Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to Choose a New Parish

My friend Stacy is moving to a new city! I’ve to help her out with my best advice on the task of choosing a new parish!

When you’re moving to a new town, of course you will seek to find the very best, most Catholic parish around! Well, at the very least, you’d like to avoid the happy/clappy liberal modernist ones. Wouldn’t you? (If not, stop reading now, and find a different blog!)

Surely, you want to avoid this:


On to the question: what can you do to optimize your search for a liturgically correct parish?

Hmm…you could call around to the various parishes within driving distance and ask how many women and girls wear chapel veils at Mass. If the receptionist says, "What's a chapel veil", scratch that parish off your list. If the answer is, "Yeah we have a few doily heads", harbor grave reservations.

You could just look at the parish Mass schedule, too. See if they have an EF Mass, or a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin - anything that sounds vaguely traditional; it does happen occasionally! If they have Life Teen Mass...well, I guess you don't have to go to that Mass... 

There's just too much that can go wrong at a "Life Teen Mass"
A "charismatic" Mass is also a warning sign. Of course, it is possible that a parish might offer the whole gamut…depends on the size of the community you’re investigating. And I do know of a parish that offers both an EF Mass and a Life Teen Mass. Go figure.

Charismatic Mass: combining lots of the "no-no" elements...

And do they regularly offer a Communion Service or two during the week? Uh oh. Either there’s a lazy pastor who doesn’t value his gift and responsibility of saying Mass every day, or you’ve got some heavy-hitters among the laity who have hi-jacked the Sacred Liturgy so that they can be almost-priests. This is especially common among ex-nuns.

Another thought: Look at the parish web page. Do they actually have a photo of the pastor? Is he called Reverend John McPriest, or just listed as "Father John"? Do they list deacons as Rev. Mr. James Dalmatic, or do they just mention, Deacon Tom and Deacon Bob? If they list a Deacon Shirley, you're in trouble.

The parish’s on-line bulletin also offers some clues. Take a look and see what kind of activities they offer. If they feature their Respect Life group front and center, you might just have a winner! On the other hand, if they have a "Centering Prayer" group and lots of “Justice and Peace”, but no Respect Life group, look for another parish! Quick! 

As an (important and serious) aside, Phil Lawler has a great quote from Pope Benedict XVI on the meaning of “justice and peace”:

Justice is not a mere human convention. When, in the name of supposed justice, the criteria of utility, profit, and material possession come to dominate, the value and dignity of human beings can be trampled underfoot. Justice is a virtue which guides the human will, prompting us to give others what is due to them by reason of their existence and their actions. Likewise, peace is not the mere absence of war, or the result of man's actions to avoid conflict; it is, above all, a gift of God which must be implored with faith, and which has the way to its fulfillment in Jesus. True peace must be constructed day after day with compassion, solidarity, fraternity, and collaboration on everyone's part.

Mission statements…yes, every parish seems to have one. Sometimes I wonder why. They all tend to sound the same while trying to sound just a little different. But don’t we all have the same mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Well, back to what we see on websites and parish bulletins: some of those “mission statements” are quite telling…and usually not in a good way.  For instance:

St. Andrew is a faith community baptized into one body, which honors and celebrates diversity. We welcome and include persons of every color, language, ethnicity, origin, ability, sexual orientation, gender expression, marital status, and life situation.

Obviously, it is not wrong to welcome all of those different people. “Include” is a loaded word, though. Do they “include” all in terms of receiving Holy Communion, regardless of their “life situation” (e.g., open homosexual lifestyle, divorced-with-live-in-sexual-partner, etc.) and state of grace (or lack thereof)?  The parish from whose website I copied the above mission statement also sports this photo of their group participating in the local “Gay Pride” parade a few years ago.

Here’s another mission statement:

We, St. Mary's Parish, are a people responding to Christ's call to conversion, new life and discipleship with a nurturing Community.

We celebrate this new life in Scripture and the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic tradition.
Our Celebration impels and transforms us to be Spirit filled individuals who can reach out and minister to all people challenging and enabling them to build God's Kingdom of justice and holiness.

Loaded terms: “Spirit-filled” and “justice” (see note above).  That’s sad to say, but it’s true. Seems to me that oftentimes the people using the term “Spirit-filled” mean something along the lines of “I have the Holy Spirit guiding me; I don’t need the Magisterium of the Church”. And “justice”…ah yes, justice. Of course, as Catholics we are all for “justice”. But unfortunately, too many of the people promoting “justice” are also promoting “gay rights” or even “women’s reproductive choice” (they don’t like the word “abortion”).

There are other loaded words to watch for in parish bulletins. Here’s a bulletin blurb about a catechetical program a parish was promoting. See if you can spot the warning sign:

Here’s a sample schedule for Sunday mornings.
9:40 – meet in Gathering Space for Coffee & donuts & overview of the day’s topic
10:00  – break up into groups for families, adults, teens. Folks in these groups will do a variety of activities and some additional catechesis. We even have a Veggie Tales group for younger children.
10:45 – come back to the Gathering Space for a closing prayer service and announcements.

Aha! I thought you might see it! “Gathering Space”? Hmm. I dunno. Could mean nothing. Then again…well, I’m just sayin’.

Finally, of course, visit the church. If you see felt banners for First Communion, you’re probably in 90% of the parishes in the US, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Where is it written that First Communion must be accompanied by a felt banner with the children’s name on it? Also, if you see sweeping streamers of gauze-y fabric…run for your life!


Rainbow streamers?! Run...don't walk...RUN...

All righty, then! That should get you started, Stacy!

[Disclaimer: No vested dogs were harmed in the writing of this post. But if I ever meet that priest…]



  1. Hahahaha! Sending on to hubby! Thank you. I'll let you know what I find. Could be fun.

  2. That vested dog about made me choke on the coffee I was drinking! lol Had to set my cup down until I got all the way through the article!

  3. We have a Life Teen Mass (although they keep a pretty tight rein on things) and starting in three weeks we will also have an EF Mass. (Just found that out at Choir rehearsal).

    We also have (small) felt banners for first communion to mark the pew where the child and family will sit. Which is necessary since we have on average 25-30 children making their first communion every year.

    So...I'm not sure what newcomers would make of us. ;) Fortunately no call to Action Chapter maybe we're ok? :)

  4. Wendi: Hah! Just shows to go ya, right?! Probably most parishes are kind of a mixed bag. It's fun to do a little pigeon-holing, though! Anyway, in my not so humble opinion, your parish is certainly headed in the right direction, from everything you've told me. I have never known quite what to make of the Life Teen Mass, really. I just think Mass ought to be Mass ought to be Mass. As for the banners...hmmm...;-)

  5. My teens went to a life-teen Mass ONCE. Pronounced it stupid and never went again. That was several years ago so I have no idea what it looks like these days.

    The banners are little. 8.5x11 sized, with the child's name on it and either a host and chalice or just a chalice. They hang them over the end of the pew so the grandparents know where to sit. IMO better than the "reserved" signs usually used. No big banners though. EVER. :)

    I think it does make a difference that we are the only Catholic church in the entire county and so everyone in the county goes to this one church. Father has to take that into consideration I think.

  6. When we are traveling and looking for a place to attend Mass, I will do an online search in advance. I use many of your suggestions but I also look for any evidence of Eucharistic Adoration and even placement of the Tabernacle. The Eucharist is the center of our faith so I look to see if the parish is keeping Jesus in the Eucharist at the center of the church.

  7. I heard of a parish where the pastor had his dog in the sactuary with him during mass.
    sometimes you have to drive farther away. I do, and it is SO worth it.
    another thing to look for is when they say a welcoming eucharistic community- everyone is welcome and included..
    are confessions offered regularly and how often. do the sermons even mention things like- Shock"- sin, hell, the devil. abortion, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, euthanasia. or is it more about how we all need to 'be nice' people and help the 'poor" among us even though there arent really any starving people here in the USA. not really.
    but there is a lot of sin.



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