From a reader:
I used to live in a dense part of the city with lots of churches (10 within a 1 mile radius). Partly because we were too tall to fit in the pews, and partly because we wanted to support the efforts of a pastor celebrating the TLM, we registered at the neighboring TLM parish instead of our geographical parish. I always attended daily mass where I work (at lunch), so I never went to my geographical parish .
About 7 months ago we moved to another part of the city that is not quite so dense with churches, and so going to one outside of your proper boundaries is not quite as normal. In the past three weeks I have been attending daily mass in the morning at my current geographical parish due to lots of lunch time meetings. I finally introduced myself to the pastor last week. He asked me about registering and was bristled by the fact that I have been living in his boundaries for so long while still registered and attending mass at the TLM parish.
What is the right thing to do in this situation? My geographical parish is struggling in attendance, finances, and general liveliness.
I can see why the pastor would be upset to “lose” two of “his” people to another parish. The TLM parish isn’t exactly thriving either. It’s mostly elderly Italians. The TLM is mostly people who travel from somewhere else.
I appreciate your guidance on this.
Okay, let’s look at the big picture.
Why are there parishes?
Parishes are established by the bishop (not the Lord) to provide pastoral care for the faithful (can. 515), proclamation of the word of God to the unbaptized and unchurched (can. 528.1), and sanctification of the world (can. 528.2 and 529).
The faithful have a right to worship according to the proper rituals of the Church (can. 214), the right to apostolic activity (can. 216), the right to Christian education (can. 217), and corresponding obligations to “assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of its ministers.” (can. 222) and the obligation to remain in communion (can 209) and be obedient to their pastors (c. 212). By “pastors,” pastores, the Code means bishops, not parish priests.
These rights and obligations are normally, and properly exercised in parishes, which “as a general rule” are territorial (can. 518), but a bishop can establish parishes “by reason of the rite, language, or nationality of the Christian faithful of some territory or even for some other reason.”
Now that the big picture is established, let’s look at the specifics.
Any mention of “registration” – something that seems to have been a creation of North American pastors for various reasons.
Canon law does not recognize any impact of the notion of “registering” in a parish, which is largely unheard of in other parts of the world.
One becomes a member of a parish in one of two ways: by where one lives, or by fitting the category the bishop has laid out for a personal parish.
It is entirely possible for a person to have more than one parish. One might live in St. Ermengild Parish territory, and, by virtue of one’s Cornish nationality, also be a member of St. Tudwal’s-on-the-Slough. If one had a vacation home in Our Lady Queen of Hermits parish, one could even acquire membership in a third parish, by virtue of quasi-domicile.
One need not (canonically) register in any parish, unless the bishop has issued particular law requiring this (which has been done in the Diocese of Honolulu).
Now, lest the pastors (parish priests and bishops!) rise up in anger, there are some very good, practical reasons for registering in a parish.
First, one gets envelopes, which assists one in fulfilling the serious obligation to provide support.
Also, one gets “counted,” which can be important when the bishop sits down and attempts to assign the thirty newly ordained priests each year. If St. Winwaloe has 300 registered parishioners, and St. Venantius has 5000 registered, which parish is more likely to get an associate pastor?
In large parishes, registering gives one a point of connection with the pastor and parish staff.
Registration also makes the parish secretary (who is usually a sweet person, though less likely to have been trained in the niceties of canon law and not always cognizant of the impact of one’s domicile or quasi-domicile) happy. We should all want to make the parish secretary happy.
That said, if one has multiple parish memberships – and especially if one partakes regularly in the material benefits of such – going regular to Mass and confession, picking up a bulletin, enjoying the coffee and doughnuts, calling on the assistance of the pastor to bless one’s house, one’s car, one’s herbs (on Assumption, of course) – one has the corresponding obligation to the best of one’s ability to support those multiple parishes.
It is reasonable (though canon law is mute on this topic) that the percentage of one’s financial support be somehow proportionate both to one’s financial condition, and also to one’s use of a parish’s resources. We are not talking some specific figure or percentage here. We are not dealing with a consumer good. Still, it is a matter of common sense that if you go to daily Mass six days a week in one parish, confession biweekly in another parish, and Sunday Mass in a third parish, but you only put in an envelope to support my “Sunday parish,” you might need to examine my giving habits.
Now if one could, technically, be a member of two or more parishes, but one chooses to exclusively use the “services” of one of those parishes, it follows that one’s financial support should be directed toward the parish one attends.
Those are some guiding points. I hope this helps.