Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

( Dominus meus; monseigneur , My Lord).

As early as the fourteenth century it was the custom to address persons high in rank or power with the title Monseigneur or Monsignore. In the intercourse of seculars, either of equals or of superiors with inferiors, there was no fixed rule. Until the seventeenth century French nobles demanded from their subjects and dependents the title of Monseigneur. In international intercourse two titles gradually won general recognition, "Monsieur" as the title of the eldest brother of the King of France (if not heir presumptive) and "Monseigneur" for the Dauphin, or eldest son of the French king, who was also the crown prince, or for whatever male member of the family was recognized as heir presumptive to the throne. Actually all Bourbon pretenders assume this title as a matter of course, e.g. the late Don Carlos Duke of Madrid, his son Don Jaime, the Count of Caserta, the Duke of Orléans, etc. Moreover, the custom often obtains, especially in Spain, France, and Italy, of extending by courtesy the title Monseigneur to the adult members of the Bourbons and closely allied families usually addressed as "Your Royal Highness". In official usage, however, this would scarcely be permissable. At present the title is no longer borne by other persons of civil rank, and, so far as the author of this article is aware, no one else lays claim to it. Among ecclesiastics the title Monsignore implies simply a distinction bestowed by the highest ecclesiastical authority, either in conjunction with an office or merely titular. In any case it bears with it a certain prescribed dress. To counteract a widely spread misconception we may state here that the pope does not bestow the title Monsignore, but a distinction of some sort to which this title is attached. Accordingly it is quite incorrect to say that any one has been appointed a Monsignor by the pope. If we may be permitted to use a comparison, Monsignor in the spiritual order corresponds to the word officer in the military. The highest general and the youngest lieutenant are equally officers, and the most venerable patriarch bears the title Monsignor as well as the simplest honorary chaplain. Thus among prelates, both higher and lower, it is no badge of distinction except as it denotes in a very general way an elevation above the ranks of the clergy. Those only bear the title of Monsignor, who are familiares summi pontificis , those who, by virtue of some distinction bestowed upon them, belong as it were to the family and the retinue of the Holy Father. These familiares are entitled to be present in the cappella pontificia (when the pope celebrates solemn Mass), and to participate in all public celebrations purely religious or ecclesiastical in character, at which the pope, the cardinals, and the papal retinue assist. it is assumed that they will appear in the robes corresponding to their respective offices.

Up to 1630, when Urban VIII reserved the title Eminence ( Eminentissimus ) for the exclusive use of cardinals, the latter bore the title of Monsignor in common with the other prelates of high rank, and in France it is still customary to address a cardinal as Monseigneur. In all other languages this usage has completely disappeared, so that, practically speaking, cardinals are no longer counted among the Monsignori. All other prelates, from patriarchs down, who have received a papal distinction or are archbishops, bishops, or mitred abbots (among the secular clergy only), have a right to this title. The fact that it lapsed in usage in many countries, so far as these are concerned, does not affect the question. Instead of addressing patriarchs as "Vostra Beatitudine", archbishops as "Your Grace ", bishops as "My Lord", abbots as "Gracious Lord" one may without any breach of etiquette salute all equally as Monsignor. Following is a list of official and honorary prelates exclusive of those already mentioned:

  • the college of the seven official prothonotaries Apostolic de numero participantium (of the number of participants);
  • the supernumerary prothonotaries ( supra numerum ), including, (a) the prelate canons of the three patriarchal basilicas of Rome, (b) the prelate canons of certain cathedral churches, while in office;
  • prothonotaries Apostolic ad instar participantium (after the manner of participants), including, (a) prelate canons of certain cathedral churches, as above, (b) prothonotaries appointed ad personam (individually);
  • the College of Auditors of the prelates ;
  • the college of official clerics of the Apostolic Camera ;
  • all other prelates not members of any of the above named colleges, the numerous domestic prelates scattered throughout the world. All the above-mentioned prelates are entitled to wear the mantelletta and rochet ;
  • the private chamberlains constituting the official college of pontifical masters of ceremonies ;
  • the official private chamberlains known as participantes ;
  • the super-numerary private chamberlains ( camerieri segreti soprannumerari ), of whom there are several hundred in various parts of the Catholic world;
  • the honorary chamberlains in violet;
  • the honorary chamberlains extra urbem (outside the city), who are not received in their official capacity in the papal court when held at Rome ;
  • the official college chaplains ;
  • the honorary private chaplains ;
  • the honorary chaplains extra urbem (see 11);
  • the private clerics ; and
  • the official college of papal chaplains.

In the case of certain of the above-mentioned classes the honorary office (together with the corresponding title and distinctive dress) lapses at the death of the pope. This is particualarly true with regard to the supernumerary private and honorary Chamberlains. The reason for this is self-evident. It is possible to be prothonotary of the Holy Roman Church or cleric of the Apostolic Camera, etc.; but one cannot be chamberlain to the Holy Roman Church , but simply chamberlain to a particular pontiff, whose death dissolves the relation between the two. Unless the newly elected pontiff renews the appointment the former chamberlain returns permanently to the general ranks of the clergy. Nor is there inconsistency in the fact that certain lay chamberlains continue in the papal service immediately after a papal election. Their services are necessary to the new pontiff and he naturally recognizes such persons, which amounts practically to a tacit appointment. It is regrettable that occasionally persons thus distinguished by the pope either assume a dress arranged according to their own notions or, being dissatisfied with dress conceded, appropriate that of a higher office. The farther a country is from Rome, the more apt are such things to occur. It should be noted that members of religious orders may use the title "Monsignor" only if they are bishops or archbishops. All other ranks of the prelacy are of course closed to them, if we except the Master of the Sacred Palace, who being always a Dominican, is one of the prelates, but may not be addressed as Monsignor. The custom introduced in the sixteenth century of giving the generals of religious orders the title "Monsignor" was of short duration.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Woman diagnosed with 'nightmare bacteria' in US
  • WARNING: Exorcist claims demon is targeting families
  • Bl. Margaret Pole: Saint of the Day for Saturday, May 28, 2016
  • Your Daily Inspirational Meme: He will never leave you
  • Daily Reading for Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 HD Video
  • Advent Prayer HD Video
  • Daily Readings for Saturday, May 28, 2016

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jude 1:17, 20-25
17 But remember, my dear friends, what the apostles of our Lord Jesus ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6
2 Thus I have gazed on you in the sanctuary, seeing your power and your ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 11:27-33
27 They came to Jerusalem again, and as Jesus was walking in the Temple, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 28th, 2016 Image

Bl. Margaret Pole
May 28: Martyr of England. She was born Margaret ... Read More