ROME, 16 JAN. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: What is the position now on people not going to Sunday Mass in their
own parishes? I know hundreds of people in this situation, yet always
advise that, despite the horrors that they sometimes witness in their
parishes, they should go.
J.F., Manchester, England
A: This theme is dealt with in Canons 1247-1248 of the Code of Canon
"Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful
are obliged to participate in the Mass ....
"Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a
Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the
preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass."
Thus, unlike the former code, the faithful are no longer obliged by law
to attend Mass at their parishes on Sundays and holy days of
But this does not mean that they may be indifferent to the life of their
local parishes. While speaking about the rights and duties of the
faithful, canon law says:
"Can. 209 §1. The Christian faithful, even in their own manner of
acting, are always obliged to maintain communion with the Church.
"§2. With great diligence they are to fulfill the duties which they owe
to the universal Church and the particular church to which they belong
according to the prescripts of the law.
"Can. 210 All the Christian faithful must direct their efforts to lead a
holy life and to promote the growth of the Church and its continual
sanctification, according to their own condition."
While a detailed commentary on these canons is beyond the scope of this
column, they do imply that Catholics should, as far as possible, strive
to be in full communion with their local parishes and support their
Some Catholics do not belong to territorial parishes but to so-called
personal parishes whose jurisdiction is not so much tied to where they
live but to other factors such as language, nationality, occupation, or
particular rite. In these cases they should support this parish.
On the other hand, the faithful have a corresponding right to receive
from their pastors authentic Catholic liturgy and doctrine and to
develop their own spiritual life. To this the code says:
"Can. 213 The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance
from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church,
especially the word of God and the sacraments.
"Can. 214 The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according
to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors
of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as
it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church."
Therefore, Catholics should habitually support and participate at Mass
at their own parish. This is the best way to form an authentic Christian
community as charity toward others is a fruit of the Eucharist and of
Our reader also suggested that Catholics should attend their parishes in
spite of defective practice and doctrine.
Certainly, one can do little to remedy possible limitations by remaining
outside and complaining. Many times these errors continue more out of
force of habit than out of bad faith, and change might be brought about
by gentle persuasion.
Once more, canon law declares that the faithful have the right, and
often the duty, to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on what
pertains to the good of the Church (cf. Canon 212.3).
If nothing changes in spite of charitable efforts, then the following of
this advice to remain would depend above all on the objective gravity of
If the objective defects constitute a danger to the Christian's faith,
or to that of his or her children, or cause serious spiritual
turbulence, then the person would be more than justified in worshipping
Subjective elements such as personal taste and religious sensibility are
less weighty and might sometimes need to be sacrificed for the good of
the community. However, some people might need a different religious
atmosphere from that found in their parish in order to be able to
If, however, they decide to attend Mass elsewhere for good practical or
spiritual reasons, then they should still attempt to participate in the
life of the parish as much as possible by sharing in other activities
organized by the community. ZE07011628
* * *
Follow-up: Attending Sunday Mass at Other Parishes [1-30-2007]
Some readers intimated that I had perhaps read too much into Canons
209-210 by suggesting that it implied supporting one's local parish (see
Jan. 16). Although the expression "particular church" usually means
"diocese" in canonical terms, most Catholics support their local church
through their parish.
Likewise, according to Canon 107, Catholics, unlike most Protestants,
generally acquire their pastor through place of residence (technically
domicile or quasi-domicile) as canon law presumes laws to be
territorial. Even when, as frequently happens in the United States, a
Catholic registers and worships in a parish different from his or her
territorial parish, this latter parish remains the proper channel and
authority for any permissions and dispensations required by canon law.
The widespread custom in the United States of people registering at a
parish other than their territorial parish is rather the exception than
the norm. This is perhaps due to the ease of mobility in that country
and also because the concept of parish territoriality is somewhat weaker
as historically many national parishes were established to cater to
successive waves of immigrants.
Catholic worship around the world has historically revolved around
territorial parishes forming a worshipping community. I would sustain
that consequently Catholics should generally assist and support their
local parish, supposing that the faithful's right to authentic Catholic
worship is provided for in that parish.
This is not a strict legal obligation, however, and the code is
sufficiently flexible to allow for differences in religious
sensibilities in practice and worship.
For example, Canon 112 on changing from one Catholic rite to another is
illustrative. Canon 112 sets strict conditions for a Latin-rite Catholic
to switch rites to an Eastern Catholic Church. In most cases this
requires permission from the Apostolic See.
Canon 112.2 states that not even prolonged practice and reception of the
sacraments in another ritual Church entails enrollment in that Church.
In effect the canon distinguishes membership from liturgical practice.
Any Catholic is allowed, even habitually, to receive most sacraments in
a ritual Church different from his or her ritual Church, without
formally becoming a member of the Church.
For instance, if, for solid spiritual reasons, an adult baptized and
confirmed in the Roman rite begins to practice in a Maronite parish, he
or she may receive the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, and
anointing of the sick without any need to formally switch rites. If a
man in this situation wished to enter holy orders, or if a couple of
Latin-rite Catholics wish to marry according to the Maronite rite, then
permission would normally be needed to formally switch rites.
If this flexibility is practiced among various Catholic rites, even more
so it may be observed among diverse parishes of the same rite.