Parish Shopping

As my wife and I are expecting in November, we’ve started to consider where we’re going to baptize the baby. Most churches that we’ve seen want you to be a parishioner before they baptize you. This has brought up the question of what parish we really belong to. We’ve found that that’s not an easy question.

Over the weekend, Tito had a post that inquired about the existence of good parishes in Las Vegas for his family. Some of the things he looks for are an orthodox priest faithful to the Magisterium, a beautiful Church, and a liturgy that aspires to beauty and lacks some of the folksy elements of post-Vatican II as well as the more scandalous aspects of the “spirit of Vatican II” like liturgical dancers.

None of those desires are unreasonable. In fact, those things are the rights of the faithful.

Lest one think I am infusing American political ideas with my faith, my source is Canon Law itself:

Can. 213 Christ’s faithful have the right to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments.

Can. 214 Christ’s faithful have the right to worship God according to the provisions of their own rite approved by the lawful Pastors of the Church; they also have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life, provided it is in accord with Church teaching.

While it would be absurd to interpret that to mean the laity have a right to full blown choirs and European cathedral-like churches, it does set out that the laity ought to expect to be spiritually nourished by their parish. This includes having a good liturgy, church architecture that adds to the liturgy, and above all else, orthodoxy.

On the other hand, parishes are not merely different locations where Mass is available. Parishes are designed to be small, local communities. True communities require geographical proximity as canon law sets out quite clearly:

Can. 518 As a general rule, a parish is to be territorial, that is, it is to embrace all Christ’s faithful of a given territory. Where it is useful however, personal parishes are to be established, determined by reason of the rite, language or nationality of the faithful of a certain territory, or on some other basis.

There’s not much mincing; a parish is supposed to embrace ALL of the faithful in a given territory.

The problem of course comes when one’s local parish offers a liturgy that fails to challenge (which I think is most often-Vatican II folk songs, feel-good sermons, etc.) or even worse when the parish has become largely heretical.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. It could depend on a lot of factors: how long has this been going on? how bad is it? have you done anything about it? how vulnerable are you in your spiritual life? It is important to note that the Church does set out a duty to inform Pastors even while setting out a duty to obey them:

Can. 212 ß1 Christ’s faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show Christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church.

ß2 Christ’s faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.

ß3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

In addition to questioning whether or not you have done all you could to improve the situation (after all, if orthodox people leave a parish, how is it going to become orthodox? A good priest coming into the situation would find no support).

There is also a spiritual temptation. C.S. Lewis discusses this temptation in the 16th Screwtape Letter. While the whole letter is well worth the read, I can’t copy it all. He discusses the danger of a church becoming a mere faction rather than a unity of a cross-section of people. The greater danger I think though is this: (Note if you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters that “The Enemy” is God and that a tempting devil is writing this).

In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise-does not waste time thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going…This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our own policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper. So pray bestir yourself and send this fool the round of the neighbouring churches as soon as possible.

The idea is simple. If you’re shopping for Churches, you become the judge. Instead of being open to receiving God’s word, you either say “well this is good” or “no this is not my taste” or “not how it should be done.” I think this is a particularly strong temptation for those of us like myself who desperately want a beautiful liturgy and don’t want to be singing praises to trees and so immediately discount everything the priest or deacon says.

So while I think it’s clearly preferable to stay in your local parish considering the temptations and loss of community entailed in “parish-shopping,” I don’t want to go far as to say you can never leave. I would rather see people leave their parish than leave their Church. But if one does this, it must be undertaken very carefully and with a lot of discernment.

Of course, all this does is underscore just how precious a good local parish is. Ultimately one hopes that Benedict’s efforts to restore the proper liturgy and orthodoxy to widespread use continue to be successful so that all Catholics might receive the rich treasures of a good local parish and we must pray unceasingly for that result.

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24 Responses to Parish Shopping

  • Pinky says:

    I wonder if obedience is the least popular of all virtues. Sure, some other virtues get beaten up in our society, but obedience is equally resented by the nonreligious, the casually religious, and the devout.

    For quite a few years, a sleep disorder prevented me from attending early Mass. I got in the habit of attending 5 p.m. Mass at the next parish up the road. Now that I could make it to my local parish at noon, I still go up the road, because my local parish is really ugly and everyone talks through Mass.

    Before the sleep problems, I attended the Latin Mass at another parish, and it’s there that I’m registered.

    Anyway, I guess my excuse is that I’m not shopping around, and I’ve settled at a parish that’s not 100% to my liking. But it’s still not the one I actually reside in.

  • David says:

    I think you have to find a good, solid church, recognize its faults, and get involved in valid ways to make it strong in those areas. We chose our parish 10 miles from home (when there are parishes 1 mile and 3 miles away) because we liked the setting, the physical church, and we interviewed, and liked the priest. But the parish is weak in spirituality, so when there was an opening for musical director, we helped find qualified people to interview. We have worked to bring in good evangelist-type preachers (we’re having Fr. Wade Menezes of the Fathers of Mercy in a few months). My point is, select a place you can live with, then do what the Holy Spirit asks you to do to make the parish better.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Very good article Michael.

    I feel if I were to stay active in my geographical correct parish, I would have been driven out due to my orthodoxy.

    Fortunately, I do not have that problem (Deo gratis).

    I’m all for being change agents. The question is to ask God for the courage to stay in an unCatholic parish.

  • Patrick says:

    I believe that there are many ways of living our faith as Catholics. While I am fairly conservative, I also know that is not the only path. There is always going to be some cognitive dissonence. The question is how much you can stand.

    My parish has had three different pastors in the last nine years, each with a different personal style and a different management style, as well as three deacons and I can’t even count how many assistant pastors/priest in residence. But the parishioners are the church. I feel comfortable and welcome with them, in contrast to my previous parish, where, after 25 years, I still hardly knew anyone’s name. Involvement really wasn’t welcome at my previous parish. It was the same group of people who “did things.” Quite the contrary where I am now. Ours is a very large parish. We need 18 people, per Mass, to distribute Communion. That involvement is good for the parishioners and it is also good for the community of the parish. I really think that you need to go where you feel part of the community, even if you have to drive past some other parishes to get there.

  • Jim says:

    Tito Edwards says: I feel if I were to stay active in my geographical correct parish, I would have been driven out due to my orthodoxy.

    That happened to me. I’ll give the Reader’s Digest version. I was out of the Church for 25 years (the Prodigal Son). When I returned I was SHOCKED at all the “changes” that had taken place and I totally felt like a fish out of water.

    I was having marital problems and approached my pastor for counseling. I told him that I would like to go to confession and he replied “what makes you think you have to go to confession?”

    My wife went through the RCIA program and since I was her sponsor I was subjected to a whole years of “The best of Fr. McBrien” by the “Church Lady” that ran the program. It was a watered down mess. I sponsored another individual the following year and got into battles with the Church Lady over the lack of content in “her” program.

    I approached the parish council once to try to start a Family Rosary program using the materials from the Apostolate of Family Consecration. I mentioned at the meeting that it had the blessing of Pope John Paul II and the Associate Pastor rolled his eyes and sighed out loud.

    I was ostracized by the priests, and criticized by them to my wife for teaching then such heretical things as communion on the tongue. My wife & I eventually ended up divorcing and she left the Church and moved in with her BF. I went “parish shopping” where I found a marvelous orthodox parish that had five priests, DAILY confession, Divine Mercy & 40 hrs devotions etc.

    IMHO it’s WELL beyond “judging” – in some locations it’s become a matter of survival.

  • Phillip says:

    I think at times it is prudent to go to another parish. The parish I belonged to geographically in one city was quite unusual in its practices. Went to Mass there only once. The priest and nun processed down the aisle together with the nun wearing a dress with the exact same color of the priest’s vestments. They alternated saying the Introductory prayers of the Mass and sat in a pew together leaving the altar area empty. There were several same-sex “couples” in the congregation all beaming proudly at the homily that spoke of the equality of all “life choices.”

    Left at that point as I thought the Mass ultimately could be invalid. Never returned.

  • Ezekiel says:

    If there is a Latin Mass parish in your area perhaps you and your wife should consider there?

    If you raise your child in a novus ordo parish you will constantly have to explain to the child how inapprppriare the plethora of liturgical abuses are, and how the liturgy is theologically deficient, that Holy Mass is not the time where we celebrate ourselves but is the representation of Christ on the Cross in an unbloodied way. The mass is a sacrificial offering, not a fiesta.

    Since his/her very soul hangs in the balance, consider, should s/he go to a parish offering the Mass of the Great Saints of the last 400 years, or the mass where bishops of very questionable orientation give Holy Communion to the Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence dressed in drag, the mass loved by those seeking to destroy Christ’s Church?

    When one considers the tremendous cost of choosing wrong, I think the only right choice readily becomes clear. Extraordinary Form from Baptism onward. The child will truly be blessed to be spared all the tremendous abuses, false teaching, sacrileges, and all the confusion that comes from such things.

    If you wish for the child to grow into a practicing catholic as an adult, the novus ordo must be fled from before it can corrupt the child and destroy his/her faith as it has done to millions over the last 40 years.

  • David says:

    It’s not about ‘novus ordo’ versus TLM, but the concept of obedience to the Church Christ founded vs. disobedience. ‘Novus ordo’ done correctly is obedient to the Magisterium. That said, there are lots of incorrect novus ordo masses. Any mass using a Gather Hymnal could make the mass incorrect. But If you can teach your children to obey, to respect, and to be humble, they will be horrified in what they see, and be good humans and good Catholics. I would start with a daily reading of the Beatitudes, and homilies by Fr. Corapi and Fr. Pablo Straub, and Fr. Wade Menezes, or any Fathers of Mercy.

  • Ezekiel says:

    So if one raises a child correctly one will be subjecting them every Sunday to an experience that horrifies them?

    That is surely the way to build a love for the Mass, by weekly subjecting them to the horrific novus ordo.

    Thank you for bolstering my point concerning TLM. It seems that even a surface analysis reveals that it is an issue of content and which missal is used, since the novus ordo is fundamentally different from TLM in it’s theology. One is about the sacrifice, the other is about fiesta time and the “church of aren’t we fabulous.”

    The novus ordo is a lot like socialism. Lefties keep declaring “we just haven’t done it the right way yet! It will work this time! Really!”. But when clear thinking prevails it becomes clear that the problem is the novus ordo itself, and no variation of Catholicism-watered-down-with-Protestantism-liturgy is going to work.

    Taking such radical risks with the soul of a child is unfathomable to me. For the child’s own sake, an EF parish is objectively the optimal choice. Since a parent always wants what is best for their child, and an EF parish would be best for the child, the conclusion is inescapable.

  • Jim:

    That’s horrible. I think your story really brings out something I mentioned: your own spiritual condition. If you’re just trying to come back into the Church and fix your marriage, I would find the best possible parish with the best priest. You would have been right to ditch that parish, I think.

    Philip:

    I think you have a clear case of leaving. That Mass probably wasn’t valid.

    Ezekiel:

    Well, by the time my child is old enough to understand the Mass we’ll have moved (hopefully) out of Baton Rouge to either New Orleans or Lafayette.

    That said, I don’t think an EF parish is necessary. The novus ordo is a valid mass, and there are many parishes that provide the ordinary form in a way that it is still beautiful and faithful to the church (which is true in part b/c the church has said the novus ordo is acceptable, and being faithful entails acceptance of the validity of the novus ordo, even if the EF is personally preferred).

    That does get me thinking on another point: how much should one consider the local parish when buying a house? I tend to know Lafayette & New Orleans fairly well, and I think I would consider the orthodoxy of the local parish when making my decision. I don’t think that’s bad, though it may encourage parishes to become more like factions. I’ll have to think about that. Anyone else have thoughts on that angle?

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Maybe I’ve just been fortunate, but I really don’t see what is so “horrific” about the Novus Ordo Mass as long as it is done reverently. I have been “subjected” to it from my earliest memory, as has my daughter, and we’re still completely faithful, practicing Catholics.

    Yes, I have been to TLM Masses and I’m all for keeping that tradition alive; yes, I like to hear Latin and real Gregorian chant (there is a parish in my area that does that), and yes, I think the new translation coming next year (hopefully) will go a long way toward restoring a sense of mystery and sacredness. However, I have seen many NO Masses done beautifully and reverently so it is not impossible.

    Of course this may be because I have had the good fortune to live in parishes that never went off some of the deeper ends of liturgical experimentation, and have never been subjected to any of the grosser liturgical abuses apparently common in some dioceses (e.g. liturgical dance, lay persons giving homilies, invalid Eucharistic matter, etc.) The worst liturgical “abuse” I have seen in the last 10 years or so is the use of some theologically questionable hymns (like “Ashes” and “City of God”), but other than that, I really can’t complain.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    As far as your C.S. Lewis analogy.

    He was referring to the denominations of his day where people went to where they felt “comfortable”.

    Plus C.S. Lewis was a Protestant, not a Catholic.

    We aren’t “judging”, but asking for the faith Christ left us, not some invention from a 60s leftover.

  • Ezekiel says:

    As a matter of clarity to my previous posts; I fully agree and believe that the novus ordo (with proper form and matter as required, that is a valid priest, valid bread/wine, etc) is a valid mass.

    If my posted suggested otherwise, such an error is entirely my own and I regret any confusion.

    It is my assertation that the EF is not simply superior as a matter of personal preference, but
    is an objectively superior form of worship.

  • Ezekiel says:

    Also, as per the matter of church shopping, the law clearly does not require one to be enrolled at one’s geographic parish. Parishes are erected to ensure the faithful have access to what is their right, not to bind the faithful to access what is their right only in a particular place.

  • Tito:

    No, Lewis was not talking about different denominations, but different presentations of the liturgy within the Anglican Church (High and Low Church). Yes, he was Anglican but Anglicans have parishes too. While one clearly has to make an analogy between Lewis’s situation and what we as Catholics face today, I think the analogy is helpful.

    And as I said, the laity do have a right to the faith. I just want people to be careful before they bolt their parish.

    Ezekiel:

    The canon law I quoted suggests that it is at least preferable for all the people to enroll in their local parish (unless there are differences of rite, nationality, etc.). Whether or not i is just merely preferable or actually binding in law is something a canon lawyer would have to interpret.

    I tend to agree with you about the superiority of the EF, though I have seen EFs done poorly such that the best NOs are superior to them. I have a feeling if Novus Ordo Masses were done right, people wouldn’t be having this discussion nearly as much.

  • JohnH says:

    Ezekiel says: Also, as per the matter of church shopping, the law clearly does not require one to be enrolled at one’s geographic parish.

    Actually, I don’t think you’ve read that right. As a Catholic, you are *automatically* a member of the parish you reside in. You no longer have to register though.

    See here:
    http://catholicexchange.com/2008/04/11/111841/

    Note that:

    On a regular basis, when it comes to weekly Mass attendance and routine reception of the sacraments, we are not obliged to attend any one church in particular. Canon 1247 asserts that on Sundays and holydays, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass, but does not specify that we must attend Mass in any specific place. Similarly, we may receive the sacrament of confession from any priest who is lawfuly able to administer it (c. 991), without regard to the location where this takes place.

    Therefore, there is no legal reason why one cannot routinely attend Mass and receive the sacraments at a parish church other than the one to which we technically belong — although this is hardly an ideal situation. But on major occasions, such a child’s first reception of the sacraments, we have seen here that it is the norm that these be celebrated in one’s own parish church. And when it comes to marriage, as discussed above, the law is even more serious, for the validity of a marriage depends in part on whether it is celebrated in the parish of one of the spouses.

    I believe that many churches that have the EF are set up as personal parishes, and you may join those although your “mother” parish will still be the one you reside in.

  • M.Z. says:

    Just remember that you are always the exception, and you will do well in life. ;-)

    As a former parish shopper, I recognized that my need to be an exception was a poor reflection on me. In retrospect, I was quite silly in those days. For most folks, their involvement in a parish is one hour per week. If you are looking for more than that – and there is nothing wrong with desiring more – there are para-church organizations that are better equipped to help you.

  • I think there are certainly spiritual dangers to parish shopping — some of which we’re seeing on display. However, there are also times when it is important to move out of an environment where you family is not being spiritually nourished.

    Also, it seems to me it’s fairly important to be withing reasonable distance of your parish, since if you’re to be active there you’ll be going down there frequently.

    If you’re just entering an area or just coming back to the Church, I see no problem with looking around at the parishes within reasonable striking distance of your house before deciding which one to register in. However, once you’re settled on a parish it seems to me that the motivation for leaving would have to be something fairly major.

  • David says:

    I agree with those who don’t believe the NO Mass, done correctly, is horrific. It’s simply not. I’d much rather have a priest enunciating the prayer in English reverently and properly than to have him stumbling over the Latin, butchering it so it’s undecipherable. Either mass, done properly, is beautiful. Remember, there is only one Mass. No, I don’t want tamborines, guitars, drums and piano, clapping during the Gloria, etc. But the lectionary for the NO mass is definitely superior, and gives a greater sense of the entire Bible. Well done Latin in the TLM is superior to the vernacular in the NO. But I’ve been to Hanceville and seen a NO mass using Latin, and it was truly amazing. I’ve been to TLMs that have also been amazing. I’ve been to both where I felt the content was lacking, even though Jesus was present (thereby providing a valid mass).

  • Christian says:

    Hard to believe, when I was a pre Vatican 2 kid, all the Masses at all the churches around my very Catholic town were essentially interchangeable. Therefore people simply belonged to the closest church’s parish.

  • Katie Steiner says:

    What an interesting perspective on “Parish Shopping.” I really liked the point that you made that if all of the orthodox parishoners leave, then the parish has little hope of changing, even if they do get a good orthodox priest. When I was still attending the parish I grew up in, I did try to respectfully approach our priest with certain problems I was having in our parish. One being that I felt that other parishoners were not respecting the presence of the Blessed Sacrament by talking and visiting after Mass instead of observing sacred silence. The priest basically blew me off. After several incidents with this priest, I left the parish and joined a more traditional parish downtown, St. Agnes. I hope that you find a good parish to belong to, and bring your baby into the Church!

  • Pinky says:

    I agree with the general tenor here. It’s a balancing act, making sure that you receive necessary spiritual support without becoming what Lewis called a “connoisseur of churches”. Smart thread.

  • Yep, sometimes times I think this “spirit of Vatican II” is really one spirit with dual personalties. I’ll call it the “spirit of the world I”…

    I say this because among many of the same spirits that had collected upon my once sick soul, (in which the true Spirit was cleansing me by fire), were to be found also hanging about the philosophies of the parish our entire family converted within.

    For over a year I didn’t realize that every wednesday evening I was (as a convert in waiting for baptism)involved with a Call To Action prayer group.. But, Our Lady gave me a strong heart for unity with the Chair of Peter during this time… On a terrestrial level, I’m sure she realized how much I had offended God previously in life, and would not bring before the Heart of the Most Holy Trinity any triump of Her Immaculate Heart that would not now or in the future remain obedient to Christ speaking through His Church.

    And that’s the whole crux of the problem, as I see it.
    These same dual spirits want desperately to confuse us all on the reality and required doctrines of Love, including the obedience Christ exemplifies in doing the will and works of the Father–still today through His Church.

    I’m on board with the notion of the orthodox remaining…

    I think that in a hidden way Our Lady uses us to destroy all manner of errors. I now look back on that time whimsically reflecting on my overly zealous self insisting to that same Call To Action group that they sit patiently through my readings of the Marian Movement of Priests book, followed by the Holy Rosary. Now I understand their discomfort a bit better. Facts are facts though:

    That group has now disbanded.

    God bless you all…

    jme
    http://www.fratres.wordpress.com

  • c matt says:

    I agree that a well done N.O. can be very reverent. I have been fortunate in that I have not experienced too many cringe-inducing Masses, except for the occasional folksy or otherwise less than inspiring hymns (seem to get at least one each Mass).

    But, I do think a solid case can be made that the TLM, in its structure, is an objectively superior form of Catholic worship. Cardinal Ottaviani (sp?) pointed out the main differences, and over time, it seems the NO form has somewhat deteriorated – that is, it has allowed for more innovation (kind of hard to ad lib in Latin, after all, even though, ironically, “ad lib” is Latin. Go figure). Of course YMMV with individual priests, but the TLM form itself has more Catholic elements, and it is hard to argue against the claim that the NO is more Protestantized. The NO is still valid of course, and can be reverent, but the form itself seems to have purposefully changed certain elements that are not just trivial, and not necessarily for the better.

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