Can one be a "Catholic At Large?"

Can someone be a regular practicing Catholic, at large, not belonging to any certain parish?

I can see this being a problem for those who are anticipating certain sacraments: baptism, first confession & Holy Communion, Confirmation, even Holy Orders.

For someone without children who is not called to the priesthood or religious life, the only real troubles I can see are:

  1. The absence of the parish “family.” Sometimes a problem, sometimes a blessing.


  1. If one should die, one has no parish and it does make the Catholic funeral a bit dicey.

Technically, no, you can’t be a Catholic at large. Everyplace belongs to a parish. If you live within certain boundaries you live in parish A, if you live within another set of boundaries you live in parish B, etc. That is your parish and the pastor of that parish is responsible for your spiritual care.

Can you choose not to register in your parish? Certainly. Can you choose not to attend Mass at your parish? Yes. Can you choose not to participate in any activities in your parish? Definitely. But it doesn’t change the fact that you do, in fact, belong to that parish.

It’s kind of like if I live within certain boundaries I am a resident of a particular city. I can choose not to work in that city, I can choose not to shop in that city, and I can choose not to vote in city elections, but I’m still a resident of that city unless I move.

Technically, one could attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation at a different parish and be guilty of no sin. Realistically, though, we should register at a parish and be known to our pastor.

Another problem would be, if you have children, a priest is not allowed accept them into the RCIA/First Communion/Confirmation classes if you are not living within the boundaries of his parish.

There has to be some procedure at least for those who do not possess a fixed residence. How does the church handle, say, Catholic Romani who may still practice a traveler lifestyle?

You might want to double check that as I don’t think that is true for every Diocese.

I guess you could be a Catholic at Large, I enjoy going to different Parishes ,
See the different Priests,pick the ones you like and some your not sure of,
Look at the people gathered,sometimes recognising people,and perhaps chat to them,
… So I guess you can be, just shows your an interesting person,

@DarkLight: that’s more along some of the lines of my thought.

If one travels all the time, no permanent residence, can one just go to whichever church is in that town but belong to no particular parish.

Known to your pastor
In almost 25 years at my local parish, I am, for the first time, known by name and face to my past (we’ve had 8 in that time, alas a church with a lot of scandal). I never even gave a thought to whether or not the pastor would “know” me.

How would one go about arranging for a funeral if one was “at large?” I assume the Last Rites might be administered in a hospital or home situation by a local deacon?

My priority is not to be an interesting person, but to be as much as possible a converted person.
There are times when you need to “shop around” for a different pastor. I have been in parishes where the Catholic Faith has been watered down, where half the homilies were repeats of the daily newspaper editorials. But this should be done rarely. People benefit from being in their neighborhood parish. Depending on the kind of parish you have, you may run into your fellow parishioners going for walks, at the store, or at a school meeting. I benefit from interacting with people I would not necessarily have chosen. I have to adapt to them (and vice versa). That is a healthy thing. I learn new things.

Most Protestant churches have something called “congregations” and avoid the term “parish”. But Catholicism is inherently a sacramental faith, with all the sweat and annoyances, joys and tears that are shared. A parish, as opposed to just a congregation, is responsible for everyone living in this neighborhood - practicing Catholics, lapsed Catholics, non Catholics. Parish life brings out some “incarnational” aspects of Catholicism that are hard to find otherwise. If you absolutely have to travel a bit to find a pastor who preaches the Catholic Faith, at least make a commitment to that parish.

The Code of Canon Law applies to every diocese.

Now I’m curious about what I mentioned earlier - what is the provision for an individual who lacks a fixed residence?

In the case of those who have no permanent home, their pastor/parish is that of where ever they happen to be staying at the moment.

When a person is dying, the pastor of the place has the responsibility. Of course, if that’s a hospital, it depends on which priest(s) is assigned to the hospital. If there’s a chaplain, or an assigned priest, it falls to him; otherwise, it is the pastor of the territory where the hospital is located.

The Church does have rules on funerals. There’s a “if A then this parish applies…if B then that parish applies…” These are articulated in the norms for the funeral rites.

When a person without a permanent home dies, the pastor of the place where the death actually took place has the responsibility. See also canon 1177.

It’s not about guessing. It’s about how the Church defines parishes and parish membership.

A parish is a territory, and Catholics are members of the parish where they actually live.

It’s a common misconception that a parish is a church building. It’s not. It is a territory. “Choosing” a parish is like “choosing” a City Hall—we don’t do that. It depends on where one lives.

Would this similarly apply to children, or would other arrangements be made? I was thinking for example of various traditional traveller communities (romani and the like) where they might not have fixed housing.

Basically, the person’s pastor & parish are that of the place where the person is “residing” at the moment. So, if someone is actually living in a tent or a wagon, the parish would be the territory where the tent is pitched or the wagon is parked.

Canon 107 §2. The proper pastor or ordinary of a transient is the pastor or local ordinary where the transient is actually residing.

Of course, I’m not talking about someone who goes camping. That person would be a “traveller” not a “transient.” A traveller is someone who does have a permanent home. A transient is one who does not have a permanent home.

Minor children would have the same status as their parents (as far as what you’re asking).

We’re posting over each other at the moment. See what I just posted a few moments ago.

Would it be appropriate for the “traveling Catholic” to make his weekly donation to each new parish, or should s/he mail or make other arrangements to send a donation back to some type of home parish, even if the traveler might not return for a year or longer?

Thank you, Fr David, for taking the time to answer these questions

That’s really a personal choice. Yes, every Catholic has a responsibility to support the material needs of his own parish, but exactly how that comes about is different for every person.

I do think it’s a good idea for a traveller to make a contribution when visiting another parish, but no where is this required.

My dh and I are considering RVing in retirement instead of having a permanent home. Would keeping a PO Box number in our hometown be sufficient to be considered a member of our home parish? I only ask because we are seriously thinking of chucking any permanent residence for an RV one day. :slight_smile:


Respectfully FrDavid96, would you provide link.
Vatican - English - Code of Canon Law
I seem unable to find this provision in the code. It is an absolutely huge volume of work and I’m sure I’ve simply missed the entry and even the search engine missed it.

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