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The parish “shop and hop”
Posted By Eric Sammons On July 28, 2010 @ 8:33 am In The Church | Comments Disabled
One hundred years ago in this country, there were two factors which determined what parish a Catholic would attend: his geographic location and his ethnicity. If you were a recent immigrant, you went to the closest parish that served your people; if not, you just went to the closest non-ethnic parish. But this is not the case today: many Catholics shop around for a parish that suits their needs and then hop to the one that they like the best. Is this allowed? What are we to make of all this?
It should first be noted that lay Catholics are free to go to whatever parish they desire; they are not bound under canon law to attend their territorial parish. However, canon law does stipulate that a pastor of a parish is responsible for all the souls in that parish’s geographic territory, regardless of whether they attend his parish or not (or even if they are Catholic or not). So, in a certain sense, the pastor of your territorial parish is your pastor no matter if you attend his parish or not.
But even if it is allowed, is it a good idea to do the parish “shop and hop”? Should Catholics just attend their territorial parish or should they search around for a “good” parish? Opinions abound. My in-laws, who grew up before Vatican II, would never have dreamed of attending any parish but their “proper” one; they felt that a Catholic was supposed to support their local parish, no matter their personal opinion of it. However, many Catholics feel that it is necessary for their spiritual well-being to attend the “best” parish they can find.
When I first became Catholic, I was in the group that felt that you should attend your territorial parish unless the pastor there was preaching outright heresy. Even if the liturgy was poorly celebrated, the music stunk, and the pastor preached a “be nice” Gospel, a Catholic should support his local parish.
Then I had kids.
As any parent will tell you, having kids changes your entire perspective; you now see everything through their eyes. And I saw a child being raised in a watered-down Catholic Faith and it scared me. After that point, I decided I would attend the best parish within a reasonable distance because I wanted my kids to experience Catholicism and the Mass in a reverent, enthusiastic environment if at all possible.
Of course, one can take the parish “shop and hop” too far and demand perfection from a parish. But a perfect parish does not exist, and frankly, that attitude is one step away from Protestantism. We cannot expect a parish to be EXACTLY what we want, and we must be understanding of the difficulties of being a pastor. Leaving a parish simply because the music isn’t Gregorian Chant or the pastor’s homilies are dry isn’t a valid reason, in my opinion. And furthermore, we should actively work to improve our parishes; too often I hear people complain about their parishes, but they do nothing to help improve them. A parish doesn’t become faithful by magic, it is done by the hard work and prayers of its members. In the end, though, I see no problem with attending the most faithful parish one can in their general geographic area. It is not an ideal solution, but it is an acknowledgment of reality.
Before anyone says it in the comments, I do understand that many Catholics in this country live in a situation in which there are no parishes around them that are strongly faithful to the teachings and practices of the Church. I sympathize with them and know that this situation can be quite a cross. I pray that they unite their sufferings with our Lord for the renewal of the entire Church, including their own parish.
An interesting sidenote: when my family moved to Gaithersburg, we started attending the closest parish to us – St. John Neumann, which was only about 1.5 miles down the road. It is a great parish and we have happily attended it for years. But about two years ago, I discovered that we actually live in the boundaries of another parish! That parish, which is about 4-5 miles away, is also a great parish, but we decided to stay at St. John Neumann, as we had become active members and had found a spiritual home there. But technically, we unknowingly hopped parishes.
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