The word Abbot is a title given to a male superior (leader) of a monastic community or order. It’s derived from Aramaic word ab (“father”), or aba (“my father”). In the Septuagint, it was written as “abbas”. The feminine equivalent of the word is Abbess.
The word Abbot was earlier used to address any monk, but it was later restricted by the canon law to the Superiors.
Election of an Abbot
An Abbot is elected by the order he will govern using a secret ballot. He must be at least 30 years of age, be ordained a priest and has been in the order for at least 10 years. After the election have been confirmed by the holy see or ecclesiastical authority, he will receive the abbatial blessing from the diocesan bishop.
An Abbot is elected for life, while some rule for 8-12years. Some also resign due to health reasons or old age.
From the middle age, the Pope has granted Abbots the privilege to the insignia and ceremonial proper to bishops. Abbots can use ring, pectoral cross, and zucchetto. During pontifical events, he can wear garb of a bishop, except that its color is proper to his religious order eg a Norbertine abbot wears white, a Benedictine abbot wears black. He performs his liturgical functions according to the ceremonial of a prelate.
Unless an Abbot is a bishop, he’s not allowed to perform consecrations that require episcopal power. He can’t bless liturgical oil or ordain a priest. He can only assign Monks to a specific post or rank in the Abbey he governs.
An Abbot is titled “right reverend abbot” but his fellow monks addresses him as “father abbot.“
Authority of an Abbot
An abbot is elected to care and govern the monks under him like father and son. Every individual monk was to be a son of that family, the, Abbot its father, and the monastery its permanent home. The dominative power of the abbot arises from the religious profession of vows.
An Abbot posseses responsibility for his community and every member of it, he assigns officials of the monastery to different tasks and they all remain dependent upon him.
St. Benedict says that “an abbot who is worthy to have the charge of a monastery ought always to remember by what title he is called,” and that “in the monastery he is considered to represent the person of Christ, seeing that he is called by His name”. It’s his duty to see that all things are administered wisely in the House of God.
Although Abbots are the superiors of the Abbey they also have rules that they abide in as a leaders. They not to teach, command or order beyond the precepts of the Lord.
The rules says “It is of course needless to say that this obedience did not extend to the commission of evil. No one, and I mean no one can command you to do evil. Not your abbot if you’re a monk. Not your bishop if you’re a priest. Don’t forget that!
Like I was saying before, rulers (including the pope, bishops, priests, and especially politicians and presidents) only have authority as far as God’s commands allow. If they are commanding people to go against God’s law, they are illegitimate. This is a touchy subject for some people, but it is an important one. It is important that you know God’s commands (the ten commandments and precepts of the church specifically) and that’s how you’ll know when one of your leaders is leading you the wrong way.”
While each abbey is independent from each other, some associated into monastic congregations. The authority of its abbot president is narrated in the constitutions. Pope Leo XIII provided for the confederation of Benedictine monastic congregations with an abbot primate, whose authority is described in the Lex propria of 1952.
If an abbey is distinguished particularly as mother of many abbeys, it can be honored as an Archabbey and it’s Abbot called Archabbot. Unless the title is used for the leader of a monastic community, an archabbot has almost no authority over other abbeys and their order, but has precedence.