Saturday, July 19, 2014
A Catholic religious institute is a society whose members (referred to as "religious") pronounce vows that are accepted by a superior in the name of the Church and who live a life of brothers or sisters in common. Catholic religious orders and congregations are the two historical categories of Catholic religious institutes. Religious institutes are distinct from secular institutes, another kind of institute of consecrated life, and from lay ecclesial movements.
In the Catholic Church, members of religious institutes, unless they are also deacons or priests in Holy Orders, are not clergy, but belong to the laity. While the state of consecrated life is neither clerical or lay, institutes themselves are classified as one or the other, a clerical institute being one that "by reason of the purpose or design intended by the founder or by virtue of legitimate tradition, is under the direction of clerics, assumes the exercise of sacred orders, and is recognized as such by the authority of the Church".
Well-known Roman Catholic religious institutes, not all of which were classified as "orders" rather than "congregations", include Augustinians, Benedictines, Carmelites,Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Salesians, Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Several religious orders evolved during the Crusades to incorporate a military mission thus became "religious military orders", such as the Knights of the Order of Saint John.
It is typical of non-monastic religious institutes to have a motherhouse or generalate that has jurisdiction over any number of dependent religious communities, and for its members to be moved by their superior general to any other of its communities, as the needs of the institute at any one time demand.
In accordance with the concept of independent communities in the Rule of St Benedict, the Benedictines have autonomous abbeys (so-called "independent houses"); and their members profess "stability" to the abbey where they make their religious vows. Hence they cannot move – nor be moved by their abbot or abbess – to another abbey. An "independent house" may occasionally make a new foundation which remains a "dependent house" (identified by the name "priory") until it is granted independence by Rome and itself becomes an abbey. The autonomy of each house does not prevent them being affiliated into congregations – whether national or based on some other joint characteristic – and these, in turn, form the supra-national Benedictine Confederation.