From a reader…
A recent post of yours got me wondering, how do I know what my territorial parish is? I live in a medium city and there are three parishes almost equidistant to my house.
My wife and I actually go to a fourth parish only slightly further away (the cathedral) because of the preaching.
How do I know which one is my territorial parish, and what are my responsibilities to it? Am I doing anything wrong going somewhere else?
You are not doing anything wrong by going to another parish. However, when it comes to receiving certain sacraments, the local, territorial pastor shouldn’t be ignored.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law starts out describing a diocese as a “portion of the people of God”. Dioceses are usually circumscribed by borders, indicating territory. You belong to your diocese because you dwell in the diocese in a relatively stable way. (There are exceptions, as in the case of the Archdiocese for the Military, to which members of the military and their dependents belong). The Code also says that parishes – which could also be described as “portions of the people of God” -are usually territorial (can. 518): if you live in the boundary of the parish, you probably belong to that parish. (There are exceptions for parishes with boundaries that could stretch to the diocesan boundaries for ethnic or language groups, etc.)
So, in the main, you live in the geographically described territory of some parish. In general if you live really close to a parish church, that’s probably your parish.
However, now parishes are being consolidated. You may live close to St. Joseph Terror of Demons Church, which was formerly its own parish. A couple years ago, it might have been consolidated with the parish Our Lady Mournful Mother Weeping Church to form a larger parish with two churches in it, the new consolidated parish now being called “Through My Fault My Fault My Most Grievous Fault Catholic Community”.
That’s the sort of name I would come up with, by the way, although on my planet, these consolidations would be as rare as hen’s teeth. Alas, these days the usual consolidation names are more like “Sing A New Faith Community Into Being Faith Community” or “Engendering Togetherness Community of Welcome”.
To get a handle on what your territorial parish is, you could call what you think is your local parish. If that doesn’t produce results, call the diocese. Tell them your address and ask which is your official territorial parish.
Mind you: You may have a problem finding someone who knows a) that there are such a thing as parish borders and b) what those borders are.
Some dioceses make it easy. For example, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia provides a way to enter your address on their website to find out your territorial parish. Not all dioceses do that.
This could take some perseverance.
Slowly but surely – at least in developed countries where people are highly mobile – the practical effects of parish boundaries are dissolving and resolving themselves into a dew.
In law people belong to St. Idealia in the Diocese of Libville where with the acquiescence of Bp. Fatty McButterpants the ultra-liberal Fr Bruce Hugalot commits all manner of liturgical abuse and preaches outright heresy, but in practice they are receiving all their services from Msgr. Zuhlsdorf at St. Ipsidipsy, across the diocesan border over in the Diocese of Black Duck!
This isn’t far-fetched. Say you live near your diocese’s border, and there is a far superior option over there in the other diocese. A person might drive from N. Illinois up to Madison WI. Someone might take the subway from Brooklyn (a diocese), into Manhattan (a different diocese).
It’s confusing, but that’s life these days. People are voting with their feet.
It may be that the law will be changed to reflect new realities. It is hard to know what that might look like, however, since the world isn’t homogeneous.