There is an old phrase.

"What’s the difference between a regular priest and a monsignor?"

Answer: "None, though most monsignors forget that.

Well… there are monsignors and there are monsignors.  It is both a church honor given to some priests and a title applied more broadly.

Check out Shouts and Fr. Selvester’s good posts on "monsignors" and ecclesiastical heraldry.

Here is a tease.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Our Lord described monsignori thus:

    They toil not, neither do they spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.

  2. TNCath says:

    There was a very prominent priest in our diocese who was known for speaking to people in abbreviations. For instance, upon completion of Mass, he would remove his chasuble, toss it (literally) to an altar boy, and simply say, “H.T.U.” (Hang this up!) When he was made a protonotary apostolic by then Bishop Joseph A. Durick, he pointed to the priest at his investiture and said to the congregation, “L.L.B.B.A”–“Looks like a bishop but ain’t!”

  3. Ellen says:

    Is there any such thing as a temporary monsignor? The vicar general of a diocese in our state is not a Chaplain to His Holiness or Prelate of Honor, but says he can claim to be a monsignor while he is a vicar general since the Vatican considers him one. He points to his being listed as one in the Vatican’s Annuary Pontifico (sp?). Would he be able to dress in those monsignor robes and have a coat of arms with a purple galero too? Thanks if you know.

  4. TJB says:

    I’ve heard it slightly differently,

    Answer: “None, but don’t tell a monsignor that!”

  5. JL says:

    A religious sister I know was telling a story of classes she had prepared for confirmation. In one diocese, the bishop would come to the parishes a week or so before the ceremony to meet the confirmands and ask them questions about the catechism, the rite of confirmation, the hierarchy and so forth (e.g., “What does a bishop wear on his head at Mass?” “A miter.”)

    One year the bishop asked the class, “What does a bishop wear around his neck?”

    A boy raised his hand and answered enthusiastically, “A monsignor!”

  6. Fr. Guy says:

    To Ellen:

    There is no such thing as a temporary monsignor. HOWEVER, your V.G. acquaintance is correct about his being seen as a prelate by virtue of his being the V.G. When a priest holds this office (through which he actually exercises ordinary jurisdiction in the internal and external forum in place of the bishop) he is what used to be called a “black prelate”. That is to say, he is NOT a member of the pontifical household but he is a prelate by virtue of his office. So, as the Vicar General he is listed in the “Annuario Pontificio”. That in itself also does not make him “a monsignor” which, as I pointed out in my post, is an incorrect term. He is listed in the Annuario as a diocesan official but not along with the list of the Chaplains, Prelates of Honor and P.A.s.

    In English, he would be addressed as “The Very Rev. X” in writing and as “Father” in speech. However, in correspondence from the Vatican he may very likely be addressed as “Monsignore” by virtue of his office.

    A priest who is the Vicar General is not entitled to wear anything different than a priest. He does not use a cassock with either purple or red trim and he may not wear a purple fascia (sash). Not even the Bishop has the authority to give him this privilege. In the old days (pre-1965) he would have been allowed to wear a black mantelletta but he can’t do that today because such a vestment has been suppressed and the mantelletta is worn now only by Prothonotaries Apostolic.

    His coat of arms (if he has one) is ensigned with a BLACK galero that has BLACK cords and 12 BLACK tassels. (as opposed to a priest’s which has only 2 tassels or the hat of a Dean which has 4 tassels) In other words, he uses the same kind of hat as the monsignori do but it is entirely black because he is not a prelate of the pontifical household but a “prelate” by virtue of his office. By the way, this kind of “black prelacy” exists ONLY while he holds the office. It ceases if he gives up the office. In addition, this black hat with 12 tassels may also be used by a Vicar Episcopal and, in fact, by any major superior of a Religious Order (like a Jesuit or a Franciscan or a Dominican Provincial)

    So, in one very narrow sense the Vicar General you speak of is right. But…not really in the sense that he may think. All this information can be independently confirmed (in case someone doesn’t want to take my word for it) in the book “Heraldry in the Catholic Church” by Archbishop Bruno B. Heim

  7. David Osterloh says:

    Help, my head is swimming, I still want to know, what is the difference between a Bishop and an Archbishop. Is there any post or site with a sort of tree if you will of the ranks in the church.

  8. Franzjosf says:

    An Archbishop heads a metropolitan see, i.e., a province. An ordinary(bishop) of a diocese is a ‘suffragan’ bishop, because his diocese is a part of a province.

    In addition to a Vicar General, a Chancellor of a diocese and a Rector of a Cathedral are also ‘Very Reverend.’ Perhaps in Rome they are considered prelates by virtue of the office they hold. In fact, I know a former chancellor whose archbishop insist that he not use ‘Very’ after he left the office. I think in Europe the ‘Very’ would have been retained as a courtesy, though no longer official.

  9. Franzjosf says:

    Fr. Z: A Monsignor once told me that the plural is spelled with an extra ‘i’: Monsigniori. I’ve never been able to confirm his assertion, but I notice that you don’t use it. [I do when I am speaking Italian.]

  10. Derek James says:

    What about chaplains of military orders, who in England at least appear at TLMs, dressed as prelates but are listed as ordinary priests in directories, or one priest dresses as a Prelate whilst his religious superior simply wears the habit of his order. In the TLM of course the honoured as Prelates.

  11. Fr. Guy says:

    Careful: there are archbishops who are NOT metropolitans so that is not a satisfactory definition. There are titular archbishops, archbishops “ad personam” and some archbishops who head archdioceses but are still not metropolitans. Simply put: an archbishop is a bishop who either because of his diocese being an archdiocese OR because of a title given to him by the Pope is a bishop of a higher rank than other bishops.

  12. Franzjosf says:

    Fr. Guy: Thank you; I had forgotten about the ‘ad personam’ situation. But it was news to me that there are archdioceses that are not metropolitan. Are those mostly European situations where the honor was bestowed long ago or is it some other legal (canonical) distinction?

  13. Jane says:

    I was told once that it was just an honourary title. It obviously does not mean much, except to the recipient.

  14. Tim Ferguson says:

    The Archbishop of the Military Services in the US is an example of an Archbishop who is not a metropolitan – the Archdiocese has no suffragans (though one of my Canadian canon law professors told me that a student of his once suggested – tongue in cheek – that the Canadian Military diocese is a suffragan).

    What’s the definition of a Vicar General? The crook at the head of the bishop’s staff.

  15. Doug says:

    Franzjosf —

    Actually, “suffragan” is not synonymous with “diocesan” (or “ordinary”). Suffragans are assistants to the ordinary (diocesan). In the Anglican tradition they are often retired bishops who continue to serve their resident diocese in whatever capacity the ordinary deems necessary or helpful.

  16. Ellen says:

    Thanks so much, Fr. Guy!! I think I understand now.

  17. Fr Andrew Wadsworth says:

    Chaplains of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta have the right to prelatical dress as either magistral
    or conventual chaplains. This privilege was granted by papal bull of Pope St Pius X and confirmed more
    recently by the late Pope John Paul II. The two ranks of chaplains mirror the two levels of papal
    appointments as chaplains and prelates of His Holiness. The use of the title is more a matter of custom
    than legislation, some chaplains use it more readily than others and it is more widely used in
    continental Europe than elsewhere. The example serves to underline the fact that there is no such thing
    as a ‘monsignor’, but the title is accorded to various ecclesiastics who enjoy prelatical or quasi-
    prelatical status by virtue of their office or by honour. My personal experience is that if one dresses
    as a prelate, on occasion, then one will be addressed as such.

  18. As is also the case in other religious orders for their equivalents, a Dominican Prior provincial is also Very Reverend, as is one holding the Dominican “honorary doctorate” of Master of Sacred Theology. Both can also use red ribbons on their amice. Although neither is a monsignor. And unlike vicars general, the privilege is permanent. Although I know of no ex-provincials who use it (except on their death cards …)

  19. Richard says:

    I am sure Jesus would be very concerned that the absolutely correct title and dress were followed. No doubt He would want to make sure the monsignor was seated in the place of honor at the head of the table. The scriptures tell us Our Lord was very concerned about such trappings. [You might want to unclench a little.]

  20. Tim Ferguson says:

    Actually, Richard, Monsignors are given to the Church for those of us, unlike you obviously, who are weak in faith. We need the reminders of the beauty and the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven to help us muddle through this vale of tears. A little dollop of amaranth or the occasional purple pom causes me to remember to set my eyes on things of heaven, not those of earth.

    It’s wrong, of course, for anyone to let their particular station in life go to their head and think that it’s their own merits that will obtain for them the imperishable crown. That doesn’t mean that the Church is or should be a totally eglatarian society – the Apostolic band certainly wasn’t.

    Comments that pooh-pooh the notion of hierarchy or the “trappings” of the Church seem to say more about the commenter than they do about the concept. Priests who dismiss “making monsignors” because it breeds petty bickering among the presbyterate should take a look at themselves to see what they do to encourage that petty bickering. Is jealousy no longer a sin? Others who dismiss the matter as superficiality not in keeping with the Gospel should remind themselves that the Gospel does not come to us merely through our intellect, but through our entire sensory apparatus – God knows we are not pure spirits, but creatures of body and soul.

    I, for one, have my faith in the Good Lord confirmed and strengthened by the presence of Protonotaries Apostolic, and Prelates of Honor, and Priors Provincial and Knights of St. Gregory the Great, and Subdeacons, and Cardinal Priests, Deacons and Bishops. Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, laudate et superexaltate Eum in saecula!

  21. Caeremoniarius says:

    Pius XII (who was a Domestic Prelate before he was 30) appears to have understood the true
    meaning of being an honorary prelate: he is alleged to have said, “The title means nothing, except that you have to work harder to justify having it!” [Excellent.]

    Then, too, there is the story about Bd John XXIII, who, when he became a Domestic Prelate, visited his village of Sotto il Monte and a lady asked his mother, “Why is Don Angelo all done up like a bishop?” The mother is said to have replied, “I have no idea–you know that the priests arrange these things among themselves.”

  22. EJ says:

    I think we can comment without stooping to attacks on anyone’s character or outrageous attempts to quantify someone’s level of faith. Maybe the commenter above has been scandalized by those who dwell excessively on the externals, to the point where fidelity to the Faith itself is obscured. To Richard I would calmly point in the direction of the Curé of Ars, the very epitomy of humility, and yet a priest who insisted on the very finest for the Lord and left no detail overlooked, precisely to give glory to the Lord and not himself. Consider too how in an Institution that is 2,000 years old, externals such as heraldry, protocol, rules for attire, etc. will undoubtedly develop. Personally my faith isn’t strengthened or much less confirmed by any of the externals, Heaven knows that so many in the Church have been faithful without any of it, some even without priests for generations… but the beauty of so much of it gives peace to my soul at the sight of how it can all serve to glorify God.

  23. Franzjosf says:

    Doug: You’re right, of course, in the Anglican Tradition, but not in the Roman Catholic Church. Assistants to Ordinaries are called Auxiliary Bishops. Suffragans are Ordinaries who are are part of a Metropolitan Province, headed by an Archbishop.

  24. Fr. Guy says:

    If you aren’t interested in the externals of the Church then why are you bothering to read (let alone comment) on a post about them? Some of us find these things interesting independent of our faith and our efforts to live the Gospel in our lives. It’s merely interesting. Get over it. If you don’t find it interesting that’s fine but shut up about it and stop all the caterwauling already. When it comes to the salvation of my immortal soul I pay close attention to what Jesus said, did and taught. When it comes to who wears what or what heraldic privileges one person uses as opposed to another then, quite frankly, I’m not interested in what Jesus may or may not think. It’s a matter for those of us here on Earth and just because it is related to the Church does not mean it has anything to do with faith, morals, salvation or the proclamation of the Gospel.

    Why don’t you stop looking down your nose at us because we don’t live our Christianity the way YOU do! Maybe you can divorce your faith from living in a world and a Church made up of human beings with human customs, traditions and ways of doing things. Not all of us are so fortunate as to be on that higher plane with you. If you’re “sure” of what Jesus is and isn’t concerned about then why aren’t you running the Church? Why hasn’t the whole world flocked to you for advice on how to be a good Christian since you seem to think you have a direct line into the mind of Christ?

    There’s a name for people like you; those Christians who decry anything that has to do with the external realm in which real people live as useless, unimportant and detrimental to living the faith. They’re called PROTESTANTS. If you think that all the externals are so much junk then go become one and leave those of us less-than-perfect Christians who like being CATHOLIC to wallow in our externals and other things that Catholicism has like, you know, tradition and the true faith, etc.

  25. Diego says:

    JM + JT

    I have a question for those who know Spanish or a similar language:

    In Spanish a bishop is called “Monsignor” (not sure about the Spanish spelling but I’m sure you understand.) Would what we call a Monsignor in English still be called a Monsignor in Spanish?

  26. Fr. Guy says:

    In countries where a romance language is used it is common to call everyone from a Chaplain to His Holiness all the way up to and including an archbishop “Monsignor” (In Spanish Monseñor; in French Monseigneur; in Italian Monsignore) which means “My Lord”. I know that in English we only use the form of address “Monsignor” for the Chaplains of HH, the Prelates of Honor and the Prothonotaries Apostolic but in other languages this is not the case.

  27. Larry says:

    As for Archbishops who are not Metropolitans consider virtually all the “Secretaries” of the Roman Curia and several prefects as well.

    I think it might be correct to say that all Metropolitan Sees have an Archbishop; but, that not all Archbishops are Metropoitans. ( On this blog it can be dangerous to “think”; but what the hech!)

  28. Carlos Palad says:

    I know of a former Vicar General who refers to himself and dresses up as “Father”
    and refuses to be called Monsignor. However, his own bishop says: “Once a monsignor,
    always a monsignor”

  29. Richard says:

    To Fr. Guy:
    I am sorry my comments upset you. For the record, I am a cradle Catholic, a graduate of a Catholic University, a man who helped his wife find her way to the Church, who raised his children in the faith and is a faithful parishoner. That I may disagree with some the the Church’s, and some of its members’, concerns with pomp and circumstance, title and position, should, I think be an opportunity for discussion, not ire. I struggle every day to love God and my neighbor. I just think that struggle is more critical than what color pom-pom a cleric wears or how long the Pharasee’s phylacteries are.

    Again, I am sorry I made you angry by questioning but the priests, nuns, deacons and lay instructors who have and are guiding my formation did not require blind acceptance of every detail.

    Richard [Maybe you should avoid all the frustration this sort of discussion gives you and find some other blogs to read?]

  30. Fr. Jay says:

    Richard, this is a website that consistently deals with the minute details of language, ritual, rubrics, et cetera. To come to a site such as this and show indignation bout discussion of the minutiae is pretty odd.

    I’m sure, somewhere in the blogosphere, there are Star Trek chat rooms going on that are discussing the Borg, the Klingons, and which Enterprise was cooler. I wouldn’t show up there and question whether this was all really that important to discuss. I would accept that, for them, this is important, and if I don’t agree with that, I’ll just stay away from that chatroom.

    I wouldn’t tell them that the teachers I had taught me that Star Trek was just a TV show.

  31. Fr. Jay, thanks for some good simple instruction how not to be an obnoxious blog boor. Unfortunately, in almost every blog thread — including this one — someone tries (successfully) to document their own acute need for such instruction.

  32. Richard says:

    I stumbled on this site by accident and was curious/interested. Did not realize how closed this “community” was. Will bow out. [Probably a good idea.] I would comment that I consider the Church and its teachings a little more important than Star Trek. But as Fr. Jay seems to indicate, this discussion is about as important as one about which Enterprise was cooler.

  33. James Duane says:

    I submit that, the coolness of the Enterprise, is on level in importance to the relevance of “The Church” today! “Church” is not about God! Church is about “Church!” And the promulgation and perpetuation thereof! Do yoursouls an eternal favor and turn away from “Church” and back to God! Contrary to your beliefs, His last name is not Damn and He does not live in the Vatican!
    God loves us and respects us all! No matter the color or arrangement of our vestments!
    I too, am here in error! I was searching for other than a sincere discussion of clerical finery! You people are so…….Catholic!
    Needn’t bother, those of you who are clergy, I was excommunicate by one, Fr. Charles Brown when I was about nine years old! Scowling Howlies do share some proclivities. NO?
    It’s ok! I won’t be back!
    James Duane

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