Vocation, novice, charism — what does it all mean? This extensive glossary defines common terms used with Church ministry and in particular, those associated with the vocations to the priestly and consecrated life. The terms were selected, edited and adapted from the Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., founder of the Institute on Religious Life. This glossary is intended to assist in developing a greater understanding and appreciation of these specific and sublime vocations.




ABBESS. Feminine counterpart of abbot. The spiritual and temporal superior of a community of nuns, symbolizing her role as mother of the religious women under her care.

ABBEY. Canonically erected and independent monastery with a required minimum of religious. Occupied by monks, it is ruled by an abbot; if by nuns, ruled by an abbess. Most abbeys are either Benedictine or Cistercian.

ABBOT. Superior of a monastery of monks having a settled location; a title definitively fixed by St. Benedict. Elected by the professed members (See vow) of the community, usually for life, the abbot's authority is, first, paternal, administering the abbey's property and maintaining discipline in the observance of the rule, and, second, is quasi-episcopal in conferring a certain territorial jurisdiction.

AGE, CANONICAL. Regarding religious profession and holding certain ecclesiastical offices, the canonical age is specified by canon law and widely varies.

APOSTOLATE. The work of an apostle, not only the first followers of Christ but of all the faithful who carry on the original mission entrusted by the Savior to the twelve to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

ARCHBISHOP. A bishop who presides over one or more dioceses. He may call the bishops to a provincial council, having the right and duty to do so, and he may act as first judge of appeal over a decision of one of his bishops. His immediate jurisdiction, however, pertains solely to his own diocese.

ARCHIMANDRITE. Superior of a monastery in one of the Eastern Churches, notably the Melchites and Catholic Greeks. It is also a title of honor attached to the chancery of the leading Oriental patriarchates. (Etym. Greek arkhos, ruler + mandra, monastery)

ASCETICISM. Spiritual effort or exercise in the pursuit of virtue. The purpose is to grow in Christian perfection. Its principles and norms are expanded in ascetical theology. (Etym. Greek asketikos, literally, give to exercise; industrious; applied to hermits who strictly exercised themselves in religious devotion.)

AUGUSTINIANS. A general name for fourteen different religious institutes of men and women who base their way of life on the Rule of St. Augustine.


BASILIANS. A general name for five different religious institutes of men and four congregations of women who follow the spirit of St. Basil (329-79).

BENEDICTINES. The men and women religious who follow the Rule of St. Benedict (480-547). Originally each monastery was an independent and self-sustaining unit, and this principle remains substantially in effect to the present day.

BISHOP. A successor of the Apostles who has received the fullness of Christ's priesthood. His most distinctive power, that of ordaining priests and other bishops, belongs uniquely to a bishop.

BREVIARY. The liturgical book containing the Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church. Published 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.

BROTHERS. A generic name that originally referred to all members of a religious community, but now is generally used to identify those men religious who do not or will not receive holy orders. This term is also applied in some institutes to students for the priesthood who are not yet ordained. (See also lay brother.)


CANON. In religious life, certain orders of men with specific duties often associated to a particular church, shrine or ecclesiastical function. Also a member of the clergy attached to a cathedral or other large church, with specific duties such as the choral recitation of the Divine Office.

CANONESS. A member of a women's religious community, following the Rule of St. Augustine. Usually committed to recitation of the Divine Office, they are now distinguished into regular and secular canonesses.

CARDINAL. A high official of the Roman Catholic Church ranking next to the Pope. He is a member of the Sacred College and is appointed by the Sovereign Pontiff to assist and advice him in the government of the Church.

CARMELITE ORDER. The Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, founded in Palestine by St. Berthold (d. 1195) about 1154. It claims continuity with hermits on Mount Carmel from ancient times, and even to the prophet Elijah. The main purpose of the order is contemplation (See contemplative life), missionary work and theology.

CARTHUSIANS. A strictly contemplative order founded by St. Bruno (1032-1101). Essentially hermits, the Carthusian way of life combines Benedictine monasticism and eremitical asceticism. The order also includes a number of monasteries of nuns who live a similar rule.

CELIBACY. The state of being unmarried and, in Church usage, of one who has never been married. Catholicism distinguishes between lay and ecclesiastical celibacy, and in both cases a person freely chooses for religious reasons to remain celibate in order to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the service of Christ and the works of the apostolate. [Note: males are celibate; females are virgins. See virginity.]

CHAPLAIN. A priest or other sacred minister who serves a chapel or oratory or is appointed to exercise the sacred ministry in an institution, such as a convent or orphanage, hospital or prison.

CHARISM: A gift of the Holy Spirit given to a founder(s) to address a specific need of the Church that expresses the particular call to holiness and mission of a religious community.

CHASTITY. The virtue that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure according to the principles of faith and right reason. In married people, chastity moderates the desire in conformity with their state of life; in unmarried people who wish to marry, the desire is moderated by abstention until (or unless) they get married; in those who resolve not to marry, the desire is sacrificed entirely. (See also chastity, celibacy, and evangelical counsels.

CHASTITY, VOW OF. (See chastity, celibacy, and evangelical counsels.

CISTERCIANS. A strict order of monks following the Rule of St. Benedict, founded in 1098 by St. Robert of Molesme (1024-1110). Its original purpose was to establish Benedictinism on austere lines along what was considered the primitive spirit. The Cistercians' way of life was to be one of silence, in a community devoted mainly to the liturgy and prayer.

CLERGY. Those specially ordained for Divine Service as deacons, priests and bishops. In this sense, the clergy form the Church's hierarchy.

CLERGY CELIBACY. The practice of not being married among those in major orders in the Church. Voluntary celibacy among the clergy goes back to the first century of the Christian era. (See also celibacy.)

CLOISTER. A covered walk enclosing a quadrangle around which monasteries are built. Also an enclosure for religious retirement. In canon law, restrictions to the free entry of outsiders within the limits of certain areas of the residence of men or women religious. (Etym. Greek claustrum, enclosure)

CODE OF CANON LAW. The new code, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1983, contains seven "books" of unequal length. They deal in sequence with General Norms, People of God, Teaching Office of the Church, Office Sanctifying in the Church, Temporal Goods in the Church, Sanctions in the Church, and Processes. The Books are divided into Parts, Titles, Chapters, Articles and finally Canons, of which there are 1752, as compared with 2414 canons in the former code of 1918.

COMMITMENT. Pledging oneself by vow, promise, or simple resolution to the performance of some action or allegiance to a cause or co-operation with a person or group of persons. The obligation is morally binding, depending on the gravity of the commitment and the formality under which it is made.

COMMON LIFE. A condition of the religious life, in contrast to the private individual living of the secular clergy or to the eremetical solitary life. (See also hermit.) It means living in community, with submission to a superior and a common rule, with community of goods such as food, clothing, and shelter.

COMMUNITY. A group of persons who share the same beliefs, live together under authority, and co-operate in pursing common interests for the benefit or others besides their own members.

CONGREGATION, RELIGIOUS. Institutes of Christian perfection whose members take simple vows, as distinguished from religious orders in which solemn vows are made. The term “congregation” is also applied to groups of monasteries that have arisen since the Middle Ages to facilitate discipline and intercommunion. Such groups may be united under an abbot general.

CONSECRATED LIFE. A life of consecration by profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. There are two basic forms of organized consecrated life, namely religious institutes and secular institutes.

CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE. Human life insofar as it is occupied with God and things of the spirit. Compared with the active life, its stresses prayer and self-denial as a means of growing in the knowledge and love of God. As a form of religious life, it identifies “institutes which are entirely ordered towards contemplation, in such wise that their members give themselves over to God alone in solitude and silence, in constant prayer and willing penance” (Perfectae Caritatis, 7).

CONVENT. The building or buildings in which a community of religious women live; also a monastic community in its corporate capacity. (Etym. Latin conventus, assembly, gathering of people; from convenire, to come together.)


DEACON. A man specially ordained to the service of the Church's ministry. The role of deacons is to assist priests in preaching, the conferral of baptism, performance of marriage, the administration of parishes, and similar duties. (See also permanent diaconate.)

DIOCESE. The territory over which a bishop exercises ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

DIRECTION, SPIRITUAL. The guidance voluntarily sought by a person who is intent on progress in the spiritual life. In essence, spiritual direction is the positive assistance that a person receives from someone who is specially qualified by education, experience, or personal sanctity to discern the will of God in the practice of Christian virtue.

DISCALCED. Barefooted. A term applied to religious congregations of men and women who are unshod or wear sandals, such as the Discalced Carmelites, Augustinians, and Clerks of the Holy Cross. It was introduced into the West by St. Francis and St. Clare as a form of austerity. (Etym. Latin discalceatus, unshod, barefoot)

DISCERNMENT OF SPIRITS. The ability to distinguish whether a given idea or impulse in the soul comes from the good spirit or from the evil spirit. It may be an act of the virtue of prudence, or a special gift of supernatural grace, or both.

DIVINE OFFICE. 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. 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.

DOMINICANS. The Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic (1170-1221), also known as friar preachers and in England as Black Friars. Especially devoted to preaching and teaching, they were the first major order to substitute intellectual work for manual labor.


ECCLESIAL. Pertaining to the Church as the community of believers, with a stress of their faith and union through love, and on the invisible operations of divine grace among the faithful.

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.

EREMITIC. (See hermit.)

EVANGELICAL COUNSELS. The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are called evangelical because they were taught and practiced by Christ in the Gospels. (See also celibacy.) Moreover, they are especially proposed by the Church as means for attaining Christian perfection.

EVANGELICAL OBEDIENCE. The voluntary submission of oneself to obey legitimate ecclesiastical authority beyond the demands of obedience prescribed on all the faithful. It is the free surrender of one's autonomy, according to the Church's directives, in order to better imitate Christ, and to co-operate with Him in his work of redemption, who become obedient until death, even death on the Cross. This obedience of counsel may be given stability by a vow of obedience made to a superior in an institute of perfection or to one's confessor or spiritual director.

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.


FRANCISCANS. The numerous family of men and women religious who trace their spiritual ancestry to St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The Original Rule written by St. Francis in 1209 is now lost. It was recast in 1221 and brought into final form two years later, when it was approved by Pope Honorius III. Its distinctive feature is the obligation of poverty of dispossession, not only for individual members but for each community. The friars (brothers) were not to own property and were to earn their livelihood by manual labor or begging.

FREE WILL. The power of the will to determine itself and to act of itself, without compulsion from within or coercion from without. It is the faculty of an intelligent being to act or not to act, to act this way or another way.

FRIAR. A brother. Originally a form of address in general use among the Christian faithful. Later the term came to be used more exclusively by members of religious orders, and finally, since the thirteenth century, it referred to those who belonged to the mendicant orders, mainly the Franciscans and Dominicans, although extended to others in the monastic tradition.



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.


HABIT, RELIGIOUS. The distinctive garb of a man or woman religious, its use dating back to the beginnings of monasticism. The habit was prescribed for religious by the Second Vatican Council: “The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same time becoming. In addition, it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved” (Perfectae Caritatis, 17).

HERMIT. A person who dwells alone, devoting himself to prayer and meditation. Dating in Christianity from the early persecutions of the Church, hermits were known already in Old Testament times, as Elijah the Prophet and later St. John the Baptist. More numerous at first in Egypt and Asia Minor, Christian hermits soon spread to the West, where eventually monasteries arose combining the eremitical life with the cenobitical, and isolated hermits were encouraged to form communities.

HERMITAGE. The residence of a hermit, which normally allows him complete privacy for prayer and, in the case of a priest, for the celebration of Mass. In some cases hermitages are clustered around a central church or monastery where the hermits meet for periodic liturgical services and community exercises.

HOLY ORDERS. (See Orders, Sacrament of)

Horarium. The daily schedule of a community, coming from the Latin word "the hours," noting the times for prayer, meals and other activities.


INSTITUTE, CLERICAL. A religious institute of men, the majority of whose members receive the order of priesthood.

INSTITUTE, DIOCESAN. A religious or secular institute of men or women, erected by a local ordinary, that has not as of yet obtained “Pontifical Recognition” from the Holy See.

INSTITUTE, EXEMPT. A religious institute of men or women, taking either solemn or simple vows, whose members have been withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the local ordinary, according to the provisions of canon law.

INSTITUTE, LAY. Any religious institute of women, and those institutes of men in which most of the members do not receive the order of priesthood.

INSTITUTE, PONTIFICAL. A religious or secular institute of pontifical right, of men or women that has received formal approbation, or at least “Pontifical Recognition,” from the Holy See.

INSTITUTE, RELIGIOUS. A society of consecrated life, approved by legitimate ecclesiastical authority, the members of which strive after evangelical perfection according to the laws proper to their society, by the profession of public vows, either perpetual or temporary, the later to be renewed after fixed intervals of time. The members also live in community.


JESUITS. The Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. As conceived by the founder, it has a twofold aim: to strengthen and where necessary to restore the Catholic faith in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, and to preach the Gospel in non-Christian lands. Typical of the first purpose was the establishment of colleges throughout Europe, and the second purpose was the development of worldwide mission enterprises in Asia, Africa, and the newly developed Americas.




LAITY. The faithful who are not in Holy Orders (See Orders, Sacrament of) and do not belong to a religious state approved by the Church.

LAY BROTHER. A member of a clerical religious community or congregation who is not a priest or who is not preparing for the priesthood. (See also brothers.)

LAY SISTERS. Members of a religious institute of women who are not bound by choir duty or engaged in the distinctive apostolate of the rest of the community. Their role in a community of nuns is to serve the physical and temporal needs of those who are strictly cloistered . The term quot;extern Sisters" is sometimes used, but the expression is misleading. Lay Sisters are full members of the community and share in all its spiritual benefits.


MAJOR ORDERS. The diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate. Until the Second Vatican Council and the decision of Pope Paul VI in 1973, the subdiaconate was also considered a major order.

MAJOR SUPERIOR. The abbot primate, the abbot superior of a monastic congregation, the abbot of a monastery, the superior general of an entire religious institute, the provincial superior, the vicars of all the foregoing, and all others who have powers equivalent to those of provincials.

MINISTERIAL PRIESTHOOD. The sacrament of Holy Orders and the permanent state of one who has been ordained a priest, as distinct from the priesthood of all believers, common to all the baptized. Essential to the ministerial priesthood is the conferral of the unique sacerdotal powers of consecrating and offering the true body and blood of Christ in the Mass, and of forgiving sins committed after baptism, through the sacraments of penance and anointing.

MINISTRIES. Formerly called minor orders in the Catholic Church, namely reader and acolyte. They may now be committed to Christian men and are no longer reserved to candidates for the sacraments of orders.

MINISTRY. Authorized service of God in the service of others, according to specified norms revealed by Christ and determined by the Church. In Catholic usage the various forms of ministry include these features: 1.) Service of God, who is glorified by the loving service given to others; 2.) Authorization by the Church's hierarchy, whether the Pope directly or the local ordinary; this authorization may require ordination, as in the priestly ministry, or consecration, as in religious life; or liturgical blessing, as with lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion; 3.) Based on the teaching of Christ, who showed by word and example how to minister to people's spiritual and temporal needs; and 4.) Under the guidance of the Church in accordance with her directives and decrees.

MINOR ORDERS. The present ministries of acolyte, and reader or lector which for centuries had been called minor orders. They were never considered part of the sacrament of orders and in 1973 were all reduced to Church ministries to which men can be appointed in a special liturgical ceremony presided by a bishop or, for religious, a major superior.

MISSIONARY. A person who is sent by Church authority to preach the Gospel, or help strengthen the faith already professed among people in a given place or region. Essential to being a missionary, whether at home or abroad, is the desire to extend the Kingdom of Christ by preaching, teaching, or other means of evangelization and catechesis.

MONASTERY. 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. (Etym. Greek monasterion, from monazein, live alone.)

MONASTICISM. A way of life, characterized by asceticism and self-denial, followed by religious who live more or less secluded from the world, according to a fixed rule and under vows, in order to praise God through contemplation and apostolic charity. (See also contemplative life.) The principal duty of those living the monastic rule is to offer humble service to God within the boundaries of the monastery. Some monastic institutes dedicate themselves totally to contemplation; others engage in some works of the apostolate or of Christian charity, in accord with the character of monastic life.

MONK. Originally a hermit or anchorite, but already in the early Church applied to men living a community life in a monastery, under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, according to a specific rule, such as that of St. Basil or Benedict. (See also evangelical counsels) (Etym. Greek monachos, living alone, solitary.)


NEOPHYTE. One who has entered on a new and better state of life. The name given to a novice or postulant in a religious community or to a beginner in studying for the priesthood. (Etym. Greek neos, new + phutos, grown: lit. newly planted.)

NOVICE. A person formally admitted to a religious institute to prepare for eventual religious profession. The purpose of the noviceship is also to assist superiors to better know the candidates and therefore be able to pass correct judgment on their suitability for the religious life. The noviceship is of ancient origin, and its duration varied. At present one year at least is required by common law, but many communities require more. A novice receives the religious habit, which in women's communities includes a white veil. He or she may leave or be requested to leave without stated reason during this period of probation. Before first profession the novice must testify to free consent. (Etym. Latin novicius, new; newly arrived; novice.)

NUN. In general, a member of a religious institute of women, living in a community under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. (See also evangelical counsels.) More accurately, nuns are religious women under solemn vows living in a cloistered, contemplative life in a monastery.


OBEDIENCE (See evangelical obedience.)

OBLATES. A term that has a long and varied ecclesiastical history, originally designating those children who were sent to monasteries to be brought up by religious. Some of these oblates became religious. After the early Middle Ages oblates were lay persons who were united to a religious order by a simplified rule of life, but who did not become full religious; this practice still continues. In modern times the name has been adopted by a number of fully established religious institutes, of which the best known are the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. (See Salesians.) (Etym. Latin oblatus, offered).

OFFICE, DIVINE. The canonical hours in the Roman Catholic liturgy. The revised Breviary since Second Vatican Council prescribes: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer (Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon) Evening Prayer and Night Prayer, including appropriate antiphons, orations, psalms, canticles, hymns and responsories.

OPTATAM TOTIUS. Decree of the Second Vatican Council on the training of priests. The document centers on fostering good priestly vocations, giving more attention to spiritual training, revising ecclesiastical studies, preparing for pastoral work, and continuing studies after ordination. (See orders, sacrament of.) Special attention is given to developing priests whose sense of the Church will find expression in a humble and filial attachment to the Vicar of Christ and, after ordination, in their loyal co-operation with bishops and harmony with their fellow priests (October 28, 1965).

ORATORIANS. Members of the congregation of the Oratory founded by St. Philip Neri in 1564 and approved by Pope Paul V in 1612. St. Philip's Oratory is a congregation of secular priests, technically a society of common life. Members are priests and brothers living a common life, without public vows. The purpose is to promote spiritual and cultural development by pastoral work, preaching and teaching, especially among students and the young.

ORDER, RELIGIOUS. An institute of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. (See also evangelical counsels.)

ORDERS, SACRAMENT OF. The sacrament that, by the imposition of a bishop's hands, confers on a man the grace and spiritual power to sanctify others. There are three forms of this sacrament, also called sacramental order, namely diaconate, priesthood and the episcopate (See bishop.)

ORDINARY. In ecclesiastical law a cleric with ordinary jurisdiction in the external forum over a specified territory; the Pope with unlimited jurisdiction; diocesan bishops and their vicars; prelates nullius; capitular vicars and administrators filling the vacancy in a diocese. Also superiors general, abbots primate, provincial abbots of exempt monasteries. Their representatives too are called ordinaries (Etym. Latin ordinarius, regular, usual.)


PALLOTTINES. Members of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, founded at Rome in 1835 by St. Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850). Their purpose is to preach and teach the faith among Christians and non-Catholics, and to co-operate among the faithful in the Catholic apostolate. The Pallottines, according to Pope Pius XI, were the forerunners of modern Catholic Action. There are also Pallottine Sisters, founded by St. Vincent in 1843 as a separate congregation. One of their main interests is to foster reunion of the Oriental separated Christians with Rome.

PARISH. Normally, in a diocese, a definite territorial division that has been assigned its own church, a determined group of the faithful, and its own distinct pastor who is charged with the care of souls. (Etym. Greek paroikos, dwelling near.)

PASSIONISTS. Members of the Congregation of Discalced Clerics of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, founded at Monte Argentaro in Tuscany in 1737 by St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775). The rule was definitely approved in 1769 by Pope Clement XIV, who conferred many privileges of the old orders on the new congregation. Passionists emphasize contemplation (See contemplative life) as the basis of their apostolic work, and take a fourth vow to promote devotion to the Passion of Christ. Their traditional apostolates are preaching missions and giving retreats. Passionist nuns, totally distinct from the clerical society, were founded as strict contemplatives. (See also discalced.)

PASTOR. An individual priest or corporate person (religious order or community) to whom a parish has been entrusted by a bishop, with rights and responsibilities conferred by canon law and statutes of a diocese. (Etym. Latin pastor, shepherd, literally, feeder.)

PAULISTS. Members of the Missionary Society of the Apostle founded in the United States by Isaac Hecker (1819-88). It w s established to further the work and interests of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Their rule is based on that of the Redemptorists, to which congregation the founder originally belonged.

PERFECTAE CARITATIS. Decree of the Second Vatican Council on the "Up-to-Date Renewal of Religious Life." This is intended to complement the chapter on religious life in the Council's Constitution on the Church. It is therefore a normative document on how those dedicated to Christian perfection are to renew themselves in spirit and adapt themselves to the changing times. (October 25, 1965).

PERMANENT DIACONATE. The lifelong commitment to serving as deacon in the Catholic Church. Ordination to the permanent diaconate is preceded by a decision as to which form a man wishes to enter, the transitional or the permanent. If permanent, he makes the further choice of a celibate or married diaconate. The public dedication to celibacy is celebrated in a special rite, even by religious, and it is to precede ordination to the diaconate. Celibacy taken in this way is an invalidating impediment to marriage. Moreover, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage. (See also orders, sacrament of.)

PERPETUAL VOWS. Ordinarily the final vows a person takes in an institute of Christian perfection, mainly poverty, chastity and obedience. (See also evangelical counsels.) Other vows may be added, according to the constitutions of the institute. They are also called last vows, although some communities take perpetual vows immediately after the novitiate, and others never take what are technically perpetual vows, but they simply renew their vows regularly, according to their rule of life. (See also solemn vows, and novice.)

PIOUS ASSOCIATION. In Church law, an organization of persons, approved by the local ordinary, chiefly engaged in the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. It is the usual status of a religious institute before its members are permitted to pronounce public vows in the name of the Church.

PONTIFF. High priest, and therefore any bishop, as successor of the Apostles. Now reserved as the title of the Pope. (Etym. Latin, pontifex, high priest; literally, bridge builder; popular original meaning: waymaker, pathfinder.)

POOR CLARES. A monastic community founded by St. Clare (1194-1253) under the inspiration of St. Francis of Assisi. In keeping with the spirit of St. Francis, the austerity of the Poor Clares was the most severe among women religious up to that time. In succeeding years modifications and reforms divided the Poor Clares into various religious institutes, mainly Urbanists and Colettines. Their principle emphasis has been on mortification and Eucharistic adoration, with the chanting of the Divine Office.

POPE. Title of the visible head of the Catholic Church. He is called Pope (Greek pappas, a child's word for father) because his authority is supreme and because it is to be exercised in a paternal way, after the example of Christ. (See also pontiff.)

POSTULANT. A person taking the first step in religious life before entering the novitiate and receiving the habit. The purpose of the postulancy is to acquire some knowledge of the religious life and of the particular institute through personal experience. It enables one to become better known to the superiors of the community, and to develop such virtue as will qualify the candidates for acceptance into the novitiate. (See also novice.) (Etym. Latin postulatum, a thing demanded; postulatio, supplication, intercession.)

POVERTY, EVANGELICAL. A Christian counsel by which a person voluntarily renounces all or part of his right to the ownership of material things. (See also evangelical counsels.)

POVERTY OF DISPOSSESSION. The complete renunciation of ownership and further acquisition of material possessions. The biblical foundation for such poverty is the declaration of Christ to the rich young man: “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

POVERTY OF SHARING. The voluntary sacrifice of one's possessions for the common good of a community. All means of support and activity are provided by the group. Practiced in the Church since apostolic times, it is described by St. Luke as one of the effects of receiving the Holy Spirit: “The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed” (Acts 2:44-45).

PRAYER BOOK. A manual of prayers for private devotion by the faithful or for communal use by members of a religious community or confraternity.

PREACHING. Public discourse on a religious subject by one having the authority to do so. Preaching, therefore, can be properly applied only to bishops, priests, and deacons in exercise of their office of proclaiming the word of God.

PRELATE. A dignitary having jurisdiction in external forum by right of his office. There have been prelates “nullius” who presided over the clergy and people of a certain territory not belonging to an established diocese. Thus abbots, although not bishops, have the jurisdiction of a prelate.

PRESBYTER. In the early Church a member of a group (usually of priests) who advised a bishop. Together they formed the presbytery, which under a bishop, was the governing body of the community. The presbyter having no official duties, he was often commissioned by the bishop to teach, celebrate Mass, and baptize.

PRESBYTERORUM ORDINIS. The Second Vatican Council's "Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests." Priests are defined as those men who “hold in community of the faithful the sacred power of Orders, that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and who exercise the priestly office publicly on behalf of men in the name of Christ” (December 7, 1965).

PRIEST. An authorized mediator who offers a true sacrifice in acknowledgment of God's supreme domination over human beings and in expiation for their sins. A priest's mediation is the reverse of that of a prophet, who communicates from God to the people. A priest mediates from the people of God.

Christ, who is God and man, is the first, last, and greatest priest of the New Law. He is the eternal high priest who offered himself once and for all on the Cross, a victim of infinite value, and he continually renews that sacrifice on the altar through the ministry of the Church.

Within the Church are men who are specially ordained as priests to consecrate and offer the body and blood of Christ in the Mass. The Apostles were the first ordained priests, when on Holy Thursday night Christ told them to do in his memory what he had just done at the Last Supper. All priests and bishops trace their ordination to the Apostles. Their second essential priestly power, to forgive sins, was conferred by Christ on Easter Sunday, when he told the Apostles, “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20-22,23).

PRIESTHOOD. Sacrament of the New Law, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, which confers on a man the power of consecrating and offering the body and blood of Christ, and of remitting and retaining sins. There are two grades or levels of the priesthood, the presbyterate and the episcopate. Normally priesthood refers to the presbyterate and is the second rank of Orders, above the diaconate. Only a bishop can ordain priests, who must first have been ordained deacons. In the ordination of priests, the “matter” of the sacrament is the imposition of the bishop's hands upon the individual candidates, which is done in silence before the consecration prayer, of which the following words pertain to the nature of the order and therefore are required for the validity of the act: “We ask you, all powerful Father, give these servants of yours the dignity of the presbyterate. Renew the Spirit of holiness within them. By your divine gift may they attain the second order of the hierarchy and exemplify right conduct in their lives.” (See also ministerial priesthood.)

PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST. The role of Christ as ordained to offer sacrifice and prayer for humanity of his heavenly Father. His ordination or anointing to the office of high priest took place at the moment of the Incarnation, i.e., at the moment when the Word of God assumed human flesh in the womb of Mary. During his life on earth, Christ exercised his priestly office by all the acts of his will, and then at the Last Supper and on Calvary he united all these mortal acts into one supreme sacrifice to the Father. Along with the sacrifice, Christ also prayed as a priest, notably when he instituted the Eucharist and in the sacerdotal prayer recorded by St. John (17:1-26). Moreover, Christ's priesthood continues everlastingly in heaven, as revealed in the Letter to the Hebrews. Regarding the manner in which he exercises his eternal priesthood, revelation merely says: “He is always making intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34), which is a truly sacerdotal function because, as St. Paul affirms, it bears an intimate relation to the sacrifice of the Cross. In fact, Christ's continuing priesthood is the basis in faith for the existence and efficacy of the sacrifice of the Mass. (See also Orders, Sacrament of.)

PRIESTHOOD OF THE FAITHFUL. The share in the high priesthood of Christ received by everyone at baptism and strengthened by confirmation and the Eucharist. Essential to this priesthood is the right to receive the other sacraments, of participating in the Church's liturgy, and of being united with Christ the eternal priest as he offers himself, with the members of his Mystical Body, to the heavenly Father in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

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.

PROFESSED. Those persons in a religious community who have been admitted to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. (See also evangelical counsels.) In some orders, however, the term is reserved for those religious who have lived in their communities for a definite period of time after the taking of vows. The term may also apply exclusively to those who have taken final vows. But generally they are said to be “finally professed,” as distinct from those who are “temporarily professed” or “first professed” or “junior professed.”

PROMISE. A declaration telling God or another person that one will or will not do something. A promise made to God is equivalently a vow, and it binds in conscience according to the gravity of the promise and the intention to obligate oneself under pain of sin. Promises made to people must be kept, and they oblige in justice or charity, with more or less seriousness depending on one’s ability to fulfill a promise and the harm caused to another by not keeping one’s word.

PROVINCIAL. A religious superior exercising general supervision over a number of houses that form a division of the order or congregation, called a province. The provincial superior in turn is subject to the superior general according to the constitutions of the institute.


QUEST. The begging of alms, for support according to rule, by mendicant Frairs Minor (See Franciscans /a>), Capuchins, and the Poor Clares; and by religious communities like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who collect food and clothing for those under their care.


RECOLLECTION. Concentration of soul on the presence of God. It calls for considerable mental discipline to avoid dissipation of mind, but is required of all who aspire after Christian perfection.

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. (See also rule.)

RELIGIOUS STATE. According to ecclesiastical tradition, a fixed or stable manner of life that people of the same sex live in common, and in which they observe the evangelical counsels by means of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

RENEWAL. Renovation in the sense of restoring a practice, custom, or institution to its original meaning or purpose. Used by the Second Vatican Council especially of the spiritual renewal of religious communities, by a return to their Gospel foundations, the charisms of their founders, and the sacred traditions of their history.

RENUNCIATION. To give up something to which a person has a claim. Some renunciations are necessary by divine law; others are permitted and encouraged according to divine counsel. Everyone must renounce sin and those creatures that are proximate occasions to sin. In this category belongs the renunciation of Satan at baptism, either by a person being baptized or by the sponsor. Renunciations of counsel pertain to the exercise of such natural rights as material possessions, marriage, and legitimate autonomy or self-determination sacrificed for the love of God by those who vow themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience. (See also evangelical counsels.)

RESIGNATION. The acceptance of God’s will in all circumstances of life, and especially during heavy trial or suffering. Also called abandonment, it has its object the submission of one’s own preferences or hopes to the dispositions of Providence. In canon law, resignation is the voluntary withdrawal of a person duly appointed to an ecclesiastical office. In order to be valid, the resignation must be accepted by an authorized person or body in the Church.

RETREAT. Withdrawal for a period of time from one’s usual surroundings and occupations to a place of solitude for meditation, self-examination, and prayer, in order to make certain necessary decisions in one’s spiritual life. Although the practice is older than Christianity, the example of Christ’s forty days in the desert makes such retreats part of divine revelation, to be imitated, as far as possible, by his followers. As a formal devotion among all classes of the faithful, retreats were introduced with the Counter-Reformation, led by St. Ignatius of Loyola (See Jesuits), and followed by St. Francis de Sales (See Salesians) and St. Vincent de Paul. Retreats for a specified number of days are required of all priests and religious.

RITE. The term in its widest ecclesiastical sense refers to the principle historic rituals in the Catholic Church, whose essentials are the same as derived from Jesus Christ. The four parent rites in Catholicism are the Antiochene, Alexandrine, Roman, and Gallican. Some religious orders have their own rites. In all cases, however, the ritual must be approved by the Holy See. (Etym. Latin ritus, religious custom, usage ceremony.

RULE. A principle or regular mode of action, prescribed by one in authority, for the well-being of those who are members of a society. It is in this sense that the organized methods of living the evangelical counsels are called rules, as the Rule of St. Augustine or St. Benedict. (Etym. Latin regula, a rule; norm.) (See also religious rule, Augustinians, and Benedictines.)


SACRAMENTAL CHARACTER. The indelible sign imprinted upon the soul when the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the priesthood is received. It is indelible because it remains even in a person who may lose the state of grace or even the virtue of faith. It is a sign because it signifies that the one baptized, confirmed, and ordained bears a special and unique relationship to Christ.

SALESIANS. Members of the Society of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), founded near Turin by St. John Bosco (1815-88) in 1859. The main purpose is to train youth in schools and professional and vocational institutes. They are also active in the missions and have entered the field of social communications. Their rule of life was approved by Pope Pius IX in 1874. St. John Bosco also founded a sister congregation of Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians in 1872 at Mornese, Italy.

SCAPULAR. An outer garment consisting of two strips of cloth joined across the shoulders, worn by members of certain religious orders. Originating as the working frock of Benedictines, it was adopted by religious communities and is now considered a distinctive part of the monastic habit. It symbolizes the yoke of Christ. (Etym. Latin scapulare, scapularium, “shoulder cloak” from Latin scapula, shoulder.)

SECULAR CLERGY. Clergy who are engaged for the most part in pastoral work and who are not members of a religious institute. But they are not bound by a vow of poverty or community life. But their celibacy, in the Latin Church, is under solemn oath and they promise obedience to a bishop as their immediate superior under the Pope.

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.

SECULARIZATION. The act of permanent separation of men or women from their obligations to the religious life. They are released from their vows and may return to the world. Except in purely diocesan orders, secularization requires a papal indult.

SEMINARY. A school established for the academic and spiritual training of candidates for the priesthood. Seminaries that are not houses of study for the regular clergy are different kinds, depending upon the authority that establishes them and has jurisdiction over them. Thus seminaries may be diocesan, regional, interdiocesan, provincial and pontifical.

SERVITES. Members of the Order of the Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was founded at Florence in 1233 by seven councilors of the city, who have since been canonized as the Seven Holy Founders, among whom the first leaders were St. Buonfiglio dei Monaldi and St. Alessio de’ Falconieri, who remained a lay brother. The order was approved by the Holy See in 1249 and again in 1304. Its apostolate is among the faithful and non-Christians and includes promoting devotion to the Blessed Virgin, especially under the title of the Sorrowful Mother. There are several institutes of women religious, pontifical and diocesan, specially devoted to Our Lady of Sorrows. The best-known are the contemplative Servite nuns (Second Order) founded by two penitents of St. Philip Benizi (1233-85) about the same time of his death; the nuns of the Third Order, founded by St. Juliana Falconieri in 1306, who care for the sick and the poor and the education of children.

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.

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.

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.

SOLEMN VOWS. Public vows pronounced in a religious order and recognized 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. (See also perpetual vows and evangelical counsels.)

SOLITUDE. In Christian asceticism, the conscious and deliberate withdrawal from creatures in order to be more closely united with God. The beata solitudo (blessed solitude) of monasticism praised by St. Benedict, is the best-known and most widely influential in Christian history. Solitude may be physical or spiritual or both. It is physical (or exterior) insofar as a person is withdrawn from the company of people and worldly affairs, either permanently, as a hermit or monk; or partially, as every member of a religious institute; or temporarily, as in a retreat. Physical solitude is not escapism or isolationism, but a means to an end, the end being spiritual solitude. In spiritual solitude the soul is alone with God, attentive to Him in preference to creatures, even though it has to deal with creatures. (Etym. Latin solitudo, from solus, alone.)

SPIRITUAL DIRECTION. Assisting persons to understand themselves and, with divine grace, to grow in the practice of Christian virtue. (See also direction, spiritual.)

SPIRITUAL EXERCISES. Any set program of religious duties, notably the prayers, meditations, and spiritual reading required of persons following a distinctive rule of life. Also the period of silence and prayerful reflection practiced annually (or more often) in a retreat. Particularly the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius Loyola, drawn up as a method of arriving at an amendment of one’s life and resolving on a determining way of holiness.

SPIRITUAL READING. As the Lectio Divina prescribed in monasticism from the earliest times, it is all reading that is conducive to prayer and closer union with God. The Sacred Scriptures have always held the primacy of honor in such reading, along with the writings of the Church’s teachers; not bly the popes and bishops, the writings and lives of the saints, and all other forms of composition whose avowed purpose as writing is to enlighten the mind and inspire the will and affections to the worship and service of God.

SPOUSE (BRIDE) OF CHRIST. Primarily the Church founded by Christ, which St. Paul elaborately describes as espoused to Christ. Also a woman who vows her chastity to God in order to be more like Christ and more intimately united with him. Among certain mystics, such as Sts. Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena, an extraordinary union with the Savior.

STATES OF PERFECTION. Those stable forms of living which some of the faithful bind themselves by vows, to practice the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They are called states of perfection because those who live in these states agree to follow a particular rule of life, approved by the Church, whose faithful observance will certainly lead to Christian perfection.

SUPERIOR, ECCLESIASTICAL. A member of the Catholic hierarchy who has ordinary or delegated jurisdiction in the Church. The highest ecclesiastical superior is the Pope, who has jurisdiction over the whole Church; then the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, who have jurisdiction over the faithful in the territories of their care; and finally those in sacred Orders who have been entrusted with the care of souls, in accordance with the ecclesiastical office they hold.

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.


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. (See also solemn vows and evangelical counsels.)

TERTIARIES. Lay persons living in the world who are striving after Christian perfection as their station in life allows, according to the spirit of a religious order to which they are affiliated and abiding by the rules approved for their association by the Apostolic See. Secular tertiaries generally do not live in community, nor do they wear habits, but they share in the good works of their parent order.

THIRD ORDERS. Associations of the faithful established by religious orders. Dating from the thirteenth century, they may be either secular or regular. If secular, they are lay persons, commonly called tertiaries. If regular, they are religious, bound by public vows and live in community. Originally, third orders were Franciscan or Dominican, but the Holy See has since approved many others, both secular and regular, e.g., the Augustinians, Carmelites, Servites and Trinitarians.

TRAPPISTS. Cistercian monks who follow the rule of the abbey at La Trappe, France, as reformed in 1664. They were absorbed into the Cistercians of the Strict Observance in 1892, but the name is now commonly applied to the latter. The reformation of the Trappists, under the Abbe de Rance in the seventeenth century, was continued by Abbe Lastrange into the early nineteenth century, emphasizing the need for a more penitential life. Separated monasteries were united into an international order in 1892 under an abbot general. Their official name is Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Reformed Cistercians. Monasteries of the order are in many countries.


URSULINES. The oldest teaching order of religious women in the Catholic Church, founded at Brescia, Italy, by St. Angela Merici in 1525. In 1900 a congress of Ursulines met in Rome and effected a union of many congregations. There are twenty-five pontifical institutes of Ursulines, besides those belonging to the Roman Union.


VEIL, RELIGIOUS. Covering for the head and shoulders worn by women religious. Historically, different veils have signified different roles. The veil of probation, usually white, was given to novices; the veil of profession was given at the pronunciation of vows; the veil of consecration was given to consecrated virgins (See virginity); the veil of continence was given to widows. In the Church’s Order of Religious Profession, published in 1970, it is assumed that the veil is part of the distinctive garb of religious women. The veiling of virgins consecrated to divine worship and the service of the Church goes back to patristic times.

VICAR. An ecclesiastic who substitutes for another in the exercise of a clerical office and acts in his name and with the authority according to canon law. (Etym. Latin vicarius, a substitute; from vicarius, substituting, acting for; from vicis, change, turn, office.)

VINCENTIANS. Members of the Congregation of the Mission founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1625. Also know as Lazarists from the Place de St. Lazare, which was St. Vincent’s headquarters in Paris. Vincentians form a society of common life. They are secular priests living in community under religious vows. Their present apostolate is mission work, conducting seminaries, directing the Daughters and Ladies of Charity, education and giving spiritual exercises to priests, religious and the laity.

VIRGINITY. The state of bodily integrity in either sex. This integrity may be physical or moral, and either factual or intentional. Physical virginity is sometimes defined as the absence of any sinfully experienced lustful sensation. But, strictly speaking, a person is physically a virgin unless he or she has had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. Virginity is factual when, de facto, a person has not in the past sought or indulged in sexual pleasure; it is intentional when a person intends never to experience such pleasure, according to the previous distinctions made. (Etym. Latin virgo, maiden, virgin.)

VIRGINITY, VIRTUE OF. A virtue distinct from the virtue of chastity because of its special excellence. Chastity restrains the satisfaction of the sexual appetite, but virginity totally excludes it.

VIRGINS, CONSECRATION OF. Solemn dedication of a woman to lifetime virginity. The women on whom the consecration of virgins can be bestowed are both religious women and women living in the world who have never entered into marriage and have not publicly or openly lived in a state contrary to chastity. The one who administers the rite is the local ordinary or his delegate. There is a lifelong commitment in the consecration. The practice goes back to apostolic times, with a formal rite for the consecration dating from about the year 500. In 1970, Pope Paul VI revised the ritual by which women consecrate their virginity "to Christ and their brethren" without becoming members of a religious institute.

VISITANDINES. The Order of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in 1610 by St. Francis de Sales (See Salesians) and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. It was established for women who wished a contemplative life but under less austere conditions than those of the older orders, stressing humility, gentleness, and sisterly charity. Originally under vows, they became a religious order with strict enclosure in 1618, and thus were approved by Pope Paul V.

VOCATION. A call from God to a distinct state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. The Second Vatican Council made it plain that there is a “Universal call [vocatio] to holiness in the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 39). (Etym. Latin vocatio, a calling, summoning; from vocare, to call.)

VOW. A free, deliberate promise made to God to do something that is good and that is more pleasing to God that its omission would be. The one vowing must realize that a special sin is committed by violating the promise. A vow binds under the pain of sin (grave or slight) according to the intention of the one taking the vow. If one vows in regard to grave matter, one is presumed to intend to bind oneself under the pain of serious sin. Vows enhance the moral value of human actions on several accounts. They unite the soul by a new bond of religion, and so the acts included under the vow become also acts of religion. Hence they are more meritorious. By taking a vow, a person surrenders to God the moral freedom of acting otherwise, like the one who not only gives at time the fruit of the tree, but gives up the tree itself. And vows forestall human weakness, since they do not leave matters to the indecision or caprice of the moment. Their very purpose is to invoke divine grace to sustain one’s resolution until the vow expires, or in the case of perpetual vows, even unto death. (Etym. Latin vovere, to pledge, promise.) (See also evangelical counsels, simple vow, and solemn vows.)

VOW OF CHASTITY. The vow by which a person freely gives up the right to marriage, and adds the obligation of the virtue of religion for the duty of abstaining from all voluntary indulgence of sexual pleasure. (See also evangelical counsels.)

VOW OF OBEDIENCE. The voluntary binding of oneself under oath to obey superiors of a religious institute, or a confessor, or spiritual guide. By this means, a person is more permanently and securely united with God’s saving will. Speaking of religious, the Second Vatican Council declares: “Moved by the Holy Spirit, they subject themselves in faith to those who hold God’s place, their superiors. Through them they are led to serve all their bothers in Christ, just as Christ ministered to his brothers in submission to the Father and laid down His life for the redemption of many. They are thus bound more closely to the Church’s service and they endeavor to attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Decree on Renewal of Religious Life, 14). In some institutes of perfection a promise of obedience is taken instead of a formal vow. (See also evangelical counsels.)

VOW OF POVERTY. The vow by which a person freely gives up the ownership, or at least the independent use and administration, of temporal goods. (See also evangelical counsels.)


WIDOW. A woman who does not remarry after the death of her husband. Widows have been the special object of the Church’s care since apostolic times (Acts 6). The early Ch rch formed bodies of such consecrated women. St. Paul’s teaching is very detailed about widows who are older, while he recommends that younger widows remarry (1 Timothy 5:3-16). The Council of Trent declared that objectively widowhood (as celibacy) is more commendable than remarriage (Denzinger 1810). Each case, however, must be judged on its own merits.

WILL OF GOD. In spiritual theology the manifest designs of God for a person’s whole life or for any part of that life, which the person is to accept though not naturally appealing, or surrender though naturally desirable, or do whether he or she likes it or not. The will of God can be known to some extent by the light of natural reason, more fully and with greater demands on human generosity through revelation, and most clearly from the teachings of the Church that Christ founded precisely to lead the human race to its final destiny. Moreover, frequent prayer for divine guidance, daily reflection on one’s moral conduct, and when necessary the counsel of a prudent advisor are part of God’s ordinary providence in showing his will to those who seriously want to serve Him as they should.

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ZUCCHETTO. A small round skullcap worn by prelates in the Catholic Church; white for the Pope, red for cardinals, purple for bishops, and black for abbots.