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A prelate is a member of the clergy having a special canonical jurisdiction over a territory or a group of people; usually, a prelate is a bishop. Prelate sometimes refers to the clergy of a state church with a formal hierarchy, and suggests that the prelate enjoys legal privileges and power as a result of clerical status. The word derives from Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, "to prefer;" it suggests that the prelate has been raised to his dignity by the act of a superior hierarch.

A prelature is the office of a prelate. Prelacy is the body of prelates as a whole, or a system of government, administration, or ministry by prelates.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the power to create Personal Prelatures was introduced in the Second Vatican Council; they are institutions having clergy and (possibly) lay members which would carry out specific pastoral activities. The adjective personal refers to the fact that, in contrast with previous canonical use for ecclesiastical institutions, the jurisdiction of the Prelate is not linked to a territory but over persons wherever they be. This was a break with the very old maxim that a bishop has full jurisdiction over all Christians in his area.

The first (and as of 2004, only) Personal Prelature is Opus Dei, erected by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01