What is the difference between a sister and nun, brother and a monk, diocesan or religious priest? Generation S clarifies for our readers the different roles and responsibilities.
What is a vocation?
Many people use the word vocation (from the Latin vocare, meaning ‘to call’, in reference to the call to be a priest, sister, or brother. However, the Catholic understanding of vocation is much broader: every baptised person has a vocation—a call—to love and serve God. How you choose to live out that vocation is what each person must discern. Some feel called to live as single or married laypeople; others choose consecrated life and join a secular institute or religious community (as sisters, priests, or brothers); still others choose ordination as deacons or diocesan priests.
What is a sister or nun?
A sister or nun is a woman who belongs to a religious order, or community. Many people use the word nun interchangeably with sister, but technically nuns are those who live a cloistered (or enclosed) monastic life; whereas sisters serve in an active ministry. After a period of preparation (called formation) sisters and nuns take lifelong vows. Usually they take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; that is, they promise to live simply, to live celibately, and to follow the will of God through their community.
What is a brother?
A brother belongs to a religious community of men. A brother takes religious vows, usually poverty, chastity, and obedience. A brother’s life revolves around prayer, communal living in a religious community or monastery, and a ministry within the Church and society. A brother is not ordained to the priesthood, and thus does not perform the sacramental duties of a priest. Some men’s communities include both brothers and priests, and both have equal respect and status in the community.
What is a monk?
A monk is the male member of a monastic or contemplative order. Some monks make solemn vows. Monasticism is a particular form of religious life built around a rule, such as the Rule of Benedict, and the Divine Office, a set of prayers and psalms chanted or sung at various points in the day. Women who choose monastic life are called sisters or nuns.
What is a friar?
A friar is a male member of a mendicant order, such as the Dominicans or Franciscans, although the term is sometimes extended to others in the monastic tradition.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a priest from a religious order?
All priests are ordained to the priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. A man may however, choose to be a diocesan priest (sometimes called a secular priest) or a religious priest (or order priest).
If he chooses to be a diocesan priest, then he enters the diocesan seminary system, and once ordained typically serves within his own diocese (a geographic territory designated by the Catholic Church). He is appointed to his ministry—most often parish work—by the bishop of that diocese. A diocesan priest is accountable to his bishop and the people he serves.
If a man chooses religious priesthood, he joins a men’s religious community. While he may perform parish ministry, he generally serves in other ways, typically doing work related to the mission and ministries of his religious congregation. A religious priest is accountable to his major superior and the other men in his community for his religious life and his local bishop and the people he serves for his priestly duties.