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Religious Orders and Congregations

Monastic Offices

These terms described types of monks and administrative offices of religious who are living in community under the order of a superior. Occupations that correspond to household labor or a specialty craft, such as scribe, brewer, mason, are not included.

  • Abbott — Head of a major monastery designated as an 'Abbey' who has been elected by professed monks and consecrated by a bishop.
  • Prior — Ecclesiastical title for a religious superior or head of a monastery, ranking somewhat lower than an abbot.
  • Chamberlain — Assistant to the Abbot or Prior who is in charge of the finances and household accounts.
  • Superior — The person to whom a cleric or monk is responsible to under canon law. Can be an Abbot, Prior, Bishop, Mother superior, or other official.
  • Prelate — General name for a member of the church hierarchy who has a rank commensurate with a bishop, abbot, or religious superior.
  • Obedientiary — Monk who is appointed by an abbot or prior to an office with specific responsibilities. Some of these offices include:
    • Almoner — Church or monastery official who is in charge of distributing money to the poor.
    • Archivist — Preserver of important records including documents of both ecclesiastical and historical importance.
    • Cantor — Music director and instructor of a monastery, in charge of the choir and liturgical accompaniment.
    • Cellarer — Charged with tending to a monastery's food supply, especially including beer and ale.
    • Dean — In early monastic use, a dean was appointed to supervise ten brother monks. In later usage dean refers to the head administrator of a chapter.
    • Porter — Appointed to guard the gate of a monastery, admit guests, and interact with the public.
    • Sacristan — Charged with the care of the church and the vessels, vestments, and furnishings used for mass or worship.
  • Monk — One who practices religious 'asceticism' and renounces worldly goods in order to devote oneself to spiritual work.
  • Choirmonk — Ordained Monks or seminaries who attended to sacramental ministries, liturgy and studies, and are required to recite the Divine Office. Now commonly referred to as a religious priest.
  • Lay Brother — Monks who have not been ordained and who are not involved in sacramental ministries, liturgy or priestly studies. Now commonly referred to as 'Religious'.

Other Religious States

These terms refer to religious or laymen who adopt an ascetic lifestyle and are associated with religious institutions, but who are not properly called monks.

  • Anchorite — Religious ascetic living in seclusion, similar to a hermit but bound by vows and usually attached to a church or bishop.
  • Ascetic — An ascetic is one whose lifestyle is characterized by abstaining from worldly pleasures.
  • Canons Regular — Priests living in community, usually under the Rule of St. Augustine, engaging in public ministry, and bound to a particular place or church. Often associated with Cathedrals or Great Churches.
  • Clerics Regular — Priests living in community, engaged in public ministry, bound by vows specific to the order, but not bound by place. Jesuits are most notable order.
  • Friar — Member of a mendicant order who is under a religious superior, but is not affiliated with a permanent monastery.
  • Hermit — One who lives in seclusion from society out of a religious conviction. Lifestyle of a hermit is 'Eremitic'.
  • Mendicant Order — Religious orders of ascetics who live by charity rather than establishing permanent monasteries and accumulating wealth.
  • Oblate — Lay persons, clergy, or minors who are affiliated with a religious community but who are not professed members.
  • Nun — Woman religious who has taken solemn vows in a religious order. Orders of Nuns are frequently enclosed and dedicated to contemplation and prayer.
  • Sister — Woman religious who has taken simple vows in a religious congregation that is usually dedicated to service and active vocation.
  • Tertiary — Lay person who are associated with a mendicant religious order, but do not take vows, i.e. 'Third order Franciscan'. Similar to an Oblate.

Monastic Vows and Orders

  • Evangelical Counsels — Vows of voluntary poverty, chastity, and obedience to a religious superior taken by most religious orders.
  • Public/Private Vows — Public Vows, whether temporary or permanent, are accepted by a religious superior in the name of the Church. All others are private.
  • Perpetual/Temporary Vows — Perpetual or permanent vows are taken when a novice is accepted as a professed member of a religious order. Novices typically take temporary or renewable vows.
  • Solemn/Simple Vows — Solemn vows are made by receiving holy orders or by a public, permanent profession of the rule of a religious institute. All others are simple vows.
  • Vow of Stability — One of Benedicts original vows, the vow of stability required a monk to permanently associate himself with a particular monastery.
  • Postulant — Refers to one who is discerning admission to a monastery or religious congregation before being admitted as a novice.
  • Novice — A prospective member of a religious congregation who is under the rule of a superior and actively being considered for admission.
  • Professed — Member of a religious order who has taken public, permanent vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
  • Religious Order — Religious institution where professed members take solemn vows (public and perpetual), and live a life in common.
  • Religious Congregation — Historically, members of religious congregations took only simple vows, but the distinction between orders and congregations is now blurred.

Other Monastic Terms

  • Cenobitic — Monastic tradition that stresses community life. Cenobitic monks are usually members of a religious order and live in common in a monastery.
  • Consecrated Life — Involves public profession of the evangelical counsels either individually (such as an anchorite) as a member of a religious institute.
  • Contemplative — Refers to members of enclosed religious orders who focus on prayer rather than active service.
  • Enclosed (Cloistered) — Members of enclosed religious orders are dedicated to prayer and contemplation and maintain a strict separation from the outside world.
  • Eremitic — Monastic tradition, established by the desert fathers, that stresses solitary contemplation and exclusion from society. Now practiced by hermits, anchorites, and Carthusian order.
  • Mortification — Penitential act by which an individual seeks to curb their sinful inclinations. Can include fasting, flagellation, wearing or hair-shirt, or harsh self-denial.
  • Novitiate — Period of training, discernment, and preparation that a prospective member of a monastery or religious order undergoes before professing vows.
  • Tonsure — Shaving most of the hair on a scalp as a sign of religious devotion or humility. Historically practiced for receiving clerical orders or being accepted as a novice in a religious order.

Religious Living Quarters

  • Abbey — Refers to a large monastery that is headed by an Abbot or Abbess, rather than a lower ranking prior or superior.
  • Convent — Community of priests, religious brothers, or nuns, but the term is often used to refer to the building used by the community.
  • Hermitage — Place or settlement where an individual or group of religious live in seclusion.
  • Monastery — Refers to the residence and workplaces of monks or nuns. A monastery can be extremely small. A large monastery is often an 'Abbey'.
  • Motherhouse — Designates the principle house or convent of a religious congregation. Residence of the head of a religious order.
  • Priory — Monastery or convent that is headed by a prior or prioress rather than an abbot or abbess.