Pontifical (i.e. belonging to a pontiff or bishop) is a book of rites and ceremonies appertaining to the office of a high-priest, pope, or prelate; therefore the name of a book used by a bishop at consecration of churches, etc. Thus the Roman Pontifical (Pontificale Romanum) is the book giving directions as to those acts of worship which Roman Catholic bishops exclusively perform, or at least a priest delegated by the bishop. Several mediaeval pontificalia are extant, but they have merely a historical value. The edition published Feb. 10, 1596, by pope Clement VIII, has remained up to our day the rule of the Roman Catholic ceremonial. "Statuentes," says the pope, "Pontificale preedictum nullo unquam in toto vel in parte mutandum, vel ei aliquid addendum, aut omnino detrahendum esse, ac quoscunque qui pontificalia munia exercere, vel alia, quae in dicto Pontificali continentur, facere aut exequi debent, ad ea peragenda et praestanda ex hujus Pontificalis prescripto et ratione teneri, neminemque ex eis… nisi formulis, quae hoc ipso Pontificali continentur, servatis satisfacere posse." It may be seen by this quotation how stringent the prescriptions of the Pontifical are. The Pontifical contains the services for ordinations, for religious professions and receptions of monks and nuns, consecrations, benedictions, etc., as well as of the solemn administration by a bishop of those sacraments which are ordinarily administered by priests. Besides the prayers to be recited, the Pontifical also lays down the ceremonial to be observed. The rules of this ceremonial are of two kinds— preceptive, the literal observance of which is obligatory; and directive, which admit of a certain interpretation. The ceremonies must be performed as described in the several services without any omission, addition, or modification, whether in the administration of sacraments or the performance of public worship, in which the bishop exclusively, or a priest delegated by the bishop, officiates.
Another of the service-books of bishops is called the Ceremoniale, but it is chiefly confined to a description of the peculiar ceremonial with which bishops are required to celebrate solemnly those offices, as of the mass, vespers, the funeral office, etc., which are common to them with priests. The most prized editions of both these service-books are those published by authority of the learned pope Benedict XIV.
In England the Pontifical is not by authority published separately from the Liturgy, so that it is never called by that name; though the offices of confirmation and ordination, in fact, compose the English Pontifical. For the consecration of churches and churchyards there is no office appointed by sufficient authority. See Bible and Missal, p. 217; Coleman, Primitive Ch. (Index). SEE CONSECRATION OF CHURCHES.