Order of precedence in the Catholic Church

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Precedence signifies the right to enjoy a prerogative of honor before other persons; for example, to have the most distinguished place in a procession, a ceremony, or an assembly, to have the right to express an opinion, cast a vote, or append a signature before others, to perform the most honorable offices. [1]


The order of precedence in the Catholic Church is organized by rank within the hierarchy according first to order, then jurisdiction, and finally to titular or ad personam honors granted to individuals despite a lack of jurisdiction. Emeritus ecclesiastics are counted among the latter.

Order of precedence is a sequential hierarchy of nominal importance of persons. Most often it is used in the context of people by many organizations and governments, for very formal and state occasions, especially where diplomats are present. It can also be used in the context of decorations, medals and awards. Historically, the order of precedence had a more widespread use, especially in court and aristocratic life.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Holy orders in the Catholic Church Sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church

The sacrament of holy orders in the Catholic Church includes three orders: bishop, priest, and deacon. In the phrase "holy orders", the word "holy" simply means "set apart for some purpose." The word "order" designates an established civil body or corporation with a hierarchy, and ordination means legal incorporation into an order. In context, therefore, a group with a hierarchical structure that is set apart for ministry in the Church.

Precedence may also apply to feasts or actions, as for example in the order of precedence of liturgical days.

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, days throughout the liturgical year are given varying ranks. These ranks determine which Mass takes precedence when two liturgical days coincide on the same day, as well as when a feast falls on a Sunday or certain other, higher-ranking days. In addition, higher-ranking liturgical days are also privileged by certain liturgical elements: for instance, the Mass of a solemnity will include recitation or singing of the Gloria in Excelsis and the Credo, while that of a feast will have the Gloria but not the Credo, whereas a memorial will have neither.


At this time, a current table of precedence in its entirety is not published by the Holy See. However, the principles of precedence present in the Codes of Canon Law, and the customs of precedence longstanding, inform any formulation of an order of precedence. Some contemporary authors [2] have compiled reference texts complete with a table of precedence based on such principles, and these, though helpful, remain unofficial in nature.

Though the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia [3] offered a brief order of precedence based on these principles, it was updated and replaced by the New Catholic Encyclopedia in 1967, which was further updated with a Revised Edition in 2002. [4] The current Catholic Encyclopedia does not include an entry on "precedence". Since the publication of the first edition, in 1911, several changes have rendered its order of precedence substantially out of date, including the publication of three codes of canon law (1917, 1983, 1990), an ecumenical council (1962-65), and multiple apostolic constitutions that affect the topic.

<i>Catholic Encyclopedia</i> English-language encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church, also referred to as the Old Catholic Encyclopedia and the Original Catholic Encyclopedia, is an English-language encyclopedia published in the United States and designed to serve the Roman Catholic Church. The first volume appeared in March 1907 and the last three volumes appeared in 1912, followed by a master index volume in 1914 and later supplementary volumes. It was designed "to give its readers full and authoritative information on the entire cycle of Catholic interests, action and doctrine".

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (NCE) is a multi-volume reference work on Roman Catholic history and belief edited by the faculty of The Catholic University of America. It was intended by the faculty to become, like its predecessor the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia, a standard reference work for students, teachers, librarians, journalists, and general readers interested in the history, doctrine, practices, and people of the Catholic faith. However, unlike its predecessor, its first edition also contained more general articles on science, education, and the liberal arts. The NCE was originally published by McGraw-Hill in 1967. A second edition, which gave up the articles more reminiscent of a general encyclopedia, was published in 2002 and was listed as one of Library Journal's "Best Reference Sources" for 2003.

Principles and customs

As noted above, the first consideration for precedence is always the hierarchy of order: first bishops, then presbyters, next deacons. At earlier times in the Church's history, deacons were ranked above presbyters, or the two orders considered equal, but the bishop always came first. Laity (including lay ecclesial ministers, religious, seminarians, et al.) are not part of the hierarchy of order.

Deacon ministry in the Christian Church

A deacon is a member of the diaconate, an office in Christian churches that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. Major Christian churches, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican church, view the diaconate as part of the clerical state.

Catholic laity

Catholic laity are the ordinary members of the Catholic Church who are neither clergy nor recipients of Holy Orders or vowed to life in a religious order or congregation. The laity forms the majority of the estimated over one billion Catholics in the world.

The next principle is the hierarchy of jurisdiction: one who has authority over other persons has the right of precedence over them. [5] This considers a person's office, and therefore can include laity, particularly lay ecclesial ministers and religious.

Relatedly, those with jurisdiction take precedence over those with titular, ad personam, or emeritus titles, so someone serving in a specific office (e.g., diocesan bishop) has precedence over someone with a titular claim to the same rank (e.g., titular bishop) or someone who used to serve in an equivalent office (e.g., a retired bishop).

Generally speaking, function, or the exercise of office, has precedence over purely honorary titles. De facto precedence should be applied where, a non-ordained religious or lay ecclesial minister serves in an office equivalent listed below (e.g., a diocesan director of Catholic Education is an equal office to an episcopal vicar, a pastoral life director an equal office to pastor, though with respect to the principle of the hierarchy of order noted above).

Among honorary titles, geographic extent is considered (e.g., the national primate has precedence over a titular patriarch, as the former has an honorary title extending over an entire country, but the latter only over a single diocese).

If two persons hold the same office, precedence is given to the one of a higher order (e.g., of two episcopal vicars, one being a presbyter and the other an auxiliary bishop, the bishop takes precedence). [6]

If two persons are of the same order and office, the one who was promoted earlier takes precedence (e.g., of two metropolitan archbishops, whoever was promoted to a metropolitan see first has precedence). [7]

If two persons of the same order and office were promoted at the same time, precedence goes to the one who was ordained first (to that order) (e.g., of two priests appointed as pastors at the same time, whoever was ordained presbyter first has precedence). [8]

In the case of cardinals of the same rank created at the same consistory, precedence is given according to the order in which their names were published. [9]

In their own dioceses, bishops have precedence before other bishops and archbishops, but not before their own metropolitan. [1] A metropolitan archbishop has precedence before all other bishops and archbishops (except the Pope, his Patriarch, or his Primate) within his own province, and a patriarch has precedence over other patriarchs within his own jurisdiction.

Similarly, in their own parishes, pastors have precedence before other presbyters and deacons, even monsignors, but not before their own dean or archdeacon.

Diplomatic precedence in the Holy See's diplomatic corps incorporates the Congress of Vienna (1815) and the updated Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). The office of nuncio (papal ambassador) is primarily a diplomatic rank and not of an ecclesiastical nature. Most nuncios are ordained as titular archbishops, and would be ranked accordingly. If, however, the nuncio is present in a diocese or at an event acting as the personal representative of the pope, as for example at the ordination of a bishop, he is granted precedence accordingly, taking precedence over even cardinals present.

Patriarchs of autonomous (sui iuris) churches have precedence above all other bishops of any rank, including cardinals. This has been defined in law since 1990. [10] From 1965-1990, they were ranked as equal to Cardinal-bishops. [11] It remains the case that, if a patriarch is also made a cardinal in the Latin Church, he is created at the rank of cardinal-bishop, without a named see, but retains his place of precedence. From the 1917 Code of Canon Law until the motu proprio of Paul VI in 1965, cardinals of all ranks took precedence over patriarchs. The current practice reflects a more Catholic, and less Latinized, ecclesiology. [12]

Order of precedence

Order of precedence in general

  1. Patriarchs [13]
    1. The Pope, Bishop and Patriarch of Rome, and also Pope Emeritus (when used)
    2. The Patriarch of Constantinople [when in communion][ dubious ]
    3. The Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria
    4. Patriarchs of Antioch, in order of whom was promoted to the Patriarchal dignity earliest, currently:
      1. The Maronite Patriarch of Antioch
      2. The Syriac Patriarch of Antioch
      3. The Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, of Alexandria and Jerusalem
    5. The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylonia
    6. The Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia
  2. Cardinals
    1. Cardinal-bishops
      1. Dean of the Sacred College
      2. Vice-Dean of the Sacred College
      3. Other Cardinal-bishops of Suburbicarian Sees (by date of elevation)
    2. Cardinal-presbyters
      1. Cardinal Protopresbyter
      2. Other Cardinal-presbyters (by date of elevation)
    3. Cardinal-deacons
      1. Cardinal Protodeacon
      2. Other Cardinal-deacons (by date of elevation)
  3. Major Archbishops [14] [15]
    1. The Major Archbishop of Kiev–Galicia (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church)
    2. The Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly (Syro-Malabar Church)
    3. The Major Archbishop of Trivandrum (Syro-Malankara Catholic Church)
    4. The Major Archbishop of Făgăraş and Alba Julia (Romanian Greek Catholic Church)
  4. Primates or Episcopal Conference Presidents
  5. Titular Patriarchs
    1. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
    2. The Latin Patriarch of Venice
    3. The Latin Patriarch of the West Indies (vacant since 1963)
    4. The Latin Patriarch of Lisbon
    5. The Latin Patriarch of the East Indies
  6. Archbishops
    1. Metropolitan Archbishops
    2. Diocesan Archbishops (non-Metropolitan)
    3. Coadjutor Archbishops
    4. Archbishops ad personam
    5. Titular Archbishops
  7. Bishops
    1. Diocesan Bishops
    2. Coadjutor Bishops
    3. Titular Bishops (e.g., auxiliaries) or Chorbishops
  8. Ordinaries of territorial jurisdictions other than dioceses
    1. Territorial Prelate (formerly, prelate nullius) [16]
    2. Territorial Abbot (formerly, abbot nullius)
    3. Vicar apostolic
    4. Exarch apostolic
    5. Prefect apostolic
    6. Apostolic administrator
  9. Ordinaries of personal (non-territorial) jurisdictions
    1. Supreme Moderators of Institutes of Consecrated Life or Societies of Apostolic Life ("Superiors General")
    2. Prelate of Personal prelature
    3. Ordinary of Personal ordinariate or Military ordinariate
    4. Presidents of international associations of the faithful
  10. Ordinaries (vicarious)
    1. Diocesan administrators (formerly, vicar capitular)
    2. Archdeacons
    3. Vicars general or protosyncellus
    4. Vicars episcopal
    5. Provincial Superiors
  11. Protonotary apostolic (Monsignor)
    1. De Numero
    2. Supernumerary
  12. Members of the Order of Pope Pius IX
    1. Knight/Dame Grand Cross with Collar
    2. Knight/Dame Grand Cross
    3. Knight/Dame Grand Officer
    4. Knight/Dame Commander
    5. Knight/Dame
  13. Canons of
    1. Metropolitan chapters
    2. Cathedral chapters
    3. Collegiate Chapters
  14. Diocesan Consultors
  15. Honorary Prelates of His Holiness (Monsignor)
  16. Members of the Order of St. Gregory the Great
    1. Knight/Dame Grand Cross
    2. Knight/Dame Commander with Star
    3. Knight/Dame Commander
    4. Knight/Dame
  17. Chaplains of His Holiness (Monsignor), Archpriests, and Archimandrites
  18. Members of the Order of St. Sylvester
    1. Knight/Dame Grand Cross
    2. Knight/Dame Commander with Star
    3. Knight/Dame Commander
    4. Knight/Dame
  19. Recipients of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal
  20. Vicars forane & Deans
  21. Recipients of the Benemerenti Medal
  22. Pastors or Pastoral Life Coordinators [17]
  23. Parochial vicars or Pastoral Associates
  24. Deacons

Precedence of forms of community life

Within each category, precedence is determined by the date of founding of the institute, society, or association.

  1. Sacramental Marriage
  2. Institutes of Consecrated Life
    1. Religious institutes
      1. Monastic Orders (monks/nuns)
      2. Canons Regular
      3. Mendicant Orders
      4. Clerics Regular
      5. Clerical Religious Congregations
      6. Lay Religious Congregations
    2. Secular institutes
      1. Clerical Secular Institutes
      2. Lay Secular Institutes
  3. Societies of Apostolic Life
    1. Clerical Societies
    2. Lay Societies
  4. Personal prelatures
  5. Associations of the Christian Faithful or Lay Movements
    1. Public Associations
      1. Third Orders, Oblates, etc.
      2. Archconfraternities
      3. Confraternities
      4. Other Associations
    2. Private Associations
  6. Private consecrated individuals
    1. Hermits
    2. Consecrated virgins

Precedence within religious institutes

  1. Superiors General of religious institutes
  2. Assistants Superiors General
    1. Procurator-general
    2. Definitors-general
  3. Provincial superior, Provincial prior, Archimandrite
  4. Religious superior - Monastic superiors
    1. Abbot
    2. conventual prior
    3. Obedientiary prior
  5. Second
    1. Claustral prior or Deans
    2. Sub-prior
  6. Archimandrite, honorary
  7. Hieromonks (priests of religious institutes)
  8. Religious Brothers and Sisters [18]

Precedence within chapters

  1. Dean/Provost or other heads of chapters
  2. Other officers (treasurer, a secretary, and a sacristan, canon theologian, canon penitentiary)
  3. Capitulars or canons [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Cardinal (Catholic Church) Senior official of the Catholic Church

A cardinal is a leading bishop and prince of College of Cardinals in the Catholic Church. Their duties include participating in Papal consistories, and Papal conclaves, when the Holy See is vacant. Most have additional missions, such as leading a diocese or a dicastery of the Roman Curia, the equivalent of a government of the Holy See. During the sede vacante, the day-to-day governance of the Holy See is in the hands of the College of Cardinals. The right to enter the Papal conclave of cardinals where the pope is elected is limited to those who have not reached the age of 80 years by the day the vacancy occurs.

Archbishop Bishop of higher rank in many Christian denominations

In Christianity, an archbishop is a bishop of higher rank or office. In some cases, such as the Lutheran Church of Sweden and the Church of England, the title is borne by the leader of the denomination. Like popes, patriarchs, metropolitans, cardinal bishops, diocesan bishops, and suffragan bishops, archbishops are in the highest of the three traditional orders of bishops, priests, and deacons. An archbishop may be granted the title or ordained as chief pastor of a metropolitan see or another episcopal see to which the title of archbishop is attached.

Patriarch ecclesiastical title

The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs.

Prelate High-ranking member of the clergy

A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, which means 'carry before', 'be set above or over' or 'prefer'; hence, a prelate is one set over others.


The term exarch comes from the Ancient Greek ἔξαρχος, exarchos, and designates holders of various historical offices, some of them being political or military and others being ecclesiastical.

Metropolitan bishop ecclesiastical office

In Christian churches with episcopal polity, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis.

A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a "dead diocese".

A titular bishop in various churches is a bishop who is not in charge of a diocese. By definition, a bishop is an "overseer" of a community of the faithful, so when a priest is ordained a bishop, the tradition of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is that he be ordained for a specific place. There are more bishops than there are functioning dioceses. Therefore, a priest appointed not to head a diocese as its diocesan bishop but to be an auxiliary bishop, a papal diplomat, or an official of the Roman Curia is appointed to a titular see.

Ordinary (church officer) an officer of a church or civic authority who by reason of office has ordinary power to execute laws

An ordinary is an officer of a church or civic authority who by reason of office has ordinary power to execute laws.

Hierarchy of the Catholic Church Organization of the Catholic Church

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church consists of its bishops, priests, and deacons. In the ecclesiological sense of the term, "hierarchy" strictly means the "holy ordering" of the Church, the Body of Christ, so to respect the diversity of gifts and ministries necessary for genuine unity.

Major archbishop position

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, major archbishop is a title for the chief hierarch of an autonomous particular Church that has not been "endowed with the patriarchal title". Major archbishops generally have the same rights, privileges, and jurisdiction as Eastern Catholic patriarchs, except where expressly provided otherwise, and rank immediately after them in precedence of honor.

A diocesan bishop, within various Christian traditions, is a bishop or archbishop in pastoral charge of a diocese or archdiocese.

Incardination is the formal term in the Catholic Church for a clergyman being under a bishop or other ecclesiastical superior.

Ecclesiastical addresses are the formal styles of address used for members of the clergy.

Maximos IV Sayegh was Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church from 1947 until his death in 1967. One of the fathers of Second Vatican Council, the outspoken patriarch stirred the Council by urging reconciliation between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. He accepted the title of cardinal in 1965 after Pope Paul VI clarified the significance of that title in the case of an Eastern Patriarch.

Bishop in the Catholic Church ordained minister in the Catholic Church (for other religious denominations, use Q29182)

In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders and is responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in his jurisdiction, sanctifying the world and representing the Church. Catholics trace the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics believe this special charism has been transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands in the sacrament of holy orders.

Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church Highest Orthodox authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria

The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the highest Orthodox authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. It formulates the rules and regulations regarding matters of the church's organisation and faith.

Diocese of Rome Diocese of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Diocese of Rome is a diocese of the Catholic Church in Rome. The Bishop of Rome or the Roman Bishop is the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff and leader of the Catholic Church. As the Holy See, the papacy is a sovereign entity with diplomatic relations, and civil jurisdiction over the Vatican City State located geographically within Rome. The Diocese of Rome is the metropolitan diocese of the Province of Rome, an ecclesiastical province in Italy. The first Bishop of Rome was Saint Peter in the first century. The incumbent since 13 March 2013 is Pope Francis.

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.


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  6. 1917 Code of Canon Law. p. 106.3.
  7. 1917 Code of Canon Law. p. 106.3.
  8. 1917 Code of Canon Law. p. 106.3.
  9. Noonan. Church Visible. p. 194.
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  11. Paul VI (1965). Ad Purpuratorum Patrum.
  12. "Latinization". Orthodox Wiki.
  13. Code of Canons of Eastern Churches. Washington, DC: CLSA. 1990. p. 58-59. ISBN   978-0943616889.
  14. Major Archbishops are de facto considered equal in rank to cardinal-presbyters even if they have not been created as such
  15. Code of Canons of Eastern Churches. 1990. p. 154.
  16. Code of Canon Law. 1983. p. 370.
  17. Code of Canon Law. 1983. p. 517.2.
  18. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Religious Life"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  19. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Chapter"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.