CHAPTER I. PRELATURES.
1. The word "Prelate" (from præferre, to put before) is a general name for an ecclesiastical dignitary who has jurisdiction in foro externo, whether he be a member of the secular or of the regular clergy; his jurisdiction not being delegated, but inherent to the office he holds. (a)
Prelature (or Prelacy) is the status of a Prelate. This term applies to the honor given to a dignitary on account of the jurisdiction with which he is invested.
This is the canonical sense of the words Prelate and Prelature. In a wider sense, these designations are extended to other dignitaries of various kinds who have no special jurisdiction, but are personally granted the title and honors of Prelates, namely the members of the Pope's Court and Household. In this sense, the words Prelate and Prelature mean nothing else than a superiority of rank. (b)
In this manual, we use the word Prelate particularly in a liturgical sense. By Prelate, we understand a dignitary of the Catholic Church, who is entitled to wear a special costume, and whose rank deserves special honors, both in every-day life and in liturgical functions.
2. The teaching of the Council of Trent is that the Hierarchy (c) of the Church is, by divine institution, composed of three elements, Bishops, Priests and Ministers. (d)
This simple division having been found insufficient in proportion as Christianity spread, the Church was led to create intermediary offices which, without interfering with the primitive division, constituted supplementary degrees, with the view of making the external administration of the Church easier and more effective. For instance, we see the institution of Metropolitans, (e) of Patriarchs, (f) the gradual growth in the importance of the Sacred College, (g) etc. Thus, alongside of the Hierarchy of Order, divinely instituted, grew up the Hierarchy of administration, or of Jurisdiction, as it is called. Both together, harmoniously combined, form that admirable organization, the Catholic Hierarchy. (h)
Moreover, Popes, desirous of showing their satisfaction or good will towards certain members of the Clergy, invested them with the title and honors of a higher rank, without however investing them with the functions pertaining to that rank, as, for instance, the Latin incumbents of the Eastern Patriarchates, the titular Archbishops and Bishops, the honorary Prelates of the Papal Court, etc.
3. When a man is raised to an ecclesiastical dignity, the only rule of conduct proper for Catholics to follow is to recognize the new dignitary as such, and to give him the honors due to his rank.
But this rank must be indicated in some manner, so that the faithful may recognize it and pay it due honor. For this purpose, the Church has assigned a special costume to various Prelates. Now, the obligation of a Prelate is correlative. Since it is the duty of the faithful to pay due respect to his dignity, the Prelate is reciprocally bound to make his dignity known by wearing the proper costume. Owing to personal sentiments of humility, one may sometimes be opposed to this solemn display; but the example given by great saints like the noble Cardinal St Charles Borromeo, and the holy Bishop, St. Francis de Sales, who were scrupulously faithful in observing the least prescriptions of the Ceremonials, proves that such humility has no legitimate foundation.
4. If an objection is raised on the score of the antidemocratic appearance of the Church dignities, our only answer is that dignities are not in opposition to the democratic spirit of a people if they are within the reach of all. Such is the case for the dignities of the Church, in which "the son of a peasant may reach the pontifical throne 1 as well as a prince who has the prestige of wealth and noble blood." (i)
(a) Benedict XIV., De syn. dioec., Book II., ch. XI.—Bouix, De Episc. Tom. I., pp. 535, seq.— Taunton, The Law of the Church, art. Prelate, p. 499.
(b) Frequently, authors use the words Prelature and Prelacy to designate all Prelates taken as a body.
(c) The word Hierarchy is taken here In Its proper canonical meaning of a body of clergy of different ranks or orders, enjoying ecclesiastical powers according to their several degrees. The commonly received meaning of the word Hierarchy, namely that of "the body of the Bishops of a country," is incorrect.
(d) "If anyone say that, in the Catholic Church, there is not a hierarchy, instituted by divine authority, which consists of Bishops, Priests, and Ministers, let him be anathema."— (Council of Trent, Session XXIII., can. 2.)
(e) Phillips, Du droit ecclesiastique, Tom. II., p. 63.
(f) Phillips, op. cit, Tom. II., pp. 25, seq.—Council of Nicea, can. VI.
(g) Ferraris, Bibliotheca, art. Cardinales.
(h) Taunton, The Law of the Church, Art. Hierarchy, pp. 858, 860.—Bibliotheca canonica, art. Hierarchia ecclesiastica.