“Monsignor, Excellency, His Greatness or Brother, how to call the bishops? “

The question of the titles to be granted to the ministers of the Catholic Church troubles a certain number of lay faithful (and perhaps also some priests or deacons, even bishops). How, in XXIe century, dare to call a man “Monsignor” or “Excellence”? As for the “Father”, reinforced in “My Father”, is he not fraught with ambiguities? We can succinctly take stock as a historian for the most recent period. With regard to bishops, the “Monsieur” (a term in itself honorary) was used until the 17th century.e century, when the bishops began to call each other and to call themselves “Monsignor”; but the “Monsieur” had remained de rigueur in the correspondence of agents of the concordance State throughout the 19th century.e century – note that French distinguishes more than does the Italian “Monsignore”, closer to the usual “Signore”.

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It is in the XVIIIe century that was added the “His Greatness”, generalized in the XIXe, before being replaced by “His Excellency”, a title initially reserved for certain prelates (nuncios…) and which Pope Pius XI granted to all bishops in 1930. The “Eminence” of the cardinals seems to date back to the XVIIe century. But it had been a long time since the clerics of the first order saw themselves recognized a privileged social status, and therefore, no doubt, what in fact accompanied it with honorary designations.

And the priest?

As for diocesan priests, the “Monsieur”, followed by the family name, has long been of
rule ; it remained in use among the Lazarists and the Sulpicians (congregations founded in
XVIIe century), as well as, at least until recently, in regions such as
Brittany. Only the priests whom the king had appointed abbots of the monastery (whom they
were in fact content to receive the income) called themselves “Monsieur l’Abbé”, followed by
name of their abbey. It is in the middle of the XVIIe century that the name “Monsieur l’Abbé”,
followed by the name of the person, became generalized: designation which remained typically French –
“Abbot” having something to do with “father”.

→ READ ALSO. Don’t call us “my father” anymore!

Note that the qualifier “Reverend”, followed by the name of the person, was long customary. “Gift”, in use here and there, comes, like the old “Dom” of the Benedictines, from “Dominus”, “Lord”. As for the “Father” (or “My Father”), it was the proper title of the religious, or priests to whom one addressed himself during the sacrament of penance or in spiritual direction. The Pope has long been the “Holy Father” (but “Pope” comes from “Father”). We have been able to call “The Father” par excellence the founders of communities whose behavior subsequently turned out to be seriously perverse; but it is also, such historical record testifies, the title spontaneously given by those who knew him to a diocesan priest of the XIXe century, founder of an orphanage and still with a reputation for holiness.

“Monsieur l’Abbé”, old game

This is the XXe century which saw an inflation of the paternal vocabulary, this one coming to qualify as well the diocesan priests as the “Father bishops”. “Monsieur l’Abbé” is old-fashioned (and as such is claimed by the traditionalist movements). And we are no longer giving the priests their titles: “Monsieur le Curé, Chaplain, le Vicar…”. We are “Father Adrien…”: the person, in the clergy as elsewhere, counts more than the function, under the auspices of paternity; individualization which does not only have advantages. How to navigate? We can evoke the evangelical prohibition (“Do not call anybody“ Father ””) and see in it at least a warning. We can also remember the scathing formula of the Dominican Serge Bonnet, in 1973: “It is less alienating to call such or such” Excellence “or” Monsignor ” [on ajoutera : “Monsieur”] than “Father”. “

→ READ ALSO. Sauvé report: idealization of the priest increases the risk of abuse

Finally, we can prefer to put things into perspective: when a trader or a TGV controller gives a clerk whose quality he has recognized well accentuated “Mon Père”, it is likely that he does not invest much in it. emotional. As for a Saint Francis de Sales, writing to a confrere bishop in 1609, he said of the “Monsignor”: “I thus call all the bishops to whom I write in a spirit of freedom, and make them equal as regards this external honor. , leaving to my interior to give various measures of respect, under the same word, according to the diversity of my duties. There are therefore the lips, and the heart … Pascal distinguished between natural sizes and sizes of establishment, which, let us repeat it in these times of questioning, can not be incompatible.

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Uncertainty about titles, which says an identity crisis. To risk a proposition is not easy, since a choice is difficult. “Reverend” had its charm, and is still taught in English or Italian. Consider that we can start by avoiding adding more (the “His Excellency” seem to flourish again on the ordination announcements). And if the titles we have just mentioned seem too “secular” or involve a risk of alienation, there will always be the name of “brother”, which, in short, has something evangelical in her mind.


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