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To form a parish there must be (1) a certain body of the faithful over whom pastoral authority is exercised; the ordinary manner of determining them is by assigning a territory subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the parish priest.
Uncertainty of parish boundaries may work harm and the Council of Trent (Sess. xiii, de ref.) orders the boundaries of parishes to be defined.
In strict law, the care of souls in a single parish must devolve on several priests, and in fact, such was formerly the case in most chapters (q.v.); but the Council of Trent (Sess. xiii, de ref.) commands bishops to assign to each parish its own individual rector. The parish priest may have assistants, but the latter exercise their ministry in dependence on him and in his name.
If the care of souls is entrusted to a moral body, like a chapter, it must be exercised by a vicar, perpetual as far as possible, who is called the "actual" curate, the chapter remaining the "habitual" curate, without right of interfering in any way in the parochial ministry (Sess. If the priest, even when alone, does not exercise his office in his own name, if he is only the delegate of a higher authority, he is not really a parish priest and his district is not a true parish.
This administrative procedure adequately secures the right of initiative necessary for the bishop, and at the same time safeguards the interests of the parish priest.
This constitutes the care of the souls ( cura animarum ), an essential and constitutive element of a parish, distinguishing a parochial benefice from all others.
Finally there is required (4) a suitable church which must have besides the liturgical equipment necessary for Divine worship, a baptismal font (exception is occasionally made in favour of a cathedral or a mother-church; hence in the Middle Ages parish churches were often called baptismal churches), a confessional, and a cemetery.
Local laws determine the share of the parishioners or their representatives in this administration.
The parish must likewise furnish the parish priest with his presbytery or dwelling. The Parish as a Benefice The canonical legislation relative to parishes is part of the legislation concerning benefices.