There are so many consolidations, closures and restructuring actions going on within the local dioceses of the Catholic Church in the United States it is mind boggling. One point that is often forgotten is that when the parish community is suppressed or consolidated, merged or aligned into another entity the historical details of that parish’s unique story is neglected and often forgotten. It is virtually impossible to record all of the antidotal tales that formed the parish community over the years, and dioceses and archdioceses are often extremely negligent in providing an archival repository to highlight the life of a parish that no longer exists.
My suggestion, and happily now one of the aspects of my writing services is to provide a writing service for parishes, schools and all other institutions that want to preserve the history and memories of their local faith community in a commemorative history with a book. Often, parishes during their vibrant years produce histories of the parish community for commemorative occasions, such as their twenty-fifth, fiftieth and centennial anniversaries. Such works are remarkable stores of information and reflective of the, sitz im leben of the parish at a particular place and period in time. Valuable information might be gleaned from parish histories that are often forgotten. For example, what was the architectural firm that designed the church, what artists contributed to the adornment of the parish interior, what firm made the stained glass and above all, what were the fundamental reasons and individuals that assisted in the founding, development and growth of the parish throughout the years. All of these points, and many more are part of the life of a faith community and need to be preserved, not just for a record of posterity, but as a testament to the great legacy the parish community of faith contributed to the life of the Church throughout its existence as a parish.
The trend today is to recycle and reuse parts of Catholic churches in newly constructed churches where there is a particular need of superlative stained glass, marble altars and the other classical architectural features that compromise the sacred space of Catholic worship. Quite often, during the transition, the provenance of these articles is lost when the materials are recycled and installed into a new parish entity. The loss of such information in the proverbial chain of custody with works of art by talented artisans and craftsmen that toiled to provide the highest expression of quality of their works is often lost to history when parishes are essentially dry-docked and mothballed and then piece by piece are sold off to newly formed parishes or in some cases other denominations that are seeking articles for their faith communities, such as pews and stained glass and so forth.
Writing a history of a parish faith community, or any community of historical significance is so critically important because it provides a touchstone to the past in order to transmit the experiences of faith that was experienced by the now suppressed parish community. Lessons can be learned by the new parish community that is now installing and enjoying the works of artisans and craftsmen that worked many years before their time, but their works now provide a tangible bridge to link both the past, present and the future of the parish community in the collective beliefs of our common Catholic faith. The magnificence of the Catholic Church is the fact that the message of faith transcends both time and space and provides a cosmology of faith that unites all of us, regardless of our temporal existence in a parish community. Our faith is transcendent, linking the faithful of the past, namely the Church Triumphant, (Ecclesia triumphans) with the Church of the present, the Church Militant (Ecclesia militans) and ultimately the Church of the future, the Church Expectant (Ecclesia expectans.) Additionally, we remember others of our Catholic faith, the Church suffering, (Ecclesia dolens,) those members of the faith that are in a state of Purgatory, with the expectation of experiencing the Beatific Vision once they are purified by prayer to enter into the glories of heaven.
This is our Catholic ecclesiology, namely we are united in prayer and the sacraments with the past, the present and the future of all members of the Catholic faith. Writing a parish narrative that recalls the life of the parish is a shared experience that offers not just a memorial to all of those that have gone before us in faith, it is an inspirational journal to share the faith with the present community and those that will follow us in the celebration of Church through both the Word and Eucharist that exemplify Christ’s living presence among us.
Over the ages the transmission of information and knowledge began with orally told stories. They were told and retold and finally someone decided to write the oral tradition down in a readable form so that the oral story could be told through writing and passed on to future generations. Our own Sacred Scriptures were composed through the same process which utilized the oral traditions of those who actually knew Jesus, they told the story and the story was told and retold until it reverberated throughout the world. Finally, the communities of the ancient Church took it upon themselves to consign the oral traditions into what we call the Canons of Sacred Scripture, the New Testament as we now know and understand it as translated from the original text in Greek. While local parishes are not on the same par as the words of Jesus that were orally transmitted from ancient communities of faith to other faith communities throughout the ancient Holy Land, they too deserve the legacy of the written record to remember their contributions to the life of the Church in their own unique and distinctive way in each parish community from town to town in the same way the ancient Church grew throughout the world to establish the Catholic faith that now covers the world.
If your parish community needs to write a narrative of the history of your parish for any reason, a celebration of an anniversary, the result of a consolidation or closure or just to celebrate the vibrant nature of your parish’s Catholic faith feel free to contact me and we can begin the process together.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting from Lumen Gentium summarizes the stages of the Church’s life most clearly in this excerpt:
The three states of the Church. “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is”‘.