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Curricula: The Catholic Church’s Hierarchy

The hierarchy connotes the totality of powers established in the Church for the guiding of man to his eternal salvation, but divided into various orders or grades, in which the inferior are subject to and yield obedience to the higher ones.

NOTE: This is not an article from The Catholic Encyclopedia. It is provided here for the benefit of those interested in pursuing additional studies in this area.

    • A. In General
    • B. The Hierarchy
      • 1. The Sovereign Pontiff
      • 2. The College of Cardinals
      • 3. The Roman Curia
      • 4. Representatives of the Pope
      • 5. Supra-Episcopal Rank
      • 6. The Bishop
      • 7. The Cathedral Chapter
      • 8. The Parochial Clergy
      • 9. Religious



  • Catechumen – One who is unbaptized, but is undergoing a course of preparation
  • Neophyte – those who have lately entered upon a new and higher state or condition of life
  • The Faithful
  • Laity
  • Woman in Canon Law
  • Midwives
  • Widows – In the Old Testament and the Christian era
  • Deaconesses
  • Lay Communion
  • Lay Confession
  • Lay Tithes
  • Patronage – sum of rights and obligations entailed upon a definite person
  • Administrator – of Ecclesiastical Property
    • Fabrica Ecclesiae – the temporal costs of church operation
    • Trustee System – Church appointed deputies responsible to the Church for administering Church property




A. In General
  • Persons, Ecclesiastical – Person whom a special tie connects with the Church
  • Ecclesiastical Addresses – Forms of addressing churchmen in correspondence and speech
  • Precedence
  • Cleric
  • Abbe
  • Clericis Laicos
  • Secular Clergy
  • Seminary, Ecclesiastical – Reserved to schools instituted for the training of the Catholic diocesan clergy
  • Alumnus
  • Holy Orders
  • Dimissorial Letters
  • Emancipation, Ecclesiastical – Process by which a slave released from the control of his master, or a son liberated from the authority of his father, was declared legally independent
  • Matricula
  • Examination
  • Scrutiny
  • Examiners, Apostolic
  • Irregularity
  • Bigamy (in Canon Law) – Marrying a second wife (in contra-distinction to polygamy)
  • Birth, The Defect of
  • Infamy
  • Perjury
  • Legitimation
  • Costume, Clerical – distinctive dress worn by ecclesiastics
  • Beard
  • Tonsure
  • Celibacy of the Clergy
  • Hours, Canonical – Fixed portions of the Divine Office to be recited at different hours
  • Hunting – canon law regarding hunting
  • Medicine and Canon Law
  • Apostolicae Servitutis – papal bull against secular pursuits on the part of the clergy
  • Congrua – Canonical term to designate the lowest sum proper for the yearly income of a cleric
  • Competency, Privilege of – sum total of the rights belonging to any ecclesiastical dignitary
  • Benefit of Clergy – Ecclesial exemption from secular jurisdiction
  • Privileges, Ecclesiastical – Exceptions in law favoring clergy or in favor of consecrated and sacred objects and places
  • Apostasy ab’Ordine – abandonment of the clerical dress and state by clerics who have received major orders


B. The Hierarchy
  • Hierarchy – The totality of ruling powers in the Church
  • Hierarchy of the Early Church – Denotes the three grades of bishop, priest, and deacon


1. The Sovereign Pontiff
  • Pope
  • Vicar of Christ
  • Servus servorum Dei – title given by the popes to themselves as a lesson in humility
  • Domnus Apostolicus
  • Apostolic See – Metaphorical term used to express the abstract notion of authority by the concrete name of the place in which it is exercised
  • Ex Cathedra – theological term which signifies authoritative teaching; literally, “from the chair”
  • Holy See
  • Papal Elections
    • Conclave
    • Exclusion, Right of – supposed veto power of some cardinals over the election of a particular pope
    • Accessus – process by which a cardinal changes his vote and “accedes” to some other candidate in a papal election conclave
    • Acclamation – for popes and bishops
    • Acclamation (in papal elections)
    • Enthronization
  • The Vatican
  • Tiara
  • Flabellum
  • Sedia Gestatoria
  • Peterspence
  • Pontifical Audiences – Receptions given by the pope to those having business with or interest in the Holy See
  • Prelate
  • Palatini
  • Majordomo
  • Master of the Sacred Palace
  • Maestro di Camera – pope’s chief chamberlain, whose authority covers the daily personal service of His Holiness
  • Assistant at the Pontifical Throne
  • Prothonotary Apostolic
  • Preacher Apostolic – dignitary of the pontifical household
  • Monsignor
  • Papal Chapels – signifies the entire staff of dignitaries and officials privileged to assist at one of the greater papal functions
  • Cursores Apostolici
  • States of the Church
  • Mint, Papal
  • Guarantees, Law of – Italian law (May 13, 1871) concerning the prerogatives of the Holy See, and the relations between State and Church
  • Letters, Ecclesiastical
  • Constitutions, Papal – Ordinations issued by the Roman pontiffs and binding those for whom they are issued
  • Urbi et Orbi
  • Encyclical
  • Motu Proprio
  • Petitions to the Holy See
  • Referendarii
  • Rescripts, Papal
  • Obreption
  • Subreption
  • Bulls and Briefs
  • Bullarium
  • Diplomatics, Papal – the science of ancient official documents
  • Indulgences
    • Indulgences, Apostolic – Indulgences which the Roman pontiff attaches to the religious objects
  • Indult, Pontifical – grant by the Holy See to bishops and others to do something not permitted by the common law
  • Executor, Apostolic – Cleric who puts into execution a papal rescript
  • Expeditors, Apostolic – Officials who attend to the sending of Bulls, Briefs, and Rescripts
  • Regesta, Papal – copies of official documents that are kept in the papal archives
  • Vatican Archives
  • Forgery
  • Falsity


2. The College of Cardinals
  • Cardinal
  • In Petto
  • Titulus
  • Suburbicarian Sees
    • Ostia and Velletri
    • Porto and Santa Rufina
    • Albano
    • Frascati (Tusculum)
    • Palestrina
    • Sabina
  • Option
  • Piatto Cardinalizio
  • Cardinal Vicar
  • Cardinal Protector
  • Consistory
  • Allocution


3. The Roman Curia
  • Roman Curia
  • Roman Congregations
  • Acts of Roman Congregations
  • Formularies
  • Liber Diurnus
  • Inquisition
  • Fiscal of the Holy Office
  • Assessors of the Holy Office
  • Sacred Congregation of Propaganda
  • Censorship of Books
  • Index of Prohibited Books
  • Beatification and Canonization
  • Advocatus Diaboli
  • Blessed
  • Promotor Fidei
  • Rota
  • Apostolic Camera
  • Camerlengo
  • Decorations, Pontifical
  • Golden Rose
  • Notaries
  • Primicerius
  • Protocol
  • Agents of the Roman Congregations
  • Advocates of Roman Congregations
  • Auditor
  • Commissions, Ecclesiastical
  • Biblical Commission
  • Archaeology, Commission of Sacred


4. Representatives of the Pope
  • Legate
  • Apocrisarius
  • Nuncio
  • Internuncio
  • Commissary Apostolic
  • Visitors, Apostolic
  • Prefect Apostolic


5. Supra-Episcopal Rank
  • Patriarch
  • Catholicos
  • Primate
  • Exarch
  • Metropolitan
  • Archbishop
  • Pallium
  • Eparchy
  • Province
  • Provincial Council
  • Convocation (English Clergy)


6. The Bishop
  • Bishop
  • Dei Gratia – Formula added to the titles of ecclesiastical dignitaries
  • Autocephali
  • Diocese
  • Preconization
  • Consecration
  • Enthronization
    • Pontificalia
    • Rochet
    • Buskins
    • Episcopal Sandals – Form of low shoes, and resemble slippers
    • Pectoral Cross
    • Tunic
    • Dalmatic
    • Episcopal Gloves
    • Mitre
    • Rings
    • Crosier – Pastoral staff, conferred on bishops at their consecration
    • Cathedra
    • Throne
    • Faldstool
  • Pontificale
  • Pontifical Mass
  • Cathedral
  • Subsidies, Episcopal – Contributions made to a diocese
  • Cathedraticum
  • Ecclesiastical Residence – abiding where one’s duties lie, as the presence of a bishop in his diocese
  • Visit ad Limina
  • Canonical Visitation – a visit by an ecclesiastical superior, to persons or places with a view of maintaining faith and discipline
  • Incardination and Excardination
  • Approbation
  • Ordinariate
  • Diocesan Chancery
  • Taxa Innocentiana
  • Intercession, Episcopal – The right to intercede for criminals granted by secular powers to the bishops
  • Synod
  • Confraternity
  • Archconfraternity
  • Auxiliary Bishop
  • Chorepiscopi
  • Administrator (Ecclesiastical) – A person who administers some common ecclesiastical affairs
  • Praelatus Nullius – prelate who exercises quasi-episcopal jurisdiction in a territory not comprised in any diocese
  • In Partibus Infidelium


7. The Cathedral Chapter
  • Chapter
  • College
  • Collegiate
  • Chapter House
  • Canon (person) – Member of a chapter or body of clerics living according to rule
  • Installation
  • Ecclesiastical Dignitary – Member of a chapter, cathedral or collegiate, possessed of a foremost place and certain jurisdiction
  • Archpriest
  • Protopope
  • Archdeacon
  • Dean
  • Definitor (in Canon Law) – An official in secular deaneries and in certain religious orders
  • Provost
  • Primicerius
  • Precentor
  • Vicar Capitular
  • Mass, Chapter and Conventual – Types of Masses said in churches or cathedrals
  • Prebend
  • Distributions


8. The Parochial Clergy
  • Priest
  • Approbation
  • Parish
  • Filial Church
  • Pastor
  • Presbytery
  • Rector
  • Desservants
  • Concursus
  • Examiners, Synodical – Chosen in a diocesan synod to conduct competitive examinations
  • Irremovability
  • Amovibility
  • Curate
  • Chaplain
  • Cure of Souls
  • Parochial Mass
  • Registers, Parochial – Lists of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, and a census of members in a parish
  • Ecclesiastical Conferences – Meetings of clerics for the purpose of discussing matters pertaining to their state of life
  • Collections
  • Stipend
  • Funeral Dues
  • Sacristan
  • Altar Societies


9. Religious
  • Religious Life – see also Curricula: Religious Orders
  • Monasticism
  • Regulars
  • Monk
  • Nuns
  • Dower
  • Romanos Pontifices – defined the relationship between bishops and religious in England and Scotland
  • Ad Universalis Ecclesiae – papal constitution dealing with the conditions for admission to religious orders
  • Postulant
  • Novice
  • Religious Profession – a declaration openly made, or as a state of life publicly embraced
  • Vows
  • Obedience
  • Cloister
  • Abbot
  • Lay Abbot
  • Commendatory Abbot
  • Abbess
  • Archimandrite
  • Prior
  • Prioress
  • Obedientiaries – medieval term for lesser officials of a monastery appointed by will of the superior
  • Manifestation of Conscience
  • Apostasy a Religione – the complete and voluntary abandonment of the Christian religion
  • Secularization
  • Sacristan – Officer charged with the care of the sacristy, the church, and their contents
  • Altar Societies – parish-level group that funds or performs the duties of the Sacristan
  • Custos
  • Sexton


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