From the Latin, praeferre, to put before, is a general term for an ecclesiastical dignitary who has jurisdiction in the external forum, whether he is a secular or religious cleric (1917 Codex iuris canonici c.110). True prelates are those who, either in their own right or as a member of a college, are vested with some power to assist the pope in the governing of the Church. These include the following: (1) prelates a flocculis (i.e., those with specific offices, and who wear distinctive garb); (2) assessors and secretaries of the Roman Congregations; (3) the Maestro di Camera, the secretary of the Apostolic Signatura, the dean of the Roman Rota, and the substitute secretary of state; (4) four colleges of prelates—prelate auditors of the Roman Rota, clerics of the Apostolic Camera, prelates of the Apostolic Signatura, prelates referendarii of the Apostolic Signatura; (5) metropolitans; (6) bishops and all those listed as ordinaries in 1917 CIC c.198; (7) vicars-general; (8) superiors and provincial superiors of the institutes of exempt clerical religious.
Patriarchs, primates, metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops are classified as major prelates. Minor or subordinate prelates are those who have quasi-episcopal jurisdiction. The Code of Canon Law, when treating of minor prelates, speaks only of abbots nullius and prelates nullius. However, superiors in clerical exempt institutes as well as certain members of the household of the pope also are classified as minor prelates.
The title prelate is also granted by the Holy See to some clerics as an honorary distinction without jurisdiction. They do not enjoy any special office because of the prelacy but are entitled to the honorific rights of prelates.
Bibliography: j. abbo and j. hannan, The Sacred Canons (St. Louis 1960). j. nabuco, Ius pontificalium: Introductio in caeremoniale episcoporum (Tournai 1956).
[r. j. murphy]
prel·ate / ˈprelət/ • n. formal or hist. a bishop or other high ecclesiastical dignitary.DERIVATIVES: pre·lat·ic / priˈlatik/ adj.pre·lat·i·cal / priˈlatikəl/ adj.
So prelacy † office of a prelate; government by prelates. XIV. — AN. prelacie — medL. prælātia. Hence prelatic(al) XVII.