At Father’s Day each year, many of us may take time to reflect on the various father figures in our lives.
For some of us, that includes our parish priests. But have you ever thought about the origin of calling priests father?
Since the early periods of the church, religious leaders have been referred to as some form of father.
In the early church, members of the clergy generally did not have standard titles. However, an accepted way to address bishops was “papa” or “pappa,” which referred to the role of the bishops as father figures. This name eventually became associated solely with the Bishop of Rome. The highest title in the Catholic Church, that of “Pope,” is derived from those early titles.
By the late Middle Ages, priests belonging to various religious orders were called father. This practice has persisted to modern times, as priests are customarily called father today.
Aside from the name itself, priests are referred to as father for multiple reasons: as a sign of respect and because they act as spiritual leaders in our lives.
As the head of a parish, each priest assumes the spiritual care of his congregation. In return, the congregation views him with filial affection. The priest ensures that each member of his congregation can rely upon him for instruction, forgiveness, a listening ear, and spiritual nourishment—much like other father figures in our lives.