Parochial Boundaries

According to canon law, every Catholic should register and attend mass at the Parish they are located in. Does anyone go to a church outside of the parochial boundaries they live in? If so, how do you justify this?

I’m an adult, I attend the Church I want. I don’t have to justify it to anyone.

I guess Canon Law is a suggestion. I once tried to convince a cop that the speed limit I had just broken was a suggestion. He wasn’t convinced of that nor am I convinced that adults are exempt from the Law of the Church. But even if they are Christ said to be like a child :), so either way I think obedience to the law is the way to go.

To answer the OP question:
I go to a Ukrainian Catholic Church even though I am canonically Roman, so I am way out of my parish boundries.

Canon Law, to my knowledge (and I Am Not A Canon Lawyer), says nothing about registering with a parish – Parish registration is, as far as I know, an artificial adminstrative action.

What Canon Law does say is that you acquire a proper pastor by virtue of the parish or place in which you live.


I live in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. As far as I know, there aren’t even parish or parochial “boundaries”. There are simply Catholic churches, you pick one, and you go. There are 5 Catholic churches within 8 miles of my home in various directions.

I was through RCIA and already a Baptize Catholic before I even learned there was such a thing as “parochial boundaries.” The Mormons and other cults have “boundaries” and tell you where you may or may not attend church on Sunday “or else” you’ll be “going against the Church,” or, in the words of previous posters “breaking canon law” or being “disobedient.” Kind of creepy. :sad_yes:

This is a good question.

Consider the example of a Diocese. The whole Christian world has been partitioned into Dioceses, each with a Bishop to oversee it. I am part of the (Arch)Diocese of Portland in Oregon, and my (Arch)Bishop has been appointed by the Holy See to have spiritual leadership over me and everyone else in my (Arch)Diocese.

I am part of the (Arch)Diocese of Portland by virtue of my address, and there is nothing I can do to change that, unless I move. I happen to be very close to the state of Washington, and I could easily attend Mass in a Parish in a completely different Diocese, but I am still part of the (Arch)Diocese of Portland.

My (Arch)Bishop further partitions his (Arch)Diocese into Parishes, and delegates parochial responsibility to (usually) priests acting as Pastors. Thus, my family and I are part of a Parish, based solely on our address. As Catholics, we are members of this Parish, even if we have never stepped foot on the property (Canon 518).

Usually, your Parish church is the one that is nearest to you. If you are unsure, you may call the Chancery Office of your Diocese to find out which Parish you belong to.

There is no requirement in Canon Law for me to “register” at any Catholic Church. As a Catholic, I am bound to attend Mass on all days of obligation (including all Sundays), but there is no stipulation about where I am obliged to do so (Canon 1247). However, as far as Confession goes, Canon Law (991) specifically stipulates that I am completely free to seek any priest who has lawful faculties (even priests of other Catholic rites).

However, that being said, the priest of our geographical Parish is the Pastor whom my Bishop has appointed as the Pastor of me and my family (even if I have never met him). As such, my Pastor has certain obligations to me (even if I have never met him or attended my Parish). For example, if I die, my Pastor is obliged to perform the Catholic burial rite for me (Canon 1177), even if we have never met.

However, there are also some obligations that I have regarding my Parish. For example, under Canon Law, a marriage ceremony generally must be performed in the Parish of either the bride or the groom (Canon 1108) by the Pastor or his designated delegate (vicar, deacon, etc). If this is not to be the case, permission must be obtained by the Celebrant from the Pastor of either the bride or groom (this may happen in the background, without the couple being aware of it, but it must happen under Canon Law). If this convention is not adhered to, the marriage could be considered invalid under Canon Law!

Likewise, Canon 857 maintains that a person (either adult or infant) must be Baptized in his own Parish, unless a “just cause suggests otherwise.” (However, unlike Matrimony, Canon Law cannot establish an impediment to valid Baptism - so this is really a law with no “teeth” except to discourage priests/deacons from performing Baptismal ceremonies for non-Parishioners without established cause).

The bottom line is that our Bishop selects our Pastor for us - we do not select him for ourselves. We are free to attend any Mass we like, but we are not free to choose our Pastor. Our Bishop alone does that, and we are members of the church of our geographical Parish, regardless of where we may “register.”

Could you provide that reference in Canon Law, please?

Considering that this information is not published nor made general knowledge, I suggest that the bishops makes this particular rule very difficult to follow. How hard would it be to publish a map on the website :shrug:. I live in the city and there are about 5 parishes within 5 miles of us. The one we attend is North of us, but there are ones just as close (depending on the roads) to the east and west. There would be no way to determine which is our territorial parish unless we called the diocese’s office. (I can just imagine the phone call with the secretary- “You want to know what??? Just go to which ever parish you want to).”

Indeed maybe the bishops don’t want people to think that they must attend a certain parish because it is their territorial parish and instead want people to be comfortable in a parish community that they choose and serves their need and has use for their talents.

We attend the Cathedral parish because it works with my dh’s work schedule, is a straight shot on roads that will not be closed because of snow, and because the other parish we tried made me cry (:wink: I was 6 months pregnant and very hormonal). So we registered there. :shrug: If we had to do it over, I would probably choose to register at the Basilica church here even though it is farther away, now that I have had some time to know the parishes and attitudes of the area.

I agree this information is not always readily available. However, I disagree that bishops and pastors don’t care what parish we attend. I think bishops and pastors would like people to attend the parish church for the parish they live in, but don’t usually make a big deal about it. I have heard that in the past this was a much bigger deal and pastors could be very territorial. I think probably with the lower mass attendance and lower overall interest from the laity, pastors are probably less anxious to say anything about it.

I thik further complicating this, certainly in areas like the Northeast, is the issue of “ethnic parishes.” In the relatively small Massachusetts city where my father grew up, there was the “French church,” the “Irish church,” and the “Polish church.” Those “boundaries” weren’t geographic but ethnic, and where you went wasn’t a matter of where you lived but who “your people” were. With the closing and merging of parishes that’s become a much less prominent concern now.

In my experience today, it’s much more a matter of “going where you’re fed.” In my town there are 2 Catholic churches, and while they have theoretical “boundaries,” the 2 pastors differ a great deal in “personal style,” and in administrative practices: one tends to refuse Baptism in cases of irregular marriages, the other far less so; one tends to preach a lot on authority and “rules,” the other more on Scripture. People tend to choose a parish that they feel attracted to.

The parish I attend right now is the one where I work. The easiest way to keep in touch with the people I work with in the parish, is to go to Mass with them. If it were not for the job, I would attend my territorial parish. :slight_smile:

Before we moved into our current home, I asked the new neighbors about the local parish and went to the one they did. We happen to live almost equi-distance from three different Catholic churches. Only later did I find out that the one I was attending (and had registered with) was not my geographical parish. I checked with the chancery and they said it was not a problem. That’s how I justify it.

BTW, I didn’t think Canon law says anything about registering. Can you provide the citation?

I think ethnic parishes are a different situation then territorial parishes. I’m pretty sure canon law makes a distinction. By the way to anyone who is wonder, I cannot provide a citation for any of this. this is based on what I’ve heard from experts on canon law. If anyone disagrees they can feel free to do so and prove me wrong.

Since you’re the one who made the flat statement that this is “according to canon law,” it’s incumbent upon YOU to provide the citation, not upon anyone else to prove you wrong.

Let’s say that the issue of parochial boundaries isn’t addressed in the whole of Catholic Canon Law. Now, the only way for anyone to prove you wrong would be to take the Canon Law in its entirety and quote it so as to show that it did not appear in a single sentence. However, if the burden of proof were to lie with you (and trust me when I say that it does), then you only need to find a single sentence and quote that.


I found a website that has a pretty comprehensive explanation on this issue.

Canon 107—§1. Each person acquires a proper pastor and ordinary through both domicile and quasi-domicile.

§2. The proper pastor or ordinary of a transient is the pastor or ordinary of the place in which the transient is actually staying.

§3. The proper pastor of one who has only a diocesan domicile or quasi-domicile is the pastor of the place in which such a person is actually staying.

Canon 102—§1. Domicile is acquired by residence within the territory of a certain parish or at least of a diocese, which either is joined with the intention of remaining there permanently unless called away, or has been protracted for five complete years.

§2. Quasi-domicile is acquired by residence within the territory of a certain parish or at least of a diocese which either is joined with the intention of remaining there at least three months, unless called away, or has in fact been protracted for three months.

§3. A domicile or quasi-domicile within the territory of a parish is called parochial; in the territory of a diocese, even though not in a particular parish, it is called diocesan.

Canon 518—As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that is it embraces all the Christian faithful within a certain territory; whenever it is judged useful, however, personal parishes are to be established based upon rite, language, the nationality of the Christian faithful within some territory or some other determining factor.

  1. An individual may, of course, attend a church other than his own parochial church, contribute financially to another parish and he may undertake many activities outside his parish boundaries. However, he still remains a parishioner of the parish where he has domicile. He may also be regarded as a parishioner of a parish in the place where he maintains a secondary domicile or quasi-domicile. He exercises certain rights even if he is only a traveller or a vagrant. Most people who live in one parish but are active in another are canonically “travellers,” even if the trip is just a few blocks away.

There is no requirement that one must attend and “register” at ones territorial parish, as you would already be a “member.” Things like weddings and baptisms are to be conducted at the territorial parish, but one may attend and financially contribute to any parish they want. So your premise is false.

I visited the websites of some of the dioceses in which I have resided and only one listed parish bounderies along with the list of churches. Apparantly the bishops are not overly concerned with precise bounderies. If that be the case, why should we be concerned?

Reb Levi

Just because something isn’t on a website doesn’t mean it it is not considered important. Also, the poster who listed the code of canon laws statements on this issue, those codes do seem to imply that one should not register at a parish other than the one a person lives in.

Not necessarily. Growing up I attended one parish with my family, I was baptized and confirmed there. However, during my post-secondary education, I’ve traveled to another parish and attend there. It is in this second parish that I would prefer to get married, raise my own family, etc. Should I be married at this new parish, notification of my marriage will be given to the parish that I was baptized. If in future generations my descendants wish to find out genealogical information about me, they would probably have to go to my first parish to find all of the information about me.


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