When we register with a parish, we are saying that it is our wish to travel down this road of life and faith with that particular community of people by us becoming active in its mission and vision and supporting it. In fact, the word parish comes from the Greek word paroikia meaning “a pilgrim people,” a people on a journey of faith; a journey that we hope one day will lead to the fullness of life in God’s Kingdom forever.
Living in a culture that no longer supports a religious way of life, much less a Catholic way of life, the local parish plays an integral role in helping to guide and support us on our journey. We are called to take steps on this journey through several spiritual practices that allow us to enter more fully into the Reign of God. We are called to worship God regularly through the sacraments, give of our resources to support His mission, serve the least among us, grow in our knowledge and relationship with Jesus Christ, connect with our local community and invite others into our parish community, forgive generously those who wrong us, and love one another as Jesus loves us. The parish is the vehicle that leads us in taking these spiritual steps through its educational and formational programs, prayer groups, spiritual development and celebrations of the Word and Sacraments, and service opportunities. By these means, the parish empowers, nourishes and enables us to grow in wisdom, healing, and grace before God and our world.
Just as we need the parish to help us grow and thrive in our faith, the parish cannot exist and grow without the active ongoing relationship among those who compose it. When registering with a parish, a person is entering into a life of faith and community, and like any other relationships, if it’s to be viable and healthy and participatory, there must be a mutual commitment with its members.
Today, we live in a very mobile society. More than any other period in history we live in a time of shopping and surfing, the malls, the internet, multi-channel TV, etc. The church is not immune from this reality. Continually we meet people shopping for churches and parishes, people who – for a variety of reasons – never think of establishing a home parish until they plan to get married or have a child baptized. Sometimes adult children just ride the coattails of their parents’ parish registration, long after being emancipated. The presumption is that in their time of need, a parish will be there for them. Our hope is the same, but that requires something more than a consumer mentality- it requires engagement and mutual commitment!
The Church, for its part, requires pastors to have a founded hope and trust that those seeking the sacraments are practicing Catholics in good standing and open to growth. The same is true when parents present their children for the sacraments. Pastors are to have a founded hope that the children will be raised in the Catholic faith and will be encouraged to live a life by those spiritual practices God calls us to follow. So, when people who have been away or disconnected approach us to request a sacrament, we joyfully invite them to become an active member of our church and establish us as their nourishing home parish. As you can imagine, frequently, we encounter people who hold different opinions on this topic.
In the Roman Catholic Church of the United States of America, for members to be considered “active” parishioners, they must be registered in a parish for a sufficient period, fulfill the Sabbath Commandment by attending Mass faithfully on Sundays and Holy Days, and continuously support the mission of Christ in the local parish, preferably by using the envelope system or online giving. While the financial support of a parish is not the be all and end all, Catholics today know what the cost of living is, and parishes are not exempt from operating and extraordinary expenses. In many parishes, too few carry too much of the financial burden.
Each registered member must also understand and appreciate our financial responsibilities as Christian stewards of God’s blessings to us and pray and commit to sharing them with a grateful heart. Through our time, talent and treasure we both support our parish for today and sustain it for the future. Accordingly, as important as it is, the use of envelopes or online giving is not primarily about money, but about spiritual growth as it relates to the spiritual sacrificial concept that God gave everything for us, and we too are called to give of ourselves to follow him. And while everyone cannot give at the same level, everyone can give something meaningful to support our parish.
God also calls us to give our time and talents to the benefit of the Church – the greater community of people. As parishioners, we are called to serve our local community and connect with them in good faith to build a safe, loving, and nourishing environment for all of its diverse members. We are also called to serve those least among us as well who may lack the basic necessities of life or who are treated without justice and compassion in our midst.
Despite many different invitations, the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation is a serious one. This obligation is not merely a matter of parish policy. Divine law sets forth this expectation in the third of the Ten Commandments, “Remember, keep holy the Sabbath.” Further, Canon Law states:
On Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body. (Canon 1247)
Mass participation is an ordinary expectation for serious followers of Christ. Obviously, extraordinary circumstances such as sickness, travel, unavoidable responsibilities or bad weather excuse the faithful from this obligation. The elderly or disabled are not bound to Sunday Mass attendance, though highly recommended when possible. Individual disregard of this precept projects a distancing relationship from the source of all goodness and can become a grave matter – a severe disconnect from God. A habitual disregard for God and the Church’s removes us from the source of our life!
Hopefully, we will live beyond the minimal dictates of the law. It simply follows that if Sunday Mass attendance is an important Catholic value, then parents who want a Catholic formation not only for themselves but more especially that their children will see that they attend Mass faithfully on Sunday; otherwise, they will appear incoherent with faith life before their children. And that, of course, is not good nor beneficial for family or one’s personal life.
Parents should also note that the expectations regarding Mass attendance do not apply simply to the Catholic parent or parents, but to the children and youth as well. All of our children and youth, especially those attending Faith Formation, Religious Education and Youth Ministry are expected to attend Mass faithfully. The Eucharist is the most important thing that we do in our parish. At Mass, our souls and spirits are nourished and our minds enlightened by divine wisdom.
Finally, as a parishioner, we are called to continue growing in our faith. As disciples, we are students, which means that we are never done learning nor are we ever done putting our faith into practice. We are called to invite others into our parish community, learn more about God through prayer, forgive generously those who wrong us, and love one another as Jesus loves us.