. Many think that if we ask less of people, they will be more attracted to the faith. The opposite is true. The more they are invited to give nothing less than everything, the more compelling and alluring the Catholic faith becomes.

Part 5 next week


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