A Concise Glossary of the

Religious Life

adapted from a glossary prepared by

The Council of Religious Superiors, The Conference on the Religious Life and compiled by the Poor Clares of Reparation and Adoration

 

 

Every walk of life develops a technical vocabulary all its own. The Religious Life is no exception. Religious must talk about many things for which there are no ordinary English words. Consequently they are obliged in some cases to fall back on the ancient terminology of the Church, and in other cases to use English words with a restricted meaning. It is no wonder that a newcomer in a Religious house often feels as though conversation were being carried on partly in a foreign tongue. This glossary is intended to help such a person feel a bit more at home in these pages.

 

  • Abbey. A term used only in Orders of a certain type, e.g., Benedictine, as the designation for buildings occupied by a community of a sufficient size, at least 12 professed, ruled by an Abbot or Abbess.

  • Abbot. The title of the "father" or chief superior, used in some Orders of men, e.g., Benedictine, which have the family system as their model of government. (Cf. the Bible "Abba, Father.")

  • Active Life. The Religious Life organized for Christian activity as the chief means of growing in spirituality.

  • Angelus. A prayer commemorating the coming of God as man, said at dawn, noon and sunset, at which times a bell is rung as a reminder.

  • Aspirant. This usually denotes a person who is waiting to be received as a postulant.

  • Augustinian. Pertaining to St. Augustine (d. 430), or to the various Orders, of which there are many, that follow his Rule.

  • Autonomous. A self-governing religious community as opposed to a Branch House under the jurisdiction of a Mother House.

  • Benedictine. Pertaining to St. Benedict (d. 543), or the type of Religious Life which results from following his Rule, the most widely known and observed of all monastic rules.

  • Branch House. The work of a group of Religious living apart from the Mother House of the Community, but under its jurisdiction and general supervision.

  • Breviary. A collection of Psalms, hymns, prayers, etc., and thus an abbreviation of many other books, put together in handy book form to furnish the Divine Office which is said in Religious communities.

  • Canonical. That which is ordered by Canon Law, i.e., Church law, or by customs directly arising therefrom.

  • Catholic. i.e., whole. The Bible says that Christ's followers were first called Christians at Antioch. History says that it was also in Antioch, Asia Minor, that Christians were first called Catholics. In the fourth century St. Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona, said "My name is Christian, my surname is Catholic." As St Vincent of Lerins has said: The Catholic Faith is that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all...as is shown by the very force of the word catholic which means universal...

  • Cell. A small room, popularly used in lurid literature only of prisons, but by scientists and Religious used in the original sense: (a) The small room assigned to an individual to provide privacy for study, sleeping, quiet, etc. (b) The beginning of a larger development, e.g., a small place where one or more Religious live, with the expectation of developing something larger and better in the service of God.

  • Chapter.    A meeting of a Religious  community  for conference, or to make regulations, or to elect a superior, or for public acknowledgment of failures in observing community customs. The latter is called a Chapter of Faults.

  • Chastity, vow of. A vow not only to be chaste (for chastity is a virtue bounden on all) but to dedicate the natural affections to God in such wise as to learn to love others through Him and for His sake, i.e., to enter upon the state of consecrated celibacy.

  • Choir. The assembly of the members of a Religious community in chapel for corporate worship.

  • Coif. A hoodlike cap worn under the veil by women Religious.

  • Community. A body of men or women who are voluntarily under a common rule.

  • Compline. The last of the seven canonical Hours of the Day Office, originally said at bedtime.

  • Congregation. (a) A group of monasteries or convents forming a subdivision of an Order, (b) A group of Orders associated together under a common spiritual ideal.

  • Constitutions. A code of laws which govern a Religious community and determine its actions. They are usually an interpretation of the rule, but are more easily changed than the rule.

  • Contemplation. (a) The final state of prayer of those who have really learned the art of prayer, (b) Less technically, the attempt to think about God Himself and to perceive Him as well as one can, with human frailties, through prayer.

  • Contemplative Life. The Religious Life as organized to develop the work of prayer, and to be a school of contemplation.

  • Convent. A place where a group has come together to live the community life. Technically the word is restricted to a permanent establishment set apart for the maintenance of the Religious Life, and not applicable to a small mission house or a temporary establishment. The word is now usually used of a house for women, but in olden days it meant a house of either men or women.

  • Conventual. Pertaining to a Convent, especially the life and usages.

  • Cornet. A white headdress worn in some communities of women.

  • Council. A group of professed Religious acting as advisors to the superior.

  • Counsels of Perfection. The same as Evangelical Counsels, which see.

  • De Profundis. Psalm 130, commonly recited in the evening in Religious houses as a prayer for the faithful departed, at which time a bell is rung as a reminder.

  • Divine Office. A collection of Psalms, hymns and prayers recited at stated times daily in Religious houses. See Breviary.

  • Enclosed Life. One in which the life and work of the Religious is carried on entirely within the community's own buildings and grounds.

  • Enclosure. That part of a Religious house and grounds which is reserved for the private use of the community alone.

  • Evangelical Counsels. The three general counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, laid down by our Lord and recorded in the Gospel; called "counsels" because they are advisory, not mandatory as the commandments are. They advise the use of a quick, but hard way to grow in grace, i.e., perfection. After profession they become matters of obligation.

  • Examen. Examination of conscience, i.e., the taking of spiritual inventory. There are three kinds: GENERAL, an effort to discover all one's faults; PARTICULAR, examen on one point alone, such as on the subject of one's besetting sin; OF FORETHOUGHT, preparation to meet particular temptation.

  • Exposition. A service of worship during which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar.

  • Franciscan. Pertaining to the Order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209, or to his ideals.

  • Friar. A member of a Religious community of men specially devoted to mission preaching and to a strict observance of corporate poverty, according to the spirit of such Rules as the Franciscan, Dominican, etc.

  • Girdle. A rope used for belting a Religious habit about the waist.

  • Guimpe.  A piece of starched linen or cloth covering the neck and shoulders as part of a nun's habit. Sometimes commonly called the bib.

  • Habit. The distinctive dress or uniform worn by a Religious, and a sign of his or her membership in an established community.

  • Hours. The prayers given in the breviary to be said at appointed times throughout the day in a Religious house, of which there are seven for the day: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, and one for the night, Matins.

  • Junior Professed. In some communities, a "junior professed" is one who has taken temporary vows. In other communities, it may designate a Religious who has not yet attained an active voice in community affairs.

  • Lauds. The first of the seven canonical hours of the Day Office of the breviary, originally said after Matins. It is an office of praise.

  • Mass. A short and commonly used term for the celebration of the Eucharist. Also called the Divine Liturgy and in full, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  • Matins. The Night Office of the breviary, originally said in the middle of the night.

  • Meditation. A form of mental prayer, i.e., free and informal prayer.

  • Mixed Life. A community life which organizes all the efforts of the Religious towards two distinct ends, worship and work, as the twofold means of perfection.

  • Monastery. Strictly, a place of austerity and prayer; today used popularly of a house for men Religious. Originally it indicated a house for either men or women.

  • Monastic Diurnal. An English version of "The Day Hours of the Monastic Breviary" used in many Religious Communities.When the office of Matins is added to the Offices of the Day Hours, it is referred to as the Monastic Breviary.

  • Monk. A member of the kind of Order whose chief purpose and work is worship. Popularly, all men Religious are called monks, but strictly, only Benedictines, or Religious of that type, are monks.

  • Mother House. The headquarters of a community organized with branch houses.

  • Nocturns. The three divisions of the Night Office of Matins.

  • None. One of the Day Offices of the breviary, originally said at the Ninth Hour, i.e., in the early afternoon.

  • Novice. A person who has been received into the novitate, by being clothed with the habit, as a candidate for full membership in a Religious community.

  • Novitiate. The period of training which precedes the taking of vows in a Religious community.

  • Nun. Used popularly of any woman Religious, but strictly a member of an Order whose chief purpose and work is worship and whose members take Solemn Vows as opposed to Simple Vows or Promises.

  • Obedience, vow of. The surrender of one's self-will completely to God through submission to a Rule, and to the Superior as the executive of the Rule.

  • Office.  Any one of the Hours of Prayer given in the breviary.

  • Oratory. (a) A small chapel, (b) A community of priests, living a modified form of the Religious Life, such as that founded by St. Philip Neri in 1564.

  • Order. Used popularly to denote any Religious community. Strictly speaking, an Order is a community professing the Religious Life with a certain austerity, and approved by the Church as such, and recognized as having the obligation of solemn vows.

  • Pellice. A shoulder cape, commonly with a hood attached, worn in some Religious communities. Sometimes also called a mozzetta.

  • Perfection. Our Lord said, "Be ye perfect," i.e., full-grown in the service of God. The Religious Life is called the life of perfection because it is a school of perfection, not because Religious are perfect. But they are vowed to the pursuit of perfection, which for a human being is the state of acquiring perfection. (Cf. institutions of learning. Pupils therein are not necessarily learned men or scholars, but are called "scholars" because they are in the process of becoming so.)

  • Postulancy. The period of training which precedes the novitiate in a Religious community. The general idea is that the postulant is trying out the community, whereas a novice is being tried out by the community.

  • Postulant. A person who has been received into the postulancy as a candidate for the habit of a Religious community.

  • Poverty, vow of. A renunciation of all temporal things so far as the exercise of personal proprietorship in them is concerned.

  • Prime. One of the Day Offices of the breviary, originally said at the First Hour, i.e., at the beginning of the day.

  • Prior. The superior of a priory of men; or, the person next in dignity to an abbot.

  • Priory.   A Religious house ruled by a prior.

  • Profession. The act whereby one takes upon oneself, formally and publicly, the obligations of the Religious state, which in most communities is the threefold vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. A Religious must be elected to profession by the votes of those already professed.

  • Recreation. The time when a community comes together as a family for conversation of mutual interest, etc.

  • Religion. The virtue of religion teaches us what is due to God in the way of reverence and worship. The word Religious is derived from it.

  • Religious. A person who has vowed to live according to the three evangelical counsels in a community which exists for the purpose of carrying out these counsels.

  • Reparation. Making up to God, so far as is humanly possible, for the dishonors heaped upon Him by the sins of the human race; the offering of one's love, prayers, good works, or suffering willingly borne, in order to "repair" as far as one can, the damage which sin has done to the glory of God.

  • Retreat. A temporary withdrawal from the cares and duties of ordinary life for the purpose of seeking God in silence, meditation, spiritual reading and examen.

  • Rule. The guide of life formulated by a Religious community or its founder to aid its members in living according to the evangelical counsels.

  • Scapular. A loose sleeveless outer garment which falls from the shoulders. It is worn over the tunic in some Religious communities as part of the habit. Originally it was an apron.

  • Secular. One who is not a Religious; or, that which pertains to life outside a Religious house.

  • Sext. One of the Day Offices of the breviary, originally said at the Sixth Hour, i.e., in the middle of the day.

  • Statutes. The laws of a Religious community which concern its government and discipline, e.g., the constitutions.

  • Terce. One of the Day Offices of the breviary, originally said at the Third Hour, i.e., about three hours after Prime.

  • Tertiary. A member of a Third Order of a Religious congregation.Some are Third Order Secular (without vows) and others are Third Order Regular (take the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience).

  • Tunic. A long loose-fitting outer garment forming the essential part of a religious habit.

  • Vespers. The next to the last of the seven canonical Hours of the Day Office of the breviary, originally said when the shadows began to lengthen.

  • Visitor. The title of the bishop whose duty it is to see that the rule and constitution of a community are duly observed.

  • Vocation.    A calling to serve God in the Religious Life.

  • Vow. A promise deliberately made to God. Vows are of two kinds, private and public. The latter are vows such as those taken in baptism, marriage, ordination, and Religious profession, i.e., they are publicly received and recognized by the Church. Vows are an act of worship of God. Any serious failure to fulfill them is not only the sin of disobedience but of sacrilege, since it involves withholding something from God which belongs to Him. However, Religious vows, according to traditional teaching on the subject, may be declared invalid unless they fulfill certain requirements which have been listed in the Canon Law of the past (e.g., unless they are preceded by a twelve months' novitiate). Under some circumstances vows may be commuted or dispensed. No person has power to dispense himself from the performance of the vows he has made. A declaration of nullity, of dispensation or of commutation, may be given only by the proper authority (e.g., whoever the constitutions declare this to be; failing such a regulation the diocesan bishop is the authority). Such a declaration may be given only for due cause lest God be robbed. Commutation is the substitution of something which can be done in place of that which has been vowed but is found impossible of fulfillment to God's glory, as might be the case if the Religious were to receive some obviously God-given duty which precludes living as a Religious. Dispensation does away entirely with the obligation of the vows. The vows are defined for each community in its constitutions, and are taken according to their prescriptions, which include conditions under which they may be dispensed. (If there are no such prescriptions, it is held that the diocesan may dispense.) Temporary vows no longer exist after the period for which they are taken has expired, unless they are renewed. Some communities distinguish between simple perpetual and solemn vows. The former are professed with no reservations, but the community imposes the condition that it may later dispense them for due reason; but when the community withdraws this condition, they are recognized as solemn, i.e., not dispensable. The Religious vows are usually those of poverty, chastity and obedience. Among Benedictines they are called obedience, conversion of life and stability.

  • Warden. Another form of the word "guardian," and the title given in some Religious communities to the priest who acts as spiritual advisor.

  • Watch. A period of prayer, kept usually before the Blessed Sacrament. (Cf. "Could ye not watch with me one hour?")

  • Wimple. A covering of linen worn by women Religious, arranged in folds about the head.

  • World. Religious are accustomed to use the phrase "in the world" to indicate secular life and interests as distinguished from the Religious Life and its interests.

 

© 2014 by The North American Old Roman Catholic Church. Created with Wix.com

  • facebook-square
  • Twitter Square
  • Google Square