Glossary of terms

Glossary of terms


Not only the first followers of Christ, but all baptized Christians are encouraged to take up the work of an apostle, which is carrying on the original mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ in the gospels. Some religious institutes are dedicated to serving the Church in active ministry or in an apostolic life. These specific “apostolates” may be in the form of health, social service, education, or direct service to the poor.


A brother takes religious vows, usually poverty, chastity, and obedience. A brother’s life revolves around prayer, communal living in a religious community or monastery, and a ministry within the Church and society. A brother is not ordained to the priesthood.


Each religious community has a charism, which is a purpose, mission, and spirit inspired by the community’s founder. For example, a religious community’s charism may be striving for reconciliation in the world through education or the strengthening of the family through compassionate health care.


Within monasteries, free entry of outsiders is usually limited to a confined area. A cloister is the part of a monastery reserved only for the monks or nuns who reside in that monastery. Such monks and nuns may be referred to as “cloistered,” in that they strive for religious perfection within the confines of a monastery.


A group of persons who share the same beliefs, live together with a common rule, and cooperate in pursuing the common interests for the benefit of others besides their own members.


This is a state of life lived as a means of attaining Christian perfection. It is characterized by the profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.


As opposed to the apostolic life, this form of consecrated life stresses prayer and self-denial as way of growing in the knowledge and love of God. Contemplatives within a religious institute give themselves over to God in a life of prayer, solitude, silence and penance.


This is the process of discovering one’s particular vocation in life—whether God is calling someone to religious life, marriage, priesthood, the single life, or a particular ministry.


A group of psalms, hymns, prayers and biblical and spiritual readings formulated by the Church for chant and recitation at stated times during the day.


These are the vows and practice of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are evangelical because they were taught and practiced by Jesus Christ in the gospels.


This is the period of preparation whereby a man or woman learns the customs, traditions, spirituality, and history of the vocation he or she is embracing. This usually takes place within a house reserved for this particular purpose. For men preparing for priesthood, this house may be called a seminary.


This term refers to a male member of a mendicant order, such as the Dominicans or Franciscans, although it may be extended to others in the monastic tradition.


This is the person who is entrusted with the ultimate authority of a given order or congregation or one of its designated sub-divisions. This person may have the title of abbot or abbess, prior or prioress of a monastic congregation or monastery, the superior general of an entire religious institute, or the provincial superior.


The is the place where religious dwell in seclusion. The term applies mainly to religious men or women who live a cloistered, contemplative life and recite the entire Divine Office in common.


A monk is the male member of a monastic or contemplative order. Some monks make solemn vows.


A novice is a person who is formally admitted to a religious institute to prepare for eventual religious profession. Canon law requires that all new members of religious institutes must have at least one full year of “canonical novitiate”. This year usually consists of intense prayer, spirituality, scriptural and theological study, and the history of his or her receiving religious institute.


This is the place or house where novices normally live.


Nuns are women religious under solemn vows living in a cloistered, contemplative life in a monastery. Although it is not accurate, common usage frequently refers to religious sisters as nuns.


An institute of men or women, at least some of whose members make solemn vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.


A man is ordained to priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. A diocesan priest, sometimes referred to as a secular priest, works mostly in parishes in a specific geographic area known as a (arch)diocese. He is accountable to his archbishop or bishop and the people he serves.


A religious priest is a man who is professed in a religious institute and is ordained to the priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. A religious priest, also known as an order priest, is accountable to his major superior and the other men in his community for his religious life and his local bishop and the people he serves for his priestly duties.


This term is used to refer to a person who takes the first step of entering into religious life. A person is a postulant before he or she becomes a novice. In some religious institutes, postulants are referred to as “candidates.”


This is a general term used to refer to those men and women who have been admitted to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


A religious superior is the person who exercises leadership over a number of community houses that form a division of the order or congregation, called a province.


When used as a noun, this refers to a man or woman who makes religious vows and is a member of a religious congregation. More specifically, one may speak of a “male religious,” who may be a priest, seminarian, or brother, or of a “woman religious,” who may be a sister and/or nun.


This is a collective form of consecrated life, approved by a legitimate Church authority, where the members publicly profess religious vows, live in community, and strive for Christian perfection according to a common rule.


This refers to life in a religious institute, congregation or order, usually under some form of vows.


A seminarian is a man who is in the formation process of becoming a priest. He remains a seminarian until he is ordained to the deaconate.


A sister is a woman religious who takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience within an apostolic, religious community or order. Like a brother, she lives in a community and her life is dedicated to prayer and ministry within the Church and society.


Societies of apostolic life resemble institutes of consecrated life. Their members, without taking religious vows, pursue a particular apostolic purpose as defined by the founding charism and mission of their society. Living a life in common in their own special manner, they strive for Christian perfection through the observance of their constitutions. Some of these societies, through a bond defined in the constitutions, live the evangelical counsels.


The religious superior is the person who exercises authority over a religious community.


This is a person designated by a religious institute to promote vowed membership, to help others discern their vocation, and to oversee the application process of a new member entering the community as a postulant.


A commitment made to God to practice poverty, chastity, obedience or some other virtue for a specified length in time. The first vows of a religious are generally temporary, to be renewed according to the constitutions. These vows are preliminary to perpetual vows.


Ordinarily, perpetual vows are the final vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience a person takes in a religious institute.


Public vows pronounced in a religious order and recognized as such in the Church.

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