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Glossary

There are so many terms that come up in discussing the Religious life that can be confusing if you don't fully understand them. This glossary aims to explain some of these terms. The terms in brackets refer to where I have obtained the definition from and links to the relevant site, if applicable. To the best of our knowledge, all terms are defined here as accurately as possible. If there are any errors, please do not hesitate to inform us and we will correct them. Also if there are any other terms you would like to see here, please let us know and we will add them. 

Abbess: The female superior in spirituals and temporals of a community of twelve or more nuns [CE]

Abbey: A monastery canonically erected and autonomous, with a community of not fewer than twelve religious; monks under the government of an abbot; nuns under that of an abbess [CE]

Abbot: A title given to the superior of a community of twelve or more monks [CE]

Breviary: Book or set of books containing the texts of the Divine OfficePublished in four consecutive volumes, its format is divided according to the following calendar year: Advent and Christmas season, Lent and Easter, the first through seventeenth weeks, and the eighteenth through thirty-fourth week.  [IRL]

Brothers: Men religious who have not received Holy Orders. 

Cloister: The English equivalent of the Latin word clausura (from claudere, 'to shut up'). [CE]
Refers to the restrictions to the free entry of outsiders within the limits of certain areas of the residence of men or women religious[IRL

Consecrated Life: A life of consecration by profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. [IRL

Contemplative Life: A life ordered in view of contemplation; a way of living especially adapted to lead to and facilitate contemplation, while it excludes all other preoccupations and intents. [CE]

Convent: A religious community of either sex when spoken of in its corporate capacity or the buildings in which resides a community of either sex. [CE]

Divine Office:  group of psalms, hymns, prayers and biblical and spiritual readings formulated by the Church for chant and recitation at stated times during the day. It goes back to apostolic times, when it consisted almost entirely of psalms and readings from the Scriptures. Priests are obliged to say the full daily office, and religious who are not priests are obligated according to their rule of life. [IRL

Enclosure: The cloister of a religious community which reserves certain parts of the residence to the exclusive use of the members of the community. Strict enclosure, called papal, is the standard for other, less restricted forms of cloister. It pertains to religious institutes of women who are strictly contemplative[IRL

Evangelical Counsels: The evangelical counsels of povertychastity and obedience are called evangelical because they were taught and practiced by Christ in the Gospels. [IRLThe difference between a precept and a counsel lies in this, that the precept is a matter of necessity while the counsel is left to the free choice of the person to whom it is proposed. [CE]

Extern: A term sometimes applied by members of a religious institute to persons who do not belong to the community. More commonly used of those women religious in cloistered communities who take care of the temporal needs of the choir sisters and are therefore in regular contact with the outside world. [IRL

Friar: A member of one of the mendicant orders. 

Great Silence: Periods of total silence observed in religious communities, usually from night prayers until next morning. The practice goes back to the beginnings of monasticism in the third century. [IRL

Habit, Religious: The distinctive garb of a man or woman religious. [IRL] For our guide to the religious habit, click here. [Link not yet active]

Hermit: Also called anchorites, men who fled the society of their fellow-men to dwell alone in retirement. [CE]

Hermitage: The residence of a hermit (see above). 

Institute, Lay:

Institute, Religious:

Lay Brother:

Lay Sisters:

Major Superior:

Monastery:

Monasticism:

Monk:

Neophyte:

Novice:

Nun:

Oblates:

Order, Religious:

Perpetual Vows: Also known as solemn profession or life-long vows

Postulant: A preliminary stage to the novitiate existing from the institution of monasticism.

Priory: Monastery of men or women governed by a prior or prioress. A conventual priory is autonomous, while one dependent upon an abbey or motherhouse is an obedientiary priory. In England, monasteries attached to cathedral churches are termed cathedral priories.

Religious Rule: The plan of life and discipline, approved by the Holy See, under which religious live in order to grow in Christian perfection and perform the works of the apostolate proper to their institute[IRL]

Scapular: The most important part, of the habit of the monastic orders. It consists essentially of a piece of cloth about the width of the breast from one shoulder to the other (i.e. about fourteen to eighteen inches), and of such a length that it reaches not quite to the feet in front and behind. In the middle is the opening for the head, the scapular thus hanging down from two narrow connecting segments resting on the shoulders. [CE

Secular Institute: A society of consecrated life, whether clerical or lay, whose members profess the evangelical counsels in the world. Their purpose is to enable the members to attain Christian perfection and to exercise a full apostolate. They are distinguished in ecclesiastical law from other common associations of the faithful. They were first approved by Pope Pius XII on February 2, 1947, in his constitution, Provida Mater, which still contains the guiding norms for their direction. Secular institutes differ from religious institutes or societies of apostolic life because, while their members take vows or promises, they are not technically the public vows of religion, and the members do not live a common life. They are, however, states of Christian perfection, whose apostolate is in the world. The members are to work for the extension of Christ’s kingdom in places and circumstances corresponding to people in the secular world. [IRL]

Simple Vow: Every vow, whether private or public, that is not expressly acknowledged by the Church as solemn. The term came into use with the Church's recognition that religious congregations are authentic institutes of Christian perfection, as distinct from religious orders. Simple vows render actions committed against the vows illicit, unlike solemn vows that make such actions invalid. [IRL]

Sisters: A popular term for religious women, whether cloistered nuns or members of congregations under simple vows. The title corresponds to brothers in men’s religious institutes and signifies that they are all members of the same spiritual family, share possessions in common, and live together in Christlike charity. [IRL]

Solemn Profession: The permanent and definitive embracing of the religious state in an institute recognized by the Church as a religious order. In most such orders, all those who take final vows make a solemn profession. [IRL

Solemn Vows: Public vows pronounced in a religious order and recognised as such by the Church. The term has become technical since the recognition of simple but public vows in religious congregations and societies of common life. In practice, a solemn vow of poverty means the actual renunciation of ownership and not merely the independent use of material possessions; and a solemn vow of chastity invalidates attempted marriage. [IRL

Superior, Religious: The person who governs a religious community. His or her powers are defined in the constitutions of the institute and in the common law of the Church. All religious superiors have dominative power over their subjects, i.e., they have the right of authority over the acts of the persons in their community. In a clerical exempt institute, superiors also have ecclesiastical jurisdiction. [IRL

Temporary Vow: A commitment made to God to practice poverty, chastity or some other virtue for a specified length in time. When made in a religious institute, the vows are public, being accepted by the superior in the name of the Church. The first vows of religion are generally temporary, to be renewed according to the constitutions and preliminary to perpetual vows. But they do not, therefore, imply only a temporary commitment. They are canonically temporary, so that after they expire the one who made them is free to live the institute of Christian perfection. But intentionally, even the person who takes only temporary vows should have the desire to persevere in the vowed commitment until death. [IRL

Third Orders: Lay members of religious orders, i.e. men and women who do not necessarily live in community and yet can claim to wear the habit and participate in the good works of some great order. [CE]

Vocation:  Call from God to a distinct state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. [IRL] The word 'vocation' means 'a call to service'.

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