Parish boundaries

Question: In my personal “olden days,” you could not register, get married, be baptized or be buried outside your official boundary-bound parish. What are the rules today about belonging to a parish other than “your own” for the sole reason of preference? 

Ben Nicks, Kansas

Answer: The Code of Canon Law (No. 518) speaks of parishes as having boundaries (though some are erected to serve national or ethnic communities). The existence of boundaries sets up a variety of issues related to what you ask. 

First, there is no canonical obligation for Catholics to register in their territorial parish. Registration in the parish one attends is an American practice that is requested of Catholics and is helpful from an administrative point of view. But it is not canonically required that Catholics register. 

And while Catholics are required to attend Mass each Sunday and holy day of obligation (No. 1247), there is no mention they must attend the parish in the boundaries they reside. 

The second paragraph of Canon 857 is generally interpreted to mean that one should be baptized in the territorial parish they reside. But for a “just cause” (e.g., the family attends elsewhere) one can be baptized in another parish. 

No. 1110 says: By virtue of office, a personal ordinary and a personal pastor assist validly only at marriages where at least one of the parties is a subject within the confines of their jurisdiction. 

Hence, if one marries outside the territorial parish, the priest who celebrates that marriage must receive a letter from the territorial pastor permitting him to celebrate the marriage. 

Funerals, too, are presumed to be celebrated in one’s territorial parish, but the faithful are permitted to have them celebrated elsewhere, though the proper pastor ought to be notified (Canon 1177.2). 

Thus you are free to attend any parish you prefer, but as you can see, canon law presumes you attend the local church and report to the pastor in whose territory you reside.  

While today it is common for Catholics, for reasons of preference, to attend parishes outside their boundaries, there is a good reason to normally attend the parish in which boundaries you reside. It is the usual human condition that proximity strongly affects how involved we become in a parish. When things are at a distance, we are at a distance. 

Praying to the saints

Question: I was talking to my brother (a Baptist) about our Catholic practice of praying to saints for help. He asked why not go directly to the source (God) with our prayers? Can you help with an answer? 


Answer: I suppose the simplest answer is: What if you could do both? 

Indeed, could not the same objection be made of any Christian asking anyone to pray for them? Scripture instructs us to pray for one another (Mt 5:44; 1 Thes 5:25; Eph 6:19; etc). Hence the objection seems to set up a false dichotomy. 

Some also object that the saints in heaven cannot hear us. But why presume that? For the Body of Christ is one. He is not in several different places, or pieces. Further Scripture, while not mentioning how, seems to confirm that the saints in heaven pray and are aware of our needs (e.g., Rv 5:8; 6:10; 8:34; Heb 12:1). 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St.Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.