Before the establishment of patriarchs (beginning in AD 325), metropolitan was the highest episcopal rank in the Eastern rites of the Church. Holders of this rank presided over synods of bishops, and were granted special privileges by canon law and sacred tradition.
The Early Church structure generally followed the Roman imperial practice, with one bishop ruling each city and its territory. The bishop of the provincial capital, the metropolitan, enjoyed certain rights over other bishops in the province, later called suffragans.
In the Latin Church, an ecclesiastical province, composed of several neighbouring dioceses, is headed by a metropolitan, the archbishop of the diocese designated by the Pope. The other bishops are known as suffragan bishops.
The metropolitan's powers over dioceses other than his own are normally limited to
The metropolitan also has the liturgical privilege of celebrating sacred functions throughout the province, as if he were a bishop in his own diocese, provided only that, if he celebrates in a cathedral church, the diocesan bishop has been informed beforehand.