QUAERITUR: What do I call a friend about to be ordained a priest?

From a reader:

My friend was just ordained to the Diaconate, and will be ordained to the Priesthood next year. This leaves me with a question regarding etiquette when addressing him now, and then later when he’s a priest.

Being that we’ve been friends since junior high, I’m left wondering if I’m supposed to start calling him Deacon N and later Father N out of respect for him, his changed state in life, and his vocation, or if it’s still fine to not use titles unless we’re doing something liturgical?

Definitely call him “Father” in public.  In private too, until he makes it clear how the two of you are going to do this.  He’ll let you know.

I am glad you were concerned enough to ask.

Aside: I am concerned about the erosion of decorum in our times.  I would not be sad to see, rather hear, a return of the use of honorifics or titles even, say, between spouses.  Think… Jane Austen:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”


I times past spouses would, in other languages, address each other by “vous”, “Sie”, “Voi/Lei”.

O tempora.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PaterAugustinus says:

    In the Orthodox Church, it is etiquette for one to address a priest as “father” in any public setting, even for very intimate friends. My spiritual father is routinely addressed in public as “father,” even by his sister and brother-in-law. In private, things can be different. My buddy and I have determined that I may call him “Ben” (for “Fr. Benedict”) and he may call me “Gus” (you get it, I’m sure) in private. Incidentally, we both hate those nicknames and would never let anyone else use them!

    As for deacons, we usually address them as “Father Deacon N.” I haven’t heard a Roman Catholic address a deacon by anything other than his first name, but I have not had the opportunity to move amongst traditionalist Catholics very often.

  2. JaneC says:

    I suppose this is not unlike what married couples do after they become parents–in front of the children, they are always “Mom” and “Dad” (or equivalent titles) rather than their given names. Also, when I was a student, every once in a while a teacher would have his own children in his class, and they had to call him “Mr.” while at school.

    With a priest, it should be the same, although rather more important: whatever relationship you had before he was a priest, be it friend, cousin, brother or even son, he is now your spiritual father.

  3. Random Friar says:

    I address my confreres by their first name, or how they wish to be called in the cloister. However, yes, in public, “Fr. Smith.” My family and friends call me by my baptismal name in intimate gatherings.

    Part of the reason for calling us “Father” in public is to recognize that yes, while we should be friendly and kind, we never cease to be priests. There is, for lack of a better word, a “professionalism” (not clericalism), that needs to exist. We need to be priests of Jesus Christ to and for the People of God and the whole world. We need to be available as His channels of mercy and grace at all times, friend and priest to all.

  4. I disagree slightly, Father. In public, sure, address him as Father. But if they’ve been friends since Junior High, then privately he should address him as he always has. [“should”? Let them decide that for themselves.]

  5. Father S. says:

    I have heard that transitional deacons, at some time, were referred to as “Father Deacon N.” I am not sure if this is true or one of those mixed up tales that seminarians thrive upon. I know that this is the custom in the East, but I am not sure whether or not it was ever so in the West. Thoughts?

  6. FranzJosf says:

    A dear friend, RIP, recently died in her 90’s down in Mobile, Alabama. When I met her twenty years ago, it took a little time for me to figure out than when she spoke of Mr. Archibald, she was speaking not of her father-in-law, but of her husband! (And she made the best Charlotte Russe and the best Manhattan that I’ve ever had!)

    I’ve been lucky enough never to have had a priest ask me to call him by his first name, thank the good Lord. They all refer to each other as Father when in front of laymen, for which I’m greateful.

  7. ttucker says:

    I agree with Michael.
    Decorum, yes, but the idea that two old friends would change their form of address in private reeks of clericalism. [Piffle. The notion that two friends cannot of their own volition change their form of address reeks of ignorance of the dignity of Holy Orders.]

  8. MJ says:

    I agree with you Fr Z – he should be called “Father” in private too.

    By the way, I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan. P&P is my FAV. :)

  9. ttucker says:

    Au contraire.
    The idea that the “dignity of Holy Orers” should result in two friends changing their form of private address belies a misconception about the dignity of Holy Orders.
    In that regard, here is an excellent article http://www.crosscurrents.org/doering.htm
    Holy Orders has dignity; a particular ordained person may or may not. And in private between two old friends, salutations based on “dignity” would be inappropriate.
    Would be interested in people’s thoughts after reading the linked article.

  10. sejoga says:

    I remember reading once that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien never addressed each other by their Christian names (“Jack” and “Ronald”, respectively), only as “Lewis” and “Tolkien”. It’s my understanding they considered each other close friends, but they understood that their friendship shouldn’t muddle their professional relationship.

    I’m also thinking of the BBC series “Downton Abbey” where the Earl and Countess of Grantham refer to their own daughters as “Lady Edith” and “Lady Mary”, at least in front of others, and there’s a scene in the series where the Dowager Countess is meeting the widow of her late husband’s cousin, and the cousin-in-law asks, “What shall we call each other?” to which the Dowager Countess huffily responds, “Why don’t we start with Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley and we’ll work our way forward from there!”

    I don’t know what should happen when two people who are already fairly intimate find themselves in a new social situation where their standing dictates different behavior than they’ve previously known, but I would say it never hurts to start using formalities and then progress downwards from their. I think people may even find that titles and honorifics, like greeting a close friend with a “Hello Father” rather than a “Hey Bob!”, actually elevates the relationship rather than creating a sense of distance.

    But I think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that, as Fr. Z. points out, 21st century America has a decidedly anti-decorum outlook on human interaction. We have this awkwardly false sense of egalitarianism, where people act as if the worst thing they could do would be to call each other by anything but their first names, even though there are often real differences between people and addressing each other informally only throws their social distinctions into relief. I wish our society instilled ideas of formality into young people (and older people) and said, “You will refer new acquaintances by Mr/Mrs [Name] unless specifically invited not to; you will accept that others will call you Mr/Mrs [Name] until you give them permission not to, and you should only grant permission to people you want to be familiar with; you will always address people by proper honorifics in public, even if you’re close to them: “Father” for priests, “Doctor” for doctors, “Senator” for senators, etc.;” and other similar rules.

    For example, it’s really disconcerting to me when you hear family members of politicians give speeches to introduce their husband, or father, or whatever, and they say things like, “Dad, come up here and talk to the people!” or “I just wanted to let you know in front of your supporters, Honey, how much all of us appreciate what you do for our country!” To me it’s somewhat grating to turn a political platform into a “family moment”, because it smacks of pandering and frankly it’s irrelevant to the reasons why I would want to listen to a political speech anyway. People ought to understand that it’s seemly and proper to show people the respect their entitled to, even if we feel personally entitled not to have to show it to them.

    Anyway, I feel like I’m just rambling. But this is something I often struggle with, so I frequently end up not addressing people by anything at all. I don’t feel comfortable addressing others or being addressed by others with a first name, but I often get the impression people see me as aloof and haughty when I try to use formalities. I’m sure I could just change my own attitude rather than hoping someday others will change theirs, but I’m conservative enough to believe that we’re losing something valuable and meaningful when we accept our society’s dissembling egalitarianism, so I’m going to continue to dig my heels in at the thought of treating everyone familiarly.

  11. tianzhujiao says:

    I call priests “Father.” For Spanish speaking priests I use the more formal (and respectful) form for you “usted” rather than “tu.”

  12. I am blessed to count several priests as friends, and they are all called “Father” — even when I’m giving them advice. ;-)

  13. Alex P says:

    I was very keen on the Korean form of honorifics when I lived there. It’s not a done thing to refer to elders simply by their first name, but by a title, such as ‘older brother’/’older sister’ for even close friends. Colleagues at work would be addressed as ‘Family name/surname + profession + honorific ending’, ie ‘Park(family name) Eusa(doctor) nim(honorific)’. Priests were never referred to by anything else but ‘Shinbu’/’Shinbunim’ – ‘priest’/’priest, with honorific ending’. People might think all that is fussy, but there is a very strong sense of respecting others there, and in the parish a real sense of respect and obedience to the priest. I mentioned many times to priests I knew there how blessed they were to have such obedient parishioners, and I wondered if that obedience showed itself in how devoted they were to parish life, whereby masses in the middle of the week would be packed, and confession lines at all times had many people(young included) waiting.

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    Has the BBC filled the gap between Trollope and Thirkell? Dr. Crawley wasn’t dead as of the end of The Last Chronicle of Barset (but Mrs. Proudie most definitely was. Scariest. Death. Scene. Ever.)

  15. Random Friar says:

    One note: I prefer people call me “Fr. [first name],” rather than “Fr. [last name].” For those of us who are religious, we do not take new last names (last names are relatively recent). Even in the formal Church prayer, we address people by their first name. We pray for Barack our President, John (as an example) our bishop, Benedict our pope, and invoke St. John (using a last name only if it makes the specific saint more clear). It is more traditional, if you will, to refer to clergy by title and first name. But if anyone wants to be called “Fr. Smith,” that is perfectly fine by me.

  16. ttucker says:

    Interesting, Rich. I have several friends who are priests, and one bishop. I would never think to call them Father or Your Excellency in private.
    Holy Orders gives the recipient the ability to consecrate the Eucharist; it doesn’t make them particularly wise or holy or special. It doesn’t make them a more faithful follower of Christ, or say that God has asked more of them than He has of you in raising a family.
    Holy Orders has a special dignity, but it does not confer a special dignity on the person who has received them. The idea that it does, my friends, is an example of clericalism. [You seem to be missing the point. What people decide to call each other is THEIR business. It is not any part of your brief to say that they cannot determine these things for themselves.]

  17. lucy says:

    I get annoyed when folks refer to a priest as Joe, rather than Fr. Smith. Maybe I’m just that traditionally minded, but I agree with Fr. Z. that our society has lost all decorum. Our children have lost respect for us because of this (not my children – they refer to our closest friends and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, rather than Joe and Jane). Our pastor asks us to call him Fr. Rob. I really dislike that. Do I have my children call him that out of respect for his wishes or continue calling him Fr. Smith? (all names changed to protect the guilty and innocent alike).

  18. Fr. Basil says:

    The usual Eastern Christian custom is to use the forms “Fr. Deacon Ordination Name,” “Father Ordination Name,” and “Bishop Ordination Name.” Readers and Sub-Deacons are, in a church setting, addressed by the names prayed over them, preceded by the name of their minor order.

    From the time of my monastic tonsure, my own father never called me anything but “Fr. Basil” even in private.

  19. Igne says:

    The dignity of holy orders is inviolate. But this always gives me pause… Should we call priests by ‘Father’ at all? If so, why?
    ‘Matthew: 23, 2-11

    The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. [3] All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not. [4] For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them. [5] And all their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes.

    [6] And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues, [7] And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi. [8] But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master; and all you are brethren. [9] And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven. [10] Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, Christ.’

    If He didn’t mean this to be a call not to call clerics/priests ‘Father’, what did he mean? I don’t know. I wonder could anybody give an authoritative gloss on this?

  20. Haec Dies says:

    As long as I can remember Deacons were always refered to as Reverand Mister… but it seems apprpriate to also use the title Deacon…

  21. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I was under the impression, Random Friar (and I love that name!), that diocesan priests are to be addressed as “Fr. Lastname” and priests in Orders are addressed as “Fr. Firstname.”

  22. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I forgot to add that I am forever annoying my Dominican priests by addressing them by their last names. I am a convert and old habits die hard.

  23. EWTN Rocks says:


    I appreciate your post and agree with your thoughts. In the work environment, I always refer to my boss as “Mr. Smith” when meeting with external partners. However, because Mr. Smith is also a friend, I call him “Steve” in private.

  24. Mike says:

    I have had two friends/colleagues whom I have known for years ordained to the priesthood. One privately told me I could call him by his nick name in private, “Father” everywhere else; the other has made no preference known to me, but I always call him Father. Frankly, I am not comfortable calling a friend now priest by only his first name. Anywhere, anytime. When does he stop being a priest? But I also think Fr. Z is correct; this is up to the folks involved.

  25. AnAmericanMother says:


    I’ll see your Matthew 23 and raise you 1st Corinthians 4:14-15 and 1st John 2:13.
    As C.S. Lewis said, when Christ said we were to be as doves, he didn’t mean for us to lay eggs.

  26. Rosemary says:

    For some of us who were students in the 1970s, anti-decorum was drilled into us by teachers formed in the 1960s. I well remember being mocked for calling a teacher by an honorific and for bookishly taking notes in class. (That class soon devolved from any pretense of scholastic discipline and soon became an exposition of the personal beliefs of the teacher.) I remember a teacher answering a student’s question about the direction studies would take with a huge shrug and “How would I know?” To succeed, even to avoid being mocked, one learned that for many teachers, paths were only good for diverging from and walls were meant to be knocked down.

  27. Fr. Basil says:

    \\[9] And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven. [10] Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, Christ.’\\

    If you can’t call someone “Father” on the basis of Matthew 23 9, that means you can’t use Mr. or Mrs. on the basis of v 10, as these are merely variants of “master”.

    In Acts, St. Steven and St. Paul addressed gathers in synagogues as “Fathers”. And John in his letter shows that there were people in the early church who were addressed as “Fathers”.

    Historically, calling secular clergy “Father” in the Western Church is rather late among English speakers. There are letters by John Carroll, first Roman Catholic Abp. in the USA, where he refers to them as “Mr.”

  28. B.C.M. says:

    My wife and I refer to each other as Mr. and Mrs. Markey, Sir or Ma’am. and this is not uncommon. well sprinkled with nicknames, though!

  29. ttucker says:

    Of course I am not saying that the people involved shouldn’t decide for themselves. THey should and they will.
    But what has that point to do with the “dignity of Holy Orders?”

  30. shane says:

    Fr Basil, the practice of calling clergy ‘father’ came into widespread use in the 19th century. Before then the term was generally reserved in the US for priests who were members of monastic orders. But the honorific was widely used by Protestants.

    But in the mid-19th century, Protestants began to drop the titles. By the 1920s, only Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Episcopal clergy and nuns were being addressed as ‘‘Father’’ or “Mother.” The evidence suggests three reasons for this change in nomenclature.

    Most significantly, the decline of “Father” in Protestantism coincides with the rise of Irish immigration to the United States in the 1840s. Before that time, Roman Catholic priests in America were usually addressed as “Mister,” for most were secular (nonmonastic) clergy with roots in Europe or England, where Roman Catholic practice restricted “Father” to priests of monastic orders. Secular priests were called “Mister,” “Monsieur,” “Don” or other vernacular equivalents.

    Irish Roman Catholics, however, addressed all priests — whether secular or monastic — as “Father.” And by the end of the Victorian period, the Irish had influenced English-speaking Roman Catholicism to call every priest “Father.”

    This change clearly influenced Protestant usage. Catholic priests called “Mister” and protestant clergy called “Father” had lived side by side in America. Following the Irish immigrations, however, Protestants began to see the title as redolent of priestcraft and popery.

    The reaction was quick. As early as the 1840s, a venerable Congregationalist pastor in Massachusetts suddenly rejected being called “Father” because he “hated every rag of the scarlet lady” (Proceedings at the Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Ordination and Settlement of Rev. Richard S. Storrs . . .[Boston, 18611, p.83). As the 19th century progressed, such reactions became more common.


  31. everett says:

    In public he should always be called Father ______ . In private, that’s something you have to work out between you. Some of my friends I call by just their first name in private, others I call Father, based on what is comfortable for both of us. When around my children (or other children), even in our home, I still use the title, so that my children are used to it, as they don’t know him by his first name.

  32. WBBritton says:

    I am lucky to call several priests friends, and I always refer to them as Father. I recognize that ontologically they are changed, and by calling them Father, I am acknowledging the significance of this ontological change.

  33. Random Friar says:

    Banjo pickin’ girl: Yes, in general that’s true, although I think those in non-monastic or non-mendicant orders formed relatively recently often go by Fr. Lastname (or went, since we’ve lost some formality).

  34. AndyKl says:

    My uncle is a priest. How do I call him?

    Uncle Father? lol

    [LOL… yah.. right… how about “Father….”]

  35. gambletrainman says:

    I thought this might be off topic, but I see others share my thoughts.

    Alex P and others. This incident happened a couple of years ago in a public restaurant, when I was a mere 66. Also present was a guy I grew up with. One of the members who eats with us brought her grandson, age 12 with her. She introduced him to me as (first name). I extended my hand and said I’m Mr Last Name. To which, my lifelong friend introduced himself as Tom, and added you can feel free to call me Tom. Then, aside, he asked me why did I stand on protocol and just go on like everyone else. I told him that that was the way I was raised. I was expected to say Mr or Mrs Smith, and, in return, I expect the same from others, ESPECIALLY now that I’m old enough to be someone’s grandfather.

  36. gambletrainman says:

    I might add, also, that our original neighbors, who had 5 children close to my age, when all of us were in our yards talking to each other, our parents addressed each other as Mr or Mrs to teach us kids to show respect to our elders, but when our parents were alone, they called each other by their first names. Respect was the name of the game, something that has long fallen by the wayside. I even recently read a comment by one of the young teen “stars” where, when asked about something concerning his mother, his reply was “I don’t have to listen to her. SHE’S ONLY MY MOTHER”

  37. John Nolan says:

    Lewis and Tolkien referred to each other by their surnames as this was the convention among friends and colleagues of equal social standing. A tradesman, however, would be addressed as Mr. In British Army messes officers addressed each other by their surnames only, with the exception of the CO who was ‘Colonel’. Very close friends might use a nickname.

    This convention has entirely disappeared and Christian names are now ubiquitous. If a policeman stops you he will call you ‘Sir’ to start with, but will use your Christian name once he has ascertained it from your driving licence. Junior health care professionals are instructed to do likewise. Many older Brits resent this informality and imagine it to be a transatlantic import, but I’m not so sure; Americans tend to be more formal and courteous when addressing strangers, and you even hear children call their father ‘Sir’.

    I would always address a priest as ‘Father’, even over a pint in the pub. And military chaplains are always ‘padre’ , a custom dating from the Peninsular War.

  38. Gwen says:

    This reminds me of many discussions about the use of first names in the military. I retired a (full) Colonel from the USAF. The day the promotion list came out, fellow Lieutenant Colonels who were not on the list stopped referring to selectees by first name and started using “Colonel,” in public and private, which of course continued after pin-on (assumption of the new rank).

    I would never imagine calling a general officer, active or retired, by first name, in public or private.

    In fact, my father, who had long since retired as a Master Sergeant, called me “Colonel” when around others. It was pretty funny–I called him “Sir” and he called me “Colonel.”

    I’m teaching high school now, and the teachers always refer to one another by Mr., Mrs, Miss Last Name when in front of students.

  39. Emilio III says:

    Our former pastor always asked to be called Father Mark, even when wearing his Monsignor’s cassock. Then he was promoted and asked to be called Bishop Mark. I never followed his advice in this. My previous parish was staffed by priests of a religious order who always went by their first names, and in that case it seemed proper to go along. Our current Monsignor likes “Father Bob”. I meet him halfway with just “Father” until I can figure out how to say his last name.

    When I was in school transitional deacons were Mr Smith, the Rev. Mr Smith on formal occasions. Ordained former classmates are Father Smith except on rare extremely informal occasions such as baseball or hockey games.

  40. PaterAugustinus says:

    An interesting discussion! It prompted some further thoughts…

    In regards to me and my friend: my friend and I are happy to call each other “Ben” and “Gus,” because we have that close friendship classically described (beginning with Aristotle) as “one soul shared by two bodies.” If we weren’t as close as we are, “Gus” and “Ben” would be unthinkable. Some friends I’ve known longer (since fourth grade, in fact), but with whom I am less intimate, know me as “Father.” Believe me, there is no “clericalism” involved, but very real respect and love between all parties, and the “father” doesn’t diminish our closeness, but enhances it.

    Nevertheless, of the more intimate kind of amicitia, it is said: “Amicitia aut pares accipit, aut facit” (“Friendship either receives equals, or makes them”). For me and my good friend, then, there are many intimate terms and affectionate nick-names that emphasize our even footing; yet despite this, there is still plenty of room for the term “father,” even as an affectionate address. In fact, there’s room for it even as a respectful honorific, since friendship often involves preferring the friend above one’s self and deferring to him. In my experience, “father” does not produce any distance at all between friends, but actually recalls a particularly loveable characteristic of our friend, and so elevates and amplifies the love felt for him. I imagine that the terms our enquirer and his friend settle upon, will come naturally from the quality of their friendship and a sober consideration of proper decorum and authenticity in expressions of affection and esteem.

    I also agree that “Father [First name]” is better and more traditional than “Father [Last name].” There is a reason it is called our “Christian name,” and for every ecclesiastical purpose (including addressing our clerics formally or informally, in writing or speech), the Christian name should be preferred. That’s not to say that affectionate nicknames, like “Fr. Z,” can’t be appropriate as well. Otherwise, I’m a big believer in calling people by their title and last name; I’m the only student who refers to my professors as “Dr. So-and-so,” rather than “Jim” or “Alan.” In fact, it always grates on me to hear the under-graduates, especially, running around referring to brilliant department heads like our Dr. Graf, as “Fritz,” with a presumptuous air of synthetic familiarity. Ick.

    For those who felt that it was “clericalism” to call an old friend father: I was always taught that we call priests “father” not because THEY, per se, are super-special somebodies, but because they are icons of Christ, deputized with His authority, and WE willingly humble ourselves before those who shepherd and teach us, and give us the Eucharist with anointed hands. When we bow before a priest and kiss his hand, we are not bowing and kissing a mere man, but a man who stands in the place of Christ, and we revere Christ’s Person and Benediction in him. There are two priests known to me, one of whom has done me grievous and repeated wrong in recent history, and another who has wronged just about everybody but me. Even though I have great difficulty respecting either of them as individual characters, I never hesitate to bow before them, kiss their hands, and call them father. It’s all about revering Christ, Whom they represent, and humbling myself before both Him and my fellow man. Calling somebody “father,” is a way for us to humble OURSELVES, and the focus should be on our voluntary humility, not as a kind of enforced grovelling before “clerics.”

    This is how monks came to be called “father” in the Orthodox Church: they started to call each other “Father,” not because they all wanted to be puffed up with loftier titles, but because individual monks wanted to put their brothers ahead of themselves, and so called them “father” as a way of placing themselves last. As a monk, then, I never stood on the title “father” for myself, but I always gave it to others, as a way of putting them before myself… even if (to my limited judgment) they seemed like bad men. I am worse. I think if you can absorb this perspective, you will have less issue with the clericalism bug-a-boo, and can look at the honorific in a new light.

    And to the person who wondered why we should call anybody “father,” here’s the answer: Jesus employed a common Jewish rhetorical method, wherein a matter is stated hyperbolically to underscore an important point. For example, Jesus says “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” but we all know that the sin of self-mutilation is not hereby condoned. Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point: we should rather sacrifice our very selves, than wilfully commit ourselves to sin. It’s the same thing, when Jesus says “call no man father…teacher….master.” Tell me, do you call your own Dad, “father?” Technically, he is also included in the commandment to call “no man” father, if you think Jesus really meant this literally. Do you refer to educators as “teachers?” Do you call professors or physicians by the title “Doctor” (i.e., Latin for “teacher”)? Do you use the address, “Mr.” (i.e., derived from “master”)? Well, all these also break the commandment, if we want to be literal about it, but for some reason the complaint is only ever levied against the priesthood. The fact is, we all know the command isn’t literal, which is why we don’t care about using these terms in any of these other situtations. Jesus is underscoring a point: namely, that God is the source of all authority, power and knowledge, and every reverence for such things belongs first and foremost to Him, “from Whom every fatherhood derives its name.”

    And if you need further proof that it’s not to be taken literally, witness the many occasions in Scripture, where the title “father” is willingly applied to others by the Apostles, or is appropriated by the Apostles for themselves – such as when St. Paul writes St. Timothy and says, “even if you have had ten thousand teachers in Christ, you have not yet had many fathers, for I have begotten you in Christ through the Gospel.” Notice how the Vessel of Election himself, uses both of these “forbidden” terms. If only he had a more “biblical” worldview!

    Sorry, I’m an ex-evangelical, so I get to be a bit bemused by my former folly…

  41. JKnott says:

    First to B.C.M. who wrote:”My wife and I refer to each other as Mr. and Mrs. Markey, Sir or Ma’am.”
    Well, I think that is lovely. Just lovely! It would be wonderful if it were more so.:)

    Secondly, I quickly skimmed the link provided by ttucker. Part of the argument is that there is a duality between the function of the priesthood as dignified, and the person of the priest as just “Personnel,” He argues that the person of the priest does not necessarily warrant any special regard because he is imperfect.
    How is it possible to separate the mark of the priesthood and the priest?
    I personally see an Alter Christus in all priests at all times. And if he is not up to snuff it makes no difference. The mark of Holy Orders is stamped on his soul forever, a mark that carries the highest dignity for any human being. He is not employed for a career, he is called to give up his very life for Christ. I think the words that describe the vocation of a priest are sacrifice and victim. So “hey, Joe” is definately out in my books. And, as Father said, it would be up to the priest to let the friend know his preference.
    I forget which saint said that if he saw a priest and an angel walking toward him, he would bow to the priest.
    Kudos to the reader who wrote that he never calls his priest son by anything other than Father.

  42. JMGDD says:

    My father was ordained a priest in a “Continuing Anglican” jurisdiction a few years ago, long after I was grown and out of the house. All this discussion makes me realize that I’ve never been in a public situation with him since his ordination. I have always simply called him Dad, and I always will. I suppose if it were ever to come up, I would have to very carefully address him as Father Lastname.

  43. JKnott says:

    To PaterAugustinus: Thank you for your truly beautiful commentary in every respect!
    BTW Father, have you read the “Sweet and Gentle Struggle” about the meaning of friendship in the life of St. Francis de Sales? He is called the ssint of freindship. I think it is out of print now.

  44. Norah says:

    Five men were recently ordained in Sydney. Cardinal Pell referred to them as Fr First Name. Bishops refer to brother bishops as Bishop First name. What is that telling the laity? Call all clergy Fr First name.

  45. ttucker says:

    JKnott- lofty sentiments, but in reality, we are called, at the time of Baptism, to live for Christ and give up our lives for him. Are we not ALL called to be priest, prophet and king? Baptism also makes a permanent ontological change in the soul. Is Holy Orders really loftier, or simply different?

  46. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I almost always call another priest “Father” in public, both out of respect for him, but also out of respect for others who wouldn’t feel free to call him by his first name. That is to day, when one priest calls another by his first name, around others who do not enjoy that familiarity, I think that is disrespectful to those others. It calls attention to ones access and different relationship, and this is not polite.

    I notice, however, that many priests of, shall we say, a certain generation, really chafe at this. They seem to make a point of addressing another priest by his first name; and I have seen them give an odd expression when I call them “Father.” The irony is that, in supposedly avoiding clericalism, that is exactly what is on display.

    On another note: my father, now gone to his reward, usually called me by my first name–which of course was his privilege–but there were times he called me “Father.” It was very humbling.

  47. mpolo says:

    Within my religious family, we use Brother FirstName and Father FirstName. Deacons are also referred to as “Father”, though the standard in English is “Reverend Mr.”, which I don’t particularly like. I would personally tend to use “Deacon” as a title when speaking to a non-religious deacon.

  48. AlexE says:

    When I entered seminary, my mother asked about this. I agree with Fr Z’s answer, in public maintain the formalities. In private work it out, yes they are friends, but we don’t now to what degree. The word “friend” is over used, I think, in modern speech. I have many people who in English are called “friends” but in Spanish we would say they are “acquaintances”. Further, I think we the loss of the usage of tittles we have developed a false sense of familiarity. We all know the practice of men adressing each other by last name e.g. “Jones” or “Smith” but that was typically done by friends, family called them by their Christian names, and formal relationships “Mr”. If a friendship between a man and a woman changes after one marries, why wouldn’t the same apply when one goes from the lay state to the clerical state, especially when the man in question becomes an alter Christus?

  49. Kat says:

    Nice P&P reference, Fr. Z, but perhaps not the best example. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s marriage was not precisely cordial, you might say. Even had not the tradition been to refer to one’s spouse, particularly in public, by their title, I doubt they would have been chummy enough to call each other by their first names…whatever they were.

    Still, point stands, I think. And, in certain cases, I think it still exists in families. My grandmother always referred to my grandfather, in her children’s presence, as “Dad,” for instance.

  50. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    The fact that this correspondent asks this question show that he is well disposed.

    Never, Never, Never do I call a priest by his Christian name. Even my very closest friends.

    When we were a bit younger, some said, “please call me XXXX”…

    My invariable response is, “No, I address a priest as Father, you are no longer of this world, but set apart for God. This does not make you better than me, but you are of a different order, and our continued friendship depends on neither of us ever forgetting this.” Within this framework, we can be immensely familiar, and in some cases very warm friends indeed.


  51. Imrahil says:

    Around here, only regular clergy is addressed as Father (Pater), while a diocesan clergy may be called Reverend, or again either “Mr Vicar” or “Mr Parishpriest”. That being said, someone as traditionally-minded as E. M. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn allowed himself to mock an instance when a mother called her son “Father” as an American extravagancy (in “Church and the Modernity”). Now I’m myself not mocking it but, well, the notion it might be even so much as obligatory does seem strange to me.

    Somehow, the form of adress with most decorum is the first name, uttered in the usual way which doesn’t lack reverence. It’s the last name without “Mr” that is without decorum. And there is one way of address which is about the height of reverence. It’s the custom to address the present President of Russia as Dimítri Anatólyevich.

    There is this feeling that all a man is is somewhat included in his first name. It’s called ancient but I can’t see that it vanished. Thus while we are indeed never equal, I would always remember what somebody is, using his first name.

    It’s of course to them what to do. But I wouldn’t do the “differently in public” style; except in circumstances with strangers present, when it’s too effortful to explain the situation.

    It’s also possible to make a nickname out of Father or Reverend… I’d always address an enlisted comrade (general address: surname without decorum) who had become an NCO with special (honest) smiling friendliness “Good morning Mr Sergeant”, military salute and all. He kind of liked it and would give me a smile… However, I hadn’t ever called him by first name.

    No familiarity in the confessional, nor in case you served at the altar with him celebrating and and there’d be a legitimate topic to speak about. I’d probably avoid any address in that cases, though that’s indeed not a solution.

    But it is no argument at all that Holy Orders do not exclude sinlessness of the recipant. We don’t address people according to merits, but, if anything, to their position (including the position of familiarity with us). Any honor we give, we do it to the priest, and maybe also, much less, to the man (chosen to be priest). We don’t do decorum for the supposed rank concerning morality, and even if we would – I may say so as a layman – I would at least suppose priests to be of higher morality than I am.

    And a priest is priest with, not without his person. Let’s put away these more ugly features of Berlin which is called the distinction of office and person, and move to Rome where men are allowed to be men.

  52. EWTN Rocks says:

    Interesting…thought you were trying to get rid of me

  53. Marg says:

    I remember reading in a bio. of St. Francis DeSales, before his ordination he saw his guardian angel “walking” before him; after he was ordained a priest his angel walked behind him; such is the dignity of Holy Orders. My brother is a religious and is called Brother…in private as well as public. It tends to keep the family conversation on a “higher” level.

  54. K_Suzanne says:

    My best friend for the past ten years attends St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. It’s a very small great-books school, and among many other traditions that make up their unique campus culture, it is customary for students to call each other by their title and surname until they have become close friends.

  55. K_Suzanne says:

    Clarification: She has been my best friend for the past ten years, not in college for the past ten years. :)

  56. stmungo says:

    I have the policy of ‘call me Father in public, but in private use my Christian name.’ The one thing that really gets to me is parishioners assuming that they can call be by my Christian name in both in public and private.

    On a more light hearted note
    I remember a priest friend of mine introducing me to another priest at my own induction as Parish Priest (Pastor) saying: ‘Have you met Father’s Father, Father?’

    And again
    When I was assistant Priest my Parish Preist would always refer to me as Father in public and in private (even in all clerical gathering). In fact he referred to all priests as Father. On occassion it got a little bizzare as he never used first names or last names. So imagine the look of distress on the young police officer came to investigate a break in at the presbytery to be told by the Parish Priest
    ‘Well it was like this Officer. Father was in his room and I was in mine. Wasn’t I Father? But in fact Father wasnt in his room because Father had gone out to see Father in the next parish!!!’

  57. jmvbxx says:

    It is not uncommon in some parts of Colombia for spouses to refer to each other using the formal ‘usted’ rather than the informal ‘tu’.

    Surely, this would also happen in other Spanish speaking countries.

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