What is consecrated life?
In responding to their baptismal call, some men and women join religious communities in order to consecrate their lives to God as a way of seeking holiness. To consecrate something means to set it aside or devote it to a holy purpose. When a man or woman decides to accept Christ’s invitation to leave everything and follow Him in a more radical way, they make vows to live like Jesus in poverty, chastity, and obedience. They participate in a ceremony in which they make this commitment, much like a married couple exchanges their vows on their wedding day. They promise Christ that they will live the rest of their lives dedicated exclusively to Him. These vows help them to live simply, to be more open with God, and to depend totally on Him.
What is a Religious Sister?
A woman religious is a member of a religious congregation who shares in a particular apostolate. After a period of promising simple vows, the sister makes perpetual simple vows for life. These vows are poverty, chastity and obedience. Most of the institutes whose members are called Sisters were established since the nineteenth century. Congregations of sisters typically live and are active in the world. They serve in a variety of active ministries reaching out into the world to assist the Church in a variety of areas: health, schools, parishes, etc.
What is the difference between a Religious Sister and a Religious Nun?
While the titles are often used interchangeably there is a difference. Nuns take solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live a contemplative lifestyle most often in a cloistered environment. They live a life of silence and prayer. They engage in some work to help support themselves. Currently there are no religious nuns serving in the Diocese of Raleigh.
What is a Religious Brother?
A brother is a single, Catholic layman who lives his baptismal commitment by joining a religious community of vowed members dedicated to serving God and those around them. Religious brothers profess the evangelical counsels (vows) of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They also commit themselves to a life of ministry, prayer and Gospel witness within the context of community.
What is the difference between a Religious Brother and a Religious Priest?
A brother lives in a religious community and works in nearly any ministry: teacher, cook, lawyer, etc. Brothers do not feel called by God to the ordained ministry as priests and deacons are. Thus, since brothers are not ordained, they are not sacramental ministers. A religious priest takes the same vows as a brother and may also work in a variety of positions, but he is also ordained to the priesthood and serves as a sacramental minister.
What is the difference between a Diocesan Priest and a Religious Priest?
A diocesan priest ordinarily serves the church within a geographic area called a Diocese. He ordinarily serves the people as a parish priest, but he may also be involved in many other forms of ministry like teaching, hospital ministry, campus ministry, or prison ministry. Diocesan priests make promises of celibacy as well as obedience and respect to their bishop. They do not make a vow of poverty, but are to live simply so they can be of service to God’s people.
A religious priest is a member of a religious congregation whose ministry goes beyond the geographic limits of any diocese. A religious priest seeks to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience within a community of men. The community shares a common vision and spirituality and often emphasizes a particular type of ministry.
What is a religious community?
Groups of men or women who live under a religious rule and who publicly profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience form a religious community. They are referred to as an order or congregation who are recognized by Church authority. Religious communities typically follow the rule of their founder, which can be apostolic and characterized by working in the world, or contemplative, which is characterized by a life of solitude and prayer. One way to identify an individual’s connection to a specific order or congregation is by the initials following their name, which identifies the order to which they belong.
What are vows and what do they mean?
A vow is a public sacred promise or commitment made to God with the approval of the Church. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are also known as evangelical counsels; they may be taken for one, two, or three years, depending upon the decision of the community and the individual. These promises are renewable for up to nine years. As soon as three years after making temporary vows, a person can make a promise to live the vows for life.
- Poverty: Poverty is a call to share all goods in common, live a simple life, and depend totally on God.
- Chastity: Chastity is a call to love and serve God and all God’s people, rather than to love one person exclusively in marriage. A life of chastity is a witness and testimony to God’s love.
- Obedience: Obedience is a call to live in community and to surrender one’s own will to the will of God. In community, religious listen to their superiors and the voice within to discern God’s call for their life.
What are the formal stages in joining a religious community?
The time frame is dependent on the religious community but always includes: Postulancy or Candidacy; Novitiate; First Vows – Temporary; and, Final Vows – Perpetual.
How do religious communities come to serve in a Diocese?
Religious communities can be invited by the Bishop to come and serve in his Diocese, or the head of a religious order may request that the Bishop of a particular diocese allow that community to come and serve within the diocese. In both cases the religious order serves with the agreement of the Bishop.
Apostolate: The type of work or mission of the order through which their particular charism is lived. Examples of an apostolate would be teaching, nursing, social work, etc.
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 and thus do not serve as sacramental ministers.
Charism: A charism is a spiritual gift given freely by God to individuals and communities for service to the Church. Each religious community has a charism or unique way of returning God's love to Him and to the people they are called to serve.
Cloister: A cloister is a term for limited access to particular monastic communities that willingly embrace the contemplative life and, thereby, separate themselves from life in the world. It can also refer to this physical enclosure. A cloister is a monastery for monks or nuns.
Consecrated Life: A permanent state of life recognized by the Church, entered freely in response to the call of Christ to the perfection of love and characterized by the making of public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Constitutions (Rule of Life): The basic regulations of a particular religious community encompassing its daily prayer, order and discipline. An example of this is the Rule of St. Benedict.
Discernment: When talking about discovering a vocation, discernment means the process of that discovery through prayer, reflection and discussion as to how God calls each person to love Him, whether as a priest, a consecrated religious man or woman, a married person or a single person.
Habit (religious clothing): Before Vatican II Council (1962-1965) almost all Sisters wore a religious habit which consisted of a veil that covered the hair and dress that was floor-length. Concerning the habit, the Vatican II Council stated, “The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same time becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved” (Perfectae Caritatis #17). Hence, today religious communities have adapted to clothing that meets this mandate from the Council.
Hermit: A hermit is a person who has withdrawn from society to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion and prayer.
Novice: A man or woman in the second formal stage of becoming a consecrated religious is called a novice. This stage of the novitiate usually takes one to two years.
Nun: Often times the terms “sister” and “nun” are used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction between terms. “Nuns” are sisters and brides of Christ who are called by Him to pray and serve the needs of the Church in a more hidden way. They live in cloistered communities and do not leave their convents for any outside apostolates as sisters do.
Postulant: The first formal stage of becoming a consecrated religious is called a postulant. The postulancy stage usually takes six months to a year.
Priest: A man is ordained through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Together each man and the Church discern (discover) whether or not he is called to become a priest. Diocesan priests are called to serve the people of a particular diocese, like the Diocese of Raleigh. Men called to be priests in religious orders belong to communities and, in addition to receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they also take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Depending on the religious community to which they belong, they can serve any of the Catholic dioceses throughout the world.
Religious Community: The founder of a religious community brings together a group of men or women who share the same charism and are dedicated to the same mission in the Church. These are religious communities of priests and brothers and communities of sisters. The apostolates of the communities vary according to their mission. Those dedicated primarily to prayer are contemplative communities; those who combine prayer with apostolic ministries are called active communities.
Religious Life: Priests, brothers or sisters living in communities that embrace the spirituality, charism and teachings of the community’s founder call their way of life religious life. Members of these communities follow Jesus through taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They grow in holiness through their gift of themselves to God and His people.
Sister: Sisters belong to religious communities and are brides of Christ who are chosen by Him to love Him and serve His Church like His Mother Mary as virgins and spiritual mothers. They serve the Church in whatever ways their superiors decide is best, given their talents and inclinations.
Vocation: Vocation means a call. It is God’s invitation, His call to each person to love and serve Him and His Church in a particular state or way of life. Each person's vocation flows from the grace of Baptism.
Virgin: A consecrated virgin is a woman who has been consecrated by the church to a life of perpetual virginity in the service of God.
Resources on Religious Life
Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Dictionary
United States Catholic Conference of Bishops "The Vowed Life"
Catechism of the Catholic Church Glossary
How to Become a Sister, Council of Women Religious Diocese of Raleigh
What is a Sister, The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism
What is the difference between Sister and Nun, The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,
What’s the difference between a Brother and a Priest, Institute on Religious Life