This chapter unpacks the meaning of “parish” and significance of canonical parish status in the Catholic Church. Institutional authority matters for defining parish in ways unlike other forms of congregation. This chapter explores the role of territory in defining parish historically, along with exceptions to this rule that proliferated in early American Catholicism. National parishes challenged the institutional Church to clarify bishops’ authority over local religious organizing. Changes to canon law in 1917 reasserted institutional control over parish establishment, once again prioritizing territorial boundaries. The Second Vatican Council and subsequent reforms to canon law in 1983 made room for communities of purpose alongside territory. Bishops found greater discretion to establish purpose-based parishes in their dioceses. This chapter specifies the canonical privileges that accompany parish status. It also profiles the characteristics of personal parishes appearing in the United States today.
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