So, this is something I should ask a priest, and I know there is a precept of the Church which is to provide for the needs of the church, but I'm asking here because I want to know if I have a leg to stand on in an argument with my wife, which is something priests never seem to be wont to help me with.

I live in a small town with a small parish that has one Mass once a week, it is linked (not sure if linked parishes is a universal term, but they're two parishes that share a priest and a bulletin with separate finance councils, etc...) to another parish in a town that is further away from my home than a parish in a neighboring city.

It seems like every weekend we're going to a different Mass, sometimes we go to Mass with the in-laws, sometimes we go to Mass near donuts, sometimes we go to Mass where the home-school crew all goes to Mass, very rarely do we go to Mass in our hometown and while we're still technically members, we have yet to go there this year and "pick up our envelopes". So we're pretty stinky members and for all the priest there knows we're Lutherans now.

Is this OK, very, very bad or a grey area where circumstances can mitigate it? Can Catholics legitimately hop around to different parishes, do they have to be members of one and go there regularly?

  • There is no obligation to go to the parish closest where you live, whether in Canon Law, tradition, or practice.
    – user96931
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 22:52

1 Answer 1


Do Catholics have an obligation to attend the parish closest to their homes?

The short answer is no.

Not many Catholics know this, but your real parish is the one whose territory includes your place of residence.

At least that is how the Code of Canon Law still sees it. But even with that built-in understanding of one’s territorial parish, canon law does not require you to register or attend Mass at the parish that is nearest to your home.

“Lay Catholics, a lot of pastors too, think that you register in a parish and that you become a parishioner by signing up and registering with the parish. … But strictly speaking, that’s not how the Code of Canon Law treats it,” said Msgr. Jason Gray, a canon lawyer and a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

“There is nothing that prohibits people from attending Mass wherever they wish to go. … Any Catholic can go to any Catholic church, satisfy their Sunday obligation, and the code really has nothing to say about that,” Msgr. Gray told Our Sunday Visitor.

That conflicting situation reflects a reality in the modern world. People today are much more mobile than what were earlier generations of Catholics. They can drive to parishes many miles away. Unlike their predecessors, Church leaders today would be hard-pressed to require Catholics to only attend Mass at their local parishes. - Addressing the phenomenon of parish hopping

In previous centuries, bishops would require Catholics to only attend Mass in their neighborhood parishes given the difficulty of travel in the days before automobiles and mass transit.

Canon Law states the following about parish boundaries:

Can. 518 As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory. When it is expedient, however, personal parishes are to be established determined by reason of the rite, language, or nationality of the Christian faithful of some territory, or even for some other reason.

Although a parish is territorial, Canon Law thus envisions some reasons for not making the closest parish an obligation to attend!

Canon Law does not state which parish or parishes we may or may not attend, even habitually.

In fact this article states that parish registrations may in fact be an American invention!

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