Holy Orders & Titles

Ranks of Clergy & Holy Orders

Episcopal Churches – Holy Orders

There are two sorts as far as Holy Orders are concerned: Most are simplified in orders (Anglican, Roman Catholic etc), others have full orders (Orthodox, Liberal Catholic, Old Catholic). They are conferred at ordination by Apostolic Succession.

Simplified Orders

DeaconThe first (lowest) of the orders, mostly but not always an intermediate step to priesthoodReverend
PriestThe second and most numerically common order. Most services are conducted by priestsReverend or Father
BishopThe third order. Bishops are elected from the ranks of priests, and are priests themselves. Bishops give episcopal oversight to priests and deacons.Most Reverend
Rt Rev in some cases
At its simplest, Holy Orders have only 3 grades

Full Orders

As we have already mentioned earlier, some Episcopal Churches still retain the oldest gradation of Full Holy Orders. Among those retaining the millennial old tradition of gradating Holy Orders, are the Old Catholic Churches, the Orthodox Churches, Liberal Catholic Churches and our very own, the Old Catholic Apostolic Church. The structure in a Full Holy Orders system commonly holds the following:

Minor Orders
ClericFirst (lowest) order. Clerics are intended to be co-workers with ChristNo title
DoorkeeperSecond order. Intended to protect the church from spiritual intruders, who would disrupt the congregationNo title
ReaderThird order. Historically not all could read, it was the readers job to read scripture to them – of course! However, the Gospel is read in worship by the deacon.No title
ExorcistTheir duty is to cast out devils, give priority to communicants and pour out Holy WaterNo title
AcolyteAcolytes carried the candles & presented eucharistic elements to the priest at the altar. This is the highest grade in Minor Orders and precedes the Major, aka Holy OrdersNo title
Major Orders
Sub-DeaconA grade of probation for the greater orders of deacon and priestReverend
DeaconMinisters at the altar (but not offer the Eucharistic sacrifice), reads the gospel, preaches, and baptize in the absence of a priestReverend
PriestPriests are to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, to bless, to preside, to anoint, to preach and baptize. They ‘lead’ their congegationsReverend
BishopBishops are priests consecrated to the Bishopric (rather than ordained to it). Lead and give oversight to priests, and their congregations.Most Reverend

Hierarchical, Functional & Honorific Titles

Many of the titles still in use have their historical roots in many centuries past. None of these are Holy Orders. they simply identify a Hierarchical position in the structure of a Church, a particular function or are strictly honorific, on grounds of territorial range the Cleric administers, special functions of specific importance, or when the title holder performs high office functions.

ArchbishopA senior bishop in charge of other bishops, but episcopally no ‘higher’ – still a bishopMost Rev. or Rt Rev.
CanonA member of a cathedral chapter or collegiate church (priest)Canon or Rev. Canon
Canon (Rural Dean)A priest acting as superintendent overseeing other priests, but only in administrative ways. (i.e. not episcopal oversight).Reverend
CardinalLeading dignitary in the Roman Catholic Church, approximating ArchbishopMonsigneur
ChaplainClergyman attached to a private chapel, institution, ship, regiment etc.Reverend or Father
CuratePriest (or deacon) ‘looking after’ a church or congregation, nowadays usually temporarily.
DeanThe head priest of a cathedral chapter or collegiate churchVery Reverend
MetropolitanA senior bishop in charge of other bishops (some denominations call them Archbishop)Most Rev.
PadreMeans ‘Father’. A priest. Military Padre = priest serving in the militaryFather or Rev.
PrecentorA minor canon in charge of choir and music in a cathedral
PrebenderHistoric term for a priest who receives a stipend of a canon. A benefice
(or one who is an honorary canon)
Rev. Preb.
PrelateHistoric term for senior cleric (abbot, bishop, prior etc)
PrimusPresiding Bishop, or other leader in some denominationsMost Rev.
ProvostHead of a cathedral chapter or collegiate church (some denominations call them dean)Very Reverend
RectorPriest who is the incumbent of a parish with legal benefits (a benefice).Reverend
SuperiorSpiritual leader of a religious community. Usually Mother SuperiorReverend Mother
VicarPriest in charge of the parish as a whole, as a representative of the BishopReverend
Historically, the Abbot has been for well over 1000 years a cornerstone of religious life.

Religious Communities – Holy Orders

Religious orders, communities, congregations and institutes often associate the function with the ecclesiastical title. For example the term “Abbot” refers to the title of the Superior of a Religious Order within a Monastery; however, the word which derives from the Greek “abbas” means “Father”. So here is a perfect example where being the Father combines at once his priestly function, together with his role as spiritual father of all friars or monks in a community, which implies the exercise of Authority. But the word “Abbot” also means the title holder presides over the entire Abbey and therefore the Church Abbey as well as the Monastery, other buildings and the whole Estate annexed to the Abbey.

Other roles within religious communities include:

AbbotThe leader of a community of monks, (abbot from the greek word abbas which means ‘father’)Father
Abbess(historic) The female leader of a community of nuns. Nowadays usually called Mother Superior instead.Mother
FriarOne who is a member of one of the four remaining mendicant orders. Always male.Brother
MonkMale member of a religious community living under vows, (e.g. vow of poverty, celibacy, obedience)Brother
Mother SuperiorThe female leader of a religious communityMother or Rev. Mother
NunFemale member of a religious community living under vows (e.g. vow of poverty, celibacy, obedience)Sister
PriestessThis term does not exist in Christianity. Female minister of a non-christian religion. Included here by way of explanation.
Prior(i) The superior of a religious house or community. (ii) a religious leader next under an Abbot in an Abbey community. The title also means in Diocesan parishes in France and Portugal, the Parish Priest.Father or Brother
Prioress (historic) The female superior of a religious community. Nowadays usually called Mother Superior instead.

Non-Episcopal Churches

Holy Orders do not exist in these churches. Ministers are called under various terms not all of which apply in each of the various denominations. Each respects and understands the other. Each is empowered by the Holy Spirit rather than through Apostolic Succession. Roles in these churches, often called generally “Ministries”, include:

DeaconAn assistant minister (not an order like episcopal churches) May or may not be ordained. Usually considered less senior than a minister.No title or Brother
or Rev.
DeaconessFemale deacon, usually serving by pastoral care, home visits etc.Sister
ElderUsually not ordained. A member of a circle of people who act as church leaders (church council)Brother/Sister or no title
LaityAfter Christ the most important people there. The others are to serve Jesus and to serve you, the congregation!
MinisterA generic term used for most non-episcopal clergy. The majority of churches call their servants ministerRev
PastorMinister whose special emphasis is on spiritual guidance and pastoral carePastor
PreacherA generic term for the person who delivers a sermon or exposition. Not necessarily ordained (i.e. Lay-preacher)No title
PresbyterTechnical term for the single layer model of clergy (i.e. non-episcopal)Rev.
ModeratorElected leader of a synod or conference etcDeliberately Mr. (or Madam)
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