A Priest by Any Other Name | Fr. Donald J. Planty, Jr., J.C.D. | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The nature of Holy Orders is both collegial and personal. Collegially, all priests are addressed as “Father” because all share in the one priesthood of Jesus, icon of the Father. Personally, each priest retains his own individuality, his own personality–his own name and identity…
Recently a friend of mine who was a transitional deacon, soon to be ordained a priest–a completely faithful, orthodox man–confessed to me that, as a priest, he would prefer to be called by his Christian name, “Father Thomas,” rather than by his last name. I encouraged him, recalling that I have always considered it a pity that, in the United States, the usage is for diocesan priests to be addressed by their last names. From my ordination I chose to go by “Father Planty” both to be faithful to the tradition (which is, in fact, a national custom) and as a reaction to what I called the “Father Joe Cool priests” and their lay allies: “liberal” Catholics (not consistently faithful to the Church’s teachings and disciplines) who preferred to use “Father Joe” (or who would jettison the title of “Father” altogether and simply call the priest by his first name) as a way of blurring the necessary distinction between clergy and laity and so forcing a disordered equality and an inordinate familiarity. My friend the deacon’s wish has led me to suggest we reconsider the question of the name by which priests are addressed in light of the theology of names, in light of Church custom, and in light of the signs of the times and the New Evangelization.
I can only summarize here the rich–indeed, foundational–theology regarding the unity of name and identity found in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition. From the naming of Adam in Genesis through the new name given the victors in the book of Revelation, the inspired word of God makes clear that one’s name is one’s identity, and that a change in name (Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, etc.) signifies a change in identity, in mission.