Monsignor, pl. monsignori, is a form of address for those members of the clergy of the Catholic Church who receive from the pope certain ecclesiastical honorific titles granted to those who have rendered valuable service to the Church or who provide some special function in church governance. Although in some other languages the same word is used as a form of address also and indeed primarily for bishops, this is generally not customary in English. Monsignor is the apocopic form of the Italian monsignore, from the French mon seigneur, meaning "my lord". It is abbreviated Mgr, Msgr,[a] or Mons.[b]
"Monsignor", being a form of address, is not itself an appointment. Properly speaking, one cannot be "made a monsignor" nor can one be "the monsignor of a parish". The title or form of address is associated with certain papal awards which Pope Paul VI reduced to three classes: appointments as Protonotary Apostolic, Honorary Prelate, and Chaplain of His Holiness.
It is usually on the proposal of the local bishop that the Pope grants to Catholic diocesan clergy this title (which is never bestowed on religious). The grant is subject to the criteria of the Holy See, including a minimum age. Pope Francis, who in the 15 years he was archbishop of Buenos Aires never proposed any of his priests for the title, raised the minimum age to 65 years.
Soon after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis suspended the granting of the honorific title of Monsignor except to members of the Holy See's diplomatic service. In December of the same year he communicated his definitive decision to accept no further requests from bishops for appointments to the first two of these classes, but only to that of Chaplain of His Holiness. Grants already made remained in force, whether to individuals or to bodies such as chapters, and no change was made regarding grants to lay people of papal knighthoods or the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and Benemerenti medals. Since the title of Monsignor is not granted to religious clergy, they too were not affected.
The style is also associated with the holding by a diocesan priest of the office of vicar general, appointment to which is by the bishop of the diocese, not by the Pope. In the reform by Pope Francis in 2013, the title of Monsignor continues to be attached to this position and to the holders of various other major offices, particularly in the Roman Curia. Many chapters of canons have been given privileges whereby all their members or some of them have the rank of Protonotary Apostolic, Honorary Prelate or Chaplain of His Holiness.
Title and forms of address
In some countries, Monsignor (or its foreign language equivalent) is the usual style of address for all higher prelates of the Roman Church below the rank of cardinal or patriarch, including bishops and archbishops. In other countries, particularly English-speaking ones, it is not used for bishops, but only for priests who have received certain specific honorary awards or who hold certain offices.
The written form of address for a priest-monsignor is Monsignor (first name) (last name) or The Reverend Monsignor (first name) (last name). The spoken form of address is Monsignor (last name).
Before the simplification of ecclesiastical titles in 1969, those of the lowest class were addressed in English as The Very Reverend Monsignor (in Latin, Reverendissimus Dominus; in Italian, Reverendissimo Monsignore) and those belonging to the higher classes were addressed as The Right Reverend Monsignor (in Latin, Illustrissimus et Reverendissimus Dominus; in Italian, Illustrissimo e Reverendissimo Monsignore)
The 1969 Instruction of the Secretariat of State indicated that the title of "Monsignor" may be used for Bishops. This is normal practice in Italian, French and Spanish. It is unusual in English. The same instruction indicated that, in the case of Bishops, "Reverendissimus" (usually translated in this case as "Most Reverend", rather than "Very Reverend"), may be added to the word "Monsignor", as also in the case of prelates without episcopal rank who head offices of the Roman Curia, judges of the Rota, the Promotor General of Justice and the Defender of the Bond of the Apostolic Signatura, the Apostolic Protonotaries "de numero", and the four Clerics of the Camera.
Classes of monsignori
Before 1968, there were at least 14 different grades, including domestic prelates, four kinds of protonotaries apostolic, four kinds of papal chamberlains, and at least five types of papal chaplains.
Pope Paul VI in his motu proprio Pontificalis Domus of 28 March 1968 reduced the grades to three. Since then, apostolic protonotaries have been classified either de numero or supernumerary. Most of the former classes of chamberlains and chaplains were abolished, leaving only a single class of "Chaplains of His Holiness", a specifically priestly-sounding category.
The three ranks established by Pope Paul VI are, in descending order of precedence:
- Apostolic Protonotary, of which two types were retained:
- de numero (the higher and less common form, customarily only seven)
- supernumerary (the highest grade of monsignor found outside Rome)
- Honorary Prelate of His Holiness (formerly "Domestic Prelate")
- Chaplain of His Holiness (formerly "Supernumerary Privy Chamberlain")
Before 1968, the appointment of a Privy Chamberlain expired at the death of the Pope who granted it. This no longer holds. Those listed in the index of the Annuario Pontificio as Chaplains of His Holiness continue to be listed in the edition that follow the death of the Pope, as after the deaths of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I in 1978 and after that of Pope John Paul II in 2005.
While Pope Francis decided to make no further grants of classes higher than that of Chaplain of His Holiness in response to requests from bishops, he did not demote those who already held higher ranks. There thus remain the three classes established by Pope Paul VI in his motu proprio Pontificalis Domus of 28 March 1968.
The 1969 Instruction of the Secretariat of State also simplified the dress of monsignori.
- Chaplains of His Holiness use a purple-trimmed black cassock with purple sash for all occasions.
- Honorary Prelates use a red-trimmed black cassock with purple sash for all occasions. The red is the same shade as that used by bishops. They may use a purple cassock as their choir dress for liturgical events of special solemnity.
- Supernumerary Apostolic Protonotaries dress the same as Honorary Prelates. As an additional privilege, they have the option of also using a purple ferraiuolo, a silk cape worn with the red-trimmed black cassock for non-liturgical events of special solemnity (for instance, graduations and commencements).
- Apostolic Protonotaries de numero (and other superior prelates of the offices of the Roman curia who are not bishops and who, as indicated above, may be addressed as Most Reverend Monsignor) have the same dress as other Apostolic Protonotaries, but wear the mantelletta in choir and a black biretta with a red tuft. They are thus called prelati di mantelletta (prelates of the mantelletta) because of this distinctive item of dress.
Under legislation of Pope Pius X, vicars general and vicars capitular (the latter are now called diocesan administrators) are titular (not actual) Protonotaries durante munere, i.e. as long as they hold those offices, and so are entitled to be addressed as Monsignor.
The only privileges of dress that Pope Pius X granted them were a black silk fringed sash, black piping on the biretta with a black tuft, and a black mantelletta. As a result of this they were in some countries referred to as "black protonotaries."[page needed] However, "Pontificalis domus" of Paul VI removed this position from the Pontifical Household, even though the title of "monsignor", which is to be distinguished from a prelatial rank, has not been withdrawn from vicars general, as can be seen, for instance, from the placing of the abbreviated title "Mons." before the name of every member of the secular (diocesan) clergy listed as a vicar general in the Annuario Pontificio. (Honorary titles such as that of "Monsignor" are not considered appropriate for religious.)
Under Paul VI, the Secretariat of State set minimum qualifications of age and priesthood for the appointment of Chaplains of His Holiness (35 years of age and 10 of priesthood), Honorary Prelates (45 of age and 15 of priesthood) and Protonotaries Apostolic Supernumerary (55 of age and 20 of priesthood). However, it waived the minimum age limit for vicars general proposed for appointment as Honorary Prelates, in view of the fact that, as long as they hold the office of vicar general, they also held the still higher rank of Protonotary Apostolic Supernumerary. For the same reason, the Secretariat of State did not consider it appropriate that someone who was already a vicar general be appointed only a Chaplain of His Holiness. All these criteria have been superseded by the 2013 decision of Pope Francis to grant only the title of Chaplain of His Holiness and to require even for this a minimum age of 65 years.
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