A reader sent a question. I consulted a canonist for the answer:
Can you discuss the role that parishes play for most Catholics in worship? In particular, I wanted to know the duty that people had to join their territorial parish, the responsibilities people have to their parish, etc. Did this change in the 1983 Code of Canon Law? Often, those of us who care about liturgy become nomads. That’s clearly not what the Church wants. Yet, we have some truly awful parishes out there. What are our responsibilities here?
Many years ago I remember hearing the late Msgr. Richard Schuler talk about this topic. He reflected on the fact that the new, 1983 Code described a parish as a "portion" of the people of God. Since Msgr. Schuler was pastor of a "national" parish rather than a territorial parish, he paid attention to these things.
In many places in the wealthy, developed world we are very mobile. We are not so restricted anymore to the nearest church. Given that people have the right to the Church’s worship according to the book and sound teaching, they often seek what meets their needs.
Still… there has to be some way of figuring out jurisdiction. Right? In the 1983 Code parishes are mainly territorial. The lines are drawn on the world’s map.
Here is where I start working from what the canonist sent.
People belong to the territorial parish in which they reside unless they belong to a personal parish. These later can be national or ethnic or for some chaplaincy such as military, university students…. TLM goers….
The canonist pointed out that there is nothing about the obligation of the faithful to attend or support their territorial parish.
Canon 222 provides that the faithful have an obligation to provide for the needs of the Church – not specifically their parish Church, and, of course, c. 214 establishes that the faithful have the right to worship according to the legitimate provisions of their own rite.
The canonist continues with my emphases:
All of the obligations that speak about parishes are geared towards the obligations of a pastor – he is to ensure that the faithful living in his parish (and indeed EVERYONE living in his parish) have the Gospel proclaimed to them, that the faithful receive religious instruction, that the sacraments are celebrated worthily and frequently, that the sick are visited and comforted – canons 528 and 529 are, in my opinion, two of the most beautiful canons in the Code – and two canons which every pastor of a parish should read on a daily basis.
So, for all the liturgical nomads … there’s no reason to feel guilty for not attending one’s territorial parish, particularly if it is a locus of liturgical abuse. Yes, there can be heroism in suffering in silence, and there can be great virtue in being a leaven to bring about change in one’s territorial parish, but the canonical burden is upon the pastor – not the faithful (who are often guilted into feeling that they should stay worshiping in a parish that fails to provide for their legitimate spiritual needs). I think there can be a balance between a consumerist approach, wherein one shops for the parish that best fits one’s needs, and a martyr approach that says I need to stay put, even though I leave Mass every Sunday more angry and depressed than when I entered.
I would think it a salubrious action to inform one’s territorial parish that one will be attending and participating in the parochial and sacramental life of St. Fidelissimus parish rather than St. Smileyhugs parish, and to give the specific reasons (more faithful liturgy, orthodox preaching, better catechetical programs for the kiddies, specific devotions), and maybe copy it to the bishop or vicar forane. The pastor should be aware of how many parishioners he’s losing out on by letting Sr. Go-Go Boots do liturgical dance. As always, letters should be carefully thought out and crafted, and not done with high emotion – scripta manent!
Very sound reflections.
"But Father! But Father!" some of you… yes, I can hear you … are exclaiming, "You can’t leave us hanging! What are those canons you mentioned? Tell us now, for we are too lazy to look them up ourselves!"
Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
§2. The pastor is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy which, under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the pastor must direct in his own parish and is bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in.
Can. 529 §1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care.
Therefore he is to visit families, sharing especially in the cares, anxieties, and griefs of the faithful, strengthening them in the Lord, and prudently correcting them if they are failing in certain areas. With generous love he is to help the sick, particularly those close to death, by refreshing them solicitously with the sacraments and commending their souls to God; with particular diligence he is to seek out the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, those exiled from their country, and similarly those weighed down by special difficulties. He is to work so that spouses and parents are supported in fulfilling their proper duties and is to foster growth of Christian life in the family.
§2. A pastor is to recognize and promote the proper part which the lay members of the Christian faithful have in the mission of the Church, by fostering their associations for the purposes of religion. He is to cooperate with his own bishop and the presbyterium of the diocese, also working so that the faithful have concern for parochial communion, consider themselves members of the diocese and of the universal Church, and participate in and sustain efforts to promote this same communion.