“Those who are chosen by God for the consecrated life make this spiritual longing their own in a definitive way. In it, in fact, they have one expectation: the Kingdom of God: that God reign in our will, in our hearts, in the world. In them burns a unique thirst for love which can be quenched by the Eternal One alone” — Pope Benedict XVI
Forms of Consecrated Life
Religious Life: Priests, Brothers or Sisters in Communities that embrace the spirituality, the charism, and the teachings of the Community’s founder call their way of life Religious life. Members of these Communities take vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience.
Secular Institutes: Single or married lay men and women, and also some priests, belong to secular institutes. They make a commitment to live the “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Members do not necessarily live together as a Community. Their goal is to be a transforming Christ-like presence in society.
Consecrated Virgins: The consecrated virgin living in the world embodies a definitive vocation in itself. She is not a quasi-Religious, nor is she in a vocation that is in the process of becoming a Religious Institute or Congregation. Nevertheless, she is a consecrated person, with her bishop as her guide. By virtue of the consecration, she is responsible to pray for her diocese and clergy. The consecrated virgin living in the world, as expressed in Canon 604, is irrevocably “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates [her] according to the approved liturgical rite.” Check out www.consecratedvirgins.org to learn more.
Brother: Brothers live in Religious Communities. They take vows and promise to use their talents to serve God wherever the Community decides they are needed. Brothers are not ordained.
Charism: each Religious Community has a charism—a purpose or mission, and a spirit defined by the Community’s founder. For example, a Religious Order might exist to serve the poor or to teach all in a spirit of humility. Some Communities have an apostolic charism, meaning an active ministry in the world. Other Religious Orders are contemplative, focusing mainly on a communal life of prayer.
Cloister: Each convent or monastery has an area reserved exclusively for Religious called the cloister. There are Religious Communities that remain within the cloister of the convent or monastery the whole of their Religious lives.
Consecrated Life: A permanent state of life recognized by the Church, entered freely in response to the call of Christ to perfection, and characterized by the profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Forms of consecrated life include members of a secular institute or a Religious Order or consecrated virgins.
Discernment: When talking about Church vocations, discernment means the process of discovering whether or not God calls a person to priesthood, consecrated life or marriage.
Laity: People within the Church, including those Brothers and Sisters who are in Religious life, as well as all other single and married persons who are not ordained as deacons, priests or bishops are known as the laity or the lay faithful.
Novice: A man or woman in the second formal stage of joining a Religious Community is called a novice. This stage is the novitiate and usually takes one to two years.
Orders, Holy (Ordained): The sacrament of apostolic ministry by which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church through the laying on of hands. This sacrament has three distinct degrees or “orders”: deacon, priest, and bishop. All three confer a permanent, sacramental character.
Postulant: A man or woman in the first formal stage of joining a Religious Community is called a postulant. This stage is the postulancy and usually takes six to twelve months.
Priest: A man ordained to priesthood is called to serve the Church through the Word (preaching and teaching); the sacraments (sanctifying); and leadership (governance). An individual and the Church both discern whether or not a particular man is called to become a priest. Diocesan priests work mostly in parishes and take promises of celibate chastity and obedience. Religious Order priests belong to Communities with particular charisms and take vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience.
Religious Order: A Community with a particular charism, as expressed by its founder, is called a Religious Order. There are Religious Orders of priests and Brothers, and Religious Orders of Sisters. Religious Communities may also have lay associates call third orders. Some Religious Orders are dedicated primarily to prayer (contemplative life), while others focus on apostolic (active) ministries.
Sister / Nun: Sisters belong to Religious Communities. They take vows and serve God according to the charisms of their Communities. Sisters are not married and work in many different ministries, according to the needs of the Religious Community and/or the need of the local Church. A Sister in a cloistered Religious Community is a nun.
Vows: Deliberate and free promises of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience made by members of Religious Orders are called vows. The vow of poverty means that members hold things in common. The Community takes care of their needs. The vow of celibate chastity means that a person promises not to get married or have sexual relations. Obedience means that one follows and fulfills God’s will under the direction of one’s superiors. Diocesan priests promise celibate chastity and obedience to their bishop and his successors.