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pon·​tif·​i·​cal pän-ˈti-fi-kəl How to pronounce pontifical (audio)
: episcopal attire
specifically : the insignia of the episcopal order worn by a prelate when celebrating a pontifical mass
usually used in plural
: a book containing the forms for sacraments and rites performed by a bishop


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: of or relating to a pontiff or pontifex
: celebrated by a prelate of episcopal rank with distinctive ceremonies
pontifical mass
: pretentiously dogmatic
pontifically adverb

Example Sentences

Adjective a theater critic known for his pontifical pronouncements on what is or is not worth seeing
Recent Examples on the Web
The prose is confiding and, in places, pontifical. Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 24 Aug. 2020 That revelation, coupled with other recent pontifical critiques, have quickly dissolved the notion that the Dec. 31 death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a symbolic leader of the church’s conservative wing, might lessen the opposition to Francis. Stefano Pitrelli, Washington Post, 18 Jan. 2023 Because of its original purpose, however, the building also has its peculiarities: the pontifical horses lived in grand style on two levels of soaring stalls, connected by a monumental, gently sloping ramp of travertine bricks. Ingrid D. Rowland, The New York Review of Books, 20 Aug. 2020 The prevailing view of Wordsworth—pontifical, orthodox, austere—was entrenched by the Victorians, who praised him for the very qualities the Younger Romantics had mocked. Matthew Bevis, Harper's Magazine, 23 June 2020 Lifting the rule of pontifical secrecy does not clarify church official’s obligations to comply with such requests. Washington Post, 13 Jan. 2020 The Vatican had previously argued that the imposition of pontifical secrecy was necessary to protect both victim and accused. BostonGlobe.com, 18 Dec. 2019 Critics said the pontifical secret was used to keep the scandal hidden, prevent police from acquiring internal documentation and silence victims. Nicole Winfield, Anchorage Daily News, 21 Dec. 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pontifical.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin pontificale, from neuter of pontificalis


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin pontificalis, from pontific-, pontifex

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of pontifical was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near pontifical

Cite this Entry

“Pontifical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pontifical. Accessed 5 Jun. 2023.

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