The Catholic Thing
What Would a Class-A Parish Look Like? Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 23 February 2014

Just a little blue-skying: How about each diocese turning at least one parish into a Class-A Parish? By that I mean a parish that publicly presents itself as proactively working to help each parishioner to become a saint.

After all: “The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments.” (Vatican II) A Class-A Parish is a parish of spiritual abundance, not just the Sunday Mass parish with some catechetics and the sick getting visited in hospital. In fact, given the call to evangelize, this parish is set up to reach out to every person in the area: Do you want to be a Catholic? Do you want to be a saint?

A Class-A Parish is a challenging place where one can be and is pushed to learn about the faith no matter what your age. When Benedict XVI was preaching about the Gospel story of the fig-tree and the vinedresser, he explained that we must not underestimate, “the need to start to change both our interior and exterior way of life straight away in order not to miss the opportunities that Gods mercy affords us to overcome our spiritual laziness and respond to Gods love with our own filial love.”

This could be chiseled on the wall of the parish church.

The Class-A Parish further differs in that all of the learning is based on official Catholic doctrine and does not come from any political party or the New York Times. The education in the parish involves the further step of helping people learn how to understand and apply their faith in practical circumstances such as family life, business, voting, etc. This is a special kind of pedagogy far more sophisticated than stating a few truths. It involves the teacher getting his/her hands dirty understanding and empathizing with people’s lives and deeply understanding the faith, too.

Learning is important because we are exhorted to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”(Romans 12:2) There is only one truth, which is why Paul says that we should be transformed “so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”(Romans 15:6) This unity witnesses concretely to the One Spirit of the One God: “Giving the body unity through Himself and through His power and inner joining of the members, this same Spirit [of God] produces and urges love among the believers.”(Vatican II)

There is a rich spiritual cohesiveness too: “it follows that if one member endures anything, all the members co-endure it, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice.” (Vatican II) This goes far beyond sitting alongside people at Mass. Such a parish involves actually knowing people and relating to them in a comprehensive way.

Benedict XVI richly expresses how this integrity develops: “You do it in a way that helps those who have already received Baptism to rediscover the beauty of the life of faith, the joy of being Christian. ‘Following Christ’ [and it] demands the personal adventure of the quest for him, going with him, but always also entails emerging from the closure of the self, breaking out of the individualism that all too often characterizes the society of our time, to replace selfishness with the community of the new person in Jesus Christ.” This is the spirituality of Catholic community, and it involves a lot of moving beyond your self.

This is not a self-selected community. Nor is it a community of people from one’s own social class. Rather it is a community drawn together by the Living God which also means that everyone is there. Moreover in this parish: “The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God.”(Vatican II)

Hence, rather than the cafeteria-style operations of some parishes, the Class-A Parish is a community where leadership is exercised. This community strives for sanctity and that involves leadership.

Parish buildings might need to be reworked to serve these functions. For example, having texts from Vatican II on flat screens in the foyer or somewhere else where people can stand and read them for a better sense of their faith would be great. Some of the texts from the Office of Readings would help, too. Changing them each week would keep informing even the passersby.

Lastly, such a parish would live in awed and understanding appreciation that: “In the celebration [of the Eucharist] we enter into the mystery of God, into that street that we cannot control: only He is the unique One, the glory, the power. . .He is everything.” (Pope Francis)

He is worth a high-effort, Class-A Parish.

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are Laity: Beautiful, Good and TrueThe World of the Sacraments, and, most recently, Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVIs Verbum Domini.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (25)Add Comment
written by Francis, February 23, 2014
Nice article. I think it should be tried. I live in a former A parish. Vibrant is a good word for it but we lost a pastor who allowed that to happen. We have one now who will not. He like our archbishop have their sights on higher things, retirement. The amazing thing is how quickly the positive feeling left. Far few people now in the pews. I know it's not about the clergy. One thing I have learned in my life is that it is 'never about the clergy and always about the clergy'.
written by Chris in Maryland, February 23, 2014
Father Bramwell:

Thank you for reminding me that I must strive - to contribute to this parish.

In Christus Veritas
written by Mack Hall, HSG, February 23, 2014
"texts from Vatican II on flat screens in the foyer"

The crudely-executed felt banners aren't vulgar enough?

Maybe the flat screens (sic) can also feature huge portraits of Big Brother. And which texts on the Orwellian telescreens? Who decides?

This is a vision, all right, a cultic vision of control and mandated happiness, but not of Christianity.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, February 23, 2014
Thanks Francis. I have always been baffled by the irrelevance of the ongoing life of the parish when the pastor changes. To me it seems callous and demonstrates that the people are not the ones whose needs are being considered.
written by Manfred, February 23, 2014
In our Class-A FSSP parish, appropriately named Our Lady of Fatima, we know that the most important event in the 20th century was not Vatican II, but rather Our Lady appearing six times at Fatima and her continued messages to Sister Lucia Dos Santos, the last of the three seers, throughout her lifetime. She warned of Hell and the fact that "many" souls go there and that it is horrific. After Vatican II, Hell has become a non-place (see Fr. Robert Barron) and of no concern.
We receive sermons on the lives of the SAINTS as the assumption is that anyone who drives the distances most of us drive to attend Mass there must desire to be a saint. We are told in sermons and the confessional HOW we must become saints as the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate.
We also care for the temporal concerns of our members by our pastor discreetly asking for contributions from the more well off to assist parishioners whose names we never know.
Of course, we celebrate the Mass of the 1962 Missal and we know that it mught take thirty years, but that the entire Church will eventually celebrate this as well, as the protestant Novus Ordo has been an unmitigated disaster.
We are encouraged to pray the Rosary every day if possible and to wear either the brown scapular or the miraclous medal every day to draw upon the promises of daily graces and of a happy death associated with both.
written by John, February 23, 2014
A Class A parish would not ignore its singles and would have prayers for single people seeking marriage at every mass.
written by Finola, February 23, 2014
Thank you Father Bramwell - I enjoyed your inspiring and uplifting article. A good and holy pastor makes such a difference to a parish. It is so much more inviting to attend a banquet when you love the presider or witness his reverence. As laity, we need encouragement to stir us and arouse that spiritual laziness which I for one battle with every day. Love the idea of being able to read texts on flat screens. Thank you for your inspiring words and God Bless your priestly vocation.
written by cermak_rd, February 23, 2014
“The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God.”

That sounds rather cultic and reminds me of the abuses perpetrated in the Holiness churches with the saying "Touch not the Lord's Anointed."

The big problem with it, though, is there is no lever to make the laity obey it. Make their life hard enough at this Class A parish, they'll simply go to a different one (territorial parishes are a vestigial concept in the Catholic church). Which means that in time, this parish will be ghetoo-ized with only the like-minded in attendance and won't be a sign to anything.
written by Augustine Thomas, February 23, 2014
They a have a Class-A Mass.. People call it 'Vetus Ordo' or 'TLM', or 'the Extraordinary Form'.
(Don't let the Pope get wind of this.. He shuts down all Class-A Masses and parishes so his leftist friends don't get their feelings hurt by being forced to witness orthodoxy and its attendant proper worship.)
written by Seanachie, February 23, 2014
What comes first...Class-A Parishes or Class-A Parishioners? Seems to me that Class-A Parishioners are the foundation of the Class-A Parish you describe. How many Catholics are, or wish to be, Class-A Parishioners?
written by Dave, February 23, 2014
There is an example of a Class-A parish in Northern VA, that never has and never will have flat screens with sections of VCII documents displayed. Nonetheless, the liturgy there is celebrated with great reverence, in both English and Latin; the laity is engaged and informed -- and happy! --; and people are on the path to sanctity. It is St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls.
written by Graham, February 23, 2014
After my entrance into the Church at Easter Vigil 2009, I realized that I could not become a member of the parish. Through a kind and understanding Catholic I was recommended to a parish in the City of Detroit. Founded in 1832 by Catholic German immigrants it has a stone and wood sanctuary and that rare thing, a parish cemetery for the faithful. The stain glass windows are as beautiful as any I saw in New York for example -- depicting St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory the Great, St. Stephen etc. Before I began to attend Mass at this parish I went to Confession once or twice a year at large reconciliation services with dozens of priests held throughout the diocese. Now I go to Confession at least once or twice a month. My favorite confessor often quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul and others when he counsels me -- even before the 6:30AM Sunday Mass. There are often long lines outside at least two of the "old fashioned" confessionals on Sunday morning. Something I never saw at the typical Saturday afternoon Confessions scheduled at most parishes. Traditional Latin Masses are offered not only every Sunday but also at daily masses during the week. Mass is not interrupted by the meet and greet after the Our Father. Christmas Eve Midnight Mass was set to the music of Cesar Franck's Mass in A performed by a chamber orchestra accompanied by the parish choir. The pastor directs the music himself at times -- he is a classically trained musician. Worship is solemn yet beautiful -- authentically religious and Christ-centered and not "merely aesthetic." And certainly not in my case liturgical nostalgia -- I grew up with the Book of Common Prayer. At times it can be an almost liturgical glimpse into that eternity that awaits the truly faithful (which I someday hope to be). Adult and child catechism classes are taught by the pastor not fobbed off onto a lay religious education instructor. The pastor sees this as one of his primary duties -- as it indeed is or once was. Although I completed RCIA some years ago, I have attended adult classes in recent months and it has been revelatory and fortifying to listen to a priest who teaches the Catholic Faith with seriousness, insight and humor as well as humility. I have also learned something I never appreciated before -- that my practice of the Faith is only possible by example especially the example of the devout clergy, religious, and laity that I have encountered in the midst of the despair and devastation that Detroit has become. A tragic landscape which is as Father said one evening, a moral disaster, not an economic one. But then he believes that "institutional justice is not true charity."

This is done without the smoke and mirrors of relevancy and digital technology. I have come to see what the pastoral can be. That this parish is often dismissed as "hard Catholic" doesn't surprise me but it does reveal that too many Catholics do not know what they have lost.
written by Deacon Peter Trahan, February 24, 2014
I thought you would never ask:
No need to blue-sky "come and you will see."
St Bonaventure Parish
Archdiocese of Miami
written by Henry, February 24, 2014
One of the things my new wife (now departed) in a long ago blessed marriage asked of me was that, she didn't want me to be a saint. We also had four nice kids. She was a very good mother to them, but I'm still trying to figure the logic of her request. I think she got her wish though.
written by Sherry, February 24, 2014
The most "Class-A" parish I have ever experienced is St. John of the Cross in Vero Beach, Florida. It is a reverent and
holy parish.

By looking at their excellent website - - you will see that they truly "publicly present themselves as proactively working to help each parishoner to become a saint". And, that is exactly what they do - not just sometimes on some things - but all the time on all things.

written by Larry in Gilbert, AZ, February 25, 2014
Is this what a priest's fantasy would look like?

Funny, but I don't recall seeing anything in the spiritual or corporal works of mercy or the precepts of the church, about having video monitors.

Instead, the typical parish has a priest near retirement who is covering multiple parishes, who is doing the best he can.

There's a loud and vocal minority who thinks every parish needs to be "vibrant". But most of us don't feel that way. In fact we prefer as "non-vibrant" as we can get.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, February 25, 2014
Larry, I have to say this is not a priest's fantasy-although that is a nice dismissive to way to frame it! This is from the official teaching of the Church that is not so easy to dismiss.
written by John, February 25, 2014
"...does not come from any political party..."

Strange though this may sound, this view strikes me as a VERY serious error! Certainly we don't want doctrine taught according to the whims of one political party or another. On the other hand, we can't in good conscience assume that all input from a political party is inherently wrong merely be virtue of being from a political party.

..And for what it's worth, I've long felt that one political party already held entirely too much influence over the Church's practical decision-making. When ideas from the other side came into play a few years ago, I recall being shocked when charges of "partisan politics" came about.
Major political parties have come about because of serious philosophical and moral differences amongst people, not because one party or the other is always inherently right or inherently wrong.

..And as much as I regret saying it, we can't always lean the Catechism of the Catholic Church to settle matters because, well, especially in matters of economics, both sides can readily interpret the text of said Catechism to back their views.
Thus the debate carries on....
written by Kevin, February 25, 2014

I am a man now 50 who has experienced more than his share of abuse - sexual and otherwise from the Catholic Church and/ or some of its clerical hierarchy. Near destroyed me and my faith.

But God gave a strong gift of faith to me through my parents. It's saved my life, literally, on several occasions. I had been so very, very sorely tempted to give up on all things Catholic - but God thought different and through the Mother of Jesus I was kept Home. She holds tightly onto us. I had thought about religious life since childhood which took me to the first place I was so abused. Maybe the ol' devil saw me coming.

I still feel a strong call to a life dedicated mostly to prayer and the service of all others. But can't seem to find a place open to those like me. Once 'abuse' is part of your history - even it's never your fault - can seem like you are given an extra thrashing from that cat o' nine tails.

Prayer is the Power House of the Church. Any of you good Catholic people know anyone, anywhere - might speak to me, think about it as a possibility and give me a chance to use the gifts God has given me - for healing the rifts in the Body of Christ - primarily through intense prayer life ?

Maybe you good people in US would take in an Irishman for same.

Thank you.

God bless you all, your families and friends.

Our Lady - Our Dear Sweet Mother - guide us all - ever to Jesus.

Kevin (Ireland)

Anyone who might contact -
written by Gary, February 25, 2014
I, like a few others, attend an FSSP parish. Again a very vibrant parish that is growing every year by about 10%, yet it is in an older part of town. Why is it vibrant? One is the holiness of the Priest, another is the holiness of the Traditional Latin Mass, another is the very devout attitudes of the parishioners, another is the donuts and lunch after Sunday Masses to help build a sense of community. There are several members who drive more than 150 miles once or more every week. I myself drive about 70 miles to Mass. Sadly, the Church is an old Baptist church and thus doesn't have the beauty of the older Catholic Churches.

When I came back to the Church, I tried several of our local parishes and found them almost spiritually dead. The priests seem to be going through the motions during Mass, confession by appointment only, no outreach, no reverence, and on and on. I attend the daily Mass at one of them and I must serve because none of the kids want to serve or just show up when they want to. I have asked Father to show me how I can serve God more fully in the Church, visiting home bound, or whatever and the answer is that the Church doesn't need anything. He wouldn't even ask me to serve unless I had asked him if I could.

What is the FSSP teaching it's priests that the local diocese is not?
written by Rosemary, February 25, 2014
The pro-active parish should begin with the pastor. He is the shepherd who should set the tone and inspire the flock to get out and get active in all the different Catholic pastures that will spiritually nurture the flock.

Unfortunately, with a dwindling pool of available priests to do this, it seems that pastors don't have time to be the inspiring figures they usually were. It is difficult for the pastor to delegate work because there are no assistant priests to help him. This causes some pastors to either be unable to monitor the parish's activities or to become a super controller who is afraid of letting the laity become pro-active. I have seen both situations but more the latter.

The first step to evangelizing is to help the faithful laity understand the damage that is done to the Church (which is themselves and Christ) by practicing contraception. When the world sees how open to life the laity are, how trusting they are in God's Providence, it will take notice. When the world sees that we serve God, and not mammon, and that we take joy in whatever worldly deprivation our sacrifices entail, we will be able to truly evangelize. And not one moment before.

written by Stilbelieve, February 25, 2014
Such a parish would exist automatically if not a single laity and clergy were endorsing with their name and support the pro-abortion, pro-same sex "marriage," anti-First Amendment Constitutional Right of Freedom of Religion, anti-God Democratic Party. That would be a congregation that truly believe what they profess to believe and pray for.
written by Larry in Gilbert, AZ, February 26, 2014
It must be very tiring to be a priest.

In addition to covering multiple parishes, or running a city parish of thousands of families by himself when in years past, the same parish might have had 3 or 4, he has to deal with one-note folks who are convinced that their hot topic is the one and only way to revive the Church.

"We need to go back to the Latin Mass so we aren't spiritually dead."

"We need to preach pro-life all the time, that will solve all our problems."

"Politics, politics, politics."

It's a job I would not want.
written by Jacqueline Lynch, February 27, 2014
One parish that is "Class A" in a whole new way is Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. Read "Rebuilt" by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran!!!
written by Larry in Gilbert, AZ, February 27, 2014
From Amazon:

"Drawing on the wisdom gleaned from thriving mega-churches and innovative business leaders "

See, this is exactly what Catholic parishes do NOT need. Not in any way.

"Tom Corcoran received his bachelor's degree from Loyola University Maryland and completed his graduate work in theology with Franciscan University of Steubenville. Corcoran has served Church of the Nativity in a variety of roles that give him a unique perspective on parish ministry and leadership."

I predict that the next "reform of the reform" will be to purge parishes of all these lay "leaders".

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