From a reader…
I’ve occasionally seen high altars inscribed with the phrase, “altare privilegiatum.”
1) What does (did?) this mean and how did an altar become privileged?
2) Does this still apply today?
Sometimes you will find in older churches a plaque or inscription at an altar that says ALTARE PRIVILEGIATUM, or “Privileged Altar”. It used to be that when, usually -rubrics permitting – a Requiem Mass was read at that altar, a plenary indulgence was granted to the person for whom the Mass was said. This was primarily for the sake of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. On feasts days, etc., another Mass could also gain the indulgence. The “privilege” was attached to the place, not to the physical altar, Also, the privilege could also be given to a certain priest, so that no matter where he celebrated a plenary could be gained! Very cool.
Alas, this is no long in effect. Pope Paul “The Suppressor” VI abolished all these privileges attached to altars in 1967 with his Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina.