In the Roman Catholic Church, a parish (Latin: parochus) is a stable community of the faithful within a Particular Church, whose pastoral care has been entrusted to a parish priest (Latin: pastor), under the authority of the diocesan bishop. It is the lowest ecclesiastical subdivision in the Catholic episcopal polity, and the primary constituent unit of a diocese. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, parishes are constituted under cc. 515–552, entitled “Parishes, Pastors, and Parochial Vicars.”
Most parishes are territorial parishes, which comprise all Catholics living within a defined geographic area. A parish may be joined with others in a deanery or vicariate forane and overseen by a vicar forane, also known as a dean or archpriest.
Per canon 518, a bishop may also erect non-territorial parishes, or personal parishes, within his see. Personal parishes are created to better serve Catholics of a particular rite, language, nationality, or other commonality which make them a distinct community. Such parishes include the following:
- National parishes, established to serve the faithful of a certain ethnic group or national origin, offering services and activities in their native language.
- Parishes established to serve university students.
- Parishes established in accordance with the 7 July 2007 motu proprio Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum “for celebrations according to the older form of the Roman rite”, i.e., the form in use in 1962
- Anglican Use parishes established by the Pastoral Provision or other dispensations for former members of the Episcopal Church in the United States. By nature, communities belonging to the personal ordinariates for Anglicans as established by Anglicanorum Coetibus of 4 November 2009 are also personal parishes.
All Catholics who reside in a territorial parish are considered members of that territorial parish, and all members of a community for which a personal parish has been erected are similarly members of that personal parish. Membership should not be confused with registration or worship, however. Catholics are not obliged to worship only in the parish church to which they belong, but may for convenience or taste attend services in any Catholic church.
Each parish is charged to a parish priest (or pastor in the United States), although pastoral care of one or more parishes can also be entrusted to a team of priests in solidum under the direction of one of them, who is to be answerable to the bishop for their activity. In extraordinary situations, a share in the pastoral care of a parish can also be entrusted to a deacon or lay person under the supervision of a priest.
- The parish priest is the proper clergyman in charge of the congregation of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ’s faithful, in accordance with the law”.
In American usage, a “parish priest” is any priest assigned to a parish even in a subordinate capacity, and some may be designated as associate pastors or assistant pastors. Globally they may be known as assistant priests, parochial vicars or curates.
In addition to the parish priest and any assistant priests he may have, a parish commonly has a staff of lay people (vestry), religious, and ordained deacons. For example, a parish secretary may assist in administrative matters, a parish sister in activities such as visiting the sick, and a perhaps married permanent deacon in sacramental as well as pastoral or administrative duties.
A parish is obliged to have a finance committee and, if the bishop considers it opportune, a pastoral council or parish council. The role of the pastoral council is only consultative.
In addition to a parish church, each parish may maintain auxiliary organizations and their facilities such as a rectory, parish hall, parochial school, or convent, frequently located on the same campus or adjacent to the church.
Each parish has a single seat of worship, the parish church. Geography, overcrowding, or other circumstances may induce the parish to establish alternative worship centres, however, which may not have a full-time parish priest.
The parish church is the centre of most Catholics’ spiritual life, since it is there that they receive the sacraments. On Sundays and according to pastoral need daily, Mass is normally celebrated by a priest resident in the parish. confession is made available, as various forms of joint prayer. Where numbers of priests fall, there tend to be fewer priest-led, and more laity-led activities. These include social events in accordance with local culture and circumstances.