By Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar General
“3Hs? What’s that? Where did it come from?” Many people have been asking that question. Well, let’s try and answer it. But we have to back up first.
In the last quarter of 2018, parishes were sent the five pillars on which a proposed archdiocesan pastoral plan would stand – Parish, Family Life, Clergy and Vocations, Leadership in Church and Society, and Catholic Education. A sixth was eventually added at the behest of the Archbishop —Youth, so the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan now rests on six pillars.
These six topics (pillars) were sent to parishes for discussion which took place over a period of some months. Each pillar was prefaced by a problematic—a statement describing the reality of the topic at hand i.e. where are we when it comes to parish, Catholic education, family life, youth, clergy and vocations, and leadership in Church and society?
It was a no-holds-barred discussion. The number of participants per parish was not many but the discussions lively and riveting in many instances. The reports from such discussions were sent to a panel of experts who sifted through the data and summarised the concerns expressed regarding each pillar.
The topic or pillar that emerged as the one needing most urgent attention was Parish. This was followed by Catholic Education and then Family Life.
In the parish category, there were several concerns but the top three were: hospitality, hymns and homilies. Parishioners felt that hospitality among Catholics was deeply lacking and in many cases poor. Too many people did not feel welcome in the Catholic sacred space—the parish church.
One parish complained about “cliqueism, narcissism, favouritism and materialism”. Those in power were shutting people out, especially new blood and the youth. Many people contrasted their parish churches with the Pentecostal and Open Bible churches which they insisted had a much better hospitality outreach.
The second major concern was the parlous state of affairs regarding music and singing in our churches. The music was bad as was the singing, at best mediocre in too many instances. There did not appear to be anything like regular practice or even proper knowledge of the songs.
All of this was aggravated by what the Catholic Church is famous for—terrible sound systems (Thankfully this is slowly improving). There was bad choice of songs and songs chosen did not match the mood of the occasion. Lack of proper musical instruments and minimal use of digital technology all weakened the liturgy and in many cases, there was regurgitation of “same ole-same ole”.
The quality of homilies was the third major concern. It was generally rated as substandard and in some instances poor. Sometimes the content was good but the delivery was bad; sometimes the delivery was good but the content weak, poor or disjointed, with multiple themes flowing in many directions.
Often both content and delivery were bad. People were sensitive to the burdens under which priests operate, especially the yoke of administration that have become heavier over the years.
Others were sensitive to the strain occasioned by clusters. But all felt if something was not done to improve the quality of homilies people will leave, especially the young. Homilies were also often felt to be disconnected from real-life situations.
Over the next three years the Archdiocese will be concentrating on improving all three. One group cheekily suggested: “The Archbishop should write about the other 3Hs—Hostility, Hypocrisy and Humdrum”.
We cannot let these words of frustration be the last words on parish life. Already the 2011 census revealed that the unaffiliated (or “nones”) increased by 868 per cent! We all need to come on board to reverse this trend.
We have an exciting history, a rich spiritual tradition, a huge corpus of learning and an amazing artistic and musical tradition. Let us evangelise ourselves and one another. Let us pick up the mantle to renew our Church in our Archdiocese.
Note from Office of Pastoral Planning and Development
Over the next three weeks we will be communicating on each of the 3Hs. Next week we will focus on Hospitality, the following week on Hymns and then Homilies.
We invite parishes to engage their parishioners in discussing the status of each of these in your parishes and critically analyse the parish’s Hospitality, Hymns and Homilies.
This should be done in a spirit of humility and in a manner to lift up and build the parish and not to alienate those involved in these areas of work.
Ultimately, as the People of God we are all co-responsible for excellent hospitality, energising and spiritually uplifting music and motivating and enriching homilies- all leading to dynamic Catholics and amazing parishes.
Questions/clarifications/recommendations? Please contact Gary Tagallie at Office of Pastoral Planning and Development at 396-2499.