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Questions on Manners & Etiquette

Rules of Reciprocation - Titles for Clergy

Judith Mead & Marian Horvat

Rules on invitations

Question: Last year my husband and I took three couples out to a very nice restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of the participants. One of the couples invited my husband and me to a lovely dinner at their house; another took us to a restaurant some months later. This year, we would like to host another party at the same restaurant. I would like to invite the same group, but my husband insists we should not invite the couple who did not reciprocate with an invitation during the year (they have the means to do so). He says it is a matter of etiquette.

I am not from a family that followed the laws of etiquette very strictly – we were the casual Americans you talk about in your book Courtesy Calls Again, very informal and “laid back”. Are there actually rules about invitations and returning dinners, etc? I would be very happy to know them.

You should not feel too embarrassed to not know the social rules on the obligations created by an invitation. We find that a large number of Americans are unaware of the simple protocol that is set out on this topic.

The modern-day Emily Post Etiquette, which often takes a more casual approach than her grandmother’s book, maintains the old rules of reciprocity. It recommends that some invitations – such as weddings, balls, official functions and those you pay to attend – do not carry any need for reciprocation.

Another exclusion to the rules of reciprocity would be guests of honor or persons of stature whose reciprocation is considered complete by their accepting your invitation and honoring you with their presence at your home. Let us suppose an illustrious professor came to your city to give a talk and accepted your invitation for a dinner. His presence at your house and his learned conversation make you, not him, the great beneficiary of the evening. He does not need to reciprocate.

But invitations to normal social events in private homes, restaurants or clubs do require some form of reciprocation. The aim is to return the hospitality one has enjoyed in a way proportionate to one's own means. If someone was invited to lunch or dinner by you, he should reciprocate inviting you back to his home or a restaurant for a luncheon or dinner, or even to a breakfast after Mass.

There is no need to rush to reciprocate immediately. Generally, he should invite you within the next three to four months. If you do not accept his invitation the first time he asks – for example, let us say you have a family engagement – he should issue a second invitation for another event later. If you refuse a second time, however, he does not need to continue making invitations. He can consider that the courtesy of a reciprocal invitation has been fulfilled.

Having listed these social rules, you see that your husband is correct when he says that it is better not to invite the couple who did not reciprocate after a year.

On this topic, one should consider there are also the rules of charity. Among members of your familiy and close friends the rules of reciprocation may be set aside for charity’s sake. For example, Aunt Emily is always invited to parties and dinners even though she never reciprocates. Another case that falls under charity is if you are trying to bring a couple to the Catholic Faith. You may invite them to your home even when they do not fulfill the social laws of reciprocation.

Catholic charity covers for ignorance or poor manners for the sake of maintaining good relations with family, close friends or the apostolate.

We believe knowing the social rules is important and fosters self-confidence rather than rigidity, since the truly courteous and Catholic host is open to adapt the rules for reasons of charity.

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Title of Very Reverend

Question: When is the title of Very Reverend used and for whom?

Answer: In the article How to Address Priests and Religious: Titles and Signs of Respect, the title of Very Reverend was missing; it was added recently. The title The Very Reverend is used in the Catholic Church for priests with various grades of jurisdiction above the pastor, such as for vicars general, judicial vicars, canons, provincials of religious orders, provincial priors of monasteries, deans of colleges and rectors of seminaries. When a priest ceases to be the dean or rector, he would lose the title Very Reverend.

Prior Generals (the superior of the Orders of Augustinian Hermits, Carmelites, Servites, and Brothers of Mercy) are addressed as Most Reverend.

In the Eastern Catholic tradition, some priests are elevated to the honor of archpriests with the title Very Reverend. If the archpriest or abbot has a miter, the title Right Reverend is used.

Very Reverend

Abbreviation: Very Rev.
Direct address: Reverend Smith or Father Smith
Written address: The Very Reverend Father Provincial Thomas R. Smith
    The Very Reverend Vicar General James Dean
    The Very Reverend Canon Michael Jones
Formal introduction: The Very Reverend Father Provincial Thomas Smith
    The Very Reverend the Vicar General James Dean
    The Very Reverend Canon Michael Jones
Protocol: the same as for Priests and Monsignors


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted February 17, 2012

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Related Topics of Interest

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