QUAERITUR: At which parish should I register?

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 (can. 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.

What’s missing?

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Phil_NL says:

    Registration has become common in the Netherlands as well, as the number of people whose ‘actual’ parish (the one they assist at at Mass, and so on) is different from their geographical one increases. Last time I looked, a majority of the people of the parish I’m registered with actually live outside the geographical area! This is in no small part due to a reverent (OF) Mass, largely in latin, a decent choir, intelligent (though somewhat sedate) preaching and a neo-gothical church instead of the more usual adapted-sports-building style.

    Obviously, that means a transfer of funds, and nearby parishes are presumably not nearly as finacially sound (frankly, I couldn’t discount the notion that played a role when our previous bishop ordered a merger with the cathedral parish…). And yes, that will add to the frustration of the neighboring parish councils. But it also sends a clear message to the bishop on which churches to keep open and staffed with a priest. And the nature of the priest. I’d say that is more important than smearing out resources over a lot of 13-in-a-dozen guitar-loving parishes who will have to be reorganised anyway.

    Darwin did have some useful insights, in a way…

  2. frjim4321 says:

    It is good for everyone to hear this reminder about the registration myth. Basically, registration is about where to send envelope packets, and possible a few other pastoral reasons.

    Many people have attended here for years without registering in the parish. Some we only know because of the occasions loose check in the collection. We have a few that come a distance to be here for some reason, but that’s no brag because sure there are people that live a minute down the road that go just as far in the opposite direction. The geographical boundaries don’t seem to matter as much any more.

    Ironically, though, with respect to shared services, if you mention that PSR or something like that is going to be combined at the neighboring parish there is an uproar . . . however people will drive twice as far for the groceries, a movie or something else without thinking twice.

  3. LisaP. says:

    Solid and helpful info.

  4. heway says:

    When my children were old enough to live on their own, we had a discussion re: registering in a parish. Most important was so that the parish would know who you were when you needed sacramental assistance – a reference to be a godfather, a reference for your marriage, somoene to bring you the Blessed Sacrament when you are ill…and on and on. As for the financial end of it -do you like your church to have lights, air conditioning, heat…all these things cost money. As for the TLM or NO, find a church that is near you so you can attend often, remembering that the most important thing is the availability of the sacraments, not the TLM or NO, or the personality of the pastor. Jesus is in the tabernacle, visit Him, talk to HIm and everything else in your life will fall into place.

  5. Jason Keener says:

    Unfortunately, I have also seen it written in parish bulletins and directories here in the United States that if someone is not a registered member of a parish they can/will be denied the services of the parish and even the sacraments. That is totally contrary to canon law and should never be stated in a bulletin or parish directory because every Catholic, registered or not, ultimately has a right to the services of the parish in their geographic territory. In fact, to my understanding, geographic parishes were set up to ensure that all Catholics within a certain territory will have guaranteed access to the sacraments. Of course, registration is a good thing to do because it helps with parish planning; however, no one should ever be denied the sacraments in their geographic parish simply because they are not registered.

  6. AnnAsher says:

    This is also helpful to me to see canonically the facts of the matter. We are registered at our TLM parish in another Diocese. When our Bishop wrote with permission for a child to be Confirmed by the other Bishop, and wished us well in our attendance at the parish – I took that to mean we were OK. Still on the times we attend our local parishes, we put money in the plate. This article leads me to realize though that I will have to make additional effort to tithe for the Confessions that are now being heard locally as well if this becomes a regular habit. I’m thinking I can drop a donation in the mail.

  7. Joe Magarac says:

    Registration can be helpful for another reason: it lets pastors know that you are a Catholic in good standing, which can be helpful when it comes time to prepare for certain sacraments. For example, when I wanted my brother (who lives in another city) to be godfather to one of my kids, our pastor wanted some proof that my brother was a Catholic. Registration served that purpose. It could do the same if you are marrying someone in her home parish and her pastor wants to know if you are more than just a baptized Catholic; etc. I don’t know if pastors should make a big deal of this, but some do, and registration is helpful when they do.

    Registration makes sense in the USA because we are such a religiously diverse nation. In traditionally Catholic countries, a pastor could assume that everyone in his territory was at least nominally Catholic. Not so here; hence the development of registration.

  8. mike cliffson says:

    Interesting reply.
    I´ ve heard expat Brit Catholics moaning about some weird complications stateside getting the Kids into catholic schools.Would registration be a part of this? (Not that that’s easy anywhere. Spain is a problem, Uk see Ukblogs, and these days I`d homeschool generally, but that’s another matter.)

  9. TMKent says:

    This registration excuse is used an abused by many pastors. A couple of years ago our son returned home from college having just graduated with a teaching degree. He had been a “member” of our parish by virtue of our family registration since his baptism, attending mass with us whenever he was home from school. About a month after graduation, he was offered a teaching position in a Catholic School in another city in our diocese and the application required that he receive the signiture of his pastor. Our pastor had changed while he was at school so our 22 year old son went to see the pastor with his 18 year old brother along to help with the introduction (his brother had just recieved a certificate from the current pastor a week before – for 9 years of altar serving). The pastor refused to sign the form, as our son was not registered as an adult. He tried to explain that he’d only been out of school for a few weeks, was living with us and since he would be moving for work, he would register for the first time at his new parish. No such luck. He left crying and his brother was furious. More damage was done to both our sons’ faith in that one encounter than anything else in their young lives.
    BTW – the pastor at his new job remembered him from KofC/scouts/ etc. and signed for him. Our son is now married and teaching for the Diocese, but it was years before he could bring himself to return to mass at the parish where he was raised.

  10. TMT:

    As Father said, registration means church envelopes, and if there is a school, the parish, most likely, providing a subsidy. I am sure you can appreciate the frustration of pastors and active parishioners over those who wish to send their children to a Catholic school without supporting the parish — and I don’t just mean monetary support. We don’t want it to be just about money but commitment; yet it needs to be somewhat about money of course.

    I don’t know where your friends were living, but hereabouts it is mighty easy to get into a Catholic school. Not sure why there needed to be ‘moaning.’

  11. Sorry, meant that for mike.

  12. To ampliphy a point made by our host…

    Registration does help connect you. At my last parish, I would visit folks in the hospital, and I always felt awkward when someone identified my parish as his own and I didn’t know the person. But, you know, if folks never stay after Mass, never get involved, and then aren’t even on the list of parishioners–so that I would at east have seen the name–it is rather hard for a priest to know such folks. And when folks were hurt that I didn’t know them, does it occur to them why? (I’m not exculpating myself from trying harder to know folks but it takes time.)

  13. vox borealis says:

    I have a silly question: how is one’s geographic parish determined? Is it merely the parish of the nearest church, or does each diocese draw up official boundaries (like city wards or voting districts)?

  14. acardnal says:

    Another practical aspect of registering at a parish is that your monetary donations will be recorded, and you will be sent a year-end receipt so you can deduct this amount on your IRS tax return.

  15. acardnal says:

    vox borealis, the diocese actually determines the parish boundaries by citing the names of roads, highways, streets, etc.

  16. Tim Ferguson says:

    As a canonist, I’ve done a lot of thinking about parish boundaries and registration and membership and all. It seems to me that the law on the matter, as it is written, is directed more towards parish priests than towards the lay faithful. A parish is given boundaries (either geographical or personal) not to “corral” the faithful into a box, but to provide the parish priest with reasonable parameters for his ministry. He is given the cure of these souls.

    Asking the faithful to register in a parish can be a great means of assisting the parish priest in his job (read canons 528 and 529 sometime, and see what the law requires a parish priest to do – seek out the lonely, visit families, care for exiles, foster the growth of the Christian life – clearly more than one man can do, which is why parish priest needs to work collaboratively and deserves every bit of help we laity can give him). How can he know the people of his parish, unless he’s got access to their names and addresses?

  17. vox borealis says:


    Thanks for that. I had always wondered. As far as I can tell, my family has probably never attended mass at our “official” parish—even when I was a kid. I wonder sometimes if it is outdated the notion that one is more or less obligated to one’s geographic parish. In fact, I have played around with the idea that the parish itself is perhaps an outmoded organizational structure, at least in western Europe and North America, where people are more mobile and are presented with a wide range of parish options (many different languages, etc), and where there are increasingly too many parishes for not enough priests.

  18. mamajen says:

    My husband and I have yet to formally register in a parish. The only time it presented a problem was when my sister in another parish asked us to be godparents and they wanted written proof that we are Catholics in good standing. It was difficult to obtain the required evidence because we weren’t “on file” anywhere and the priest who sees us every week wasn’t available to write the letter. Other than that, though, it hasn’t been an issue. With my son getting older I am thinking of switching parishes to a place where they have better altar server training. Once we decide where we want to be we will perhaps register.

  19. Skeinster says:

    Interesting comments.
    Like many of the members at our TLM parish, I live in a different diocese. We supposedly cannot be registered officially in the parish b/c of that, even though we teach Catechism, head an Altar Society Team, work on a Sunday Social group, etc.. So there are two lists. But information above seems to contradict this practice.

    Now, I do go to daily Mass or Adoration occasionally at the local parish. Since I pay my grandchild’s tuition to their preschool, I consider that a contribution. Is that reasonable support?

  20. Meli says:

    My question is:

    What if your geographical parish is clearly NOT conducting itself in a way that is beneficial to your soul? They have been in fishwraps for some various actions of the pastor and the congregation, and not in a good way.

    We left the parish church up the street after much prayer and discernment, for the one attached to our school. Including formally transfering our registration from one to the other. So if we’re registered and participating in the parish life of our new parish are we in violation of any canon? [I think that is what the answer at the top was all about.]

  21. majuscule says:

    I think I registered in my parish. I filled out the little form in the bulletin and placed it in the collection basket. I get church mailings . Nowhere did the form ask for proof that I had been baptized or confirmed. So I don’t see how (in this case at least) registration could be used as proof that I could be a godparent or such.

    Just sayin’…

  22. AaronStreeting says:

    I have not gone to my territorial parish for nearly my entire life. When I was about two years old, my parents decided they couldn’t continue to bring up their children in the dissenting, liberal, and liturgically bizarre parish down the street. This was around 1980. The pastor was a complete heretic, and (among other things) they even used home-made bread for the Eucharist. My parents tried to make it work for a few years, but I believe a Halloween Mass was the final straw.

    After that, they went “parish shopping” and we started attending an orthodox parish 15 minutes away. We registered and it became our spiritual home, and we received our sacraments and went to school there. Geography was never an issue with any of the pastors. My family stayed with the parish and stuck with the great pastors and the so-so ones for the next 30+ years. Our family was very active and involved, and we have always identified closely with the parish. It was our spiritual home, and never once were we made to feel like outsiders. We were more than “registered.” We BELONGED to the parish in every meaningful sense.

    Now that I am married and have kids of my own, my family belongs to a parish 10 minutes away, even though we live in the boundaries of another parish. We are very active, we support the parish (and only this parish) financially, and we look at our pastor as our spiritual father. We have a very loving and supportive community, and we are at peace there. We don’t ever plan to leave as long as we live within reasonable driving distance. It is where we are fed. Until Fr. Z started posting about the canonical meaninglessness of registration and the geographical jurisdiction of the parish, I’d never given it a second thought. I knew about parish boundaries, but in my experience, they are largely ignored.

    I understand the importance of belonging to a parish, and I don’t think you should abandon a parish as soon as your favorite priest leaves or something like that, but I think you should belong to the parish where you are fed. Most importantly, I wouldn’t get scrupulous about parish boundaries if you already have a parish home.

  23. flyfree432 says:

    Our registration form asks for dates for all family members for their Sacraments. We have people who go to our parish from as far as 40 miles away, and a lot of people (probably 150-200 Catholics) who go to the parish 10 minutes down the road because they like speed-guitar Masses (the Sunday Mass there rarely goes over 40 minutes). Boundaries seem to mean very little.

  24. acardnal says:

    In my experience, registration is needed in a parish for administration of the sacraments especially baptism, confirmation and marriage. The pastor puts notices in the bulletin advising them to put their envelopes in the collection basket (or electronically via EFT) so there is a record of their “active participation” in Catholic life. He states that if one cannot afford to give funds regularly, just put the empty envelope in the basket so it can be recorded.

  25. acardnal says:

    Here are two paragraphs from the Sunday bulletin regarding parish registration and the sacraments.

    Sacrament of Baptism
    Parish Registration and the Baptism
    class are required. Baptisms are held
    every Sunday of each month at 1:30
    p.m. in the Church Baptistery. Please
    contact the parish secretary to register
    for the Baptism classes. Plan to
    attend the classes before the birth of the child.

    Sacrament of Matrimony
    In accordance with the regulations
    of the Bishop of Arlington,
    couples must contact a priest and
    begin preparation at least six
    months prior to the wedding.
    Parish registration and active
    participation for a minimum of 3
    months is required before
    preparation may begin. Living
    together before marriage is sinful and harmful to the
    future marriage. Couples who are living together will be
    asked to live separately during the preparation time.

  26. acardnal says:

    And one more, the BIG one:

    What does it mean to be an active Catholic?
    Frequently, those seeking to celebrate
    Marriage, have children baptized, or serve
    as sponsors for Confirmation or Baptism
    request a letter stating that they are
    parishioners and active, practicing
    Catholics. To receive such a letter, one
    must be registered in the parish for at least
    3 months, attend Mass regularly, and be
    committed to a stewardship of time, talent,
    and treasure. We encourage all
    parishioners to become active in one of the
    parish organizations. In a community as large as Our
    Lady of Hope, one means of verifying participation is
    through the use of parish offertory envelopes. If you
    choose not to participate in the support of the parish, or
    are unable to contribute at this time, please at least note
    your prayerful support on your envelope and place it in
    the weekly offertory. We will then be aware of your
    continued participation, and you will not be noted as
    “inactive” on our parish roster.

  27. Papabile says:

    @Fr Martin Fox @mike cliffson

    With respect to schools, registration is often very important in certain areas.

    In the Diocese of Arlington (USA), whether you are registered in the parish or not often determines whether you get “in parish” tuition.

    Ironically, when we moved into the diocese, we were in one Parish and our kids would have been eligible for “in parish” tuition rates, but then the Bishop created a new parish (and forbid a new school – presumably because he was concerned about the sustainability of the other one if two were too close together). As a result, while we had been eligible for “in parish” tuition rates, we were suddenly ineligible for these rates, which was significant. (e.g. this year “in parish tuition is $4995 for one child, “out of parish” tuition is $5920, and if you are not Catholic the rate is $6650 — and that’s before the $500 or so in other fees….)

    So, we were left in a situation where our Parish Priest told us to go register in the other Parish and he would call and make it right with the Priest.

    We were attached to our new Parish, so we decided to simply pay “out of parish” tuition rates, however that only lasted for one year as we were entirely dissatisfied with the catechetical formation.

    In any case, because the schools around here often admit large numbers of non-Catholics, it can be challenging getting your kid in a Catholic school if you are “out of parish” because they can often accept a non-catholic for substantially more money.

    This is at the same time that the Parishes are reducing their aid to the schools, trying to make them operate more independently.

  28. peresieh says:

    I attend three Catholic churches, a Byzantine Catholic church in another town and two Roman Catholic churches (one the University parish) in my hometown. I am canonically Byzantine Catholic so I am registered in that parish but am also registered in one of the Roman Catholic parishes where my children went to school and received the sacraments. My wife is Roman Catholic. This seems complicated but works for us. Most of my tithe goes to the Byzantine parish and I also contribute to the other two.

  29. JaneC says:

    When I lived in a big city, I was a regular attendee at a parish church which was very popular for weddings because it was prettier than average, in a neighborhood very close to some swanky hotels, and in a “destination” city. The parish had fees for weddings (not exactly charging for the sacrament as they would have been waived if there was real hardship, but…you know how it is). They had two levels of fees–one for registered parishioners and one for people from other parishes who wanted to get married there. It was understandable, because there is more paperwork involved if you get married outside your regular parish.

  30. APX says:

    @Joe Magarac

    Registration […] t lets pastors know that you are a Catholic in good standing, which can be helpful when it comes time to prepare for certain sacraments. For example, […] wanted some proof that my brother was a Catholic. Registration served that purpose.

    Maybe registration is done differently where you’re at, but where I am registered, registration can’t tell you this. You don’t even have to be Catholic to register. I do not live in the same diocese as where I received all my sacraments. My parish and priest have nothing that indicates that a) I am a Catholic and that b) I am in “good standing.” My good standing is based entirely on the honor system. All I had to do to register was fill out a form, which asked nothing about anything Catholic unless you have family members needing sacraments.

    I could be a Satanist well-trained in posing as a Catholic for whatever reason for all anyone knows. More realistically, however, a Catholic could be married, civilly divorced (not annulled) and re-married civilly, thus not a Catholic in good standing. You could also be a civilly married Catholic, thus not in good standing. Registration won’t tell you this. What it will tell you is if Mary-Sue Greenway and Billy-Bob Blueyes are cohabiting together when they register together under the same address (which will also get published in the parish pictorial directory for the entire parish to know, btw), but the pastor won’t pay any attention to this as he signs the form acknowledging it that he has read it.

    Envelopes don’t even indicate whether or not a Catholic is in good standing, or even attending Mass regularly. I practically live at the church right now, but the office staff couldn’t tell you that because I am currently a broke student and unable to give anything. According to their records, I don’t attend Mass on Sundays because they have no envelopes from me for the past two months.

    All parish registration tells the parish is who you (and your family, if applicable) are, at some point you made contact with the parish to fill out a registration form, and where to send your tax receipt for income tax time if you give money.

  31. Sixupman says:

    I have recently moved to an entirely new location. In fact I can see the tower of the parish church from my upstairs window and it is but several minutes walk. Upon arriving and finding the church locked, I enquired of the presbytery as to Mass times and met the priest – an engaging ‘oldie’, well past retirement. However, Sundays, I travel into the city centre for the TLM and informed the PP so. But I also agreed to support the parish financially and do so as if I was a regular attender there.

    There was a case recently, where the Local Ordinary refused to facilitate the set-up of a TLM, in a liability church – which they considered selling, because of the financial effect the same would have had on adjacent parishes.

  32. Jenny says:

    I’m always a little amazed by all the options people in other areas have for choosing a parish. 10 parishes with 1 mile?! Wow!

    My parish is 10 miles from my house. The next closest is about 20 miles. The next closest is about 30 and the next 40 miles. Within the 1200 square miles that make up the two county region where I live, there are exactly five parishes and one school. The school is at the 40 mile parish. And I don’t live in the boonies. My town has about 30,000 people in it.

  33. The Sicilian Woman says:

    TMKent, I am so sorry about what happened to your older son. It’s often things of that nature that translate to someone leaving the Faith.

    I’m lucky that I have three parishes within 10 miles, but the one I prefer is the one that’s the closest to me, anyway.

    There have been some good points made here, pro and con regarding registration. That being said, I made a point of registering in my parish long ago. If my registering and being in the headcount helps our parish get an associate pastor, or even another priest to be shared among the parishes here, then I’ll be glad I did so, for that reason alone. I’ve also been involved in parish life a little, so between the two, I felt comfortable approaching our pastor recently for assistance with someone. I would have felt hesitant to do so if I were unknown and not contributing in any way.

    On the flip side, re: to support what APX said, if a Catholic politician supports something that goes against Church doctrine (ex: abortion) and is registered at his parish, does that make him a “good” Catholic?

    While Papabile and acardnal have mentioned the Diocese of Arlington, I happened to be searching that diocese for a church to attend in my upcoming travels there. I have never seen a church list its territorial boundaries before I did a search for churches in the DC metro area, but the first church I looked at in that diocese indeed has its boundaries posted on its site. It seems like a faithful parish, too, so I’ll probably attend.

  34. RichardC says:

    I ditto the solid and helpful information themed comments.

  35. chantgirl says:

    If a diocese is concerned about accurate registration numbers to know where to send associate priests, why don’t they establish a centralized registry on the diocesan website where any catholic in the area can register with their address and then indicate which parish they usually attend? It would be much easier to keep track of sacraments if the whole diocese was using a centralized database. Parish secretaries could simply upload any baptisms/marriages etc. to the shared software. It would be awesome if a catholic could log in and print out a scan of their baptismal certificate or annual giving statements. Would this really be too difficult?

    On another note, thank God that in our diocese we have two oratories we can register in without living inside a specific boundary. Cardinal Burke, thank you for that gift to St. Louis!

  36. eulogos says:

    Peresiah, Since you are Byzantine Catholic, why did your children receive the sacraments in a Roman Catholic parish? Canonically they are Byzantine Catholics, since children belong to the father’s rite. Wives normally transfer to their husband’s rite, and don’t have to seek special permission to change rites as others do.

    Since you are Byzantine and support your Byzantine parish you must know that the numbers of Byzantine Catholics practicing as such continue to decline as the children of immigrant populations move to the suburbs and start to attend Roman rite churches. Many in the next generation after that do not even know that canonically they are Byzantine rite. So I wonder why you didn’t have your children baptized there? Didn’t you want to bring them up in your arms to receive communion from their infancy, as you did? Didn’t you want them to know your traditions?

    I am a Roman rite Catholic who practices as Byzantine rite, and am grateful the Byzantine parish is there. I am concerned about how long it will be there. So I wonder why you would want to contribute to this ongoing drain of Byzantine Catholics to Roman rite parishes.
    Susan Peterson

  37. The Sicilian Woman says:

    *for assistance with something (not someone)

    Chantgirl: Having a centralized registry online seems like a good idea. My concerns, however, would be privacy issues and the opportunity for such information to be compromised.

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  39. Mary Jane says:

    @ Skeinster – you said you attend a TLM parish, and that you live in a different diocese from where the TLM parish is located. If the TLM parish you attend is a “personal parish”, then only those who live in the diocese it is in are able to register as parishioners. Anyone can attend of course, but only those within the diocese can register. That is how I understand it (a personal parish) to work…assuming the TLM you attend is a personal parish and not a territorial one.

  40. joan ellen says:

    Thank you for this Fr. Z. And for the comments. It is all most helpful.

  41. chantgirl says:

    Sicilian Woman- The Church is woefully inept when it comes to technology many times, but I believe we can and must change and get with the program. We need all of the tools in the toolbox. There might be an out-of-the-box software solution already for this sort of thing. If there is, I’ll bet the Protestant Megachurches are already using it.

  42. Tim Ferguson says:

    eulogos, not so fast there – since the 1990 Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches was promulgated, it is possible for parents of different ritual churches to chose to which of the two churches their children are ascribed (canon 29). The presumption is that the children are ascribed to the rite of the father – and if the parents disagree, that’s what happens, but if both parents agree, the children can be ascribed to the ritual church of the mother.

  43. acardnal says:

    Regarding registration and diocesan census data: In this diocese the bishop has requested that a count be made once per year of the Sunday Mass attendees. The ushers go down the aisles and count the attendees in the pew each weekend during the month of October as I recall. This method counts those who are and are not registered at the parish. These numbers are then reported to the Chancery.

    Interestingly, my parish has about 700 registered households. On average there are 400 attendees (not households) which attend Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses. Sad.

  44. mike cliffson says:

    @Fr Martin Fox, @papabile
    Thanks! ‘satiable curiosity, really . Stateside relative + one yearold needs to come BACK to the church first, but lapsed catholics often DO when their kids reach school age. (prayers welcome).
    Fr : The moan aka complaint I heard probably not so much about an unfamiliar system as hitting a parish with a jobsworthy attitude to its administration as reflected in some comments here.I understood them to be scandalized, inter alia, by quite a lack of privacy regarding donations and lay parish admin rather than the Pastor aka PP demanding personal and financial information and passing judgement. The background was a bit of moving around, short rentals in metropolitan areas, that sort of thing.But I never quite understood it all.

  45. peresieh says:

    For eulogos
    I became Byzantine Catholic after my children were adults. My wife and children chose not to change church affiliation. My Byzantine Church is 70 mile from my house. I go to OF mass with my wife Saturday evenings and to my Byzantine Church Sunday mornings. Susan, since you are RC but attracted to Byzantine spirituality, why don’t you change Churches.

  46. LisaP. says:

    TMKent, That’s a horrific story, I’m so sorry. Sometimes I think bureaucracy is the worst modern heresy.

    APX has great points.

    How can a priest know if I’m a Catholic in good standing? Talk to me for five minutes.

    The registration thing is a cultural one, it comes from our modern American obsession with licensing, certification, diplomas, certificates of completion, accreditation, etc. Completing the paperwork has long substituted for demonstrating actual knowledge, skill, or commitment. That’s bought us a lot of trouble in the economy and in our education system, no wonder it’s a-buzz in parishes also.

  47. jflare says:

    “How can a priest know if I’m a Catholic in good standing? Talk to me for five minutes.”

    Actually, Lisa P, I think APX and others have highlighted the exact opposite point.

    I hate to chastise anyone, but I’d suggest that TMKent’s story..might be one that’s rather more common than most might consider. Though unfortunate, TMKent’s pastor likely had legitimate cause for refusing to sign a paper regarding faithful conduct. Unless the pastor knew the elder son personally, or unless he referred to baptismal or confirmation records, he wouldn’t have any cause to be capable of attesting to whether the fellow had lived a faithful Catholic’s life or not.
    Then too, regrettably, a 5-minute conversation wouldn’t necessarily prove anything. A well-educated atheist–or anyone else bent on trouble–could likely educate themselves with regard to Catholic teaching and sound more Catholic than the average Mass-goer.
    If the pastor wouldn’t happen to ask about experiences were inspiring–or why–the pastor might not learn about a person’s sacrilegious intent until too late.

    We have various forms of documentation for a reason, not merely to have a nice piece of paper to hang on the wall or file in a cabinet. They don’t guarantee faithfulness by any means, but they DO provide a workable paper trail to demonstrate a degree of commitment.
    That’s something you can’t readily fake.

  48. LisaP. says:

    No disrespect and I appreciate your address, but that paper trail certainly could be readily faked, in the case of fraud. It’s nothing more than a Google search and a Word document, at most.

    Face to face interaction can be faked, too, of course, but I believe it is harder.

    Of course, mostly you’re not talking about fraud and sacrilege, just light deception — a job comes up, I want it, it requires I be practicing, and I haven’t been to Mass since I was a kid. I guess having a registration requirement could prevent that person getting a job under false pretenses — once. After that, she’d know that she needs to register. But the harm it does to get to that small potential good seems little worth it. It’s not just the cases like TMKent’s, it’s the entire mindset that being a good Catholic means having the proper credentials, like something out of the AKC. I think we’re in a time when we simply can’t afford to be fuzzy about what makes someone a “good” Catholic. The folks that go to Mass on Sundays and work Planned Parenthood on Mondays (to overwork the example) do not need to feel that they can call themselves good Catholics because they can whip out their registration copy and their envelopes. It’s all got to be human, it’s just got to be. Forms and checklists feel like safety nets, but they’ll strangle the humanity out of you in a blink. No quarter!

  49. Supertradmum says:

    I am living in a country where people do not register and anyone can walk in a Catholic Church and ask for a wedding, a baptism or funeral. The priests do have the pre-nuptial interview, but there is little prep here for such. The fact that there is a national Anglican church which marries even unbaptized persons to Anglicans (which I know of for sure) causes a fluffy, messy attitude in the Catholic Church. When I brought up registration in two contexts, the priests in the conversations were against it. But, tithing is not preached here either. It seems that the lay Catholic does not have to be either practising or faithful to Church teaching to receive the sacraments. When I have tried to discuss this, I have been told that everyone has access to the sacraments. But, this is not exactly true.

    The sacraments are seen by some as tools of evangelization, which is not so. Sacraments are part of the mystery of the Church after the Sacraments of Initiation. This theology is set aside because of cowardice, or the numbers game–how many people do you have in your parish, etc.? Bad seminary training, relativism and false ecumenism, as well as the loss of the sense of sin have partly led to a state of passing out sacraments like candy.

    This must change, as unworthy reception of the sacraments, that is, people in serious sin, even sacriligous states, or excommunicated, asking for the sacraments without full reconciliation, cannot but weaken the Church, which these situations have here.

    Instead of the Church leaders trying to change the culture, they have given in to the culture. Registration to me just means that a priest can actually minister to his congregation properly, as he knows them, can have a relationship with them and can expect them to BE Catholic. What is wrong with those criteria? The truth is that most Catholics are not living like Catholics and therefore cannot be approached as if they were. Registration helps sort out this situation.

  50. LisaP. says:

    But, Supertradmum, *how* does registration help sort out the situation?

    I fail to see the connection between someone having a sense of sin and registration, or someone receiving the sacraments worthily and registration, or even the priest knowing, having a relationship with, or expecting Catholicism out of a parishioner and registration. How are they related?

    I guess I’ve just known so, so, so many American Catholics that are not just registered, they serve on committees, greet at the door, teach the classes, and serve on councils, and they openly “set aside” Church teachings and advise others to do so. I realize this goes deeper than registration, but I don’t see registration hindering this effect and it seems to me it just makes people feel they have validity, they have their club card, no one can question their “membership” no matter what they believer or how they live or what they teach. Now, if someone could be *denied* registration for these things (very problematic in itself, I wouldn’t like it) then maybe I could see the connection. But as things stand, it seems to be more part of the problem (a Church run by bureaucrats and a congregation that’s a social club) than the solution.

  51. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Dear Supertradmum,

    So far as I understand, and in my experience, in England certificates are required from spouses’ parishes of baptism to ensure they are baptised and free to marry. (I thought, also, to certify confirmation, although the Lancaster Diocesan Directory omits any reference to this). I think it’s unfair and misleading to write that “I am living in a country [obviously England] where people do not register and anyone can walk in a Catholic Church and ask for a wedding…” (of course, anyone can ask).

  52. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Incidentally, I’m glad that Fr Z made the point that parish registration is “largely unheard of in other parts of the world [than the US]”. To this Englishman, it seems alien.

  53. acardnal says:

    LisaP., have you read my posts above at 29 August 10:29 and 10:31 am regarding the bulletin notices? Essentially, the pastor will deny the sacraments if one doesn’t demonstrate he/she is a practicing Catholic. Does it prove the person is not a heretic or living in mortal sin? No. Because the pastor cannot read the heart or intentions of anyone. Only God can. But it’s a step in the right direction . . . due diligence on the Pastor’s part.

    For what its worth, I have never, construed my parish registration with joining a social club.

  54. Supertradmum says:

    Just because one has a baptismal certificate does not mean one is a practising Catholic. 80% of Catholics in America do not follow the Church’s teaching regarding contraception and perhaps, abortion. That statistic is quite possibly higher in England. No cohabitating couple and no contracepting couple should be married in the Catholic Church. When I was engaged and at Notre Dame, my fiancé and I were asked these questions-are you living together and are you contracepting. Of course, we were not. but the priest asked the right questions. I am told by many priests this is simply not done here. Why? We registered with the parish. We were active in the Church. Same in England, except there, I was in a small, small minority. I have worked as an RCIA instructor and coordinator in both countries and I can assure you the English Catholic Church must stop allowing dissident Catholics to receive sacraments. This is a sacrilege and weakens the Church. Registration would help this situation. I do not understand why the Church here is so against this simple partial solution to some very big problems. You can go buy The Tablet from the back of the national cathedral, Westminster, the very magazine which broke with Rome over Humanae Vitae. Until Catholic adults are catechized and asked to be adult Catholics, the Church will remain weak and finally die in some places. I sincerely believe that registration can help pastorally.

  55. Supertradmum says:

    Lisa P., I hope the above answer helps. An adult Catholic has responsibilities given to him or her at baptism. We are accountable. How else can we be accountable without some commitment–commitment to holiness and to community? A weak parish does not convert or evangelize or reach out to the poor. A parish is as strong as its members who are faithful, tithing, involved and holy Catholics. The early Church spread through hard work and commitment as well as martyrdom. We must be accountable and not just free floating entities doing our own thing, serving our own needs only.

    To be a Catholic is to belong to the Church, not merely attend it.

  56. It surely is the general case in the U.S. that families not registered and contributing in a parish pay (as papabile mentions) an increment in tuition for their children’s attendance in the parish Catholic school (if any).

    Also, couples sometimes want to have their wedding in a beautiful church in a parish where neither is registered and contributing, in which case it is common for a non-parishioner’s fee for use of the church to be charged.

  57. wmeyer says:

    LisaP: It is not clear to me, from the parish in which I am currently registered, that registration does anything for me. Part of the problem is that the parish keeps info in at least three different databases, and they need to make it just one, since they seem unable to keep them in sync. One os for the diocesan paper, which we have not received since we moved over two years ago. Another is for the donation envelopes, which we do not need, as we give online. The third is for the parish directory, and last time I checked, they had our info only partially right there, too.

  58. Supertradmum says:

    wmeyer, you seem to have an unusually disorganized parish. Most parishes with which I am familiar have diocesan databases run from the chancery, and cross-connected with each parish, on finances, tithing, bishop’s appeal, sacramental records, etc. But, then, I am from the Midwest, full of organized types of mindsets. Especially in this day and age of mobility, sacramental record keeping is very important.

  59. acardnal says:

    As some clerics have mentioned here, registration is important to the pastor and the diocese. For example, the diocese uses the number of registered parishioners to determine the “parish tax” (monies due from the parish to the chancery for diocesan administrative costs), for developing targets for the diocesan Lenten Fund drive (this funds the diocesan branch of Catholic Charities, funding for seminarians’ education, Catholic school subsidies, etc.), the “parish tax” for the diocesan newspaper, and the list goes on. These funding targets or “taxes” are based on registered, parishioners.

  60. Supertradmum says:

    Also, may I add that in the case of closing parishes, which is happening everywhere in rural American, registration and tithing, that is, the financial and participatory viability of each parish is considered in these decisions. In my home diocese, every parish is financially independent and viable, which means that decisions to close a parish are not based on money but on participation and parishioners involvement, ie. registration statistics. The people of my home diocese are excellent on tithing and generous. So decisions for closings would be based on numbers concerning Mass attendance, registered sacraments, involvement.

  61. eulogos says:

    Henry-your answer makes sense.

    I am thinking and praying about whether I ought to petition to change rites. At first I thought I would do so as soon as I had attended Divine Liturgy regularly for two years, which I was told was the minimum time suggested. But as time went on, I discovered that I am still Western in many of my ways of thinking. I am also not sure I understand completely what it means to have an Eastern Christian spirituality or theological understanding. I am not quite sure whom to believe, either. There are those who tell me that I can’t love St. Thomas , that I mustn’t think “transubstantiation” is a most apt term for explaining the Eucharist, but must only think that it is a mystery beyond explanation. There are even those who say that there were only seven truly ecumenical councils, and that the rest were “general councils of the West.” The new priest in my parish said in a sermon that there were only seven. I think that if I believed that, I would be (capital O) Orthodox, not Catholic. One of the reasons I rejected the claims of Orthodoxy (without thinking about it too much at the time) back when I became a Catholic in 1972, was that they have not been able to hold any councils, and it seemed to me that a Church which can’t do that really isn’t alive and fully the Church. I think I can be an Eastern Catholic without being one of those “Orthodox in communion with Rome” people. But I still don’t know if I have to change my whole theological slant. As I understand it, the Orthodox have a very different way of thinking about the fall than does the west, for instance.

    Well, this is a long discussion.
    But that sort of thing is why I am not switching rites just yet.

  62. LisaP. says:


    Yes, I had read your previous comments on the bulletin posts. Our parish has the same. I do realize that many priests and bishops assert that registration is important, or required for sacraments. I don’t agree that it is important or that it should be required. I think, in fact, that it is a grave error, arising from grave errors.

    I did try to read those posts for a reason why I might be wrong, but I saw nothing in them that was an argument from Church teaching or from reason, just an assertion. If a priest asserted that I needed to bring him a bouquet of flowers before I could receive the sacraments, that wouldn’t convince me it was right, just that the priest wanted flowers. I don’t doubt many priests want people to register, probably because they get funding based on registration (in parishes I’ve attended I believe it is based on an annual count, but I totally believe you that funding decisions are based on registration). This again just feeds in, to me, to the disorder of the parish and diocesan mindset in America.

    Our current parish is, they seem to think, low on funds. We pray for people to give money before every offering, which horrifies me — I had previously only seen this once in attendance at a big box church. The bulletin regularly notes registering for purposes of tithing, and the pastor notes it at many Masses. There is currently a huge push to “capture” the congregation for tithing by getting everyone to sign up for automatic withdrawal from their bank accounts. It’s more than distasteful. There is a huge list of Catholic topics that are never discussed from the pulpit, but signing up to tithe gets brought up quite a bit, and there are pictures of the plans for the new (hideous modern round-ish) church up under every station of the cross. I’m certainly not going to register at this parish, it would only mean junk mail and spam trying to get me to put the parish in my will. It’s not a community, it’s not even a social club, it’s just another modern corporation using spin and marketing. I recognize all parishes are not so, but it’s not registration that makes the difference. Registration does not make you a good Catholic, although as a good Catholic you certainly might register. And registration does not make a good parish, although good parishes may certainly have registration. I don’t see one leading to the other in the least, and making it a requirement for anything I think is misguided and, frankly, lazy. I do realize priests are very busy and don’t have time to get to know every person in the parish. But I still maintain that relying on a few data fields filled out to reassure yourself that the parishioner is in good standing or eligible for a sacrament, instead of a conversation, is a poor way to make important judgments. Yes, people can be deceptive and self-deceptive and they will be. You can’t see in anyone’s heart. But if they lie to your face, at least their heart will feel it. If they are not even required to face you, only get their email address right in the blank, to be considered sacrament or reference-worthy, there’s little there for the conscience to play on.

  63. LisaP. says:

    Yes, I don’t see how registration does anything for me, and I don’t see how I’m doing anything necessarily good for the parish by registering. I do look upon it as pretty much an administrative thing, linked largely to mailings and funding requests, and I guess that’s why I find it so hard to buy that it should be used as an indication of anything more meaningful.

    Now, we attend fairly frequently a small, rural mission of the closest parish and it can get snowed in or Mass canceled if the priest can’t make it out. We’re on a list there, and we participate in the call tree when Mass is canceled. Several of the folks that open the doors or clean up after there know who we are, some have given our children gifts, and they personally asked us if we wanted to be on the list — we certainly did.

  64. LisaP. says:


    Where sacraments are concerned, I do think it’s important to distinguish. It’s important that parishioners know exactly what conditions they can take Communion under, and refrain if they are not in a state of grace, etc. If a priest has real reason to believe a member may not be fulfilling those conditions, he certainly is right to consider addressing that. As for marriage — not everyone is called to that sacrament, as not everyone is called to Holy Orders, and it is perfectly and completely appropriate for the Church to inquire as to whether a couple is called to matrimony before administering that sacrament. I think it’s goofy the way marriage prep works, often — no discernment, just workbooks and hand holding with couples poorly formed themselves in Catholic thought (we were taught at our marriage prep that contraception was a matter of personal conscience), but in theory it’s appropriate to have marriage prep. But other sacraments are, indeed, open to all who understand and will to have them — confession, baptism. They should be approached differently.

    Our parish when we got married had the whole nine yards — register, meet with the priest, do the classes. In addition to the great advise we got in class, the priest looked right at our info and saw we were cohabiting (this was before my return to the Church, and I was really, really, really an idiot at the time — now just two really’s, I hope). Never said a word. These processes were just forms, policies, hoops, going through the motions. That’s the problem with relying on bureaucracy to create community, you can lose community and still have the scaffolding of bureaucracy and so think you’re all good, and it makes reform even harder.

    I do long a little for your description of belonging to a parish. Maybe if I ever had seen an instance where that was viable, I’d understand your POV better. The closest I came was the parish that wound up being very social club — lots of in crowd vs. general population sort of thinking, with the in crowd determining the atmosphere of the church (modernist, unorthodox, and full up with announcements about their pet projects) and pushing priests out that deviated from their program. It was not a good “community”. I have heard of parishes that operate the way you describe, I think in those if they wanted me to register I wouldn’t care one way or another, it would be a non-issue. I guess I just see that for most parishes registration and things like it don’t lead to community, or signify it — they substitute for it.

  65. LisaP. says:

    Last ramble.
    A couple years ago the church had a problem with its furnace and the congregation got carbon monoxide poisoning during Mass.
    My kids were three of the four that got it good, they were small and next to the vent, closer to the floor! Two had previous health issues that complicated things. One had to be on oxygen for quite a while at the scene and it worsened her condition for months after.
    Hey, life happens. And we never got a bill, so there’s that. But we also never got a call, or an inquiry about how we were doing. That’s all right, I thought, it was a chaotic scene, that’s life.
    Then we get a call, from a lay person, asking us about the incident. I think, well, that’s nice, it’s not the priest or bishop or anything, but a “rep” of the parish is checking in. Then he kind of does the uncomfortable clearing the throat thing. He’s, um, calling for our address so he can, um, send us some paperwork so they can have an incident report on file in the office.

    I’m not a fan of paperwork. It makes us less human.

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