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 "Monsignore," and may wear violet apparel, exercising these privileges as honorary prelates, but taking no part in actual jurisdiction (cf. J. H. Bangen, Die römische 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 Signatura justitiæ. In behalf of special training for the prelacy, Benedict XIV. founded the Academia ecclesiastica. See PRELATURE.