From a reader…
My family and I regularly travel to a different parish, in a different diocese, to attend Mass at an FSSP Mass centre. The FSSP Mass centre is served by priests from a nearby personal parish, where the senior FSSP priest is parish priest. We are regulars there, I sing in the choir and so on.
My local parish is orthodox but un-traditional in its liturgy.
If parish priests truly have authority over the baptised Catholics in their territorial parish, are we erring by going to Mass elsewhere without seeking the local parish priest’s permission? If he really is our spiritual father, are we wrong to pass up on his paternal care and go elsewhere?
I consider it a positive good for me and my family to attend the traditional Mass wherever possible and it would be a big sacrifice for us to go to the typical local Novus Ordo instead, but this question of the parish priest’s authority over us bothers me.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
It’s been centuries really since the Church spoke of the role of a parish priest as having “authority” over his parishioners. The preferred terminology speaks of the pastor’s “care of souls” rather than his authority over them. Certainly, within that umbrella of “cura animarum” there is something to be said of the pastor’s authority over those he cares for. He is, or should be, truly a “pastor” – a shepherd of sorts. Canons 528 and 529 speak expansively (and beautifully) of the role of the pastor – these canons should be part of every pastor’s regular prayer and meditation. The pastor is exhorted, for example, “to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. He is therefore to visit their families, sharing in their cares and anxieties and, in a special way, their sorrows, comforting them in the Lord. If in certain matters they are found wanting, he is prudently to correct them…”
Absent from the canonical description of a pastor’s duties: coming up with a parish mission statement, filling out endless forms from the chancery office, selecting napkin colors for the next parish social.
In our modern and very mobile world, people regularly choose to worship in places apart from their canonical parish. That’s simply a fact of life today. Very few pastors (if any) put up a fuss when their “subjects” choose to go elsewhere. Is it the ideal? No. Is it the reality today? Yes.
I would say, since your territorial pastor is orthodox, it might be beneficial to set up a meeting with him. Introduce yourself, and explain why you’ve chosen to take your family to a nearby parish for the Extraordinary Form. You needn’t ask his permission to do so, but informing him of your reasons might start a healthy conversation. Since the FSSP church is across diocesan boundaries, it would also be good to establish at least some sort of relationship with your territorial pastor in case, down the road, issues come up with regards to permission for confirmation, marriage, serving as godparents and the like.