Origin of term / Early use
The word parish itself originates in Judaism and identifies the body of people. "Parish" denoted the Israelites living in exile in Egypt. Later, "parish" signified the earthly existence of Israel living in this world but not as part of this world; rather, as a parish of pilgrim people of God, the Israelites looked forward to the heavenly Jerusalem.
In Christianity the term was similarly used to denote the Church community living in the Kingdom of God now in this world but with a view to its fulfillment in the heavenly Kingdom. St. Peter reminded the early Church, "Conduct yourselves reverently during your sojourn in a strange land" (1Pt 1:17), highlighting that idea of a pilgrim people journeying toward heaven.
During the time of persecution
During the time of persecution, the parish was each individual community headed by a bishop. By A.D. 100, the bishop would send priests to offer Mass in homes especially in the rural areas. Moreover, each priest would also carry some of the holy Eucharist consecrated by the bishop to be distributed to the faithful at these sites as a sign of their unity as a whole Church.
After the legalization of Christianity
After the legalization of Christianity, the diocesan structure soon came into existence. The bishop oversaw the care of the entire diocese, referred to as "the Church," e.g. the "Church of Arlington," and appointed priests as pastors in his stead to care for the local, smaller communities, now designated as "parishes." By the time of Popes Zosimus (417-18) and Leo the Great (440-461), parishes were given specific geographical areas by the bishop to ensure the pastoral care of the people. However, because of the politics surrounding the feudal system of the Middle Ages, sometimes the jurisdiction of the bishop as well as the territory of parishes were not so clear.
The Council of Trent
The Council of Trent (1545-63) addressed the parish structure of the diocese and established these governing principles:
- The bishop is pastor of his flock. He must live within and personally govern his diocese, which includes visiting his parishes.
- The bishop must ensure the authentic preaching of the faith and administration of the sacraments.
Therefore, to meet the needs of the faithful, the bishop creates parishes with specific boundaries and appoints properly educated pastors and assistants.
Parish Territories / Boundaries
Territories or boundaries
no longer limit parish registration. Parishes can accept anyone who wants to share in the life of a parish regardless of where they live.
SOURCE: Adapted from a Question/Answer reflection by
Fr. William Saunders