Parish in the Catholic Church

Last updated
Scale of justice, canon law.svg
Part of a series on the
Canon law of the
Catholic Church
046CupolaSPietro.jpg Catholicismportal

In the Roman Catholic Church, a parish (Latin : parochia) is a stable community of the faithful within a particular church, whose pastoral care has been entrusted to a parish priest (Latin: parochus), under the authority of the diocesan bishop. It is the lowest ecclesiastical subdivision in the Catholic episcopal polity, and the primary constituent unit of a diocese. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, parishes are constituted under cc. 515–552, entitled "Parishes, Pastors, and Parochial Vicars."


Most parishes are territorial parishes, which comprise all the Christian faithful living within a defined geographic area.[ citation needed ] Some parishes may be joined with others in a deanery or vicariate forane and overseen by a vicar forane, also known as a dean or archpriest .

Per canon 518, a bishop may also erect non-territorial parishes, or personal parishes, within his see. [1] Personal parishes are created to better serve Catholics of a particular rite, language, nationality, or other commonality which make them a distinct community. [2] Such parishes include the following:

All the Christian faithful who reside in a territorial parish are considered constitutive of that territorial parish, and all members of a community for which a personal parish has been erected are similarly members of that personal parish. Membership should not be confused with registration or worship, however. Catholics are not obliged to worship only at the parish church to which they belong, but may for convenience or taste attend services at any Catholic church. [5] The term church may refer to the parish – the community that meets together – or to the building. [6] In this article it is used to refer to the building.


Each parish is charged to a parish priest (or pastor in the United States), although pastoral care of one or more parishes can also be entrusted to a team of priests in solidum under the direction of one of them, who is to be answerable to the bishop for their activity. [7] In extraordinary situations, a share in the pastoral care of a parish can also be entrusted to a deacon or lay person under the supervision of a priest. [8] Canon 519 states:

The parish priest is the proper clergyman in charge of the congregation of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ's faithful, in accordance with the law. [9]

In American usage, a "parish priest" is any priest assigned to a parish even in a subordinate capacity, and some may be designated as associate pastors or assistant pastors. Globally they may be known as assistant priests, [10] parochial vicars [11] or curates .

Other personnel

In addition to the parish priest and any assistant priests he may have, a parish commonly has a staff of lay people (vestry), religious, and ordained deacons. For example, a parish secretary may assist in administrative matters, a parish sister in activities such as visiting the sick, and a perhaps married permanent deacon in sacramental as well as pastoral or administrative duties.

A parish is obliged to have a finance committee [12] and, if the bishop considers it opportune, a pastoral council or parish council. The finance committee and pastoral council are only consultative. [13] Often the parish council is elected, to be broadly representative of the parish community, while members of the finance committee are more often appointed by the pastor according to their expertise.

Parish life

In addition to a parish church, each parish may maintain auxiliary organizations and their facilities such as a rectory, parish hall, parochial school, or convent, frequently located on the same campus or adjacent to the church.

Parish church

Inside the Anglican Parish Church of Saint Lawrence in Bourton-on-the-Water, England St Lawrence's Church nave and chancel, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire.jpg
Inside the Anglican Parish Church of Saint Lawrence in Bourton-on-the-Water, England

Each parish has a single seat of worship, the parish church. Geography, overcrowding, or other circumstances may induce the parish to establish alternative worship centers, however, which may not have a full-time parish priest.

The parish church is the center of most Catholics' spiritual life, since it is there that they receive the sacraments. On Sundays, and perhaps also daily, Mass is celebrated by a priest resident in the parish. Confession is made available, and perhaps Vespers in the larger or more progressive parishes. There are also laity-led activities and social events in accordance with local culture and circumstances.

Parochial school

Many parishes in different parts of the world operate schools for the children of the parish, though their organization, staffing, and funding varies widely according to local practice. However, many parishes cannot support schools alone, and there may be regional schools run by some parish or by the diocese. In addition to the standard curriculum, students at parochial schools are given moral and religious education in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.


A parish has two constitutive elements: a body of Christian faithful and a parish priest (called the pastor in the United States) to serve their spiritual needs. The parish is a "juridic person" under canon law, and thus recognized as a unit with certain rights and responsibilities. [14] It is not autonomous, however. The diocesan bishop has the sole power to erect, suppress, or alter parishes, after consulting with his Presbyteral Council.

Ecclesiae Sanctae , a 1966 Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI issued motu proprio , directs that

parishes in which apostolic activity can be performed only with difficulty or less effectively because of the excessive number of the faithful or too vast a territory or for any other reason, be suitably divided or dismembered according to the various circumstances. Likewise parishes which are too small should be united insofar as the situation demands it and circumstances permit. [15]

Where a parish priest has been named to pastor a defined community, but circumstances do not permit it to be formally erected as a parish, the congregation is recognized as a quasi-parish. [16] Quasi-parishes would be found in new mission churches, called "missions" of the mother parish, in new neighborhoods, and in communities too small to support their own priest. [17]


Canon law provides no formal guidelines for choosing a name for a parish or quasi-parish; however, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued guidelines in 1999 that it may commonly be the same as the name of the parish church. [18] In turn, the Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar [19] stipulates that this name must be

If two or more parishes are merged, the church buildings of each parish retain their names, but the parish itself may adopt a different name for pastoral reasons.

Merger and suppression

Bishops may close parishes through two legal mechanisms under canon law. In a merger, the identity of two or more parishes are abolished, and their former congregants organized into a new parish, and take on its identity. Under suppression, the identity of one parish is abolished, and its former congregants are joined to one or more extant parishes and take on their identity.

Suppression occurs only when the Church believes the entity of the existing parish cannot continue. This includes cases such as bankruptcy, abuse, or deviations from canonical teachings. In effect, however, the community of people that constituted the former parish is merged into one or more remaining parishes after a suppression, because the geographic area must, by canon law, be covered by other parishes. Exceptions are rare, as Dario Castrillón Hoyos of the Congregation for the Clergy explained in a 2006 letter to Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

[O]nly with great difficulty can one say that a parish becomes extinct. A parish is extinguished by the law itself only if no Catholic community any longer exists in its territory, or if no pastoral activity has taken place for a hundred years (can. 120 #1). When a parish is "suppressed" by competent authority, in reality, the still existing community of Christ's faithful is actually "merged" into the neighboring community of Christ's faithful and constitutes a larger community, and the territory of the extinguished parish is added to the other, forming a larger territorial unit. [20]

Parishes are typically suppressed or merged when they become unsustainable due to a decline in the local Catholic population. For example, given the ongoing priest shortage, a bishop may wish to reallocate clergy serving a small parish so that they can help serve a larger one, or a decline in contributions may make upkeep of a large, old parish church economically impossible. The merger or suppression of a parish does not necessarily require that its parish church or other operations be closed, however. The former parish church may be retained as an alternative worship space, for example, or converted for other pastoral use.

Opposition to suppressions

Controversy has arisen in the United States over the suppression of parishes, and over the disposition of parochial assets and liabilities following such a change.

Some bishops have interpreted suppression as equivalent to the extinction of a parish under canon 123 [21] (as due to war or disaster), in which case the assets and liabilities of the former parish revert to the diocese. In most cases, however, the local Catholic population was stable, and could not be said to be extinct, and so they should have been distributed to the successor parishes, as the Congregation for the Clergy emphasized in 2006 letter to the USCCB. [22]

In other cases, parishioners have objected to the closing of churches, making administrative recourse to the Vatican and staging sit-in protests at churches in Boston, Springfield, and Worcester, Massachusetts; Allentown and Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Syracuse and Buffalo, New York. In 2010 the Supreme Tribunal Apostolic Signatura, the highest court within the Catholic Church, overruled bishops, ruling that the closing of churches in Springfield, Allentown, and Buffalo was unnecessary and thus not permitted under canon 1222. [23]


The number of parishioners varies widely from parish to parish, even within the same diocese, reflecting local demographics and worship practices. The "ideal" size parish is a subject of debate. [24] According to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the average parish in the United States grew in size from 2,260 parishioners in 2000 to 3,277 in 2010 [25]

The number of parishes, similarly, varies widely from diocese to diocese. As of December 2012 there were 221,740 parishes, among total 456,503 pastoral centers in the world. Some statistics on the total number of parishes in different countries are maintained by their respective Episcopal Conference, and reported in the Annuario Pontificio :

See also


  1. "canon 518", Code of Canon Law
  2. Bruce, Tricia Colleen. Parish and place : making room for diversity in the American Catholic church. ISBN   9780190270346. OCLC   999442986.
  3. 1 2 John P. Beal; James A. Coriden; Thomas Joseph Green (2000), New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Paulist Press, ISBN   9780809140664
  4. "Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum on the "Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970" (July 7, 2007) | BENEDICT XVI". Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  5. "canon 1248 §1", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  6. "THE CORRECT MEANING OF "CHURCH" AND "ECCLESIA"". Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  7. "canon 517 §1", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  8. "canon 517 §2", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  9. "canon 519", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  10. "canon 545", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  11. "canon 545", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  12. "canon 537", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  13. "canon 536", 1893 Code of Canon Law
  14. "canon 515 §1", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  15. Pope Paul VI (1966), "21. Establishment, Suppression and Change of Parishes", An Apostolic Letter Issued "motu Proprio," Ecclesiae Sanctae
  16. "canon 516", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  17. Note that in the 1917 Code of Canon Law , the definition of quasi-parish differs. Quasi-parishes existed only as divisions of apostolic vicariates or apostolic prefectures, and were led by quasi-pastors. In the 1983 code, quasi-parishes are led by pastors and can exist anywhere.
  18. Michael Trueman & Pete Vere (July 2007), "When Parishes Merge or Close", Catholic Answers , 18 (6), archived from the original on 2013-06-15, retrieved 2013-02-21
  19. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, translated by International Committee on English in the Liturgy (1978), Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar (PDF)
  20. Letter from the Congregation for the Clergy to Bishop Skylstad, president of the USCCB, Prot. Num., 20060481, July 2006
  21. "canon 123", 1983 Code of Canon Law
  22. Filteau, Jerry (1 August 2006), "Vatican: Suppressed parish's assets must go to receiving church, not diocese", Catholic Online, Catholic News Service
  23. Shaw, Russell (24 April 2011), "Vatican intervenes in U.S. parish closings", Our Sunday Visitor
  24. Desmond, Joan Frawley (22 August 2011), "Church Size in Flux", National Catholic Register
  25. Filteau, Jerry (2011-08-02), National Catholic ReporterMissing or empty |title= (help)
  26. Conferenza Episcopale Italiana, Otto per mille
  27. Spis 2006 pod redakcją naukową ks. Witolda Zdaniewicza SAC, ks. Sławomira Zaręby i Roberta Stępisiewicza
  28. Vatican Information Service (2010-10-29), Statistics for the Catholic Church In Spain
  29. Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, "Frequently Requested Church Statistics", CARA website, retrieved 2013-10-07


Related Research Articles

A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian denominations, constituting a division within a diocese. A parish is under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of a priest, often termed a parish priest, who might be assisted by one or more curates, and who operates from a parish church. Historically, a parish often covered the same geographical area as a manor. Its association with the parish church remains paramount.

The Roman Curia comprises the administrative institutions of the Holy See and the central body through which the affairs of the Catholic Church are conducted. It acts in the Pope's name and with his authority for the good and for the service of the particular churches and provides the central organization for the church to advance its objectives.

Prelate High-ranking member of the clergy

A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, which means 'carry before', 'be set above or over' or 'prefer'; hence, a prelate is one set over others.

A pastoral council is a consultative body in dioceses and parishes of the Roman Catholic Church that serves to advise the parish priest or bishop about pastoral issues. The council's main purpose is to investigate, reflect and reach conclusions about pastoral matters to recommend to the parish priest or bishop as appropriate.

Personal prelature

Personal prelature is a canonical structure of the Catholic Church which comprises a prelate, clergy and laity who undertake specific pastoral activities. The first personal prelature is Opus Dei. Personal prelatures, similar to dioceses and military ordinariates, are under the governance of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops. These three types of ecclesiastical structures are composed of lay people served by their own secular clergy and prelate. Unlike dioceses which cover territories, personal prelatures—like military ordinariates—take charge of persons as regards some objectives regardless of where they live.

Hierarchy of the Catholic Church Organization of the Catholic Church

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church consists of its bishops, priests, and deacons. In the ecclesiological sense of the term, "hierarchy" strictly means the "holy ordering" of the Church, the Body of Christ, so to respect the diversity of gifts and ministries necessary for genuine unity.

The Congregation for the Oriental Churches is a dicastery of the Roman Curia, and the curial congregation responsible for contact with the Eastern Catholic Churches for the sake of assisting their development and protecting their rights. It also maintains whole and entire in the one Catholic Church, alongside the liturgical, disciplinary, and spiritual patrimony of the Latin Rite, the heritage and Oriental canon law of the various Eastern Catholic traditions. It has exclusive authority over the following regions: Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, southern Albania and Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Turkey, and also oversees jurisdictions based in Romania, Southern Italy, Hungary, India and Ukraine. It was founded by the Motu Proprio Dei Providentis of Pope Benedict XV as the "Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church" on 1 May 1917 and "considers those matters, whether concerning persons or things, affecting the Catholic Oriental Churches."

A Eucharistic minister, also known as a communion steward, is an individual that assists in the distribution of Holy Communion to the congregation of a Christian church.

In persona Christi is a Latin phrase meaning "in the person of Christ", an important concept in Roman Catholicism and, in varying degrees, to other Christian traditions. A priest is In persona Christi, because he acts as Christ and as God. An extended term, In persona Christi capitis, “in the person of Christ the head,” was introduced in by the bishops of the Vatican Council II in the Decree on the Ministry and Live of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, December 7, 1965.

Bishop in the Catholic Church ordained minister in the Catholic Church (for other religious denominations, use Q29182)

In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders and is responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in his jurisdiction, sanctifying the world and representing the Church. Catholics trace the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics believe this special charism has been transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands in the sacrament of holy orders.

Summorum Pontificum is an apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XVI, issued in July 2007, which specifies the circumstances in which priests of the Latin Church may celebrate Mass according to what he calls the "Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962", and administer most of the sacraments in the form used before the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council.

In 1983 the Catholic Church introduced the possibility of entrusting the pastoral care, of one or more parishes to a team of priests in solidum. This provision in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which resembles ancient models of pastoral care in the Roman titular churches with their colleges of priests, was introduced to help resolve some of the difficulties facing many dioceses. These difficulties include shortages of priests, overpopulated urban parishes, depleted and scattered rural parishes, and decline in attendance at Mass. This model of pastoral care is viewed as a practical way of promoting pastoral co-responsibility, as well as fostering a greater sense of the presbyterium among the priests of a diocese.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, also called the Johanno-Pauline Code, is the "fundamental body of ecclesiastical laws for the Latin Church". It is the second and current comprehensive codification of canonical legislation for the Latin Church sui iuris of the Catholic Church. It was promulgated on 25 January 1983 by John Paul II and took legal effect on the First Sunday of Advent 1983. It replaced the 1917 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Benedict XV on 27 May 1917.

Order of precedence in the Catholic Church

Precedence signifies the right to enjoy a prerogative of honor before other persons; for example, to have the most distinguished place in a procession, a ceremony, or an assembly, to have the right to express an opinion, cast a vote, or append a signature before others, to perform the most honorable offices.

The canonical situation of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a group founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is unresolved.

A personal ordinariate, sometimes called a "personal ordinariate for former Anglicans" or more informally an "Anglican ordinariate", is a canonical structure within the Catholic Church established in accordance with the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus of 4 November 2009 and its complementary norms. The ordinariates were established in order to enable "groups of Anglicans" to join the Catholic Church while preserving elements of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony. They are juridically equivalent to a diocese, "a particular church in which and from which exists the one and unique Catholic Church", but may be erected in the same territory as other dioceses "by reason of the rite of the faithful or some similar reason".

Catholic laity

Catholic laity are the ordinary members of the Catholic Church who are neither clergy nor recipients of Holy Orders or vowed to life in a religious order or congregation. The laity forms the majority of the estimated over one billion Catholics in the world.

David John Malloy Roman Catholic bishop

David J. Malloy is an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois.

St. Casimir Church (Cleveland, Ohio) Church

Saint Casimir Church, is a Catholic parish church in Cleveland, Ohio and part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. It is designated "a personal parish for those Catholics of the Latin Rite of Polish descent" in Cleveland. A personal parish is designated under Canon 518 of the Code of Canon Law. It is located at the north-east corner of intersection of East 82nd St. and Sowiniski Ave., in a part of the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood previously known in Polish as na Poznaniu.

Vos estis lux mundi is a motu proprio by Pope Francis, promulgated on 9 May 2019. It establishes new procedural norms to combat sexual abuse and to ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions. It establishes universal norms, which apply to the whole church. The law is effective for a three-year experimental period, coming into force on 1 June 2019.