Diocesan News

Ask the Register: priest or monsignor?

Q. What is the difference between a priest and a monsignor?

A. The title Monsignor is derived from the Italian words meaning “my Lord.” It is most commonly an honorific title given to those who hold the office of Protonotary Apostolic, Prelate of Honor to His Holiness, or Chaplains to His Holiness.

This title is often given to priests who have shown exceptional service to the Church. The title is granted to a priest by the Holy Father, but it is often granted at the request of the diocesan bishop, or to priests who work in the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia and diplomatic staff of the Holy See.

However, there is a broader use of the term Monsignor as well. While it is not a common practice in the United States, but especially in European countries, it is common to refer to a bishop as “Monsignor,” or a group of bishops as “Monsignori.” If the title Monsignor refers to a bishop, then there is a difference in Holy Orders between a bishop and a priest. If the title refers to a Monsignor who is not a bishop but a priest, he has the same priestly authority as any other priest, and it does not affect his duties. 

As previously mentioned, there are three grades of papal honors that bear the title “Monsignor” in the Church. The highest rank is Protonotary Apostolic, followed by Prelate of Honor to His Holiness, then Chaplain to His Holiness. Priests who are monsignors of a lower rank may be elevated to a higher rank by appointment of the Holy Father, usually after a period of 10 years.

Formerly known as “Domestic Prelate,” a Prelate of Honor to His Holiness is the second of the three grades of papal honors that bear the title, “Monsignor.” In the sacred liturgy, a Prelate of Honor to His Holiness wears a fuchsia cassock with red buttons, piping and cuffs, and a fuchsia sash. Outside of the liturgy, Prelates of Honor to His Holiness may also wear a black cassock, but with red buttons, red piping and a fuchsia sash. Within and outside of the liturgy, a chaplain to His Holiness may wear black cassock with red buttons, red piping and a fuchsia sash.

Pope Francis announced in 2014 that during his pontificate, diocesan priests throughout the world would not be eligible to receive the title Monsignor until he reaches the age of 65.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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