What a Signature Can Tell You

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Remember practicing in school your signature to make it uniquely yours? Some choose bubble letters. Some carefully paced those little hearts over the lower-case “i,” while others added that little extra flair or stroke at the end of their name. Signatures tell people something about us — except maybe those of doctors because I can never read their signatures. The same is true for ecclesiastical signatures.

Did you know that hierarchical signatures of the Church have been regulated by precedent and custom for centuries? Take the papal name.

It is customary that the papal name is signed in Latin but when signing as the Bishop of Rome in his own diocese, he signs in Italian.

Further, all pontiffs include the post-nominal initials that designate that they, and they alone, are successors to Peter: P.P., for Pope and Pontiff, follow the papal name on all documents, including the first notarized parchment documenting their election to the papacy.[1]

Benedict XVI signatureThus, our current Pope would customarily sign all papal documents, Franciscus P.P. Then, Pope Benedict XVI, signed his name in the same fashion, Benedictus P.P. XVI.

Wonder why a Cardinal puts “Cardinal” in the middle of his name? Protocol dictates that a Cardinal’s signature is comprised of their baptismal name, the cardinalatial title and his surname. So, Cardinal Dolan’s signature is Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan.

Maybe you have received or seen a letter signed by our own Bishop Loverde and noticed the cross in front of his name. The use of the cross has always been reserved to those with episcopal dignity and is commonly seen before the signatures of patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and abbots. This privilege however, may not be used by priests, deacons, seminarians and/or laity.

Did you know you potentially lose a piece of your signature when you are ordained? The use of junior or the post-nominal use of Roman numerals (except for the Roman Pontiff) that show a direct family lineage are considered inappropriate and should be avoided at all times for those with Holy Orders. This is to show the movement from our earthly father to our Bishop who has become our spiritual father.

And, there you go — just a quick tutorial on signatures in the church, without all the bubble letters.


[1] James-Charles Noonan, Jr., The Church Visible (New York: Viking, 1996), 403.

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