In the first 50 years of St Flannan’s Parish change has been constant and this is a reflection of the current changes in the universal church. In the sixteenth century the church experienced the almighty upheaval of the Protestant Reformation which was quickly followed by the Catholic Reformation. For four hundred years the conflict between the two groups continued, while the world changed dramatically and both groups were in danger of becoming obsolete. In 1962 the Vatican II council began and the relationship of the two groups changed, for the better. The teachings of this Pastoral council were aimed at reforming the Catholic Church and making it relevant to the people of the 20th Century, and that included the people of St Flannan’s.
So, no sooner did the parish begin in a newly settled urban area and get itself organised, than it had to start and change the habits of centuries. And it succeeded. The combination of zealous priests and a loyal, hard working laity accomplished the transformation. And both the parish and people are still changing.
The changes that have taken place since 1964/5 may be roughly divided into two groups. Those changes made by the church itself, internal, and those made by government bodies etc, external.
Internal – these include the changes to the Liturgy such as the use of English instead of Latin, the new rites of the Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Baptism, the internal changes to the church building to concentrate attention on the altar and pray the mass rather than pray at mass, reading the Bible, the Ecumenical movement, the Direct Giving schemes, the Finance Council, the more active participation in ceremonies by the Laity, the Parish Council, teaching in the school, etc.
Meanwhile, the attitude of many to the church, especially the young people, began to change and this resulted in great numbers giving up the active practice of their religion. At the same time many priests and religious were leaving their ministry and/or the Church, and the numbers entering religious life were declining. This brought more changes in its wake such as the priestless parish, to say nothing of the anguish many felt when their children ceased to attend mass.
The role of the Laity was changing from a somewhat passive role in which the layperson depended on the Priest to organise the parish and issue instructions, to a more active innovative role. The spiritual role was also changing in that laypeople took more responsibility for their actions even if they conflicted with official church teaching or what the church encouraged. This became apparent in the attitude to contraception as women were asserting control over their fertility. Women are also demanding equality in decision making in the Church.
Other changes took place in relation to Reconciliation where the Third Rite was much preferred to the First Rite. Reception of Communion increased greatly, partly due to the changes in the fast before Communion. How many people still know that there is an hour fast? For some, attendance at weekend mass became optional rather than an obligation. Mixed marriages are no longer regarded as something to be carefully avoided. Changes in dress started with women no longer having to cover their heads in church, and both men and women began to wear casual clothing rather than their ‘Sunday best’. For some, casual means very casual. The priest vested at the entrance of the church and talked to the parishioners as they arrived. The parishioners talked to each other in church.
The structure of the parish has dramatically changed over the last fifty years. Fr Greene did not have an assistant priest, nor did Fr Doyle until the late 1970s but they did have the help of the Sisters. Fr Heenan had assistant priests, and later, a Pastoral Assistant as well. Fr Warbrooke had a Pastoral Assistant but Fr Kilinko is now on his own. At the same time, the parishioners have accepted more responsibility by undertaking a wide range of activities in helping to run the parish.
Outside – Over the years, Government funding for schools increased from practically nothing to very substantial. Without this funding the schools could not function. Workplace Health & Safety laws, Discrimination legislation, Child protection laws, Educational curricula, teaching methods and school technology change continuously.
What of the future? More and greater change as the church faces an increasingly complex and increasingly rapidly changing world.
Present Parish Profile at St Flannan’s
NB: The following National Church Life Survey graph shows only the active parishioners, i.e. those who regularly attend mass at St Flannan’s.
St Flannan’s parish is shown on the ‘diamond line’. The average parish is shown on the ‘square line’.
The above graph clearly shows the age structure of the active parishioners compared with similar parishioners in the average parish in the survey. The ‘diamond line’ charts the percentage size of each age group in the parish. The ‘square line’ charts the percentage of each age group in the average parish of the whole survey.
St Flannan’s shows:
A definite deficit of young people aged between 15 and 39, compared to average parish;
A clear surplus of people aged from 50 and over, compared to the average parish;
These are clear signs of an aging parish; many of the young people are not active. This is further shown in the section on:
Our Children’s attendance at church (15 years and older)
Still attend 37% (Australian average 43%)
Attend another Catholic Church: 7%
Do not attend any church: 55%
Unless this trend is reversed the parish is in danger of being unable to finance its existence. If the young people are not attending, then their children probably will not attend either, and so the situation worsens.
Where do we go from here?
The previous 50 years have seen the rise and decline in the numbers of active Parishioners. What of the next 50 years? Will the decline continue and the parish disappear, or merge with one or other of the surrounding parishes, or evolve into some altogether new form?
Two Cardinals, recently reported in The Tablet (14/12/2002 p.12), have very striking views on the future of parishes as functioning organisations.
Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (Westminster) asserts that the parish must become a “communion of communities” and “more like a movement.”
James Stafford, president of the Vatican’s Council for the Laity, thinks that “The greatest fruit of Vatican II was the new lay communities”. (Neocatechumenate, Focalre, Legionnaries of Christ, Communion and Liberation, Basic Christian Communities, Opus Dei, the Charismatic Renewal, etc.) Unlike the parishes, the new movements “know how to build community in the power of the Holy Spirit”. Parishes, he argues, were too often “communities of aliens”.
The parish is not a fixed and final form of ecclesial organisation. It evolved from earlier forms and did not become prominent until the sixth century of the Christian era. It is very obviously in a changing form at present. This is clearly shown by the changes forced on us through the Shaping and Staffing procedures of the 1990’s, which were caused by the ‘shortage’ of priests, which was partly caused by a change in attitudes towards the priesthood and a wider variety of vocational choices, which was caused partly by improvements in education, which was caused partly by the industrial revolution, which was partly caused by the enlightenment, which was caused by human nature. And since human nature is here to stay there will be continuing change, for unless we change, we die.
Over the last 2000 years the Church has transformed European society several times. Each transformation was partly driven, or led, by such groups as Martyrs, Councils of Bishops, Benedictine Monasteries, Papacy, Religious Orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans in the Medieval period, the Jesuits and Redemptorists in the Counter Reformation period, the teaching orders in the Industrial Revolution period. Today all of these groups are still operating, and for the first time, the Laity is becoming active in a leadership role. For the last 40 years the priests of Zillmere have been working to teach and encourage the laity to take up their responsibility for the parish and the wider community. The timeless work continues on into the 21st Century. How long O Lord, how long