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.
The metropolitan is obliged to request the pallium, a symbol of the power that, in communion with the Church of Rome, he possesses over his ecclesiastical province. This holds even if he had the pallium in another metropolitan see.
It is the responsibility of the metropolitan, with the consent of the majority of the suffragan bishops, to call a provincial council, decide where to convene it, and determine the agenda. It is his prerogative to preside over the provincial council. No provincial council can be called if the metropolitan see is vacant.