AskDefine | Define monsignor

Dictionary Definition

Monsignor n : (Roman Catholic Church) an ecclesiastical title of honor bestowed on some priests

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An ecclesiastic title bestowed on some Roman Catholic clerics by the Pope

Extensive Definition

Monsignor, pl. monsignori, is the form of address for those members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church holding certain ecclesiastical honorific titles. Monsignor is the apocopic form of the Italian monsignore, from the French mon seigneur, meaning "my lord". In English, it is abbreviated Msgr. or Mons. In French, it is abbreviated Mgr (without the period/full stop).
As a form of address, "Monsignor" is not itself an appointment (properly speaking, one cannot be "made a monsignor" nor can one be "the monsignor of a parish"). Its use is connected with honorary titles. The three titles most often seen in connection with the style "monsignor" are Protonotary Apostolic, Prelate of Honor and Chaplain of His Holiness. These honors are bestowed upon a priest by the Pope, most often through the instrumentality of the local bishop.

Ceremonial and written use of the title

In some countries, Monsignor (or its foreign language equivalent) is the usual style of address for all higher prelates of the Catholic Church, including bishops and archbishops, while in others (particularly English-speaking countries) it is used only for priests who have received certain specific honors. The written form of address for a priest-monsignor is: "the Reverend Monsignor (last name)", and the spoken form of address is: "Monsignor (last name)".


Protonotaries apostolic

A protonotary apostolic is a member or honorary member of the Roman Curia. In ancient Rome there were seven regional notaries. With the development of the papal administration, these seven became the palace notaries of the papal chancery. In the Middle Ages the protonotaries were very high papal officials, often raised directly from this office to the cardinalate, but their importance gradually diminished.
Since the sixteenth century the popes had appointed honorary and titular protonotaries. On 8 February, 1838, Pope Gregory XVI re-established the college of real protonotaries with seven members called protonotarii de numero participantium or numerary protonotaries. They were known as participating protonotaries because they shared in the revenues of the Roman Chancery. Pope Pius X legislated four classes of protonotary in 1905, three of which were purely honorary designations. A protonotary apostolic was entitled to wear the vestments of a bishop ("pontificals") under certain circumstances.

Papal chamberlains

The title of Papal Chamberlain (Cameriere di spada e cappa) was one of the highest honours that could be bestowed on a Catholic layman by the Pope, and was often given to members of noble families. It was mostly an honorary position, but a chamberlain served the Pope for one week per year during official ceremonies. Alfred E. Smith and Franz von Papen were among the more famous modern chamberlains.


A number of changes in the office of Monsignor were introduced by Pope Paul VI's motu proprio Pontificalis Domus of 28 March 1968. Before these reforms, the monsignori or lesser prelates were divided into 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.
After these reforms, Apostolic Protonotaries were classified either de numere or supernumerary. Chamberlains and chaplains have been grouped together as chaplains, a specifically priestly-sounding category. Papal Chamberlains used to be appointed only for the lifetime of the Pope, so that the appointment had to be obtained anew from his successor. Whether this distinction remains for chaplains is disputed. As a result Monsignori are now classed into the following three ranks, in descending order of precedence:
  • Apostolic Protonotaries retained two types:
    • de numero (the highest and least common form, customarily only seven)
    • supernumerary (the highest grade of monsignor found outside Rome)
  • Honorary Prelates of His Holiness (formerly "Domestic Prelate")
  • Chaplains of His Holiness (formerly "Papal Chamberlain" or "Privy Chaplain" or "Secret Chaplain", a direct but misleading translation of the Latin that is better rendered "Private Chaplain")
One year later, an Instruction of the Secretariat of State simplified the dress and the forms of address. Papal Chamberlains were formerly called "Very Reverend Monsignor" and the higher ranks "Right Reverend Monsignor". In the reform this was simplified to prescribe for all the form "Reverend Monsignor", often reduced simply to "Monsignor". Only the Apostolic Protonotaries de numero were styled "Most Reverend Monsignor," the same style as when addressing bishops.
The dress of Monsignori was also simplified.
  • 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. In English-speaking countries, they sometimes add the letters, "P.H."
  • 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). In English-speaking countries, they sometimes add the letters, "P.A." (for Protonotarius Apostolicus) after their names.
  • Apostolic Protonotaries de numero (and other superior prelates of the offices of the Roman curia who are not bishops) have the same dress as other Apostolic Protonotaries, but wear the mantelletta in choir and a black biretta with a red tuft.
The numerary protonotaries continue the work of the College of Protonotaries and still perform certain duties with regard to papal documents. A number of other superior prelates of the Roman Curia are also treated equivalent to apostolic protonotaries de numero, if they are not also bishops. These include the auditors of the Sacred Roman Rota, the four clerics of the Apostolic Camera, and a few others. Together, this group of clergy are called the prelati di mantelletta or prelates of the mantelletta because of their distinctive attire.
Laymen holding a post equivalent to "Papal Chamberlain" today are styled "Gentlemen of His Holiness" and wear a golden chain or collar similar to that worn by the previous papal chamberlains.

Other Monsignori

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 held 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." However, "Pontificalis domus" of Paul VI removed this position from the Pontifical Household.
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.)
The Secretariat of State has 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 waives the minimum age limit for vicars general and judicial vicars proposed for appointment as Honorary Prelates, in view of the fact that, as long as they hold the office of vicar general or judicial vicar, they also hold the still higher rank of Protonotary Apostolic Supernumerary. For the same reason, the Secretariat of State does not consider it appropriate that someone who is already a vicar general or judicial vicar be appointed only a Chaplain of His Holiness.



  • Heraldry in the Catholic Church
  • The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church
  • Pope Paul VI. Pontificalis domus. March 28 1968. On the Papal Household, Reform of the Use of Pontifical Insignia, Simplification of Pontifical Rites and Insignia. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1968. Latin Italian
  • Pope Paul VI. Pontificalis insignia. June 21 1968. Latin Italian
monsignor in Czech: Monsignore
monsignor in German: Monsignore
monsignor in Spanish: Monseñor
monsignor in Croatian: Monsinjor
monsignor in Italian: Monsignore
monsignor in Norwegian: Monsignore
monsignor in Polish: Monsignore
monsignor in Portuguese: Monsenhor
monsignor in Romanian: Monsenior
monsignor in Russian: Монсеньор
monsignor in Slovak: Monsignore
monsignor in Slovenian: Monsignor
monsignor in Finnish: Monsignore
monsignor in Swedish: Monsignore
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