PRELATE: The title of certain ecclesiastical dignitaries. Canon law classifies church offices as "major and minor benefices." To the former belong those which carry power of administration, and the occupants are termed prelates. Strictly, this category covers only the pope, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops. Among prelates of the second order are reckoned cardinals, legates, and nuncios; prelates of the Curia, exempt or privileged abbots, provosts, and deans of chapters.
Of particular importance are the prelates of the Curia, ecclesiastics who exercise functions of the pontifical government proper. These also enjoy a peculiarly honorable precedence, have the title "Monsignors," and may wear violet apparel, exercising these privileges as honorary prelates, but taking no part in actual jurisdiction (cf. J. H. Bangen, Die romische Kurie, Munich, 1854). Admission to the prelacy, which is viewed as a first step to the cardinalate, is attended with certain conditions, such as a stated age of twenty-five years, five years of legal study at a university, possession of the degree of doctor utriusque juris, two years of legal practise at a spiritual tribunal, and formal examination before the Signature justitiae. In behalf of special training for the prelacy, Benedict XIV. founded the Academia ecclesiastics. See PRELATURE.
PRELATURE: A name originally and strictly applied to an ecclesiastical office carrying with it jurisdiction exercised in the name of the incumbent. These dignities are divided into three classes: (1) those possessed by all diocesan bishops, but not by coadjutor or titular bishops; (2) those to which the dignity was later attached by a special act, including cardinals, papal legates and nuncios, the medieval archdeacons and archpriests, and the heads of collegiate foundations, abbeys, and knightly orders in the cases when they were exempt from episcopal jurisdiction and endowed with a quasi-episcopal jurisdiction of their own; (3) the provosts and deans of chapters in so far as during the Middle Ages, as archdeacons, they had acquired a certain jurisdiction of their own, after the loss of which they still claimed the rank and title. Nowadays both rank and title are given by the pope to a large number of actual or nominal officials of the Curia who possess no jurisdiction. Prelates are distinguished by special titles and dress, and by the right of being received with incense on their formal entrance into a church. See PRELATE.
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