Definition of Benefice from a modern Catholic Encyclopaedia.

(Lat. Beneficium, a benefit)

Popularly the term benefice is often understood to denote either certain property destined for the support of ministers of religion, or a spiritual office or function, such as the care of souls, but in the strict sense it signifies a right, i. e. the right given permanently by the Church to a cleric to receive ecclesiastical revenues on account of the performance of some spiritual service. Four characteristics are essential to every benefice:

  • the right to revenue from church property, the beneficed cleric being the usufructuary and not the proprietor of the source of his support;

  • a twofold perpetuity, objective and subjective, inasmuch as the source of income must be permanently established and at the same time the appointment to the benefice must be for life, and not subject to revocation, save for the causes and in the cases specified by law;

  • a formal decree of ecclesiastical authority giving to certain funds or property the character or title of a benefice;

  • an annexed office or spiritual function of some kind, such as the care of souls, the exercise of jurisdiction, the celebration of Mass or the recitation of the Divine Office.

This last mentioned element is fundamental, since a benefice exists only for the sake of securing the performance of duties connected with the worship of God, and is based on the Scriptural teaching that they who serve the altar should live by the altar. Innocent III declared the sole purpose of the foundation of benefices was to enable the church to have at her command clerics who might devote themselves freely to works of religion.

Medieval constructions: Mortmain, Praemunire, Provisor.

Letter of 1231 - restraints on Rome.

Benefices in 1374.


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