(Latin parœcia, parochia, Greek paroikia, a group of neighbouring dwellings).
A parish is a portion of a diocese under the authority of a priest legitimately appointed to secure in virtue of his office for the faithful dwelling therein, the helps of religion. The faithful are called parishioners, the priest parochus, curate, parish priest, pastor. To form a parish there must be (1) a certain body of the faithful over whom pastoral authority is exercised; the ordinary manner of determining them is by assigning a territory subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the parish priest. Uncertainty of parish boundaries may work harm and the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, c. xiii, de ref.) orders the boundaries of parishes to be defined. The faithful become parishioners by acquiring a domicile or a quasi-domicile (see DOMICILE) within the territory, or by simply living in it for a month (Decree, "Ne temere", on marriage, 2 August, 1907). Travellers, however, may address themselves to the parish priest of the locality, though without detriment to the rights of their own pastor. The exclusive attribution of a territory to a parish and its pastor is not absolutely necessary; certain parishes coexist with others in the same territory, the respective parishes being distinguished by rite or nationality, e.g. in the Orient or in large American cities. There are even rare instances of parishes formed solely of families, without regard to territory. (2) A special priest, having in virtue of his title a mission and authority to give religious succour to the parishioners, is required. In strict law, the care of souls in a single parish must devolve on several priests, and in fact, such was formerly the case in most chapters (q.v.); but the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, c. xiii, de ref.) commands bishops to assign to each parish its own individual rector. If the care of souls is entrusted to a moral body, like a chapter, it must be exercised by a vicar, perpetual as far as possible, who is called the "actual" curate, the chapter remaining the "habitual" curate, without right of interfering in any way in the parochial ministry (Sess. VII, c. vii).
The parish priest may have assistants, but the latter exercise their ministry in dependence on him and in his name. If the priest, even when alone, does not exercise his office in his own name, if he is only the delegate of a higher authority, he is not really a parish priest and his district is not a true parish. That is why there are no real parishes (as there are no real dioceses) but only stations in vicariates Apostolic and missionary countries. The same may occur in dioceses during the provisional period which precedes the erection of certain districts into parishes. But the parish exists, when the priest exercises the ministry in his own name, whether his title be perpetual or he be removable at the will of the bishop. From this results (3) parochial law, i.e., the reciprocal rights and duties of the parish priest and parishioners. This constitutes the care of the souls (cura animarum), an essential and constitutive element of a parish, distinguishing a parochial benefice from all others. Finally there is required (4) a suitable church which must have besides the liturgical equipment necessary for Divine worship, a baptismal font (exception is occasionally made in favour of a cathedral or a mother-church; hence in the Middle Ages parish churches were often called baptismal churches), a confessional, and a cemetery. Records of the baptisms, marriages, and burials must be kept, while the entire parish is the object of a liber status animarum, prescribed by the Ritual. Finally, the parish has fixed or occasional contributions for Divine service, the building, liturgical furniture, parochial works, and all that implies an administration. Local laws determine the share of the parishioners or their representatives in this administration. The parish must likewise furnish the parish priest with his presbytery or dwelling.
The canonical legislation relative to parishes is part of the legislation concerning benefices. To the care of souls is annexed by common law a benefice, by its purpose distinct from any other. All parishes are benefices, at least in the wide acceptation of the term; according to canon law, every church should have a stable income, especially land revenues, sufficient to insure not only the Divine service but also the support of its clergy. Every parish priest ought to have a fixed beneficial revenue, his congrua, the minimum of which is fixed by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, c. xiii, de ref.), at one hundred ducats (about one hundred and forty-two dollars), a sum insufficient today; the congrua may be replaced by contributions from the public treasury, in certain countries, paid in return for former ecclesiastical property now confiscated. Parishes without fixed incomes are nevertheless benefices in a broad sense of the term, since they insure a living for their parish priests by gifts and offerings, either voluntary or payable on the occasion of certain acts of the curial ministry, according to rates approved by the bishop. Parishes, like other benefices, may be divided into several classes. Most parishes are "free", i.e. the bishop himself selects the incumbent; but others are subject to the right of patronage; the patrons present to the bishop their candidate. Most parishes are independent, but some are united to other ecclesiastical bodies: chapters, dignities (high ecclesiastical offices), monasteries. By common law they are served by the secular clergy and are hence called secular parishes; but some, united to houses of religious orders, are served by religious and are consequently termed regular. Those confided to religious in virtue of a personal title, are not properly speaking regular.
(1) Parishes, to be "free", i.e. freely collated, should be conferred by the bishop within six months like other benefices; but his choice is limited by the concursus ordered by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIV, c. xviii, de ref.).
(2) By common law, a parochial benefice, like other benefices, is perpetual, and the beneficiary irremovable (see IRREMOVABILITY; Decree, "Maxima cura", 20 August, 1910). According to this Decree parish priests who were heretofore removable are now withdrawn from purely administrative transference. Irremovable parish priests may have their faculties withdrawn, without any trial properly so called, when the good of souls demands it. The nine reasons given in the aforesaid Decree as grounds for this withdrawal of faculties relate to corporal or spiritual defects, criminal conduct, serious and prolonged neglect of duty, persistent disobedience; these reasons, however, are not here dealt with as crimes, but solely as obstacles to a useful parochial ministry; hence the parish priest on being removed is to be provided for. This administrative procedure adequately secures the right of initiative necessary for the bishop, and at the same time safeguards the interests of the parish priest. It comprises three stages: the bishop who thinks that a parish priest is no longer working faithfully among his flock, is bound to select as counsellors two of the synodal or pro-synodal examiners, in order of their nomination, and explain the situation to them. If the majority decides to remove the parish priest, the bishop must first officially request him to resign within ten days under threat of pronouncing a decree of removal. The priest may reply to the reasons alleged against him, and his answer is examined by this council; if the reply is deemed unsatisfactory, the bishop issues the decree and notifies the priest. Properly speaking the latter cannot appeal from the decree, but he may present his case to a new council, composed of the bishop and two parish priests as consultors, who examine whether the reasons given for the removal have been proved and whether the formalities demanded by the decree have been observed; a majority vote decides (see Council of Trent, Sess. XXI, c. vi, de ref.).
(3) The same zeal for the welfare of souls inspires special legislation for the erection and division of parishes. The erection of a parish takes place by creation when the district and the faithful assigned to the new parish did not belong previously to any priest. This case is extremely rare, as usually the territory of each diocese is divided into parishes more or less extensive. A parish is created when a centre of religious activity becomes canonically recognized as a parish, as when a vicariate Apostolic is erected into a diocese. The erection of parishes usually takes place by dismemberment or division. While in theory the division of benefices is looked on unfavorably by the law (c. 8 de Præbendis), it is authorized and even necessitated by the welfare of the faithful in the case of parishes. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXI, c. iv, de ref.), referring expressly to the Decree "Ad audientiam" of Alexander III (lib. III, tit. 48, c. 3), desires bishops, if necessary as delegates of the Apostolic See, to establish new parishes, in spite of the parish priest's opposition, wherever distance or difficulty of communication does not allow the faithful to frequent the church. In cities an excessive increase of population necessitates the multiplication of parishes. The Council in such a case desires bishops to oblige the parish priests to have sufficient number of assistants; but if the population is too great for the parish priest, "to know his sheep" (Sess. XXI, c. i), the erection of a new parish is obligatory and the Congregation of the Council has several times recognized this as a legitimate reason. The legal formalities for the erection of a new parish further require the request either of the parish priest whose parish is to be divided, or of other interested persons, if there be any such; the consent of the chapter, unless custom has ruled otherwise; finally the guarantee of a sufficient income for the new parish, either by a partition of the property of the dismembered parish or parishes, or at least by the contributions of the inhabitants of the new one. The erection is effected by an episcopal decree. As a rule a special kinship exists between the old and the new parishes; the old being called the "mother" and the new the "filial" parish, the latter being bound to make certain offerings to the former, generally honorary, e.g., the annual gift of a candle. Special "foundations" of the old parish, created for the benefit, not of the clergy, but of the faithful (alms for the poor) are divided pro rata. Finally, the same procedure is observed for the extinction or suppression of a parish, by its union with another, when the number of the faithful has decreased so as no longer to warrant the presence of a parish priest.
The first Christian communities were founded in cities and the entire Divine service was carried on by the bishop and his clergy; the few faithful outside the cities went to the city or were visited from time to time by clerics from the presbyteries. In the fourth century we find in the villages groups sufficiently large to be served by a resident clergy. Canon 77 of Elvira (about A.D. 300) speaks of a deacon in charge of the people (diaconus regens plebem). In the East at a very early period the churches of the cities and of the country districts were organized; the Council of Neocæsarea, about 320 (can. 13), speaks of country priests and bishops of villages, the "chorepiscopi", who had a subordinate clergy. Such churches and their clergy were originally under the direct administration of the bishop; but soon they had their own resources and a distinct administration (Council of Chalcedon, 451, can. 4, 6, 17). The same change took place in the West, but more slowly. In proportion as the country districts were evangelized (fourth to sixth centuries), churches were erected, at first in the vici (hamlets or villages), afterwards on church lands or on the property of private individuals, and at least one priest was appointed to each church. The clergy and property depended at first directly on the bishop and the cathedral; the churches did not yet correspond to very definite territorial circumscriptions: the centre was better marked than the boundaries. Such was the church which the councils of the sixth and seventh century call ecclesia rusticana, parochitana, often dioecesis, and finally parochia. By that time most of these churches had become independent: the priest administered the property assigned to him by the bishop, and also the property given directly to the church by the pious faithful; from that moment the priest became a beneficiary and had his title. More plentiful resources required and permitted a more numerous clergy. The devotion of the faithful, especially towards relics, led to the erection of numerous secondary chapels, oratoria, basilicæ, martyria, which also had their clergy. But these tituli minores were not parishes; they depended on the principal church of the vicus, and on the archpriest so often mentioned in the councils of the sixth and seventh centuries, who had authority over his own clergy and those of the oratories.
These secondary churches emphasize the parochial character of the baptismal churches, as the faithful had to receive the sacraments and pay their tithes in the latter. The monasteries in turn ministered to the people grouped around them. From the eighth century parochial centres multiplied on the lands of the churches and the monasteries, and the villæ or great estates of the kings and nobles. Then the vill£ were subdivided and the parish served a certain number of villæ or rural districts, and thus the parish church became the centre of the religious and even the civil life of the villages. This condition, established in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, has scarcely varied since, as far as concerns the parochial service. As benefices, however, parishes have undergone many vicissitudes, owing to their union with monasteries or chapters, and on account of the inextricable complications of the feudal order. Parish churches had ordinarily attached to them schools and charitable works, especially for the poor enrolled on the matricula, or list of those attached to the Church. In the episcopal and other cities the division into parishes took place much more slowly, the cathedral or the archipresbyteral church being for a long time the only parochial church. However, numerous the city churches, all depended on it and, properly speaking, had no flock of their own. At Rome, as early as the fourth century, there was a quasi-parochial service in the "titles" and cemeterial churches (Innocent I to Decentius, c. 5, an. 416). It is only towards the close of the eleventh century that separate urban parishes began; even then there were limitations, e.g. baptism was to be conferred in the cathedral; the territories, moreover, were badly defined. The chapters turned over to the clergy of the churches the parochial ministry, while the corporations (guilds) insisted especially on the granting of parochial rights to the churches which they founded and supported.
In the United States and English-speaking lands generally (with the exception of Ireland, Canada, and possibly California), it has not been found advisable as yet to erect canonical parishes. The districts confided to priests having the cure of the souls are technically designated as missions or quasi-parishes, though in common parlance the word parish is employed. The establishment of canonical parishes in these countries was not found possible, owing either to the devastation wrought in the so-called Reformation period or to the fact that, as new lands were slowly evangelized and settled, circumstances did not allow the establishment of the Church's parochial system as prescribed in her canon law.
Certain churches are designated by the bishop which are to be regarded as parish churches (ad instar paræciarum). Over these churches are placed priests provided with the necessary faculties. They are designated missionary rectors, or quasi-parish priests, though familiarly referred to as pastors or parish priests. A certain district around each church is then more or less definitely marked out by the bishop, within the limits of which the pastor is to exercise jurisdiction over the faithful and have care of ecclesiastical buildings. Within the limits of such missions or quasi-parishes, the bishop may institute new ecclesiastical divisions when such action becomes advisable. If the parish be held by members of a religious order, the bishop is not thereby constrained to entrust the newly-formed district to regulars. The institution of new quasi-parishes in English-speaking countries proceeds generally along the same lines as those prescribed by Church law for the erection of canonical parishes. Consequently, the bishop can erect a new parish by way of creation, union, or division. If the territory in question has not yet been assigned to any parish church, the institution is said to be by way of creation. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the bishop can proceed to such action in virtue of his powers as ordinary of the diocese. In creating such new parish, he is bound to provide as far as possible for the proper support of the now incumbent. In English-speaking countries there is no necessity of recurring to the civil power for the creation of a new parish. When the bishop establishes new quasi-parishes by way of division, he is not required to observe all the formalities prescribed by law for the dismemberment of canonical parishes. He must, nevertheless, act on the advice of his consultors, and after hearing the opinion of the pastor whose territory is to be divided. It is obvious that a division which would cripple or impoverish the church would not be in the best interests of religion, yet the bishop can proceed to such dismembering even against the will and advice of the pastor. In that case, however, an appeal against the decree of the ordinary can be lodged with the metropolitan or the Holy See. It is to be noted that, while very specific reasons are laid down in canon law according to which a bishop may divide parishes, yet our bishops are not limited to such reasons. Leo XIII lays down explicitly in his Constitution "Romanos Pontifices" that our missions may be divided by the ordinaries for a greater number of reasons and for less important ones than those specified in the common law of the Church.
When a parish committed to regulars is to be divided, the bishop must hear the opinion of the religious superior before taking action. A right of appeal against the dismemberment of the mission is allowed both to seculars and regulars. In case of the former, generally, the appeal is to be made to the metropolitan, as the bishop acts in virtue of his ordinary jurisdiction; in case of the latter, the appeal is to be laid before the Holy See as the bishop is generally using his powers of papal delegation. No appeal, however, can effect a suspension of the bishop's mandate but only subject it to reconsideration by the higher tribunal. It is possible, however, for the ordinary to act as delegate of the Holy See for seculars as well as for regulars, exempt and non-exempt. In that case the appeal must always be made to Rome. Parishes are sometimes formed by way of union, that is, when several parishes are joined together so as to form, either strictly or loosely, one new parish. The united parishes are simply governed by one pastor without any further change in their status (unio œque principalis); we have frequently a similar arrangement in English-speaking countries, where two or more churches or missions are served by one priest, though otherwise independent of each other. With us, however, such union is preparatory to a division as soon as the revenues of the churches or the number of priests allows of it. As to union by subjection, the usual form this takes among us is when small mission stations are made (for the most part temporarily) dependent on some parish church. The power possessed by the bishop of disuniting parishes formerly joined together is frequently exercised in these countries in the above mentioned cases. As a right of patronage does not exist in the United States the making of new parishes is never complicated by the necessity of consulting an ecclesiastical patron. The counsel, which the bishop must take to ensure validity in the formation of new parishes, must be with his diocesan consultors, where such a body is established, or with the cathedral chapter, when the diocese possesses such a body, as in the British Isles. The regulations of ecclesiastical law by which a new parish or church must pay a certain tribute as a sign of dependence and respect to the church from which it was separated (the relation of the filia to the ecclesia matrix, or mother-church) is generally unknown in missionary countries.
The rectors of missions are not canonical parish priests, though they have been invested with nearly all the privileges of canonical incumbents by particular synods or decrees of Roman congregations. These rectors are of two kinds, removable and irremovable. The common law of the Church requires that every parish should have an irremovable rector, but in countries where the Church is not canonically established, this is not always feasible, and therefore the Holy See permits the appointment of pastors who are removable at the will of the ordinary (ad nutum episcopi). Priests belonging to religious orders, who are in charge of parishes, may be removed either by their superior or by the bishop, without either being constrained to give the reason for his action to the other. On the removal of a regular, his religious superior nominates his successor. It is the expressed desire of the Holy See, that all rectors of parishes should, as far as possible, be endowed with the quality of perpetuity in their pastoral charge and, where this is impossible, that at least a certain number of the rectors of parishes be declared irremovable. The proportion of one out of every ten was determined on as the minimum number in American dioceses. When a certain rectorship has once been declared irremovable, it is not in the power of the ordinary to reduce it to the status of a removable rectorship. This is plain from the Third Council of Baltimore (No. 34), as well as from the general law of the Church, which forbids ecclesiastical superiors to lower the status or condition of churches. When a parish is declared an irremovable rectorship, the appointment of the first rector lies with the bishop after hearing the diocesan consultors. For instituting all other irremovable rectors, it is necessary that a written examination or concursus be held, at which the same questions must be proposed to all the candidates. From among those whom the examiners shall deem worthy after a consideration of their answers and testimonials, the bishop selects one on whom he confers the parish. This rule as to a concursus does not hold, however, in all English-speaking countries. An appeal to a higher tribunal is not stopped by a concursis, for a dissatisfied candidate may lay his complaint before the metropolitan, either on account of the improper judgment of the examiners or of the unreasonable selection made by the ordinary.
No examination is required for the appointment of pastors to removable rectorships. When a rector has once acquired the privilege of permanency, he cannot be removed against his will except for causes laid down by ecclesiastical decrees or in such cases as fall under the new Constitution of Pius X, "Maxima Cura" (20 Aug., 1910). Removable rectors, though they are appointed at the will of the bishop, cannot be removed except for grave cause, if such removal would affect their character or their emoluments, and in case of grievance they may have recourse to the Holy See. The First Synod of Westminster (D. 25) warns priests that the appointment to permanent rectorships rests with the bishop, and that no right of preferment is acquired by serving as assistant priest on a mission or even administering it temporarily. On appointment to a parish, an irremovable rector must make a profession of faith. Whether the same obligation rests on removable rectors is disputed by canonists. The profession of faith is explicitly demanded of all rectors by the First Council of Westminster, but there has been no such pronouncement in the United States. The Decree of Pius X "Sacrorum Antistitum" (1 Sept., 1910) is, of course, binding everywhere. All priests having cure of souls are bound to reside in their parishes, and the statutes of some dioceses require the bishop's consent for one week's absence. As our rectors are not canonical parish priests, they are not bound to offer up the Mass gratuitously for their people on Sundays and holy days of obligation. In Ireland and Canada, however, this obligation rests on parish priests, though dispensations are commonly given from offering this Mass on suppressed holy days.
The duty of instructing the young in catechism is insisted on by the synods of Baltimore, and, especially in places where there are no parochial schools, this instruction is to be carried on by means of Sunday schools. Pastors are obliged to establish parochial schools where possible, and they are exhorted to visit them frequently and see to their efficient management. They are also obliged to preach to their people and give them facility for approaching the sacraments. The Westminster Synod exhorts pastors to provide missions and spiritual retreats for their flocks. As our rectors are quasi-parish priests, they have jurisdiction similar to that of canonical parish priests conferred on them by various councils. As regards the sacraments, baptism should be conferred only in the parish to which the person belongs, and the contrary practice is strictly prohibited (II Balt., No. 227); penance cannot be administered, even to his parishioners, outside the diocese to which the rector belongs, though this would be a prerogative of a canonical parish priest; the Paschal Communion may be made in any public chapel or church, unless there be special legislation against it; Mass may be celebrated twice a day, with episcopal permission, when otherwise a considerable number of persons would be deprived of Mass on Sundays and holy days; matrimony is to be administered by one's own pastor for liceity; and when the contracting parties are of different parishes, it is usual for the bishop to designate the parish of the bride as the proper place for the ceremony. These requirements, however, do not affect the validity of the sacrament. As regards funeral rights of pastors, there is no special legislation for the United States, but the common law of the Church is usually followed. The administration of the Viaticum and extreme unction are rights reserved to the pastor, and these rights may not be infringed without penalty. Rectors of parishes are required to keep registers of baptisms, marriages, confirmations, and interments. They are also exhorted to keep a liber status animarum as far as circumstances permit it. In some dioceses, the acceptance of a perpetual foundation for a daily or anniversary Mass is subject to the approval of the ordinary, who is to decide on the adequacy of the endowment.
Pastors are the administrators of the parochial property, but their rights in this regard are subordinated to the episcopal authority, for the ordinary is the supreme administrator and guardian of the ecclesiastical temporalities of his diocese. A financial statement of the condition of the parochial property must consequently be made by the rector to the bishop whenever he requires it. Generally, an annual statement is to be made. Whatever regulations are laid down by the ordinary for the better administration of the temporalities are binding on the pastors. When lay trustees are appointed to assist in the management of the parochial property, the rectors must obtain the episcopal consent for such appointment. In the United States, no outlay exceeding three hundred dollars may be made by the trustees without the bishop's written authorization, if such outlay is for special objects other than the ordinary expenditures. The pastors must see that lay trustees clearly understand that they are in no sense owners of ecclesiastical property and that appropriation of it for their own use entails excommunication. Alienation of all ecclesiastical property, movable and immovable, is unlawful without the permission of the Apostolic See, when such property is of considerable value. In cases involving a sum of not more than five thousand dollars only the bishop's consent is necessary, provided he has the special faculties usually granted to American bishops to that effect. The penalty for unlawful alienation is excommunication ipso facto. The pastor should make a careful inventory of all the parochial property, and file one copy in the parish archives and send another to the bishop. In cases where the civil law would vest the title to church property in lay trustees, it may be necessary that the bishop should hold the temporalities in his own name in fee simple. It is very undesirable that the same should be done by the pastors. As the rectors are the immediate custodians of the parochial property, it is their duty to keep it in proper repair. The Westminster Synods lay down clear and detailed rules in regard to the duty of rectors concerning church property. "Whoever is set over the administration of a mission . . . should keep a day-book of all the receipts and expenses of the mission, both of which should be entered most accurately every day in their proper order. He should also keep a ledger to which he will transfer, every month or three months, all the entries in the other book arranged in order, according to the heads under which each sum received or expended ought to be placed." "Every administrator should keep an open account in some bank in his own name and in the names of two honest persons. Let these know that they are taken only to prevent the money from any peril of loss and that they must not interfere in the administration. If one fail from any cause the two who remain shall take care to have another elected by the bishop to supply the place. The administrator should never keep for longer than ten days on hand more than 201. of money belonging to the mission . . . but he should diligently place it in the bank." "All buildings belonging to a mission should be insured against fire by an annual payment to some society for this purpose." "As soon as any priest enters on his mission let him receive an inventory of all things belonging to the mission from the vicar forane or from some one deputed by the bishop. He is bound to keep the furniture and buildings in good repair, yea, rather to improve them, that he may deliver to his successors as much, at least, as he received himself." "In every mission, the money contributed by the faithful (for seat rents, offertories, house to house collections and special collections) . . . is to be accounted church property and not as gifts given to the priest." By the Constitution "Romanos Pontifices", regulars administering missions must render an account to the bishop of all money given to them with a view to the mission.
All manuals of canon law have a chapter on the parish and the parish priest; the commentators of the Decretals treat the subject in Book III, tit. v, De præbendis, and tit. xxix, De parochis et alienis parochianis; BOUIX, De parocho(Paris, 1867); FERRARIS, Prompta bibliotheca, s.v. Parochia; SÄGMÜLLER, Lehrbuch des kath. Kirchenrechts (Freiburg, 1909), §§ 58, 100; THOMASSIN, P. I, ii, c. 21 sq.; IMBART DE LA TOUR, Les paroisses rurales du IV, au VI siècle (Paris, 1900); LESÊTRE, La Paroisse (Paris, 1908); TAUNTON, Law of the Church (London, 1906), s.v. SMITH, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, I (New York, 1895); TAUNTON, The Law of the Church (London, 1906), s.v. Missions; Rectors; Col. Conc. Lacensis gives the synods of English-speaking countries.
APA citation. (1911). Parish. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11499b.htm
MLA citation. "Parish." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11499b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Bobie Jo M. Bilz.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.