Skip to main content

Frequent Questions

What is "The World Day for Consecrated Life?"

It is an annual celebration to highlight persons who have made a special consecration in the Church. 

How did the celebration begin?

The Church in Rome has celebrated February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, for consecrated life for many years. The Holy Father celebrates Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter's for thousands of people. Consecrated persons carry candles in the entrance procession, serve as lectors, and bring the bread and wine in the offertory procession. Last year, shortly after the Synod of Bishops for Consecrated Life, the Pope called for consecrated life to be promoted throughout the universal Church and declared February 2 to be observed as World Day for Consecrated Life.

What are the purposes of the World Day for Consecrated Life?

In his Message for the first World Day for Consecrated Life, the Pope said the day offers the opportunity to thank God for the gift of consecrated life, to promote knowledge of the life and to invite consecrated people to celebrate what the Lord has accomplished in them and acquire more awareness of their mission in the Church and in the world. 

Have there been other efforts to highlight the consecrated life?

There have been a number of them as part of a strategy to increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life. They include the following:

  • "Called by Name" - a parish-based program that asks parishioners to recommend to the pastor young people they think would make good candidates;
  • "Operation Andrew" and "Operation Miryam and Joseph" - the first is a gathering of the bishop with priests and men who may be interested in the priesthood which includes a meal, prayer, and a sharing of their own vocation stories by the bishops and priests; the second is a similar program for women or men with the leader of a religious congregation and some of its members.
  • "7 to 11" - a day-long program which enables interested women and men to spend a day with a brother, sister, or priest in prayer, ministry, and community;
  • Summer vocation camps -- youth programs for either boys or girls that is a combination of a summer camp and retreat in which youth learn more about vocations and meet priests, sisters, and brothers;
  • Discernment groups or breakfast clubs;
  • Establishment of web pages and other on-line resources by dioceses and religious orders;
  • Development of resources, e.g., audio-visual and multi-cultural materials by the National Coalition for Church Vocations - (800) 671-NCCV.

What has caused the decline in vocations?

Finding a definitive answer does not seem possible. It can be noted, however, that:

  • Men and women can minister in today's Church without being a priest or religious;
  • Dramatic changes have taken place both in society and the Catholic Church in the last thirty years, many of which mitigate against vocations, e.g., increased consumerism, decreased family size;
  • People do not respect and trust institutions and authority as much as they once did;
  • The family system has been weakened to an extent most never dreamed possible;
  • Success has become more narrowly defined in terms of earning power and wealth;
  • Few seem to invite young men and women to consider these vocations;
  • Within the Church, the role of the priests and religious in relating to the faith community has changed, and there has been some confusion about the identity of priests, sisters, and brothers;
  • The Church changed in many ways after Vatican II;
  • The perceived value of priesthood and consecrated life has decreased;
  • People are afraid to make lifetime commitments.

What qualities does the Church look for in evaluating candidates for religious life?

According to the National Religious Vocations Conference, the following are mentioned: membership in the Catholic Church, generally good health; adequate intellectual ability; healthy relationships, including good friends; sense of humor; ability to make a positive choice for celibacy; faith and sense of integrity; relationship with God; responsiveness to others; capacity to serve a variety of people; leadership ability; collaborative working style; ability to live simply, share a common life and compromise for the common good. 

What is the difference between a religious order priest and a diocesan priest?

A religious order priest belongs to a religious community, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, etc., who live out the charism of their founder and often have a particular type of ministry, e.g., education, health care. They usually live in community and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Diocesan priests, also called secular priests, are ordained for a diocese, a geographical area, and generally serve in parishes, although they also assist in schools, hospitals, prisons, etc. Although they do not take the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, diocesan priests do promise to lead a celibate life, to respect and obey their diocesan bishop, and to live a simple lifestyle. 

Do priests take a vow of chastity?

Religious priests take a vow of chastity and diocesan priests promise celibacy. 

Why are there so many different religious orders?

Each religious order has a founder who was inspired to respond to a specific situation in the history of the Church. Those orders whose mission or charism addresses ongoing concerns tend to survive, but many religious orders have gone into and out of existence in the Church's long history. New religious orders are even beginning in our day and age as women and men strive to apply and live the Gospel in these circumstances. 

What is the difference between a priest and a brother?

A priest is ordained and is the ordinary minister of the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Penance (confession), Matrimony, and the Anointing of the Sick. The life of a brother is more like that of a religious sister: he lives in a religious community; takes the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; and, engages is some pastoral or contemplative way of life. 

What is the mean age for people preparing to make a permanent commitment within a religious life or a secular institute?

For men religious, 33.8; for women religious, 39.3 and for secular institute members, 41.3. 

What do the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience mean today?

These three vows are also called the evangelical counsels and describe a radical way to live out the Gospel. In each age, they can provide a strong witness to Gospel values in the face of competing or even contrary values in the prevailing culture.

POVERTY - A religious chooses to share all in common rather than have personal ownership of material goods. In the face of a materialistic, consumer culture where one's value is often determined by earning power or the acquisition of wealth, poverty testifies to our dependence upon God as the source of all gifts and our solidarity with one another, especially the poor. When so many are ignoring people who are on the fringes of society, religious with a vow of poverty can connect with the poor, work with them and speak about their needs and concerns.

CHASTITY - A religious chooses a celibate way of loving rather than entering into a conjugal relationship. Sex is used in our society for so many purposes, including the selling of products and recreation, and the prevailing message is that one must be sexually active to be fully human ... even if that means promiscuity. Chastity reminds us of the deeper meaning of sexuality. A genuine witness of chastity expresses a unique way to love, a way to serve others, and invites others to consider that there is more to life that meets the eye, that our relationship with God is indeed primary.

OBEDIENCE - Obedience indicates a preference for the common good over personal desire. The contemporary definition of freedom is to be able to do whatever one wants to do as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others - freedom from responsibility. Obedience demonstrates that the most perfect form of freedom is that which makes a commitment to another person, divine or human, or a cause. Obedience enables one to truly put his or her life at the service of the Church.

What is a secular institute?

It is an association for single lay people who profess the evangelical counsels and follow a specific constitution for their institute. Members remain in a secular environment and strive for personal holiness and the sanctification of people by communicating "as leaven" the Gospel message and practicing social justice according to a particular spirituality. 

How are the evangelical counsels lived out in secular institutes?

POVERTY calls the consecrated member to have a positive relationship with material things while not becoming attached to them and implies practice of social justice, particularly among the disadvantaged. Poverty also implies discerning what is necessary for daily living. Members provide for their own expenses in daily living and retirement.

OBEDIENCE concerns discerning the will of God amid daily activities and lifestyle and being faithful to the institute's spirituality, prayer and constitution and to Church teaching.

CHASTITY is lived in the celibate state, places the member in the condition of being a friend to all and refers to the donation of self to God for service to others. 

What does secular or secularity mean?

Secular institutes have a secular nature and a member usually lives alone in an apartment; other members may be in near proximity or dispersed throughout the country. Even though the consecrated secular members make an evangelical commitment, they are laity. 

What is the apostolate in secular institutes?

The apostolate in secular institutes includes the entire lifestyle of the members through their occupations or service of others. Occasionally, members assist in parish or diocesan activities. 

How do members in secular institutes, living apart, communicate with each other?

They meet other members locally, regionally and nationally, usually for days of recollection and retreats and also tend to meet socially and at national conferences. There exists a strong communion among members of an institute. 

Why are some institute members considered to be unknown or hidden?

Some lay members do not mention their consecration to others because they do not wish "to be set apart." However, members still are known to officials within the Church. 

When did secular institutes within the Church become evident?

Although in the early 1900's there were groups living a secular institute lifestyle, it wasn't until 1947, when Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution, Provida Mater Ecclesia, that some groups living the secular institute life were officially established. 

What are the states of life in the Catholic Church?

The Church is made up of a rich diversity of peoples, each of whom has special place in the plan of God. Most are called to the married state, committing their lives to one other person. Some are called as ordained ministers to serve others especially in the sacramental life. Among these ministers are bishops, priests, and deacons. A third "state of life" is that of the consecrated life. Among those called to the consecrated life are religious sisters, brothers, and priests, members of secular institutes, hermits, and consecrated virgins.

Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194
202-541-3000