Menses Papales is the technical term for one form of papal investiture claimed by the incumbent of St. Peter's chair, in case the vacancy occurs within certain stated months. The present rules of the Roman chancel on this point are: "Cupiens Sanctissimus Dominus Noster pauperibus clericis et allis benemeritis personis providere omnia beneficia ecclesiastica cum cura et sine cura, saecularia et quorumvis ordinum regularia qualitercumque qualificata, et ubicumque existentia in singulis Januarii, Februarii, Aprilis, Maii, Julii, Augusti, Octobris, et Novembris mensibus, usque ad sue voluntatis beneplacitum extra Romanam curiam, alias, quam per resignationem quocumque modo vacatura, ad collationem, provisionem, praesentationem, electionem, et quamvis aliam dispositionem quorumcunque collatorum et collatricium saecularium et quorumvis ordinum regularium (non autem S. R. E. cardinalium, aut aliorum sub concordatis inter sedem apostolicam et quoscunque alios initis, et per eos qui illa acceptare et observare debuerant acceptatis, quae laedere non intendit, comprehensorum) quomodolibet pertinentia dispositioni suae generaliter reservavit," etc. It is to be remarked that the term alternativa mensium is sometimes used to designate the papal months, although they do not really have the same meaning. In the case of patriarchs, archbishops, or bishops, residing in their dioceses, the papal months are reduced from eight to six, the pope retaining only the uneven months (January, March, May, July, September, November).
The papal months originated in the 12th century. The reason was a desire of the popes to secure benefices to worthy but destitute members of the clergy. At first this was done by recommendations (preces); when this did not succeed, a real command was issued (mandatum deprovidendo). Gratian's decretal of 1151 contains no such mandate, as they originated shortly afterwards. One example of them, of the times of Innocent II, is given by Peter, abbot of Cluny, in his Epistol. lib. ii, ep. 33-35 (quoted in Gonzales Tellez, cap. 37, x, De rescriptis, 1:3, No. 4); another from Adrian IV (11541159), epist. 13 (Wirdtwein, Subsidia diplomatica [Heidelb. 1774], tom. iv, p. ix); Mansi, Collectio Conciliorum, 21:805. If these mandates were not obeyed, it was then the practice to issue successively literce monitorice, pracecptorice. and executorice. The
mandata de providendo came afterwards to be issued not only for actually vacant benefices, but- also in advance (c. 19, x, De rescriptis, 1:3: "Si qua [praebenda] tune in eorum vacaret ecclesia vel proxima vacaturam"). The Council of Lateran of 1179, however, forbade to present to or even to promise benefices before they were vacant (c. 2, x, De concess. prceb. non vacatis, 3:8), and this defence was renewed by Innocent III, Honorius III, and Boniface VIII; the practice was however, justified on the ground that the promise did not specify any particular benefice. The churches often resisted these papal encroachments (see Richter, Lehrbuch d. Kirchenrechts, § 148; Thomassin, Vetus ac nova ecclesice disciplina, pt. ii, lib. i, cap. xliii, xliv) but their protestations were disregarded until, in the Council of Costnitz (1418), pope Martin V declared: "Ultra reservationes juris duae partes sint in dispositione Papa?, et tertia pars remaneat in dispositione Ordinariorum; ita, quod duo prima cedant Papae et tertium Ordinario, ita, quod per quamcumque aliam reservationem aut praerogativas non minuatur" (Van der Ilard, Concilium Constantiense, 1:1022 sq.). In France this was understood, in 1425, to give the pope eight months, the bishops four. By the Concordat of Vienna, in 1448, the pope was to have the disposal of vacant benefices during the six uneven months, and the bishops during the six others. The text of the concordat further states: "De caeteris dignitatibus et bencficiis quibuscunque, secularibus et regularibus vacaturis, ultra reservationes jam dictas, majoribus dignitatiblis post pontificales in cathedralibus et principalibus in collegiatis exceptis, de quibus jure ordinario provideatur per illos inferiores, ad quos alias pertinet; idem. sancti simus dominus.. non impediet, quo minus de illis, cum vacabunt de mensibus Februarii libere disponatur per illos, ad quos collatio, provisio, praesentatio, electio aut alia quaevis dispositio pertinebit.." This seems evidently to signify that the other dignities are excepted from the alternativa mensium; but from the first this was understood to take the appointment to such dignities out of the alternatira to confer it on the pope. That the first was the true interpretation is apparent from its being the view. taken by Martin V in the Council of Costnitz, whose tenor was more favorable even than that of the Concordat of Vienna to the papal cause. The later interpretation, however, was asserted by Pins II.
Vacancies occurring in consequence of a simple resignation, or of an exchange of benefices, are excepted from the alternativa mensium (Schlor, De reservatione beneficiorum et dignitatum ex qualitate vacationis per resignationem [Francf. ad M. 1777, 4to]), as also benefices under lay patronage (Ferraris, Bibliotheca Canonica, s.v. Beneficium, art. xi, note 18-20); most curacies, and other subordinate offices, are also excepted (Hedderich, Dise. de parochiis in Germania, etc. [Bonn, 1780, 4to], vol. i; Koch, Sanctio pragmatica Germanorum illustrata [Argentorati. 1789, 4to], p.228, note 64).
Some dioceses, however, managed to elude the papal months entirely, by means of special papal edicts rendered for the purpose of securing other advantages (see Probst, Tuirnarii ecclesiarum Germanice, in Ullheimer, Ad concordata nationis Germ. integra documentorum, fasc. iv [Frankf. and Leips. 1777], p. 360,.376; Gudenus. Codex diplomat. tom. iv, No. cccxxiv, p. 717; Le Bret, Magazin z. Gebrauche Staaten- u. Kirchengesch. pt. viii, p. 4, etc.).
This law is still in force, but has in later times undergone various modifications. In Bavaria, the Concordat of 1817, art. x, states:" Regia Majestas ad canonicatus in sex mensibus apostolicis sive papalibus nominabit" For Prussia, the bull De salute animarum, of 1821, regulates that "Futuro autem tempore... canonicatus in mensibus Januarii, Martii, Maii, Julii, Semtembris, ac Novembris... vacantes conferentur, quemadmodum hactenus in capitulo Wratislaviensi hactenus factum est" (see Laspeyre, Gesch. u. heutige Venfawsung d. Kath. K. Preussens [Halle, 1840], 339, 369, 370). In several other countries the law has fallen into disuse. and the appointments are made by the dioceses. See Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 9:359.