40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #30 Subsidiarity

The word for today is subsidiarity.  Chances are it’s not a word you use every day.  It sounds like it might be something from the new translation of the Roman Missal.  In fact, it’s a principle that’s very relevant to our 21st century world, even if you don’t often hear the actual word.

Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be made as close to the individual level as possible.  In its simplest form, let’s say I’m about to go to lunch.  Where I eat is a decision that’s best made by little ol’ me.  I don’t need any help choosing between a burger joint and a Mexican place.  But what if my wife and I are going to lunch?  Then it’s most likely a joint decision between her and me.  We don’t need to bring in a third party for their opinion and we certainly don’t need the government telling us where to eat lunch.

To put it into Biblical terms, remember what Jesus said about settling a dispute? ”

If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact can be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  Mattthew 18:15-17.

That’s subsidiarity.

Church decisions are to be made at the lowest level where they can be effectively made.  The Pope, through the teaching office of the Church makes the big decisions; the ones that effect the whole world.  Anything less is delegated to the individual bishops.  The bishops make decisions which affect their (arch)diocese alone.  Smaller, more local decision making power is delegated by the bishops to their priests, and even to their deacons.

For example, if you and your Catholic high school sweetheart live in the same parish and you want to get married in that parish, that’s strictly between you and your pastor.  If you want to marry someone from another parish, then both pastors have to approve.  But, if you plan on marrying a Lutheran, then the bishop has to give his permission.

In my personal assignment, I’ve been delegated the operation of a Catholic chapel.  I have a letter from the Archbishop that says so.  I don’t need his approval to pay the gas bill, or to buy hosts, wine, candles, or anything else involved in running the church.  Recently we had to spend a large amount to replace the boiler in church.  For that I got the Archbishop’s permission.

This sounds like a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo.  What’s cool about that?

Here’s the thing.  Decisions that affect your faith are made as close to you as possible.  You’ll probably never, in your entire earthly life, have to write a letter to the Pope.  If you’re unhappy about something, talk to your pastor (or even your deacon).  If you’re still not happy, take it to the Bishop.  If you’re still not satisfied, you always have the option of taking your issue to Rome, but keep in mind that as the leader of one billion Catholics, the Pope’s a pretty busy guy.  Chances are, you’ll get satisfaction much quicker closer to home.

Here’s another example that might clarify subsidiarity.  For many years my church has celebrated midnight Christmas mass at 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.  Supposedly our people don’t like to come out at night.  Recently I’ve been asked to have midnight mass at midnight!  I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet.  I’ll probably discuss it with some other clergy and with parish leaders, but in the end, it’s my call.  I don’t need the Archbishop’s permission, especially since I believe midnight mass is supposed to be celebrated, if not at 12:00, at least after dark.  A reasonable request, made at the lowest level of the hierarchy (namely me) will get the consideration it deserves.

And that’s why subsidiarity is cool.




One Response

  1. Well,I learned a new word today. In my world I call it pecking order.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: