Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Titles and Ranks within the Catholic Church

To some, the Catholic Church's system of positions may be confusing for some. If understood in the proper context, we see that the positions used within the Church are necessary and Biblical.

There are a multitude of positions within the Catholic Church when it comes to religious (as opposed to lay people). There are deacons, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope.

Although this number of titles may cause confusion, it is important to realize there are only 3 sacramental positions within the Church: deacon, priest, and bishop, and to some extent Pope. The other positions (including cardinal, monsignor, and archbishop) are offices occupied by members of the first group.

The three sacramental offices are found in the Bible. The word "bishop" comes from the Greek "episcopoi". This means overseer or supervisor, epi meaning over and skopos meaning sight. Bishops are in charge of appointing priests and they have authority to rule theologically over a given area. The bishop can perform all sacraments, including baptism, confession, consecrating the Eucharist, marriage, and annointing of the sick, confirmation, and ordination. Bishops can be found in the Bible in 1 Tim. 5:19–22, 2 Tim. 4:5 and Titus 1:5.

We get the English word "priest" from the Greek word "presbuteroi", which means elders, also known as presbyters. They can be seen in 1 Timothy 5:17 and James 5:14–15. Priests are consecrated by the Bishops to be their helpers. They are authorized to perform many sacrements, except confirmation and ordination.

The third sacramental position is that of deacon, from the Greek word diakonoi. Deacons help priests carry out their duties and also help in other liturgical duties. A reference to deacons can be found in Acts 6:1–6.

The other roles, including monsignor, cardinal, archbishop and pope, are all special designations for certain sacramental positions. A monsignor is a senior priest who has a certain level of authority within his diocese. An archbishop is of course a head bishop, arch meaning chief or main. He has a higher level of authority in certain areas than a normal bishop, however, they are all bishops. A cardinal is a bishop as well, who has a special role in electing the next pope should the current pope die or no longer remain pope for some reason. The Cardinals are sometimes called the Princes of the Church. They also sometimes hold high positions within the Church. Finally, the Pope is a bishop as well. He is the Bishop of Rome. Since Peter was selected as the chief apostle and Pope, by Jesus, we have had a continuous line of Popes throughout the centuries. They have primacy or final say over matters which affect the entire Church. This is due to their special office of Pope. Therefore, although the Pope is a bishop, he is a special bishop with the power to make universal decisions which are binding on all Catholics. Please read my previous article on the Papacy for further information on this.

With the system of religious designations in place in the Catholic Church, Unity and Truth are assured.

Added October 5, 2015:
For a great read about the priesthood, including the Biblical basis for it, and other theological insights, check out Scott Hahn's great book Many Are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood. Purchasing this book from Amazon will help my blog immensely!


  1. I can read in the bible about Peter being the Chief of Apostle's.... but Pope? Can you find me any passage that has Pope in it?? Especially by Jesus?

  2. Pope is a term meaning father, indicating spiritual fatherhood. Paul calls himself a father in the faith, we call abraham a father, and we have the early church fathers. Of course, priests are also called father.

    In a special way, Peter is the chief of the apostles and he was the bishop of Rome. Jesus said to Peter, You are Rock and upon this Rock I will build my church. Jesus built his church on Peter, the rock. Jesus wanted to continue the Church after he had left, so he designated Peter to be the head of the visible church. As head of the Earthly church, we call the Bishop of Rome Papa or Pope.

    1. Jesus is, was, and will ALWAYS be the Rock. This imagery is throughout the Bible. The Rock is a type of Christ. "Thou art peter, and on this ROCK, (referring to himself), I will build my Church. Jesus is the foundation of the Church.

  3. Phil, thank you for your wonderful explenation of the origin of the Pope.

    You are quite correct in that Christ wanted his church to continue after his resurrection and ascention to his father. Peter, with James and John as his councellors, became the head of Christ's church in his earthly absence, guiding said church by revelation from him.

    However, if we read the Latin translation of the New Testiment (this is also notable in both the Greek and Hungarain translations), we see that when Christ spoke to his apostles on the mount and gave to Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven," he did not call Peter the rock upon which the Church was to be founded. If that were so, then the Church has long since fallen, as St. Peter, a spiritual giant though he may have been, was still a man.

    No, from the other translations we see that Peter is not the direct object of that sentence, and therefore was not the rock upon which the Church of Jesus Christ was to be built. In reality, the Church was to be built on the principles of faith and devine revelation. Without these two principles, the Church could never endure, especially if such a wonderous organization were to have as its foundation a fallable mortal man.

  4. Cavedine from Abergowrie12:00 am, October 18, 2010

    The apostles were married men so why can’t priests marry? Tradition? I think not. It comes down to the economics of the past when the first born male child was to inherit his father’s farmland. What were the other male siblings to do? A noble alternative was to join the priesthood. Through human not divine intervention the priesthood was made celibate thus rendering them as unicks. The result was no extra children or families placing economic pressure or demand on the ever decreasing size of agricultural land. Therefore, there is no real biblical reason for celibacy in the Catholic priesthood.

    Also, Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ favourite apostle but has since been written out of biblical texts. Perhaps there will be a female Pope once they become extinct!

  5. Hi Cavedine,

    Thanks for your comments. If your theory if true, then Jesus and Paul could see well into the future. They both advocated celibacy to men. They both said if one can do this and follow God in that way, it is preferable. But if that is impossible, it is better to marry.

    Your theory about a male child inhereting the father's farmland is a new one for me, although I've heard many other theories. But this falls short in many ways. Many people in those days had many children, perhaps 8 or more. So relegating one of them to the priesthood would only very slightly decrease responsibility. On top of this, it would reduce a farmhand, according to your logic, which would reduce the wealth of that family.

    Mary Magdelene has hardly been written out of Biblical texts. She is held up as an example of someone who chose good over evil. There are many churches named after Mary Magdelene in the world now. The church calls her a saint. It seems like an odd strategy to remove her!

    Thank you for your comments. I hope you keep reading.


  6. You didn’t seem to grasp the meaning of what I had originally written.
    1. Celibacy gained traction due to economic not theological reasons. ie Males (plural) other than the first born were encouraged to join a “celibate” priesthood thus limiting demand on scarce agricultural land. Females married into other families so no demand there on this valuable resource central to survival.
    2. Mary Magdalene has not been written out of Biblical texts but she has been written out as Jesus’ number one apostle. Apostles are the inheritors of the now all male Catholic priesthood. She was obviously female therefore debunking the idea only males should be part of the Catholic priesthood. It is a Church made construct based on selective mythology not reality.

  7. Large families were considered a blessing, not a curse that had to be corrected. Larger families provided a larger workforce to harvest the land.

    In any event, I believe your thoughts on the origin of celibacy in the Church is mistaken. Both Jesus and Paul spoke of it being preferable for a man to forsake marriage for the kingdom of God. Therefore, if you are correct, then even Jesus himself must have foreseen the agricultural situation in Europe when he said those things. I believe that assertion is false.

  8. People believe what the want to believe. I guess that is why there have been numereous married Popes in the past.

  9. I appreciate your article but I feel it is incomplete regarding "Titles and Ranks within the Catholic Church". I came across your article while trying to find out what a "Canon" was, and the "Vicar General" and others. I realize these may be "posts" rather than "Ranks" but surely they are still "Titles".

  10. Please i would like to know the origin of the Night in catholic church

  11. Why not try reading 'Catholicism for Dummies' it is a good start for those that are interested and even if not.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. "With the system of religious designations in place in the Catholic Church, Unity and Truth are assured."

    Don't you think that something is definitely wrong with that statement? The catholic church is anything but unified (division among church-goers (hardly will you find individuals in a catholic church united that all believe the same things and doctrines of the church) and then there's the catholic church goers (or by name catholics) with their priests blessing them in war on opposing sides who will kill one another - catholic killing catholic (yep, WW1, WW2 and all the wars that have followed). Are you unified when a catholic will kill a catholic?).

    And are far as "truth", the catholic religion religion steeped in pagan traditions and celebrations. Look in any dictionary and encyclopedia the origins or Christmas, Easter, St Patrick's Day, etc...