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Why do we call priests “Father”?

Today, we honor our fathers and all they have done for us. But have you ever wondered why we also refer to Catholic priests as “Father”?

Catholics are unique because our dads aren’t the only men we call father. We also address each of our priests in the same way.

The Church has used this title for clergy since its earliest days. In the beginning, the title “Father” was reserved for the pope, but it eventually widened in use until all bishops and priests were also addressed in the same way.

While our priests are not our biological fathers, they are our spiritual fathers. Just as a father leads his family and protects them from harm, so do our priests guide and defend us, the people God has entrusted to their care. They also provide us with the spiritual nourishment we need to grow in holiness and ultimately reach Heaven: in particular, the nourishment of the Eucharist and the healing power of Confession.

A virtuous father takes responsibility for himself, as well as for the welfare of his wife and children. Likewise, a good priest cares for his spiritual family and holds himself accountable for their spiritual wellbeing. While we see them most frequently saying Mass, they also hear confessions, provide spiritual direction, visit and anoint the sick, help couples prepare for marriage, baptize, and much more.

During their daily prayer and Liturgy of the Hours, they are praying and interceding for us and our intentions, placing our needs and petitions at the feet of the Father, God.

Priests are called to sacrifice so much in order to serve us. A man whom God calls to the Roman Catholic priesthood gives up having his own earthly marriage and physical family in order to be fully and wholehearted available to whomever God places on his path. Priests dedicate every day of their lives to serving their flocks sacramentally and practically, and sacrifice biological fatherhood in order to live out God’s gift of spiritual fatherhood.

We call priests “father” because of their spiritual leadership in that great family which makes up the Body of Christ. Today, we certainly encourage you to honor your dad’s love and sacrifice over the years—however, don’t forget about your priest, who also gave his life to serve you and help lead your soul to heaven!

Say “thank you” to your priest with a special gift meant just for him. Check out our collection of gifts for priests here.

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