ASK FATHER: What to say in Roman Canon when in Territorial Abbey?

From a reader…


What name is put in the Canon at ‘Antistite nostro N.’ when in the territory of a Territorial Abbey?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal 149 provides us with a somewhat clear answer for the Novus Ordo Missae:

“The diocesan Bishop or anyone equivalent to him in law must be mentioned by means of this formula: una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Episcopo (or Vicario, Prelato, Praefecto, Abbate) (together with your servant N., our Pope, and N., our Bishop [or Vicar, Prelate, Prefect, Abbot]).”

The Roman Canon uses the term “Antistite” (Antistes…”overseer”) rather than “Episcopo” (Episcopus… “bishop”).  I think it is appropriate, when using the Roman Canon, to refer to a territorial abbot, or another prelate equivalent to a bishop in a particular church, using the title “antistes“.

This would only occur for a territorial abbey, and not for an abbey lacking territorial jurisdiction.

Normally, and abbey has as its superior an abbot whose authority extends as far as the monastery’s limits and to the monks under his charge.   However, there are also some abbot who exercise jurisdiction over a larger territory around the abbey.   There rare ecclesial critters were called an abbot nullius diœceseos, “belonging to no diocese”, or for short “abbot nullius“.  They were sort of like a bishop.  As a matter of fact, in more recent times some abbots would be consecrated bishop and made also ordinary of the diocese.  One of the founding bishops of the seminary I was in in Rome was one such, the Bishop Abbot of Subiaco, Stanislaus Andreotti, OSB (+2003).  He was very kind to me once, in a moment of attempted public humiliation.  But that’s one for the memoirs.

Sadly, the number of territorial abbeys has been reduced in recent years.

There are currently only ten territorial abbeys left: 5 in Italy (Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Montevergine, Grottaferrata, Santissima Trinità di Cava, and Subiaco), 2 in Switzerland (Einsiedeln and St. Maurice), Pannonhalma in Hungary, Wettingen-Mehrerau in Austria, and the sad case of Tokwon in North Korea (entirely evacuated, most of the monks martyred in the 1950’s).

The great Abbey of Montecassino lost its territory in 2014. Monserrate do Rio de Janeiro was suppressed in 2003. Claraval suppressed in 2002. Belmont Abbey in these USA was suppressed in 1977. The sad litany goes on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. dans0622 says:

    Father, perhaps it is matter for another post but why do you think it is sad that territorial abbeys are going out of existence?

  2. Moro says:

    At least in the ordinary form, priests of Opus Dei mention BOTH the prelate AND the local ordinary. I have no idea how this would work in the EF since Opus Dei was not a prelature before the changes, plus the canon is silent in the EF and I think it is rare that Opus Dei priests say the EF.

  3. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    I think the territorial abbacies are being suppressed because of the Conciliar ecclesiology which stresses the importance of the bishop and the diocese, combined with the decrease in vocations to many of these monasteries, who are no longer able to sustain the pastoral care over a number of parishes as well as keep the monastic life alive in their abbeys.

    [Welcome back to the combox FATHER Ferguson!]

  4. jbazchicago says:

    As a former monk, I can say that all abbeys ordinarily are “in a diocese” so that the name of the abbot may not be mentioned in the canon, only the name of the bishop.

    I believe Monte Cassino is still a territorial abbey, however their territory only extends to the grounds of the abbey itself. Therefore the abbot nullius may still assume the trappings and privileges of an “abbot ordinary”. I am told that there was a desire to suppress the abbey’s “nullius” status, but the concordat with Italy would have made it complicated with regard to the protections it receives.

    The retired abbot of Ampleforth, Dom Patrick Barry, blames the reduction of the status of abbots to a Jesuit plot at the Council.

    There is a legend that St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe PA was offered “abbey nullius” status but that the Irish bishops of Pittsburgh protested the German infestation of monks.

    St. Peter’s Territorial Abbey in Sasketchewan, Canada was suppressed in the 90’s…

  5. Giuseppe says:

    Yout first sentence is a gem with its use of the adverb ‘ordinarily’.

  6. ray from mn says:

    It is scary to me the number of “Mass Auditors” there are in the Church who spend their time monitoring the rubrics and words of the celebrant as he says Mass or performs a sacrament. And then worry about it enough to email you if Father faces the “wrong” way or forgets a word or sign. They should be there for adoration and personal participation. None of us are perfect.

  7. Stephen Matthew says:

    There are also many historic cases where a a monastic community doubled as the cathedral chapter and therefore elected one and the same person to be both bishop and abbot. Just about any of the great English churches with the name “-minster” seem to have once been such. Which reminds me that it seems anomalous, in view of history, that chapters of canons and collegiate churches are nearly entirely unknown in North America.

  8. Imrahil says:

    Dear ray from mn,

    people are free to spend their leisure-time with whichever thoughts they like (unless the thoughts themselves be sinful), including the really interesting questions about how does, or should, liturgy work. Just because it has to do with religion doesn’t mean we must not even think about it unless in the perfectest state of devotion.

    And that is merely taking into account enjoyment (and there is enjoyment in, to quote Tolkien, laying down and hearing things we already know, set about fair and square without contradictions). There is then that other point which might, just might, be said to go a bit beyond enjoyment… that liturgy is important enough to take care about doing it rightly.

  9. jbazchicago says:

    Thanks for “getting it”. I take a cue from the old TV series, MST3k. Joel Hodges said, “we don’t worry about who will get our jokes, we know the right ones will!”

    ray from mn: It may not be your bailywick, which is fine, but we don’t berate you for it. However, this is not triviality since as Catholics we believe words, gestures, and symbols have meaning and express or relay an inward reality. And yes, people like us get tedious and we annoy each other at times because we all have our “pet projects”, but the fact is, they’re all valid and as long as they come from a well-meaning and not “bitchy” place, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s simply part of being Catholic, we are a faith AND a culture.

    Stephen Matthew: I suspect you might know this, but in case you don’t: The English Benedictine Congregation (which also has 3 houses in the US, one of which I was a monk in Simple Vows a long time ago), has titles granted by the Holy See such as “titular abbots” and “titular priors”. These are honorific titles given to monks of the EBC by the abbot president and his council. It was thought at the time that Protestantism would be a passing thing in the very Catholic country of England. And, as your rightly stated, since monasteries were primarily the basis of life in the Church in England, when the cathedrals went to the infidels, in order to perpetuate at least the structure, the Holy See depended on the monks to re-establish Catholicism in the traditional territories.

    I was a monk of St. Louis Abbey, and our founding prior, Dom Columba Carey Elwes remained a monk of Ampleforth. But he was made titular abbot of Westminster Abbey in his dotage since our community never became an abbey until 1979. Oddly, when a monk is made a titular abbot or prior, most Anglican cathedrals invite the monk and seat him in the abbot’s choir stall.

  10. Stephen Matthew says:


    Much of that was news to me, though I had heard part of it long enough ago it was more than slightly fuzzy in my memory. I suppose it is logical that if there can be titular bishops of extinct sees there could be titular abbots of suppressed abbeys. It is both odd and fascinating that the CoE would invite the titular abbots/priors to take a seat of honor. Thank you for sharing that.

    I tend to be more familiar with the Swiss-American branch of the Benedictine family, so less well versed in English Benedictine lore. The only thing I can recall about the St. Louis Abbey off the top of my head is that it has a very peculiar architecture for its chapel and runs a well regarded school. Perhaps I read too much into architecture, but it often makes a lasting impression.

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