Titles in the Catholic Church


Catholic Religious Titles and What They Mean

There are many different titles assigned to different types of bishops, priests, and deacons and the vocabulary can be overwhelming. This article offers definitions of many of these Catholic religious titles to help you understand the different roles.

The Episcopate

The Catholic Episcopate refers to the collective body of bishops in the Catholic Church, from diocesan bishops to the pope, the Bishop of Rome. These are some common bishop titles:

Bishop: As noted in the Code of Canon Law,Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, are constituted pastors in the Church, so that they are teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance.

Through Episcopal consecration itself, bishops receive with the function of sanctifying also the functions of teaching and governing; by their nature, however, these can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college.” (CCL 375)

Only bishops may confer the sacrament of Holy Orders and consecrate Chrism. Confirmation is usually administered by a bishop as well, but he may delegate that duty to a priest. Bishops also have the power to grant imprimaturs.

Pope: The pope is the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter. Uniquely among bishops, the pope can speak on behalf of the entire Church.

Diocesan Bishop: A diocesan bishop is typically and popularly referred to simply as “Bishop.” He has jurisdiction over a particular diocese.

Archbishop: An archbishop is the bishop of an archdiocese (a diocese considered important due to its size and/or historical significance). This is a title that is honorific, but does not carry any special jurisdiction.

Cardinal: A cardinal is appointed by the pope to serve in the College of Cardinals which, among other duties, has the role of electing a new pope. Cardinals also act as advisors to the pope.

Auxiliary Bishop and Titular Bishop: These titles both refer to a bishop who acts as an assistant to the diocesan bishop. In particular, a titular bishop is the bishop assigned to a titular see, a city which used to be the seat of a diocese but no longer is, and the diocese now exists in title only.

The Priesthood

The ordained priesthood is the term for all Catholic priests. Priests are incardinated (meaning fixed or assigned) into a diocese or order and they act to assist the bishops. These are some common Catholic priest titles:

Diocesan Priest: A diocesan priest is any priest that is fixed within a diocese, not part of a religious institute.

Parish Priest or Pastor: The parish priest or pastor is the priest that many Catholics are most familiar with. He is appointed by the diocesan bishop to a particular parish and has the duty to exercise the pastoral care of that community.

Parochial Vicar: Parochial vicars act as an assistant to the pastor, as noted in the Code of Canon Law: Whenever it is necessary or opportune for the due pastoral care of the parish, one or more Assistant Priests can be joined with the Parish Priest. As cooperators with the Parish Priest and sharers in his concern, they are, by common counsel and effort with the Parish Priest and under his authority, to labor in the pastoral ministry.” (CCL 545)

Vicar General: A vicar general acts as an assistant directly to the bishop, assisting with the governance of the diocese. There is usually only one vicar general, unless a valid reason (such as a very large diocese) requires more. Many vicar generals are priests – however, a bishop may fulfill the role as well.

Archpriest or Vicar Forane: These terms refer to a priest who is placed in charge of a vicariate forane, a group of parishes within a diocese. He acts as a help for the parish priests and other priests in the vicariate forane, not as an authority over them.

Monsignor: Monsignor is an honorary title conferred upon a diocesan priest by the pope at the request of the priest’s bishop. This establishes the priest as a member of the papal household. It is an honorific title which does not add to a priest’s authority.

The Deaconate

Since the earliest centuries of the Church, the role of the deaconate has been important. Here are some explanations of common deacon titles.

Deacon: Deacons are ordained ministers who are intended to focus on the ministries of direct service and outreach rather than pastoral leadership. They are typically assigned to a parish and have a role as the ordinary minister of the Gospel and the Prayers of the Faithful; they may preach the homily at Mass, and they may preside at non-Eucharistic liturgies.

Transitional Deacon: A transitional deacon is a celibate man who has been ordained a deacon but intends to move forward and become a priest. His role in the deaconate is transitory, a step along the way in preparing for the priesthood.

Permanent Deacon: A permanent deacon is a man who has been ordained a deacon and does not intend to become a priest but will remain a deacon always. Namely, married men who become deacons are permanent deacons.

Archdeacon: Within the Catholic Church, this title has mostly fallen into disuse. The archdeacon acted as a representative of the bishop, overseeing parishes. In the Latin Rite Catholic Church, the duties of the archdeacon have become aspects of the duties of the vicar general or vicar forane. The archdeacon is still a prominent role in the Eastern Catholic Church, however.


This article was adapted from Wikipedia.

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