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Why are Catholic priests called “Reverend”?

REVERENDS

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston | Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Philip Kosloski - published on 08/17/19

In English the official title of a priest remains "Reverend" and has been so for hundreds of years.

While most commonly Catholic priests are called “father,” their official title in the English language is “Reverend.” This also extends to deacons and even some women’s religious orders (such as the term “Reverend Mother”).

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the 15th century it was used as a general term of respectful address, but it has been habitually used as a title prefixed to the names of ordained clergymen since the 17th century.”

The word can be traced to the Latin reverendus, which essentially means “to be respected.” In this way the word “Reverend” is simply a word that honors an individual who is to be respected. In the Catholic Church there are even various “levels” of “Reverend,” denoting the different levels of the Catholic hierarchy.

For example, while a parish priest is called “Reverend,” a local dean, or leader of a particular region in a diocese, is called “Very Reverend,” and bishops are called Most Reverend.”

Also, because it is not a title referring to a person’s ordination, it can be used in other contexts, such as in women’s religious orders. A “Reverend Mother” is simply a title that shows respect to the leader of a community of nuns.

Many Protestant Christian denominations use the term for their religious leaders, again reinforcing the reality that it is not tied to Holy Orders, but only used as a term of respect.


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