ASK FATHER: Do we violate obligations to territorial parish by attending Mass elsewhere?

16_05_09_registerFrom a reader…


My family and I are members of the territorial parish that we live near, attend Mass regularly there, and are involved in social events in the parish as well. On occasion, however, we attend Mass at the parish in the next town over, because we are friends with the priest there and enjoy seeing him every so often. Additionally, we go to this other parish almost exclusively for Confession because the time at which it is offered is more convenient (it would not be impossible for us to attend at our territorial parish, just inconvenient).

Are we violating any of our obligations to our territorial parish by occasionally attending Mass elsewhere for what amount to social reasons, and receiving Confession elsewhere for the sake of convenience?

Not in the slightest.

All Catholics are members of a parish, either by virtue of their domicile, or by their ethnicity or other characteristic (if the diocese has established personal parishes for identifiable groups).

No Catholic is required to attend his canonical parish. No one is required to register as a “member” of his canonical parish.

BTW… registering at a parish – filling out a form or card – doesn’t do much except smooth out many questions and procedures when something is needful.  You don’t lose your status at your territorial parish just because you filled out a card at another parish.  One of these days, however, this matter of territories will need some rethinking.

Pastors, parish priests, need occasional reminders that their obligations extend to all their parishioners, registered or not. Pastors should not refuse the sacraments (that includes baptism, marriage, anointing) to those who are not “registered” in the parish. Pastors should instruct their secretaries not to turn away phone calls from parishioners who are not registered who want to know about funerals or other needful services.

That also means that pastors need to know the boundaries of their parishes!

Finally, remember that if you are receiving benefits and services at a parish, you should support that parish financially and/or by other means.  We have an obligation to see to the material support of the Church and her entities that touch our lives.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “A bat got into the church,” said the priest.
    “Oh no, what did you do to get it out?”
    “I had it fill out the parish registration card and issued him some collection envelopes. Haven’t seen him since.”

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. Thomas Stewart says:

    Registration is occasionally useful for other purposes, such as genealogy. Due to ongoing problems with Mormons performing their odd retroactive baptism ceremony for the dead – in violation of any desires of the deceased, their family, and several agreements between the LDS and the Church – if you call a Catholic parish to track down information on your relatives, they will often ask which parish you are personally a member of. And they will occasionally check. If the parish secretary has no idea who you are, you aren’t getting a copy of that baptism or marriage record.

  3. Anthony says:

    It has been my experience that our check is still happily cashed – regardless of whether we attend our “canonical parish church” or not… :D

    But seriously… Though we left our “canonical parish” for a multitude of reasons , we are very fortunate there are so many Catholic churches within easy driving distance ( < 15 mins via streets). It simply became a matter of which parish's social and spiritual life was most inviting and welcoming to us.

    We're so very happy AND thankful for our current parish. We've established roots (I'm an usher and active in the KofC) and have made many friends. We're continuing to increase our knowledge of the Catholic Church and grow in our spirituality as husband and wife.

    Thanks Be To God!

  4. ChesterFrank says:

    How does someone figure out which is their territorial parish church? The diocese does not have a map listing parish boundaries.

  5. AvantiBev says:

    Muslims in service of their false god and false prophet are completing their genocide of Christians in the Middle East and Asia, invading Europe under the guise of “refugees”, groping our women in Cologne and molesting children in Rottenham. I am sorry our priests and bishops, many of whom continue the myth that “we worship the same God”, would worry about a Mormom ceremony more than those Muslim scimitars. (See today’s news from Bavarian train station)

  6. Supertradmum says:

    In many dioceses in the US, one must register for these reasons: to get married in a parish, to have one’s children baptized in a parish, and to be confirmed in a parish. In addition, many diocesan parishes only allow Catholic funerals for those who are in the parish. Some of my friends have discovered this the hard way when grandma was not registered and when she died, they had to find a priest who was “knew” her. I know that it is canonically incorrect for a priest to deny the sacraments, but this will happen when the parishes ask for registration.

    Some of us give to Latin Mass parishes, even though those are not close to where we may live; for example, for years I gave to the closest Latin Mass offering, and not my “own” parish where I lived. And so on.

    One may not want to sign up with a parish, but one may find out that one has to take “classes” for example, in order to have a baby baptized or to go to pre-Cana classes in one’s designated parish. And so on…

    [See the top entry.]

  7. JesusFreak84 says:

    And this is why, even though I haven’t attended my “territorial” parish in years, (and, if I’m registered there, it’s still under my parents from high school, and I’m almost 32…) and attend a Ukrainian-Greek Catholic parish almost exclusively, financially support them, am registered there, etc. etc. etc., if I croak, the former parish gets dibs on the Requiem Mass, I mean the Mass of Christian Burial, I mean the Mass of the Resurrection, I mean the Canonization…erm…. Ticks me off that there’s nothing that I can do about that. Yes, I would HOPE the Latin (Arch)Bishop would permit the UGCC parish to do it instead, but… (Never changed Rites because it can only be done once, and I do sympathize more with “Latin” thinking than the way they approach things in the East, though I can appreciate either.)

  8. brhenry says:

    Protestants “church shop.” The “traditional”(and most virtuous) practice
    is to honor and support your canonical (territorial) pastor(father) and your brethren
    in this parish. Trump might put it this way…”no honored borders, no honored parish.” Too many
    “illegal aliens” floating around parishes.

    [I nearly deleted this, but rather decided to leave it to the rest of the participants.]

  9. vandalia says:

    It is always amusing – although not terribly edifying – to see the juggling many Pastors do when it comes to determining the number of members of their parish. In some cases, a parish is required to buy a subscription to the diocesan paper for every registered family. Or there might be a fixed “diocesan tax” based on parish size. If this is the case, do not be surprised if you are “dropped” for missing one Sunday at the home parish while taking your family to visit the grandparents.

    At the other end of the spectrum, in some places, parishes with a size over X are assigned a parochial vicar. If that is the case, if you click on the link to a Catholic website while traveling through the parish boundaries, you might find yourself a registered member of that parish.

    “Registering” as a member of a parish has the same effect on your canonical status as registering to vote has on your U.S. Citizenship: That is, none.

    @ChesterFrank The best/only way to find out the exact parish boundaries is to contact the parish or the Diocesan chancery. In quasi-urban areas, the boundaries can be fairly simple. In the rural areas, you might need a GPS. (Although it is always defined to the same standard as a property deed. Depending on the age of the first diocese in the area, parish boundaries usually match geographic features (i.e. rivers), or political boundaries such as county lines. Although I was once at a parish with the boundary defined, in part, “as the third oak tree 100 fee to the west of the spring that is the source of Cherry Creek…”)

  10. Healingrose1202 says:

    Is it “church shopping” if your home parish two minutes away does not offer TLM, so you drive 25 minutes or more to attend a TLM/EF Mass? I do think some people can get into the habit of “church shopping”. If only all Catholic Churches were created equal. What about those people who should be attending a church that displays a rainbow aisle runner with a rainbow flag in a floral arrangement under the altar supporting gay lifestyle? Can we flee our home parish, exile ourselves, and claim sanctuary at another church?

  11. vandalia says:

    A clarification on a point in Fr Z’s post that I overlooked the first time:

    Pastors, parish priests, need occasional reminders that their obligations extend to all their parishioners, registered or not.

    It is important to remember that a Pastor (and by extension in a similar although not identical way his vicar) is responsible for all souls in the parish. The Catholic Church is a jealous Church and does not recognize rivals. A person may be baptized, yet declare themselves solidly Presbyterian, and have no desire for any identification or affiliation with the Catholic Church; yet as a baptized Christian, the (Catholic) Pastor is still the one ultimately responsible for his soul. In a similar way, he is also responsible for the souls of all the atheists, jewish, hindu or islamic individuals resident in the parish boundaries.

    The specific rights and obligations of these different classes are of course different, and that necessarily changes the Pastors specific obligation to them… however, the ultimate, “Judgement Day” responsibility for a Pastor is all souls in his parish.

    So, yes, a Pastor is responsible for all “parishioners, registered or not”, but the responsibility goes much deeper than might be expected from the colloquial use of that term.

  12. Vincent. says:

    This past autumn I moved from a somewhat urban area of my diocese to a rural area in the same diocese.
    When I moved I called the diocese to find out my territorial parish, after being passed around a lot, they could not tell me and suggested I call the local parishes to find out.
    I assumed the closest parish was my territorial parish and I called to confirm. The secretary had no idea and stated that should would have the “Parish Life Director” call me back. I never received the call.
    I now travel at least 30 minutes to the closest city for Mass.

    (I attended one Mass at what I assume to be my territorial parish and I cannot return. It was during Advent. The religious sister who is the “Parish Life Director” acted as a deacon during the Mass and gave the homily during which a recorded song was played, among many other abuses. I went back for confession once right before Holy Week. I was early and the only one there for confession. Father had not yet arrived and when Parish Life Director asked what I was looking for, she stated they could set a spot up once father arrived. When I questioned if there was a screen (there wasn’t) and asked why they were not following the canonical norms, I was told I could go “somewhere more to my liking”. I did eventually write my bishop about this…)

  13. brhenry says:

    One can surely empathize with “illegal aliens” who have fled their legal homeland for something
    they deem better. But adding disorder to disorder is not the solution. The best and most virtuous action is to honorably remain in your legal homeland(canonical parish) and contribute to the improvement of such. With that said, a prayerful and well thought out decision to make a legal move to a new homeland(canonical parish) is not out of the question.

  14. brhenry says:

    Think about this: The parish, by canonical definition, is a stable community of the faithful (Can 515).
    Domicile(permanent residence) is chiefly what gives the parish its stability. Unfortunately, ease of mobility has sorely “destabilized” our families and parishes and thus the Church in general.

  15. un-ionized says:

    Vandalia, I love what you said about the pastor being responsible for all the souls of the parish. I left my former parish partly because of the focus on keeping people out, such as the poor people in the inner city neighborhood where we were. I am currently a “refugee” or “homeless,” if you prefer. It’s sad, I had been there for many years and now I lose all the connections I have made there. The reality today is that so many people live outside parish boundaries that it is difficult to make permanent connections with people through the parish. I wish we were still walking to our neighborhood churches. But I have to live in the real world where people are separated from one another with a false connectivity of social media.

  16. Mary Jane says:

    brhenry, nations have laws against illegal immigration. The Church does not have any such laws (against “illegal immigration” between parishes–there is no such thing in the Church).

    “No Catholic is required to attend his canonical parish” (as Fr Z put it). Furthermore, we are talking about our the good of our eternal souls…not just in what country we will reside and work and pay taxes.

  17. Healingrose1202 says:

    I think regardless of attending EF at another parish, I still need to be a light to those within my home parish. My canonical parish also happens to be the parish I was raised in from birth. My children have received all their sacraments there as well. Although, I doubt that I am the only one who desires the EF within my canonical parish. I would be better to lead by example where I live, in addition to taking time away occasionally. Sometimes I need the calm and silence of the EF instead of the typical OF. It’s like my chance at taking a vacation or in place of taking a day/night off, which I never have either.

  18. brhenry says:

    The same arguments are used by the SSPX to justify their “illegal alien” status
    within Dioceses. They essentially claim “squatter’s rights.”
    Satan is the master of “justifiable schism. “

  19. Mary Jane says:

    brhenry, you cannot compare what the SSPX are doing to what Fr Z is talking about in this post. Seeking out the EF sacraments at a *parish* where the priests have proper faculties and jurisdiction to provide such sacraments is absolutely allowed by the church.

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