HE NECESSITY FOR ESTABLISHED, well-defined parish boundaries was
identified back at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) as a way to protect
pastors and their communities from the harm that evolved from uncertain
lines of authority and property. The original trouble was grounded in the feudal
system: In earlier times the church was by no means separate from the state, as
it is in most countries today. The notion of a parish with canonically (that is, by
church law) protected rights and responsibilities serves to clarify what people
“get”—and have a right to—when they join up.
Most parish boundaries are geographically defined, but they can also be des-
ignated by language, rite, ethnicity, or other elements that serve the community.
There’s also a military diocese that encompasses U.S. servicepeople wherever they
may be, creating parishes anywhere armed forces personnel are serving. Rites in
communion with Rome, like Maronites, Melkites, Ukrainians, and others, establish
parishes defined less by geography than by the particular liturgy customary for
What is a parish?
As a Catholic you may worship freely in any of these parishes or all of them
if you wish. But there are advantages to registering with a particular parish—
whether or not you live inside its technical boundaries—that are worth consid-
BY ALICE L. CAMILLE
Why are there parishes?
The whos, whats, and wheres of the Catholic parish.
the People of
Alice L. Camille,
M. Div. is the author of Listening
to God’s Word
For more titles,
please visit alice-
article is adapted from “
Ask” on the VISION Vocation