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Monsignor (English pronunciation: /mɒnˈsiːnjə/) is an honorific form of address for those members of the clergy of the Catholic Church including bishops, honorary prelates and canons. In some cases, these ecclesiastical honorific titles derive from the pope, but in other cases it is simply a customary or honorary style belonging to a prelate or honorary prelate. These are granted to individuals who have rendered valuable service to the Church, or who provide some special function in Church governance, or who are members of bodies such as certain chapters. The title is never bestowed on those classified as religious in Catholicism. Although in some languages the word is used as a form of address for bishops, which is indeed its primary use in those languages, this is 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, or Mons.
"Monsignor" is a form of address, not an appointment: properly speaking, one cannot be "made a monsignor" or 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: those of Protonotary Apostolic, Honorary Prelate, and Chaplain of His Holiness.
Apart from those working in the Roman Curia and the diplomatic service of the Holy See, it is usually on the proposal of the local bishop that the Pope grants this title to Catholic diocesan clergy. The grant is subject to criteria of the Holy See that include a minimum age.
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 any class but that of Chaplain of His Holiness, the lowest of the three classes, and that candidates presented must be at least 65 years old. He himself, during his 15 years as archbishop of Buenos Aires, never asked that any of his priests receive the title, and he was understood to associate it with clerical "careerism". Grants already made were not revoked.
Appointments to all three classes of awards continue to be granted to officials of the Roman Curia and the diplomatic service of the Holy See, and there was no revocation of privileges granted to certain bodies such as chapters of canons whereby all their members or some of them have the rank of Protonotary Apostolic, Honorary Prelate or Chaplain of His Holiness.
Also unaffected is the association of the style with the office of vicar general, an appointment made by the bishop of the diocese, not by the Pope. Without necessarily being a protonotary apostolic, a diocesan priest has that titular rank as long as he remains in office.
Title and forms of address
Although in some languages, "Monsignore", "Monseigneur", "Monsenyor", "Monseñor", and the like are normal forms of address for all higher prelates of the Catholic Church below the rank of cardinal or patriarch, including bishops and archbishops, in English bishops are not usually addressed as "Monsignor", a title reserved in English for diocesan priests who have received certain specific honorary awards or who hold certain offices.
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, Catalan, and Spanish, but not 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. The (in meaning identical) predicate "His Lordship" or "Your Lordship" is, in English, used as a clerical title only for bishops.
Classes of monsignori
Until 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.
In 2014, Pope Francis abolished the practice of granting priests the title of "monsignor," no longer accepting such requests from bishops. However, existing members of all three ranks established by Pope Paul VI retain their membership. Higher ranks are still attained by virtue of membership of certain chapters of canons or because of being a vicar general, and new appointments continue to be made for officials of the Roman Curia and the diplomatic service of the Holy See.
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 (fascia), 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". However, Pontificalis domus of Paul VI removed this position (titular protonotaries) from the Papal 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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