Parish pastoral councils help in fostering pastoral activity (Canon 536), distinct from parish finance councils, which aid the pastor in the administration of parish goods. (Canon 537)
The experience of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over the past thirty years has clarified the answers to the following questions: What do pastors stand to gain by having a council? and What do parishioners accomplish by serving in one?
Pastors establish councils because they seek practical advice on pastoral matters. They believe that God's Spirit speaks through their people. They consult their councils because they want to know what is wise and prudent. Outside experts cannot judge what is best for a particular parish, because they are not part of it. Councils offer what no expert can offer, a judgment about what is right for a particular parish. That is the pastor's primary motive for having a council.
Parishioners want to serve on councils, we believe, in order to advise the pastor wisely and prudently. Every leader needs good counsel. Recommendations developed by a pastoral council will be good to the degree that the council reaches its goal. That goal is to investigate pastoral matters and to reflect on them thoroughly, so as to draw sound conclusions. Council members believe that God's Spirit is present in their community. They study the pastoral situation so as to help the parish see it more clearly. They have the satisfaction of doing an important task, which contributes to the well being of the Church.
Further information can be found from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).