To register for a parish
Q: I tried to register at a parish, but the secretary told me that I can’t since I live outside the boundaries of the parish. She told me what my real parish is supposed to be, based on where I live, but it’s notorious for its guitar Masses and the priests’ leftist social justice sermons, so I don’t want to have anything to do with it! Am I really required to attend Mass at this horrible parish? — Maggie
A: We Catholics in the U.S. tend to take it for granted that it is necessary to register ourselves and our families at a parish. It is routinely understood as a requirement if we want our children to attend the parish school, receive their first Holy Communion, or marry in the parish. It may come as a surprise, therefore, that parish registration is nowhere mentioned in the Code of Canon Law, and may very well be simply an American invention.
Canon 518 states that a parish is territorial. (There are some very unusual instances when a parish may be erected differently, but they are extremely uncommon and do not concern us here.) As such it embraces all the Catholics of a given region on a map. When a bishop formally erects a parish, he establishes its specific boundaries, and all Catholics residing within those limits are ipso facto members of that parish, whether they know it or not. The law does not require anyone living within the parish boundaries to take the additional step of registering at the parish. The very fact that a Catholic lives in the territory of a particular parish is enough to make him a member.
This fact, which is so often lost on Catholic Americans, brings with it certain rights and certain obligations. We saw in the April 26, 2007 column, for example, that a Catholic has the right to a funeral Mass in his parish church, regardless of whether he has regularly been attending that church (c. 1177.1). An obligation can be found in canon 857.2, which states that as a rule, a person is supposed to be baptized in his own parish, unless a just reason suggests otherwise.
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