early 15c., "of or pertaining to a high church official;" mid-15c., "of or pertaining to the Pope of Rome," from Old French pontifical and directly from Latin pontificalis "of or pertaining to the high priest," from pontifex "high priest," also "bridge-builder" (see pontifex). Hence pontificalia "trappings of a bishop." Earlier pontifical was used as a noun meaning "episcopal or papal edict" (late 14c.); "vestments of a high ecclesiastic" (c. 1400). Related: Pontific (1640s in the ancient Roman sense, by 1716 in the Christian sense).
updated on August 26, 2020