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Glossary of Terms PDF Print E-mail
Written by augustinian recollects   
Sunday, 11 September 2011 02:19

Terms referring to or related to Religious Life

(Throughout this Glossary Augustinian Recollect will be referred to by the abbreviation AR)

Apostolate. Christian ministry. The word is derived from the apostles of Jesus Christ sent on mission in his name to preach, heal, and cast out evil spirits. Apostolate can be as varied as the needs of the Church: administration of the Sacraments, preaching, retreats, hospital, military, or prison chaplaincy, counseling, working with youth, married couples or the elderly, etc. Only some apostolates (i.e., administration of the Sacraments) need to be carried out by the clergy. Others can be carried out by any Catholic who desires to serve those in need. For these apostolates to be carried out officially, some form of Church approval or commissioning is necessary. Since Vatican II (1962-65) and its emphasis on the "Apostolate of the Laity," as well as the current shortage of clergy*, more and more Catholic laity* have been involved in some form of apostolate.

Archives. Records kept by a community (or the place where they are stored) documenting history through artifacts or written records.

Beatification/Canonization. The process by which the Catholic Church determines whether one of its members (deceased for at least 5 years) is worthy of being proclaimed a "saint." The process involves a careful investigation of all aspects of the candidate's life to determine if he/she practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace and, therefore, can fittingly be proposed as a model and intercessor for the faithful.

Bishop. In Catholic tradition a successor of the apostles entrusted by the Holy See* with supervision over a local (regional) church known as a diocese.*

Breviary. The book containing the Liturgy of the Hours* or "Divine Office" which every priest and brother is obliged to recite each day.

Canon Law. (Latest revision, 1983) The universal law of the Catholic Church that defines roles, relationships, and responsibilities. Canons 573 to 746 deal with religious* under the title "Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life."

Celibacy. The state of life one assumes as a religious (or priest) in which he/she promises to refrain from marriage and any sexual relations in order to be consecrated to the service of God and of the Church.

Chapter of Renewal. Formerly known as "Chapter of Faults," a tradition among ARs and other religious communities as a means of spiritual growth and self-awareness. It may be carried out as a form of examination of conscience, reflecting on individual and communal strengths and weaknesses.

Charism. A term that refers to that which makes a religious community unique; the particular faith vision of the founder that has left a lasting character on the life and work style of the community. The different charisms of religious communities may be compared with the Pauline image of the Body of Christ in which each member carries out a different but complimentary function for the well-being of the whole Body.

Chastity. The virtue and vow by which a religious directs his/her sexuality in a non-generative and non-exclusive way as a faith expression of total commitment to Christ.

Clergy/Clerics. In Catholic tradition those who have received priestly ordination* by the hands of legitimate Church authority, being marked thereby, with a special sacramental character and the rights, powers, and duties flowing from the office they have received (e.g.., celebrate Mass, hear Confessions). Clergy are normally set apart from other Catholics by a life style conforming to their office.

Cloister. A physical enclosure or place of restricted access, such as a monastery* or convent,* which normally encompasses the living quarters of priests and religious. The cloister is especially important for contemplative* communities, where separation from "the world" is an essential element of their vocations.*

Consecration. At the Mass, the act of transforming bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. In religious life, an act of choosing to be set apart for a special role in the service of God and the Church normally accompanied by a vow or public promise together with a distinctive way of life.

Constitutions. The document which embodies the charism* and theology of a religious community and sets down norms to govern its life and activities. Religious Constitutions must be approved by the Holy See* and, once approved, can only be modified by the General Chapter* of the community.

Contemplation. An act of prayer focusing on the loving presence of God within the person.

Contemplative Community. An institute whose primary apostolate is prayer, whose members live in a cloister* and are not involved in work outside their monastery.* Examples of such communities would be the Trappists, Carthusians, and Cloistered Carmelites.

Convent. A residence normally for religious women (nuns* or sisters*) although in many countries (e.g., Spain) a convent can refer to a residence for religious men as well. A convent, like a monastery,* will normally have an area considered cloistered* as well as areas for receiving visitors or carrying out functions such as meetings, etc.

Continuous Formation.* An effort on the part of ARs; to continuing growing in their spiritual and professional lives for as long as they live.

Course of Renewal. A special month-long program of spirituality, theology, and fraternity among the ARs a form of mini-sabbatical offered regularly in different regions of the Order and which all are encouraged to attend at least once every ten years.

Council/Curia. An advisory board for the Prior General,* Prior Provincial,* and local Prior* to be consulted on certain decisions as prescribed by the Constitutions.*

Day of Recollection. A mini-retreat held once each month and attended by all ARs in a given region as a means of spiritual growth. The day normally includes prayer, study, discussion, and fraternity.

Delegation. A regional grouping of AR houses* for the purpose of coordinating community activities. The Delegate would exercise certain limited authority over the Delegation in the name of the Provincial.*

Diocese. A regional grouping of parishes and other pastoral* ministries presided over by a bishop*. The bishop is called the ordinary of the diocese and may have one or more auxiliary or regional bishops to assist him, especially if the diocese is large. An archdiocese is a regional grouping of dioceses forming what is known as a province and presided over by an archbishop known as the metropolitan.

Dispensation. The freeing of a religious from the obligations of the vows* he has made and allowing him to return to the life of a lay Catholic. This process usually requires the intervention of the Holy See* and is approved only for grave reasons.

Evangelical Counsels. The traditional term used for the three vows of religious life: poverty,* chastity,* and obedience.*

Evangelization. The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Often we speak about evangelization by word (testimony) and evangelization by action (witness). Traditionally we think of evangelization as pertaining to foreign missions in non-Christian countries, but in recent years the Pope has pointed out that many traditionally Christian countries (i.e., US and Western Europe) have become so secularized (indifferent to religious values) that a re-evangelization or "New Evangelization" of these areas is also necessary.

Exemption. An exemption is a privilege removing one from a certain form of authority or jurisdiction. ARs like all religious, are "exempt" from the authority of the local bishop (except in regard to pastoral* ministry) and are subject, rather, to the authority of their own superiors.*

Expulsion. A form of penalty in which an individual religious, for serious faults or violations of community rules, is dismissed from in the Order.

Faculties. A right to act as the bishop's representative in carrying out the pastoral* work of the diocese.* This right can be given only by the bishop* himself and must be obtained by religious who are entering the diocese from another place.

Forma de Vivir. The foundational document of the Recollection* constituted by the Acts of the Council of Toledo, Spain, in 1588.

Formation. An inclusive term referring to the total preparation of candidates for the religious life or priesthood. It embraces the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development of the person.

Formation Personnel. The religious who has been entrusted by the community with guiding the candidates in initial formation* is generally known as the Prefect or Director of students. There is a Prefect of Postulants (before novitiate) and a Prefect of Professed (after novitiate). The religious in charge of formation in the novitiate is normally called the Master of Novices.

Fraternal Correction. A form of peer interaction in which one member of a religious community confronts another who has committed a serious failing. "Fraternal" implies that this correction is done out of concern for the well-being of the person at fault and in a respectful manner. Following the Gospel precept, if the erring person fails to change his ways, he is to be reported to the superior, who then assumes responsibility for making the correction. St. Augustine states that this difficult task is an act of love to save the person concerned from harming himself or others by his bad example.

Friar. A term derived from the Latin frater meaning brother, which came into common usage during the Middle Ages especially with the rise of the Mendicant* movement.

General Chapter. The supreme governing body of an Order. Among the ARs, the General Chapter, which consists of elected representatives as well as those who attend a jure ("by right"), assembles every six years to evaluate the work of the Order, to make recommendations for the future ["Acts"], and to elect a new Prior General* and Council.*

Habit. The garb or clothing worn by religious. The habit is different for each community. The habit of the ARs consists of a tunic or long robe, a cowl worn over the shoulders with a hood in back which can cover the head, and a belt known as a cincture. The Recollect habit is completely black. It is worn only in the house* or during ministry on the premises of one of our parishes or other ministries. Over time the parts of the habit came to symbolize the three vows: the tunic (poverty*), the cowl (obedience*), and the cincture (chastity*).

Holy See. The highest authority of the Catholic Church that is exercised by the Pope or Supreme Pontiff as the representative of Jesus Christ on earth. A See refers to a diocese; the Holy See refers to the diocese of Rome.

Initial Formation. Refers to the period of formation* before Ordination* for priesthood candidates and before Solemn Profession* for brotherhood candidates. Initial formation prepares the candidate for his life's work and is carried out in a special place known as a formation house.

Interiority. A term used frequently by St. Augustine to refer to the life of integrity or singleness of purpose that a person must achieve to make progress in the spiritual life. It involves focusing and concentrating on the importance of self and, above all, on the God within, rather than on things "outside" (i.e., material possessions.)

Laity. All baptized Catholics who form the faith community of the Church but have not received Orders.*

Leave of Absence. Permission for a religious to live outside one of our houses,* usually for the purpose of resolving some personal difficulties with vocation* or in order to fulfill some pressing obligation (e.g., to help one's family.) A leave of absence is given only for a grave reason and then normally not for more than one year.

Liturgy. In Catholic tradition, Liturgy is the public worship of God through the Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours,* and above all through the Sacrifice of the Eucharist (Mass).

Liturgy of the Hours. Also called the "Divine Office," the official prayer of the Church. It consists of seven "hours" of prayer (hymns, psalms, and readings) that conform loosely to the hours of the day: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Mid-morning/Midday/Mid-afternoon Prayer (often combined), Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. All priests and brothers are obligated to recite the Liturgy of the Hours every day. The ARs by their Constitutions* are also obligated to the daily recitation of the full Liturgy of the Hours.

Local Chapter. A monthly meeting of ARs in each of our houses* in order to exchange information, coordinate plans for activities, and make certain decisions concerning matters of common concern. The local Prior* presides at this meeting.

Mendicants. Individuals associated with a renewal movement within Monasticism* beginning in the 12th century and associated with such religious communities as Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. The root meaning of mendicant is "beggar". Mendicants followed the Gospel practice of living in poverty and depending on the alms of others to support themselves and their works.

Ministry. Often known as pastoral* ministry, it refers to Christian service to the faithful. Ministries are also offices in the Church (formerly known as "Minor Orders"). They include Reader (which allows one to officially read the Sacred Scriptures in the liturgical assembly) and Acolyte (which allows one to act officially as server at the altar during the Mass).

Mission. A place where Christianity is being preached for the first time, usually in a developing country where there are few native clergy. When referring to a religious community, mission refers to the purpose or goal of the community.

Monastery. A residence for religious. A monastery is usually a large house* where many religious live. It may be dedicated to some special purpose such as formation, retirement, or retreat work. The area where the religious live is often designed as a Cloister.*

Monasticism. An ongoing reform movement in the Catholic Church generally regarded as beginning about the middle of the 4th century. It was an attempt to live a stricter, more "apostolic" form of Christianity through prayer, manual labor, and asceticism (mortification*). Monasticism has taken on many forms over the centuries (predominantly through religious institutes* or communities) and has greatly influenced secular as well as Church history.

Monk. One of the original terms used to describe a consecrated religious*. The root meaning of monk is "mono" meaning one-alone. This oneness described the monk's singleness of purpose (to serve God alone) as well as his vow of chastity by which he had no family. For St. Augustine monk also signified one in the sense of unity with his brothers in community.

Mortification. Self-denial. St. Augustine says that by denying ourselves certain legitimate desires we strengthen ourselves to resist illegitimate desires. Mortification is an attempt to gain self-control and to free ourselves from minor or harmful things to devote our attention and energy to the things that are really important in life. Mortification is also a means of sharing our possessions with others, since by refusing to consume them ourselves, we are free to give them to those who are more in need.

Novitiate. An intensely spiritual year during initial formation* in which a candidate comes to a decision (with the help of the Master of Novices) whether or not to become a religious by profession of vows.* The formation team (personnel) of the house also votes on the conduct and attitude of the candidate to decide if he should be promoted.

Nun. One of the original terms used to describe a religious woman. It is now used to refer particularly to those religious women who have embraced the contemplative* form of religious life such as the cloistered or discalced Carmelites. The ARs also have communities of cloistered contemplative nuns. The term Sister* often refers to a religious woman who has chosen a more active life style which includes some form of active apostolate.*

Obedience. One of the vows* or evangelical counsels* which bind a religious to follow the directions of his superior* in terms of particular assignments and other duties. Obedience must be freely chosen and, like all the vows, is based on faith and the imitation of Christ, who did the will of the Father rather than his own will.

Orders. Refer to the offices in the Catholic Church that entail the conferral of certain rights, powers, and responsibilities. They are three-fold: deacon, priest, and bishop. Each office is conferred by its own ritual and entails different responsibilities. They are regarded as stages in the Sacrament of the Priesthood or Holy Orders.

Ordination. The rite of receiving the office of deacon, priest, or bishop.

Ordo Domesticus. The "rules of the house," an application of the regulations of the Constitutions to the local level, specifying such things as required activities, duties, and ministries, as well as the schedule for the same. All the religious* living in the house* are bound by the requirements of the Ordo.

Pastoral Work. Similar to Apostolate.* The word pastoral derives from pastor, drawing from the shepherd imagery of the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Ezekiel, God says that he will call shepherds after his own heart and distinguishes between good and bad shepherds. In the Gospels, Jesus referred to himself as "The Good Shepherd," who always takes care of his flock.

Penance. An activity similar to mortification* while also containing the idea of reparation (atonement) for personal sins. Most religious communities encourage their members to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance) on a regular basis. There are also admonitions that individual religious carry out their own penances to help them grow in the spiritual life and to free themselves from bad habits. Sometimes common or public penances are performed (e.g., fasting), especially during the penitential season of Lent.

Postulancy. Admission to the community of a candidate is followed by a trial period known as postulancy. Among the ARs this stage of formation* may last 1 to 2 years. The Postulancy is the time when the candidate learns about the community and the community about the candidate. During this time he may leave of his own accord or be dismissed. If there is mutual agreement concerning the candidate's suitability, he passes to the next stage, the novitiate.*

Poverty. One of the three evangelical counsels* or vows.* The vow of poverty requires that a person give us the use (simple vows*) and ultimately the right of ownership (solemn vows*) of all he possesses. In the Augustinian tradition all things are held in common. The individual religious turns over anything he acquires to the community, and the community in turn takes care of all his needs (personal, medical, and educational). The vow of Poverty is meant to focus a person's attention on the most valuable of all possessions, God himself, and, by sustaining the community's mission with his contributions, to share what he has with the poor.

Prior (local). The Prior is the leader of the local community or house*. Known as the praepositus by St. Augustine, he is regarded in the Augustinian tradition as the "first among equals" with authority, along with his Council,* to make decisions in the name of the community. The Prior differs, for example, from an Abbot in the Benedictine tradition in the limits of his authority and his term of office.

Prior General. The supreme head of the Order and the religious* entrusted with the well being of the entire community. He has certain duties clearly defined in the Constitutions. Among these are making decisions, along with his Council,* that affect the whole Order.

Prior Provincial. The regional superior,* whose authority and duties extend to the houses* of an individual Province*. His duties are also clearly defined by the Constitutions.*

Procurator. The community treasurer, who is entrusted with financial matters of the community. Procurators exist on the general, provincial, and local levels.

Profession. The public profession of the vows* - poverty,* chastity,* and obedience* - as an act of consecration* to God through a religious community. Profession can be simple (temporary) or solemn (permanent or perpetual). In the AR tradition, one first makes simple vows for a period of time (normally for three years) before deciding with community approval, to make solemn vows. For further information on profession and the vows see Entering the Community.

Protocol. An official communication coming from the General or the Provincial. These are documents that have to do with issues concerning fulfillment of requirements of the Constitutions or other items affecting the common good. Each protocol is numbered and must be kept in an official book by each house.

Province. A regional subdivision of the Order. For further information see Where We Are.

Provincial Chapter. The supreme policy-making body of the Province (similar in this regard to the General Chapter* for the Order). The Provincial Chapter, which consists of elected representatives as well as those who attend a jure ("by right"), evaluates the work of the Province, makes recommendations for the future ("Determinations") and elects a new Prior Provincial* and Council.* The Provincial Chapter is convened among the ARs every three years.

Provincial Directory. An application of the norms of the Constitutions* to the Provincial level taking into account the unique historical and cultural circumstances of the Province.*

Recollection. This term refers first of all to St. Augustine's concept of spiritual growth through "return to self" or the attainment of interiority*: a focusing or uniting of the will on the presence and importance of God (rather than possessions) in one's life. "Recollection" also refers to the historical movement beginning in 16th century Spain that resulted in the AR tradition and Order.

Religious. In the ordinary sense, this word refers to the quality by which a person is pious or prayerful, believing in God and acting according to God's moral laws. In the special sense, religious refers to that baptized Catholic who freely consecrates himself to serve God more fully through the profession* of the evangelical counsels* within a religious institute* or community.

Religious Institute. A society in which members, according to proper law, pronounce public vows either perpetual or temporary, which are to be renewed when they have lapsed, and live a life in common as brothers or sisters (canon 607.2). Commonly ARs prefer the word community to institute.

Renewal Visit. An obligation among the ARs to be carried out by both the Prior Provincial* (once every three years) and the Prior General* (once every six years) to examine the spiritual, communitarian, and financial status of each house.*

Retreat. A time spent in prayer and reflection. In most religious communities, including the ARs, an annual retreat is required for all members. The traditional length of a retreat is one week. An atmosphere of silence* pervades the retreat to contribute to the prayerful atmosphere. A retreat is a time in which work and other concerns are to be put aside in favor of the priority of renewing one's spiritual life.

Ritual. An official book containing rites, customs, and practices which are proper to the particular religious institute. The ARs have their own Ritual.

Rule. The foundational document of a religious institute.* The basic meaning of rule is "measure" so that an individual religious would be able to assess his fidelity to the community by comparing his conduct with that stated in the Rule. The Rule of St. Augustine is one of the oldest and most popular of all rules. Other famous rules include those of St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi.

Seminary. A training center for those candidates preparing for priesthood. A Major Seminary is that stage of formation* (sometimes known as post-novitiate formation) that attends to the preparation of candidates during the period of their theological studies and the reception of ministries* and orders*. A Minor Seminary is the equivalent of high school level studies. Most minor seminaries closed in the years following Vatican II (1962-65), based on the idea that candidates would not be emotionally or spiritually mature enough during their teenage years to make a decision for or against priesthood.

Silence. Every religious house* is supposed to encourage a spirit of prayerfulness. Silence as a context for prayer is observed in all AR houses, especially at hours indicated in the daily schedule. Silence is also an act of charity, since it takes into consideration the needs of one's brothers in community for quiet during prayer, study, and rest.

Sister. A general term used to refer to religious women. The connotation today would be in reference to those religious institutes* of women who have an active apostolate* (as opposed to contemplative* communities whose members are referred to as nuns.*)

Superior. Another term used to refer to the leader of a local, regional or order-wide community. Among the AR these leaders are referred to customarily as Priors.*

Tertiaries. Also known as Third Order members. They are lay associates of religious communities, who make religious vows while maintaining their regular life styles (i.e., they don't live in religious communities and are free to marry), but participate in the community's spiritual benefits and sometimes in its mission. Among the ARs these tertiaries are called Secular Augustinian Recollects.

Vicariate. A subdivision within a Province* of the Order which constitutes a regional grouping of houses* normally to foster communication and cooperating in the mission of the community. A Vicar Provincial would exercise certain authority over the vicariate as delegate of the Provincial.*

Vocation. In religious terminology, a calling from God to some particular living out of the believer's baptismal commitment. This calling is to a way of life rather than to a particular job. One particular Christian vocation would be to the religious life. For further information see Entering the Community.

Vow. A promise. A religious vow is a public promise before the Church and the legitimately appointed superior* to dedicate one's life to the service of God in a particular religious community. For further information see The Educational Process.


An asterisk (*) indicates a cross-reference.


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