ASK FATHER: Signs of reverence for priests

From a reader…


I was hoping to hear your insight into traditions that seem lost! Will you please share your thoughts regarding bowing for clergy, kissing the hands of priests and referring to priests directly as Your Reverence?

We live in an age that touts an egalitarian ethos, as if it were some sort of virtue… if the very notion of virtue applies anymore. Especially in North America, “casual” is the thematic word both for the dress code and for the prevailing attitude. Gone are the days when ladies in hats and gloves would ride the trolleys downtown for shopping, men went to ball games wearing ties, and friends would address each other as “Mr. Smith” and “Mr. Mukopadhyay.”

For the most part, those who insist on titles are automatically labelled as cold, or distant, rigid, or authoritarian (Medical doctors, military personnel and politicians seem to be an exception). Many of our traditions of respect have been lost, and who knows how or when – or in what form they will return.

We have lost decorum.  With the loss of decorum comes loss of self-respect and understanding of the dignity of others.  We devolve into what Benedict XVI has warned about through his entire career, “auto-sufficiency”.

It’s tragic that we’ve lost the concept of formality, propriety, what is apt in our culture. But to turn the sock inside out, ironically this loss of decorum also does damage to our expression and attitude of casualness, informality and intimacy.  :If everyone calls each other by first name – names being important – how do we let someone in to our inner circle by, after some time of knowing him, saying, “Please, call me Bob”? That’s signals a new relationship.  Many languages signal relations by pronouns and verb endings.  German even has verbs to describe addressing people with familiar Du, or formal Sie.

It’s simply dreadful for priests, regardless of how they feel about the matter, to dismiss or denigrate the attempts of the faithful to show reverence toward them. It’s not about us, it’s about Christ.

Some people, rightly, see priests are representatives of Jesus Christ (and priests should constantly remember that). When they kiss our hands, or call us “Father, Reverend,” or suchlike – they’re showing their respect for Christ. I once heard of a bishop who chipped the tooth of an elderly nun who was attempting to kiss his ring. He yanked his hand away from the dear sister with such force that she was required to see a dentist. For shame.

The titles, and the garb and the decorum is not about us.

Of course it is possible to be over the top in expressions of respect, “Your Reverence”, constantly repeated, isn’t necessary.  Once or twice, fine… every other sentence, … perhaps not.  Please, don’t.

That said, it is also bad form for priests to insist on some sign of reverence.  So many people today are casual in their attitudes not out of disrespect, but because they simply have never been taught anything else. If someone were to call me by my first name, I might gently correct them and say, “It’s Father Zuhlsdorf, thank you.”  Of course some do this, use just a baptismal name, as a pointed insult.  In that case, the one whom they are insulting is really not the priest, but Our Lord and His Holy Church.  I also am not a fan of “Father John… or Monsignor John…”.  That’s a bizarre hybrid.

We can reassert some formality and respect in our culture by showing it.  For example, teachers could address their students by their titles and surnames rather than their first names. Oddly, they seem to be the same teachers that have less difficulty with discipline than some of the “call-me-Mike” variety.  Priests can show decorum in the way they dress and in the forms of address they use.

And let’s bring back hats, gentlemen.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I tell the seminarians at NDS that diocesan priests are usually addressed as “Father Smith,” while religious priests can be addressed as “Father Robert” — that is, last name for secular priests; first name for order priests who have taken a religious name. I ask to be addressed as “Father Philip Neri” rather than “Father Powell.” I’ve forgotten where I picked up this practice. . .probably in England or Italy. . .but it’s one that makes sense to me. I took “Philip Neri” as my religious name, so I prefer to hear it used!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  2. Traditionally minded Catholics frequently are seen bowing to the priest-celebrant as he passes their pew in the recessional following an EF Mass. Has anyone seen that recently at an OF Mass?

  3. PhilipNeri says:

    Quick post script. . .some friars of a Certain Generation have the habit of addressing other friars with religious names by a diminutive. E.g., Boniface become “Bunny;” Augustine becomes “Auggie;” Ignatius becomes “Iggy.” When I’m addressed as “Phil,” my Southern Upbringing flares up, and I correct the miscreant, “Not ‘Phil,’ please. . .Philip or Philip Neri.”

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  4. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Well said, Fr. Z. (NOT “Fr. John”).

    Here in the Midwest, there is practically a tsunami of pressure for priests to call themselves by their first name, (Fr Joe, Fr. Steve). Not always ill-intentioned, but unfortunate nonetheless. Even some bishops are adopting this hyper-informal style (Bishop Joe), as grating as that sounds.

    For those who care about preserving the last vestiges of formality (and I hope that there are some of you still out there), the custom has always been to call secular (diocesan) priests by their last name (Fr. Smith, Fr. Jones) while only religious order priests were (sometimes) called by their first names, because it was the name they took when they professed as religious (for example, Fr. Emmanueal, Fr. Thomas Mary).

  5. Theodore says:

    While we bring back hats (and I don’t count ball caps or beanies as hats) we learn how to wear them. Plopping it squarely on your head looks dumb. Google some photos of movie stars of the 30s to get an idea of how you add a bit of flair to a hat.

  6. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Amen to bringing back hats, Reverend Father, provided that we also bring back the etiquette about when to tip them, when to lift them, and when to take them off and hold them in the hand.

  7. Michael_Thoma says:

    As a slightly different Tradition and just to clarify, many Easterners may call a Latin cleric Reverend Fr. Deacon, Father, Most Reverend/Your Grace Bishop (Ordination or Baptismal Name) as a sign of respect. In the East, usually the last name is omitted (except in writing, perhaps and in parenthesis) once ordination or consecration to religious life is received. An Easterner in the West might unwittingly cause you to think he’s being disrespectful, when in fact, he intends to convey more respect.

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    Yes, informality can go too far. I’ve had college students show up for lab in their pajamas. This trend towards informality did not start in the Church. It is a part of a liberal (in the modern sense) mindset – the same mindset that makes everyone and everything equal. A boy can play football, why not girls? We are all equal, after all.

    The difference, however, with priests is that they are not equal to ordinary folk. They are, ontologically, in a different class. Thus, they can only be equal with members of their own ontology.

    In the end, this all comes down to a loss of the sacred, the holy, the separated. Reverence implies something higher than ourselves and we can’t have that, can we?

    I have colleagues to whom I were introduced when I was in graduate school and, even to this day, I still call them by their title, even though they try to get me to be informal. I have played in ensembles where I outrank the conductor in terms of academic credentials, but still, I call him or her, rightly, Maestro.

    Even using the label, Fr. Z., is a great condescension for Father, who allows it because, well, it’s simpler and less likely to be mispronounced and possibly other reasons, like, maybe he likes us :)

    Still, one, sometimes has to make a distinction between the office and the man. Holding a person in esteem does not mean accepting everything they say. Respect has many different aspects to it and one must tread in fear of accepting the teachings of some people who have the right to an office, these days, be it president, mayor, judge, etc.

    In the end, I, too, would like a return to, “yes ma’am and no sir,” even if it makes me blush. In the end, how many people, today really consider the term, Father, to be what it should be – a term of even greater rank than that of our biological fathers. After all, they are fathers of our biology; priests are fathers of our souls.

    The Chicken

  9. DrBill says:

    Back in the 70s, when I was a non-Catholic attending a Catholic school, not only did we address the priests as “Father” (or “Father Surname” when more than one was present) but the priests reciprocated by referring to us, individually, as “my son” or, collectively, as “my sons / my children.”

    My question is, was that a general practice in the US/N America/Anglosphere/World at one point? That is for priests to refer to boys as “my son?” Also, did it extend to adults? Would a priest addressing an adult male say “my son?”

    In retrospect, it seems a beautiful practice to me. At the time, it just seemed normal: in the way the sun coming up in the east is normal.

  10. Joseph-Mary says:

    Our local priests are all Father ‘first name’ and introduce themselves that way. There is even a cardinal in Boston who I understand want to be called Cardinal ‘first name’. And I have known of priests who would want people to even drop the ‘father’ such as “Just call me Sergio” to which I replied that I would retain the father part of the name. And some of a certain generation were much encouraged to just use first names and still do. It is not always the fault of the faithful that reverence and decorum were lost!

  11. TMKent says:

    I fear this baby has gone by way of the bathwater.

    I live in the south and work at a univeristy. When I was in college in DC, all those who taught were called “professor” – at least until you were sure they were a “doctor”. When I first taught college in my 20’s, I noticed my southern students calling me their “teacher” and perhaps Mrs. Kent. For many years, students working for me would call me “Miss Tricia” in southern fashion, but at least there was some title to designate me as a boss and someone separate. When my children were growing up I made them call everyone Mr. or Mrs and corrected their friends who did not do the same. Now EVERYONE calls me Tricia. Even the children of TLM going parents. Of the countless Christmas cards we received, most were addressed to our first names and occasionally to the “Family”. I’m a “Mrs.” of over 30 years and proud of it! Even if my co-workers are married they retained their last name so their is no Mr. and Mrs. anymore and its a crap-shoot what the kids are called. Our young priests prefer “Fr. Lastname” but there is the inevitable talk of that being the wrong “attitude”. I don’t hold out much hope for titles.

  12. Hidden One says:

    I know diocesan priests (and seminarians) who have no real choice in the matter, as their last names are unpronounceable for the people they are serving.

  13. capchoirgirl says:

    Chicken: I had a professor who put in his syllabus that if you came to class in pajamas, he would mark you absent and it would count against your final grade (attendance was part of it). I just about applauded!
    As someone at a Dominican parish, we call our priests “Fr. Michael” or “Fr. Thomas”, because they took those names in religion. In my old, diocesan run parish, I called most priests by their last names–unless you had one who would chew you out if you did that. Then I just grimly went with what he wanted, as much as it went against personal grain.

  14. Phil_NL says:

    Traditionally minded Catholics frequently are seen bowing to the priest-celebrant as he passes their pew in the recessional following an EF Mass. Has anyone seen that recently at an OF Mass?

    Yup. We have one person who makes an effort of doing just that, every time. Likewise if there’s an entrance procession.

    I also wonder (I must admit I have no evidence on it at all) if the matter of decorum was what kept our bishop, who has celebrated the Masses at our parish one weekend a month this fall, from shaking hands after Mass, as is the custom here. I’m pretty sure quite a few people were thinking ‘oh dear, how do you properly adress a bishop again?’ towards the end. I sure was one of them. [and no, it was not that the bishop had a pressing appointment elsewhere; he did the next Mass an hour later there as well].
    Decorum is indeed nice, but it only helps if people actually know what is expected of them.

  15. lmgilbert says:

    Although substantially in agreement with the post and the comments, I have to say I wish that “your excellency” and “your eminence” could find some more familial replacement, for example, “Reverend Father.” For people who talk with bishops and cardinals frequently, these forms may not get in the way, but frankly when I have occasion to address a bishop personally it really does. I want to be reverent, formal and correct, but most of all I want to convey my thought or concern. Since I only talk with a bishop every ten years or so, attending to my message while also having the question, “Wait! Is it eminence or excellency?” also running in the background has gotten in the way of my speaking to the bishop at all. Maybe that’s the idea! When these occasions come up, I usually resort to “Bishop” or “Archbishop” as a form of address. It is incorrect, I know, but it cannot be mistaken for irreverence. [True. It’s incorrect, but it isn’t disrespectful. Really, these titles are not so hard if someone tells us, or we look them up, and we pay attention.]

  16. Mike says:

    I agree, informality rules in our culture, sadly.

    I am surprised to see that “Father Javier” is bad form. If my chaplain/confessor and in some measure, friend, is a “Father Javier”, what am I supposed to call him on a day to day basis? I definitely avoid “Javier”. It seems that “Father Javier” is the only option that is right and reasonable.

  17. JARay says:

    I have always had the feeling that wearing a hat makes a man bald. That said, I do wear a hat sometimes, but it is only to give my ears a bit of shade having twice already had to have a surgeon cut away a bit of my ear because of skin cancer. But, in thinking about my ear being hit by the sun, I became convinced that this happened when driving because the sun always hits the same ear when driving a car.
    As for the matter of addressing others, I am strongly in favour of the use of one’s title followed by the surname. I really bristle when someone I do not know, starts calling me by my christian name.

  18. Latin Mass Type says:

    Chicken: The difference, however, with priests is that they are not equal to ordinary folk. They are, ontologically, in a different class. Thus, they can only be equal with members of their own ontology.


    One of our priests is younger than my children. I always address him directly as “Father” (Good morning Father. How are you?”). I think of him as priest, not young man! Though in talking among ourselves, those among my close friends refer to him as Father “Firstname”–he refers to him sale that way, too. When speaking to others we call him Father “Lastname”.

    Our other priest (close to my age) wants to be called “Father Firstname”–he is from another country and has unusual first and last names. The other day he came out to speak to a few people in the pews before a weekday Mass. He approached two ladies who remained sitting and shook their hands. The thought flitted through my mind that if he came over to say hello and shake hands I should stand up out of respect.

    So I did. Even though he tends to be pretty casual, it felt right.

  19. MrsMacD says:

    Personally, I loath being called Ms. ! And boy! it’s awkward to be called by my first name by some six year old, but even more awkward is calling a 70 something by her first name. It sticks in my throat! No you are a dear little old lady and you remind me of my grandma, please let me call you Mrs!

    Still, on the whole ‘Father John’ or ‘Father Smith’ I’m a little confused. If you’ve renounced your earthly father, or he has renounced you, Father John suits just fine. [?] It’s not like I’ve stopped bowing as you pass or failed to kiss your hand at the handing out of the palms. Nicknames are a little annoying, Father Joe, Father Chuck, but even among family members I’m not a nickname person. I love full names. I however really dislike being called Mrs. by my close friends. I have a lovely name I like to hear it now and again.

    I really love my husband’s hats and his little ceremonies of doffing them here and there (here to a lady there to a priest, before entering a church, etc) and how he’ll endure the most awkward situations of carrying things rather than wear his hat when it’s inappropriate. It’s charming. It makes me respect him more. Sort of like I respect a priest more when he’s in cassock and priestly hat.

  20. John Grammaticus says:

    I am reminded of a time I talked with several boys who had a Priest for an uncle, they were telling me that in private (family setting) he’s Uncle John, but that they keep having to remember that whilst their in public they’re supposed to refer to him as ‘Father’ or Father ‘lastname’.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: Boston, the Cardinal is a religious of an order. It’s normal to call him by first name.

  22. Longinus says:

    When I was a young man living in an Italian American parish in New York city it was common to see elderly Italian ladies bend down and lift the hem of the priest’s cassock to kiss while saying “Sia benedetto” (May you be blessed).
    I asked the pastor if he was ever embarrassed by this display and he answered that the ladies knew what they were doing. He said “they are honoring my priesthood and by asking that I be blessed, reminding me that I will be blessed if I am a good priest.” Quite a lesson! [In Rome I have have my hand kissed and I have been spat on within 50 paces. The reality of reverence for priests and the contrary are quite raw and apparent to most of us.]

  23. MrsMacD says:

    For Example; St. Francis renounced his earthly Father and therefore the last name as well. And isn’t your baptismal name a little closer to God? As long as the term Father is still used.

  24. John Nolan says:

    Traditionally men dispensed with titles when addressing work colleagues and social equals, but the only women called by their surname alone were menial servants and convicted criminals. When I was at school we didn’t use Christian names even for friends and masters were always ‘Sir’, never ‘Mr Smith’. Nowadays the cop who pulls you over for a traffic infringement is likely to start using your first name as soon as he has read it off your licence. Hospital nurses are told to use Christian names when talking to patients – it’s supposed to be reassuring but older people don’t like it. Doctors, on the other hand, address you formally.

    Americans tend to be more formal than Brits. During the first Gulf War US officers were surprised to hear British officers calling each other by their first names, irrespective of rank (although the CO is always ‘Colonel’).

    I would always address a priest as ‘Father’ and a (Catholic) bishop as ‘My Lord’. Incidentally, a Peer of the Realm would only be addressed as ‘My Lord’ by an employee or a tradesman seeking his custom.

  25. RafqasRoad says:

    Fr. Z., I don’t know where else to post this so though it is off topic, I am posting it here (perhaps you may wish to discuss in greater detail with your readership.

    this morning, after mass, to my surprise and delight Fr. headed to the box to hear our confessions. This has been the greatest Christmas present ever!!!! now, we are a regional/Rural parish with four priests stretched terribly thin; two at the outermost bounds of our parish so rarely coming into its church HQ. Fr. already sounds weary and he’s the next 24 hours to get through yet. What a gift of grace to give us!! Pray for Fr. P.F. and Fr. D.F who will be carrying out a huge slab of the work this Christmas. Please also pray for Fr. R.K. whose health is poor but still burns himself up for Christ daily in his more remote corner of our region.

    To all priests who hear extra confessions at this time of year, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!

  26. WBBritton says:

    I always bow to the priest as he processes and recesses no matter the form of the Mass. My sixteen year old son does as well, and our pastor has complimented me in raising such a fine young man to be respectful. I have often thought of kissing the hand of our priest as I exit the church, but I don’t want to seem forward, so when he offers me his hand, I shake his hand while bowing and thank him for the gift that he has given us.

  27. Sconnius says:

    My Grandmother has a portrait of an old priest hanging in their house. It apparently is a photograph of my Great-Grandmother’s uncle, whom all referred to as “Reverend Uncle” when speaking to him.

    Another awesome story of someone insisting on their title: When I was in the University band, we had an instructor that, in our section (trombones), we called J-Sto. Granted, we would never call him that to his face, but only among ourselves. One day in rehearsal, a freshman student raised his hand and said, “Justin… blah blah bl…” when the awesome interruption came, “It’s Doctor Stolarik, actually, now be quiet.”

    I think that kid ended up dropping out.

  28. Fr Francis says:

    Fr. Philip Neri’s recommendation reminds me of a Spanish Missionary of Africa I knew many years ago in Uganda.

    I first met him in Mbarara on Christmas Day 1970.

    Each parish in the Diocese was usually staffed by two priests but had about 10,000 parishioners spread over more than 12 “sub-parishes” covering a vast area – linked by dirt track roads. Most priests drove the original VW Beetles (rear engines – and no air con) which were tough little autos but not too comfortable or relaxing.

    After a long day’s work celebrating Masses both in the Parish Church and in these “sub-parishes” and also celebrating huge numbers of baptisms, many of the missionary priests arranged to meet for a well deserved social in the evening.

    Then after a while someone suddenly decided it would be appropriate to sing “Happy Birthday”.

    I was puzzzled at first – but then discovered that the youngest priest’s name was Fr Jesus Zubira MAf :-)

  29. Maxiemom says:

    “Mr. Mukopadhyay” – you must have been an NYPD Blue fan.

  30. jameeka says:

    Please don’t become a Monsignor. Too hard to say.

  31. chonak says:

    Last names are a post-medieval innovation, so they don’t have much importance in the life of the Church. We don’t pray in the canon for Pope and Bishop . We use their *Christian* names, right? If a priest makes a point of wanting only his family name used, it gives the impression that he’s following secular conventions about professional status.

  32. chonak says:

    Sorry, correcting a typo in the previous:

    Last names are a post-medieval innovation, so they don’t have much importance in the life of the Church. We don’t pray in the canon for Pope [LastName1] and Bishop [LastName2]. We use their *Christian* names, right? [An entirely different context. Also, “we” don’t pray that. FATHER does. You, laypeople in the pews, listen and participate by listening as the priest speaks to God about his, and our, relationship with the Pope and his, and your, bishop. The priest is your intermediary. Sometimes he isn’t talking to you.] If a priest makes a point of wanting only his family name used, it gives the impression that he’s following secular conventions about professional status.

  33. Bea says:

    Beautiful bygone days, sigh.
    I remember my dear old dad, always the gentleman.
    Always wore a hat, which he doffed when passing the church. No matter how hot, he always wore a three piece suit, summer or winter.
    When speaking to women we knew when we were downtown, he would take off his hat and hold it until the last goodbye.
    In our Spanish speaking area, we still refer to each other as “tu” or “usted” (verb endings) depending on our familiarity and age difference. This among those of our generation.

    Some of the younger (daughters and grandchildren) children of some of my friends have taken to calling me by my first name. I cringe: “where is the respect for the elderly?” Not that I demand respect for myself as a person, (heaven knows and friends know my many faults) but respect for the difference of our station and age in life. What was allowed was “Doña” ..(First name of a woman) or “Don” …(First name of a man) for friends of our parents. More formal would be Señor (last name) or Señora (last name).

    For Priests ALWAYS “Father” or “Monsignor” (last name). A priest once asked me to call him by his first name. I told him: I just couldn’t, he’s a priest. I expounded a bit on that. He left it at that. I don’t think some priests appreciate Who and what they represent. It seemed like an eye-opener to him.

    What a loss to those priests who don’t realize the depth and width of who they are and Who and what they represent, I fear some of them look upon themselves as glorified social workers and forgotten or never realized that they are Alter Christus, here to lead us to heaven and eternal salvation. The poor we will always have with us and we must be generous for the sake of Christ but the salvation of souls is something those “called by name” that only they can do.

    May God Bless all priests and lead them to the manger this Holy Christmas, to let them see the Glory of God in the souls of those they have led to our Good God.

  34. Patti Day says:

    I notice a real difference in the way children treat priests today.They are over familiar, talk among themselves while the priest is speaking to another child in the group, say smartalek things, roll their eyes. I have my small class of third and fourth graders stand and say good morning when father enters the room, but I am uncomfortable at how they feel they can ask him personal questions. Have their parents never explained these are men who should be treated with reverence.

  35. Bthompson says:

    I don’t make much of a stink about it. I always introduce myself as Father FullName or Fr LastName, but I am in a parish that seems to insist on Fr FirstName, so I bear it since I’m not the pastor. Oddly, though, our people bow to me when I pass in procession and other sorts of traditional signs of honor.

  36. Michelle F says:

    I was delighted a couple of weeks ago when Pope Benedict made it known that he wants to be called “Father Benedict,” and I think his desire underscores two very important aspects of the priesthood which some of the other readers have already touched upon.

    First, a priest is given to us by God to be our spiritual father. There really is no title or calling higher than that of “father” because it comes from God Himself, “…of Whom all paternity in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14). It is why the Lord said “And call none your father upon earth; for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (St. Matt. 23:9). “Father” is a divine title. The men to whom God gives this title should rejoice in the privilege, and we should rejoice with them.

    Second, men and women who join religious orders traditionally give up their last name because, being the surname of their human father, it is a tie to the things of the world. They take a new name to reflect their new life and relationship to Christ. Men who are elected to the Chair of St. Peter do the same thing. They have no last name, and they have a new first name to reflect their new, very unique life and relationship to Christ.

    Every man who is ordained to serve as a priest, bishop, or pope has duties and privileges that are particular to his level of ordination, but they have one office in common: Father.

    I hope that all of our priests and bishops – and my fellow laymen – take some time to reflect on Pope Benedict’s desire to be called Father Benedict, and they see what a glorious title it is that they have been given. Fathers who are the heads of natural families should also think about the fatherhood that God has given them, and what a wonderful gift it is! After all, God didn’t restrict the title of “mother,” but He did restrict the title of “father.”

    (And thank you to all of our priests for answering the call to spiritual fatherhood!)

  37. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    “And let’s bring back hats, gentlemen.” Hurrah!

    JARay writes, “I have always had the feeling that wearing a hat makes a man bald” – I doubt that that is true (at least, decades of lots of hat-wearing haven’t depilated me, as far as I can tell), and as he further points out, they are often simply practical – not only is so very serious a case as his example, but in terms of general efficiency – helping keep the warmth from streaming away in colder weather, and the sun out of your eyes in any season, for example.

    It is curious that hats are (very sensibly!) a matter of enjoyment in some ‘sub-cultures’, while having largely been abandoned in ‘general culture’, however that may be changing in various ways.

    How good or bad a thing is it, that men’s hats, where enjoyed, have often become detached from what is traditionally ‘suitable’? – the real Sherlock Holmes would never have worn a deerstalker in town (which some retellings nicely play with)… (Personally, I like to play with style as well as wear hats practically, but also aspire to correctness where solemnity calls for it: there is something odd about both the proliferation and the mucking about with the pileus quadratus or ‘mortarboard’ in contemporary culture…)

  38. Gratias says:

    The cassock of a Monsignior or a Bishop are insignias of their dignity. Remember that the church is a hyerarchical and monarchical in structure.

    At TLM in Southern California we kneel when the crucifix processes by and bow deeply for the priest a short time later. Another option is to kneel when the crucifix passes by and stay kneeling until the priest as alter Christus passes by. At our OF mass we now bow when the crucifix and priest process in or out, but are the only ones in the congregqqation.

    I have been able to kiss pope Benedict XVI’s ring twice. He was very relaxed about it and realized it is of great significanceqqqfor Catholics. Pope Francisco is tearing down the protocol that was established through to millennia. This is not cool.

  39. lampada says:

    @ Gratias: Why would you kneel when the crucifix processes by or bow deeply to a priest? That has never been customary as far as I know in any nation or culture. We kneel when Christ in the Blessed Sacrament processes by and we bow/curtsey to kiss the ring of a prelate… but a deep bow to a simple priest?

  40. I am a stickler for Fr Surname (diocesan) and Fr Religious Firstname/s (religious).

    If any matey diocesan pastor starts pumping my hand after Mass and saying Call Me Steve, I make a point of finding out his last name and calling him Fr Surname. Repeatedly, if necessary.

    But mostly priests don’t seem to make an issue of it. I can have a very forbidding aspect of eye at times, which helps.

  41. PS. Each year at Christmas and Easter, our PP (of flamboyant Irish/Italian extraction) likes to be kissed on the cheek.

    He does the rounds of all the females in the congregation after Mass who are of suitable age. He is the first PP I have ever met who does this, but the parish seems happy with it …!

  42. q7swallows says:


    I think I know what you’re driving at. We don’t usually see anything like it in the OF.

    But we do it there!

    Our family does a profound bow (from the waist, head parallel with the floor) toward any Catholic priest(s) in liturgical procession anywhere — EF, OF, or Byzantine. Genuflections are for Our Lord. We have also ‘imported’ all the normative postures of our beloved EF into the OF regardless of the prevailing local customs–including veils and modest dress; and kneeling at the mention of the Incarnation in the Creed, for the Agnus Dei, for Holy Communion, for the final blessing, and for any blessing anywhere, really. We stand if and when a priest approaches in any social setting; in fact, the children are usually so quick to notice that they are nudging me! And, I will kiss the hand of any priest who extends his hand in greeting to me. Because Christ Himself anointed it for the highest of purposes. And it is His.

    Yes, in the OF (esp.) we stick out like sore thumbs. Yes, we all feel quite a bit of pressure (especially the kids). It’s what I call incarnate reverence. We’re not trying to be different or stand out but we do see things differently now as a result of our journey through the Ruthenian Church and the EF. I spent my whole youth (all 40 years of it) in the OF and I would never have even considered bowing towards a priest in those years. Our time in the Ruthenian Church introduced us to the idea. But it was the EF and a heavy dedicated investment in Pope Benedict XVI’s Year for Priests in 2009 that gave me the courage and the reasons to keep it up on the Roman side of life. Simply put: “dignum et justum est.” It is fitting and just.

    Long story short, our own beloved daily EF has recently become unavailable to us. And my family feels its terrible loss very, very sorely. So, except for 1 daily Mass a week, all we have now is the OF. But certain postures are absolutely appropriate at certain times no matter the form. One does not stint the King of Kings or His representatives in one’s personal fealty and respect no matter what degree of reverence or irreverence surrounds.

    I think that it all boils down to one’s apprehension and acknowledgement of the Lord’s Real Presence. If we could only see what is happening invisibly before us in Church and during Mass, we would not be satisfied with just bows and genuflections; we’d be on our faces in the dirt. But at least we can do that in the oratory of our hearts.

    Lex orandi lex credendi.

    Viva, viva, viva God’s inestimable gift of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass! And His holy priesthood all over the world! Our first intention for almost every family rosary is for priests–by name and in general. You all are that important to us! Merry Christmas one and all!

  43. JMGriffing says:

    To carry on with what was said before, the East does have a familiar term for hierarchs. If one is close enough to one’s bishop that you might otherwise call him by his first name if he weren’t a bishop, he becomes Vladyka/Despota/Sayidna/(insert language appropriate term here).

    Of course, what do they all mean? ‘Master’

  44. DavidR says:

    Henry Edwards:

    “Traditionally minded Catholics frequently are seen bowing to the priest-celebrant as he passes their pew in the recessional following an EF Mass. Has anyone seen that recently at an OF Mass?”

    Yes, I do so. We’re an NO parish in NC, and I’m the only one who bows, as far as I can tell. But we sit in the front row, so I don’t know/care what anyone else does. I bow to the crucifix, book of the Gospels, and priest in the processional/recessional. I’m a convert since 1997 and don’t know if that’s “proper’ but it’s something I feel I should do.

    No one has made a comment on it.

  45. The Masked Chicken says:

    Bring back hats! Men and women can wear them. Chickens don’t need them and would make us look goofy(ier). On the other hand, a good racing cap should be worn by sax players. Trumpet players should wear tam o’shanter caps. Trombonists should wear slouch hats (doubles as a mute). French horn players should wear aviation caps.

    No need for biretta envy.

    Oh, for those who have heard the lie, that you need to keep your head covered in winter because you lose 10% of your body heat through your head (a problem we chickens never have), let me set the record straight: you lose 10% of your body heat through ANY exposed portion of skin, not just the head. So, wearing a hat, but no gloves does, essentially, nothing…Second Law of Thermodynamics and all of that.

    Here’s a teaser: does anyone know the official name of the Santa hat?

    The Chicken

  46. lampada: “Why would you kneel when the crucifix processes by or bow deeply to a priest? That has never been customary as far as I know . . .”

    Bowing to a priest at Mass–which has long been customary in the TLM communities I’m familiar with–is appropriate at Holy Mass where he functions in persona Christi, so one is thereby bowing to Christ Himself. Otherwise, one does not bow to a priest outside of Mass in ordinary circumstances.

  47. Lyons says:

    This should be required reading for young men…

    “There are two general types of men’s clothing.

    First, there are clothes for public consumption: clothing in which to present yourself to others and thereby convey an elevated message about yourself. These are types of clothes you wear to work, to the store, out on the town, at a wedding, at church, at parties, or wherever people are going to see you. The primary objective here is that you look presentable, that you are civilized, a gentleman and not a beast.

    The other type of clothing is that which serves a pure functional purpose: that is, that which you wear for yard work, fixing your car, an evening at home, a Saturday washing the house or cleaning, or just knocking around the park with kids. Everyone knows what type of clothes these are. They can all be bought at Wal-Mart or thrift stores, and they are made of cotton.

    The great dressing error of our time is to confuse the two.”

  48. OK_doc says:

    My husband’s uncle was a priest, ordained in 1942. He always addressed me as “Dr.”, as in: I answer the phone, he says “Hello Dr. (last name), this is Fr. (last name), I say, “Hello Fr. (last name). ” and we chat for several minutes. End the phone conversation the same way. Only after he met me in person would he call me by my first name. After that, I was allowed to call him “Fr. (first name).
    I miss him.

  49. TWF says:

    As others have noted, it is proper to use “Father (first name) for consecrated religious. These men have taken a new name upon their profession and their family name is no longer of any religious importance. Some of the Franciscan tradition, as per St Francis’ teaching, will insist on Brother So and So even if ordained a priest. Father hasn’t always been the universal address for priests.

    In the East, it is always “Father First Name”, as the importance of the baptismal name is emphasized. But the utmost reverence is always shown to clergy. I recently attended an Orthodox liturgy (with Orthodox relatives) where, after holy communion, everyone processed up to first kiss the cross icon in Father’s hand and then kiss Father’s hand…one by one (there is no sense of “liturgy must be over in one hour or else” in the East).

  50. PhilipNeri says:

    During my studium years, we friars lived in a building with a large elderly Jesuit community. One time I got into the elevator with several OP’s in habit and headed down for prayer. An elderly SJ dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian clerical shirt got in with us. He noted our habits. Stuck out his hand and announced, “I’m Bob!” I responded, shaking his hand, “Hello, Father. I’m Brother Philip Neri.” He smiled and responded, “Hiya, Phil!” I cringed. Addressing someone by first name (and a diminutive!) at an introduction is beyond rude for this Southerner. My mama would’ve popped me in the mouth if I had done that.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  51. Fr. D. says:

    This is an interesting post. When I was ordained a diocesan priest we were nearly always called Fr. “last name”. When I am in the presence of my elderly mother and she introduces me to someone, she always says: “And this is my son Fr. D….” and does so with a smile and much pride. That is always a thrill for me. The other issue with Fr. “first name” is that a diocese may have several Fr. Steves, Fr. Pauls, etc. and we often do not know which one is being referred to in a conversation. Also, I agree heartily with nicknames. Please call me by my last name and not Dickie, or Rick, or Bobby, UGH!

  52. Elizabeth D says:

    Here in Madison, for a few years St Paul’s parish on the university campus had two Fr Erics, as pastor and associate pastor. In that situation everyone gets used to using the last name no matter their tendency otherwise. Bishop Morlino liked to refer to them as “Fr Eric the Greater” and “Fr Eric the Lesser.” This will be helpful if they both become canonized saints.

  53. OrthodoxChick says:

    In the parish that I was raised in as a child (N.O.), everyone used to genuflect when the priest passed their pew during both the procession and recession. I still genuflect to this day, except nowadays, I’m the only one doing it and no one else seems to know or care. I’m not even sure if our pastor knows why I do it. He’s been ordained for about 15 years, so it went out of fashion long before his time. I asked our former parochial vicar once why no one genuflects for the priest anymore and he said it was because no one respects priests anymore. It’s so horrible to realize that genuflecting for a priest is actually genuflecting for Christ – and then realize how few people know or care to do so. Imagine how neglected and unloved that must make Our Dear Lord feel.

  54. q7swallows says:

    Fr. Z,
    PS ~ you are among those mentioned by name in our family rosary’s daily intentions. Merry Christmas!

  55. Nicholas says:

    Dear Chicken,

    Why must I, a sax player, wear a racing cap. I have found my grandfather’s (may he rest in peace) straw hat to be very jazzy indeed.


    aka Saxman Shaler

  56. JacobWall says:

    I think cultural considerations could be made. In a given culture, what form of address indicates respect for a person’s *role*? In our society, Mr. + Last Name is very clear. People have abandoned this not because they have changed the way of addressing respectfully, but simply because they have abandoned the practice of respecting any role whatsoever. So, Fr. + Last Name should be the norm to reflect that this is the form our society will recognize as respectful.

    In other cultures, though, this is different. In Mexico, Senor and Don are followed by the person’s *first name* not last name. So are Maestro and others. That culture likes titles much more than ours, and even professions such as accountants are used an actual title. It is most common that, when addressing a person, a simple title is used for anyone in a role of respect. For example, when you address a teacher, whether he is your teacher or not, you call him “Maestro.” When a name is included (usually only for the sake of distinguishing one teacher, for example, from another) first names are always used. So, addressing priests follows the same rules of respect. When you address a priest, he is “Padre” (without a name) and the formal is always used. When you talk about a priest he is “el Padre” without any name. When a name is needed to distinguish which priest you are talking about (or to) it is a first name. But since this follows the other forms of addressing people in positions of respect, I don’t think there’s anything disrespectful about it – there. Of course, there is no reason we should copy their habit here, especially since here it conveys disrespect rather than respect.

  57. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Why must I, a sax player, wear a racing cap. I have found my grandfather’s (may he rest in peace) straw hat to be very jazzy indeed.”

    Well, sax players tend to be a bit subversive, so why not straw (although, I, as a chicken, would look too much like Minnie Pearl)? Still, Charlie Parker in a straw hat?? Oh, wait, you mean the boater or panama type straw hat that doesn’t have the brim, right? The cowgirl/sombrero straw hat…that, I’m having a hard time picturing on a sax player who isn’t playing Yakety Sax.

    The Chicken

  58. Giuseppe says:

    How about calling a priest “Reverend”? I know it is used in writing, but what about in speech?

  59. donadrian says:

    ‘Father’ as a title was until the middle of the 19th century restricted to regulars, and the secular clergy were called ‘Mr’ – as is still the case in France. It is a great pity that this distinction has been lost. The rather charming habit in mediaeval England was to call the priest ‘Sir’, as in Sir Christopher Trychay, the delightful parish priest in Eamon Duffy’s wonderful ‘Voices of Morebath’ (ISBN: 9780300098259). You cannot of course use Sir (or for that matter the Spanish ‘don’) with just a surname.
    I have no difficulty in calling a priest ‘Father Tom’ instead of ‘Father Smith’ if that is the local custom. I do object, however, to ‘Fr’ being used for deacons.

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