Britain gains its first ‘personal parish’ for the Extraordinary Form
“As a general rule,” the Code of Canon Law says, “a parish is to be territorial.” Whether the area is the whole of Dubai (the largest parish in the world), or a few square miles in a metropolis, parishes occupy a clear area which doesn’t overlap with other parishes. But there are exceptions: some parishes serve a wider community, especially with Catholics who all speak the same language or worship in a particular rite.
Earlier this year, for instance, a personal parish specifically to serve migrants and refugees was set up in Israel. Migrants can, of course, worship in their local parish – but there’s a specialised parish which provides the kind of pastoral care new arrivals especially need. In 2017, the ordinariate set up a personal parish in Torbay. There’s a personal parish in Reading for Poles.
And now – also in Reading – there’s one for the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). It will be based at St William of York Church, where the Fraternal Society of St Peter (FSSP) has been canonically established since 2010. But its boundary is the whole diocese of Portsmouth.
Bishop Philip Egan announced the new parish earlier this month, saying that he wanted everyone in the diocese to have the chance to “participate in the full range of the Roman liturgy”. The bishop hopes that the personal parish will “give their mission new energy and vitality in bringing many more people closer to Jesus Christ through His Church”.
It’s the first time the TLM has had such a parish in Britain, though there are precedents in Rome, Amsterdam and Thalwil, Switzerland. Like those, the new parish is in the care of the FSSP, which is dedicated to traditional liturgy.
There was already a strong TLM community in Reading; in that sense, nothing has changed. But the decision clarifies that the FSSP is here to stay in the town, building on its canonical status granted in 2010. Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society, observes: “Bishop Egan, like Bishop Hollis before him, is making it clear that he appreciates the work of the fraternity in his diocese and that they are there to stay.”
The actual administration of the FSSP’s work will remain the same. Members will continue to celebrate Mass at St William of York – though they hope eventually to find a permanent home. A finance council has been set up, and the staffing contracts between the FSSP and the diocese are being redrawn. But the main impact, for now, will be the message it sends: that the TLM community is significant enough to have a parish of its own, and important enough that the whole diocese should know it has an open invitation.
Fr James Bradley, an ordinariate priest and a canon lawyer in the diocese, points out that Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum (2007) mentioned personal parishes as one way for bishops to encourage provision of the TLM.
Joseph Shaw thinks the future may see more personal parishes. “The system of geographical parishes in England and Wales is only a century old,” he observes: that system was a response to the 1917 Code of Canon Law. “Until then all Catholic churches here were ‘mission’ churches, and the flexibility of that system, which was appropriate in penal times, has much to recommend it in the changing circumstances of today, with a more mobile population and a declining number of places of worship.”
As the bishops try to frame a pastoral strategy for modern Britain, the traditionalists of Reading may be a useful case study.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund