are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory."
What makes the consecrated life a more exacting way of Christian living is the public vows or other sacred bonds whereby the consecrated persons commit themselves, for the love of God, to observe as binding the counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience from the Christian Gospel, or at least, in the case of consecrated virgins and widows/widowers, a vow of total chastity. The Benedictine vow as laid down in the Rule of St Benedict, ch. 58:17, is analogous to the more usual vow of religious institutes. Consecrated persons are not part of the Catholic Church hierarchy, unless they are also ordained bishops, priests or deacons.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments: "From the very beginning of the Church there were men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate him more closely, by practising the evangelical counsels. They led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families. These the Church, by virtue of her authority, gladly accepted and approved."
Consecrated life may be lived either in institutes or individually. While those living it are either clergy (if ordained) or lay people, the state of consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay by nature.