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(Sc. Apostolorum )

The visit ad limina means, technically, the obligation incumbent on certain members of the hierarchy of visiting, at stated times, the "thresholds of the Apostles ", Sts. Peter and Paul, and of presenting themselves before the pope to give an account of the state of their dioceses. The object of the visit is not merely to make a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles, but, above all, to show the proper reverence for the Successor of St. Peter, to acknowledge practically his universal jurisdiction by giving an account of the condition of particular churches, to receive his admonitions and counsels, and thus bind more closely the members of the Church to its Divinely appointed head.


Although it was the custom of bishops from the most remote times to refer causes to the pope, and even to visit him personally when circumstances required it, yet we can find no trace in the earliest age of any obligation binding them to repair to Rome at stated times. The first vestiges of this duty are found in the ancient practice of celebrating twice a year provincial councils of the bishops of Italy who pertained to the province of the Roman Pontiff. In the fifth century, Pope Leo I insists on the custom of Sicily sending three bishops yearly to Rome to assist at a council. In the next century, Gregory I declared that although in his time the Sicilian bishops were obliged to visit Rome only once every three years, yet he extends the term to five years. A Roman council under Pope Zacharias (A.D. 743) decreed that bishops consecrated by the pope, who reside near Rome, should make the visit ad limina yearly in person, and those who are far away should fulfil the same obligation by letter (can. IV). A custom gradually arose which, at least from the eleventh century, obliged metropolitans when asking for the pallium, and, soon after, all bishops to visit the thresholds of the apostles at stated times, either personally or by a substitute. That this visit was of strict obligation can be gathered from the expressions of Paschal II (cap. iv, x, De elect., I, 6), and especially of Innocent III in many decretals, while in the Decretals of Gregory IX, a form of oath is given (cap, iv, x, De jurejurand., II, 24), in which bishops are obliged before their consecration to promise that they will visit Rome annually, either personally or by deputy, unless the pope dispenses them.


In 1585 Sixtus V issued the Constitution "Romanus Pontifex", which for over three hundred years formed the main rule and norm for visits ad limina . This document states in detail within what term of years, each bishop, from whatever part of the world, should visit Rome, and what heads of information he should consider in making his report to the pope. Benedict XIV (23 Nov. 1740) in the Constitution "Quod Sancta", extended the obligation to prelates nullius ruling over a separate territory. This pope also established a particular congregation super statu ecclesiarum to deal with the reports of Bishops when they made the prescribed visit.


The present discipline concerning visits ad limina is found in the Decree of the Consistorial Congregation, issued by order of Pius X (31 Dec., 1909) for all bishops not subject to the jurisdiction of the Propaganda. This decree states that every bishop must render to the pope an account of the state of his diocese once every five years. The quinquennial periods are to begin in 1911. In the first year of that term, the report is to be sent in by the bishops of Italy and of the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and Malta ; in the second year, by the bishops of Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Holland, England, Scotland, and Ireland ; in the third year, by the bishops of the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires and of the remainder of Europe ; in the fourth year, by the bishops of all America; in the fifth year, by the bishops of Africa, Asia, Australia, and the adjacent islands. In their first report, the bishops are directed to answer every question in a subjoined elenchus , but in subsequent relations they are merely to add anything new, if such there be, and state the result of the counsels and admonitions given by the Sacred Congregation in its reply to the report. Bishops, when they come to Rome in fulfilment of their obligation of ad limina , must visit the tombs of the apostles and present themselves before the pope. Ordinaries who reside outside of Europe are obliged to visit the Eternal City once every alternate five years, or only decennially. The bishop may satisfy this obligation, either personally or by his coadjutor or auxiliary bishop, or even, with permission of the Holy See , by a priest. Finally, the decree declares that this visit and diocesan report to the pope are not to take the place of the canonical visitation of the diocese, which must be made annually, or, in large dioceses, biennially.


To this decree of the Consistorial Congregation is added an elenchus containing the points of information to be supplied by the ordinaries in their relation to the Holy See. It may be briefly summarized as follows: The name, age, and fatherland of the ordinary; his religious order, if he belongs to one; when he began to rule his diocese ; and if a bishop, when he was consecrated. A general statement concerning the religious and moral condition of his diocese and whether religion progressed or lost ground in it since the last quinquennium. The origin of the diocese, its hierarchical grade and principal privileges, and if archiepiscopal, the number and names of the suffragan sees, but if immediately subject to the Holy See, what metropolitan synod its bishops must attend; the extent of the diocese, its civil government, its climate, its language; the place of residence of the ordinary, with all directions necessary for safe epistolary correspondence; the number of inhabitants and the principal cities; how many Catholics there are, and if different rites prevail, how many Catholics belong to each; if there are non- Catholics, into what sects they are divided; the diocesan curia; the vicar-general, the synodial judges and examiners, the ecclesiastical court and its officials, the archives, the various chancery taxes; the number of secular priests and clerics, their dress, their mode of life and how they attend to their duties ; whether there are any, and if so what, chapters of canons, and other aggregations of priests that form quasi-chapters; how many parishes there are and the number of faithful in the largest and smallest; into how many vicariates forane or rural deaneries parishes are grouped; how many non-parochial churches and public oratories there are; whether there is any celebrated sacred shrine and if so, what; concerning the administration of the sacraments, exhortations to frequent communion, special devotions, missions, sodalities, and social works; the diocesan seminary, its buildings, government, instruction in theology, philosophy, and liturgy, the admission and dismissal of seminarians; the inter-diocesan seminary, if there is one, and its condition ; what institutes of religious men there are, with the number of houses and of religious, both priests and lay-brothers; what special work these religious dedicate themselves to and their relations to the ordinary; what are the institutes of religious women in the diocese, with the number of houses and persons ; concerning the cloister of religious women, their work and the observance of canonical prescriptions ; the instruction and education of youth; and the editing and reading of books and periodicals.

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