What do I call my pastor?


When I embroidered a Knights of Columbus shirt for my new pastor, who is a vicar general, he asked me to put “The Very Reverend FirstName LastName.” Do I call him “Reverend LastName” when addressing him verbally? I really don’t like calling a priest by his first name EVER so I always at the very least say “Father LastName.” I know that things are very relaxed nowadays but I don’t feel comfortable – I feel like using his first name puts him on my same level, or me on his!

Another question in the same general area: I always like to see the priest or bishop after Mass to say “Good Morning” and to shake/touch the hands that were used in the Consecration. Is it wrong to kiss the bishop’s ring at this time and/or to genuflect (left knee?) to the bishop at this time?


1. “The Very Reverend” is used for addressing envelopes or for other written acknowledgements of someone’s title (such as on the shirt you embroidered). But ordinarily it is not used in a written salutation (e.g., “Dear The Very Reverend…” is incorrect; you’d use either “Father” or, if applicable, “Monsignor”). To make this all the more confusing, there is the exception that “Reverend” can be used in a salutation if it modifies an honorific (e.g., “Reverend Father…” and leaving out “Dear”). It is not used at all in spoken conversation, with the exception of formal introductions (e.g., “I’d like you to meet the Very Reverend…”). As a side note, the word “the” should ordinarily precede either “Reverend” or “Very Reverend.”

2. Use of the word “the” is why “Reverend” (or “Very Reverend”) really shouldn’t be used as a spoken honorific, however prevelant use of the title has become. A Protestant clergyman shouldn’t be called “Reverend SoAndSo” but should be called “Mister” if he doesn’t have a doctoral degree, “Doctor” if he does. For Catholic priests, we use “Father” or “Monsignor.” Catholic deacons are either “Deacon” or “Mister” (although “Doctor” can also be used if he has a doctorate or is a medical doctor).

3. It is always best to call anyone with whom you are not on personal terms by their title and last name. If they prefer something different, they will specify what they prefer. Assuming what they specify is not for some reason inappropriate or imprudent (e.g., a priest who is not a family member or a close friend but says “Call me Tim”), you should then call them what they prefer. If there is some just reason for not acceding to their preference (e.g., the non-related non-friend priest who wants to be called “Tim”), you can respond either by avoiding calling them by name or by saying, “I feel better calling you ‘Father LastName.’”

4. Ring-kissing for and genuflecting to bishops used to be far more common than it currently is, and many bishops, particularly in America, do not expect it and may be startled to receive it (especially after Sunday Mass). Ladies usually take precedence in offering their hands for shaking; but, if the man is of exalted rank, he takes precedence, so I would wait until a bishop offers his hand before shaking or otherwise touching his hand. If he does offer his hand, you may then ask “May I kiss your ring?” if you wish to do so. He then may refuse if he is uncomfortable with ring-kissing.

As for genuflecting, I recommend saving that for the most formal of occasions, such as being presented to a bishop in a formal audience. Even then, for a lady a shallow curtsy seems more appropriate than touching a knee to the floor. The equivalent for a man would be a bow from the neck (which is also appropriate for a woman).

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