success stories

The Problem of Large Parishes

by Godfrey Diekman

Plato recognized that community ceases where personal relationships become impossible. The structuring of the people of God into mammoth congregations instead of communities would seem to be the greatest long-range pastoral, and therefore liturgical, problem facing the American church. At the Council, in the discussion of the role of bishops, the schema enunciated as a first principle that a diocese normally be only so large that the bishop can personally know his priests.

What a structural revolution would ensue if this principle were to be applied further to the parish! Is the phenomenal success of the Cursillo movement in our day due perhaps to the fact that these people are, for the first time in their lives, experiencing that sense of Christian community which the eucharistic assembly and celebration gave to Christians of early times, and are of their nature meant to give today? We know that various palliative expedients are being tried; for example, weekday Masses in homes. Historically, parishes developed from dioceses solely in order to insure the possibility of personal pastor-to-people homes. Whatever the difficulties, and they are mountainous, it would seem imperative therefore that our superparishes similarly undergo a new structuring into community-sized groupings. For only thus can the divine command, reiterated by Trent, be observed: that the pastor know his flock by name, that is, as persons. Only thus can eucharist make a true people of God.