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Forms of consecrated life in the church

June 5, 2015
Sister Rosina Conrotto, PBVM
Archdiocesan Director of Consecrated Life

One of the goals of the Year of Consecrated Life is to raise an awareness of the various forms of consecrated life. You’re familiar with the sisters who taught you, nursed you, counseled you and the brothers who taught and coached you. These women and men religious are all members of apostolic religious institutes. Many of you are aware, as well, of nuns who live a cloistered life including the nuns of Perpetual Adoration in San Francisco, the Carmelite nuns in San Francisco and Marinwood, and the cloistered Dominican nuns in Menlo Park. These women religious are members of contemplative religious institutes. Did you know that there are other forms of consecrated life?

Religious institutes

“Religious institutes are societies in which members pronounce public vows (perpetual or temporary), live in community and share financial sustainability. Religious render a public witness to Christ and to the church which entails a separation from the world proper to the character and purpose of each institute”.

Religious institutes can be separated into apostolic and contemplative congregations. Apostolic congregations are devoted to apostolic and missionary activity and to the many different works inspired by Christian charity outside of the cloister. Contemplative congregations live a life of cloister, constant prayer, offering of self, and the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Societies of apostolic life

One of the distinguishing characteristics of these societies is that they are defined by their apostolic goal. They are bound by simple vows, renewed annually, rather than perpetual vows which are professed for life. Societies of apostolic life live in community with their lifestyle and spirituality in support of their apostolic goal. Societies of Apostolic Life in our archdiocese include Paulist Fathers, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Social Service, Sulpician Fathers.

Secular institutes

A secular institute is an organization of consecrated persons professing the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience while living in the world, unlike members of a religious institute who live in community. Secular institutes represent a form of consecration in secular life, not religious life.

Consecrated virgins

The call to a life as a consecrated virgin is distinct from other forms of consecrated life in that it is entered by virtue of the prayer of consecration rather than by vows or promises. Characterized by a spousal spirituality with Christ, the consecrated virgin lives individually under the direction of the diocesan bishop, dedicates her prayer to the mission of the church and the people of God, wears a ring of consecration, and earns her own living.

Private vows in lay movements

Lay associations also known as “ecclesial associations” are relatively new groups in the church. Members profess private vows in the name of the church to a legitimate superior, live in community and put their salaries into the community of goods, i.e., Focolare, Regnum Christi.

The eremitic life – diocesan hermits

An ancient form of consecrated life begun in the third century, a hermit lives under norms prescribed in canon law under the direction of the diocesan bishop. The diocesan hermit publicly professes poverty, chastity and obedience before the bishop, and devote themselves to prayer, penance and solitude and earn their own living (Canon 603).

Center for the Study of Religious Life, “Kindling,” Volume 7 Issue 2, Winter 2006.

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