Commonly used Monastic Terms
Female equivalent of an abbot; the temporal and spiritual superior elected by a community of nuns, especially in the Benedictine or Cistercian tradition (later extending to the Franciscan Poor Clares and other communities that profess or observe the monastic ideal of stability to a particular place).
A monastery of monks or nuns governed, respectively, by an abbot or abbess who is elected by the community.
Superior of a monastery, a community of monks. By custom, the abbot is elected for life (or for a period defined by the community’s rules) by the professed members in a ballot that is supposed to be secret. His authority is both quasi-episcopal and paternal; quasi-episcopal because it confers certain territorial jurisdiction, and paternal because he is responsible for the administration of property, maintaining all rules and constitutions, as well as keeping discipline. The title abbot, in some orders, has been replaced with the term prior (Dominicans), rector (Jesuits), or guardian (Franciscans).
In male monastic orders, such as the Trappists, Carthusians, and Benedictines, which are composed of independent abbeys led by abbots, the abbot general functions as a superior general with limited powers; he may act as a representative of the Order to the Holy See (usually maintaining a residence and office in Rome), and as presider at general chapters of abbots. The powers of the abbot general vary from order to order.
A retired abbot of an active monastery who has been named abbot of a suppressed or defunct monastery.
Those religious institutes in which the members (priests, brothers, or sisters) engage in some form of activity like teaching, nursing, missionary work, and so on. Communities of this type are distinguished from contemplative institutes, those religious institutes in which the monks and nuns remain within their cloisters to chant the Liturgy of the Hours and engage in works for the support of their communities.
The rule of life, based on disciplinary practices, such as fasting, vigilance of the tongue, and so on, aimed at controlling desires and repairing for past sins. One accepts this rule as an aid in the realization of Christian perfection. Asceticism enables one to deny oneself earthly pleasures and to strive to follow Jesus perfectly.
Melodies composed by Saint Ambrose and his followers for use in the Ambrosian Rite of Milan. Although different from the Gregorian chants of the Roman Rite, they played an important role in its evolution.
More precisely called either an anchorite (male) or an anchoress (female), a Greek term used to denote a person who withdraws from the world in order to adhere to a life of prayer and humility. The anchorites arose in the early Church as hermit-like individuals who would withdraw from the world and retreat into a private life of solitude. Early anchorite living, however, was never formal, and individuals were free to leave their hermit abode. In later years, the Church established rules to govern their behavior and activities. In early times, the local bishop would enclose anchorites or anchoresses in their cells, where they would be confined forever. The favorite abode for the first anchorites was the Egyptian desert. These individuals became the earliest practitioners of the monastic life which would spread throughout all of Christianity. Carthusians and Camaldolese monks are important examples of practitioners of anchoritic monasticism.
In Latin, Regula Sancti Augustini, it refers to the rule or body of laws traditionally attributed and thought to have been established by Saint Augustine and, subsequently used by a number of monastic bodies, particularly by the Augustinian Canons. There is considerable debate and discussion among scholars concerning the origins of the rule. It was most likely drawn up during Saint Augustine’s lifetime by a devoted disciple and, with his blessing, was used by the communities of men and women in the early fifth century. This remains a source of some debate in scholarly circles. All but forgotten over the succeeding years, it was revived in the eleventh century by the Augustinian Canons and later adapted to the needs of certain orders, such as the Dominicans, Ursulines, and Augustinian Hermits. The rule was, from the sixth century, preserved in two parts: a prologue which established definite monastic observances (the Regula Secunda) and a general consideration of the common life (the Regula ad servos Dei). In broader terms, the rules call for poverty, obedience, celibacy, and a monastic life.
The name customarily used for Discalced monks.
The name given to the members of a number of monastic communities who took their name from Saint Basil the Great and were part of the non-Latin rite of the Catholic Church. Basilians are found in the Byzantine Rite and among the Melkite Catholics.
A rule of life composed by Saint Basil the Great (329-379), which serves as the basis for monasticism in the Eastern Church. There are two forms, the shorter (consisting of 55 prescriptions) and the longer (consisting of 313). The rule was revised by Saint Theodore the Studite in the eighth century and continues to be used in this latter form. The rule places an emphasis on obedience, with the requirement of manual work and set times for prayer. Opportunity is to be provided for schools for children, and there is to be a provision for caring for the poor.
The spiritual exercise of reading the Scriptures as an aid to prayer and meditation. In monastic traditions, this meditative reading is called Lectio Divina and is regarded as especially beneficial for the development of a deep interior life. It is recommended that all Christians read from the Bible on a daily basis in order to draw guidance and inspiration from the Word of God.
A practice that was formerly observed in the Latin Rite, and is still observed in the Eastern Rite (and in some monastic orders). It denotes a day of penance when only one meal is permitted, in the evening. Meat, dairy products, and alcoholic beverages are forbidden.
Title given to the Benedictine monks during the Middle Ages because of their black religious vestments/habits.
Term used to designate the members of the Augustinian Canons. During the Middle Ages, it was also used to describe the Benedictine monks, although the more common term used for them was Black Monks.
From Latin meaning abridgement, the term formerly, and still often, used to refer to the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office. It is called a breviary because the versions prepared for the friars and secular clergy represented an abridgement (shortened version) of the monastic offices.
From Latin meaning to warm: (1) In earlier times, the heated room of a monastery where the monks could warm themselves during breaks in the night offices; (2) At present, in some monastic communities, a term used to designate the recreation room; (3) A hollow globe of glass, silver, or sometimes gold-plated, which was filled with warm water and used, by the priest, to warm his hands during liturgical functions.
The sections of the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, prayed throughout the course of the day, including: Office of Readings (also called Vigils or Matins), Lauds, Prime (now suppressed), Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.
The communities of clergy, dating back to the eleventh century who often follow the rule of Saint Augustine, embrace a monastic form of life. The Order of Premonstratensians (Norbertines) is the largest such order which exists today.
The name given to the three leading fourth-century Christian theologians, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa. The name was derived from the fact that all three were from Cappadocia.
From the Latin cella meaning a small room describing: (1) The small living quarters allotted to an individual monk, hermit, or other religious; (2) A small group of monks who live apart from their home monastery are said to constitute a cell; (3) In the early Church, a small chapel erected over a tomb.
The title of the monk in an ancient monastery who was responsible for the temporal goods of his community. Today, this monk is called the Procurator.
A type of sacred singing, either recitative in nature, with short two-to- six tones for an accentus, or melodic, in one of three styles: syllabic, neumatic, or melismatic.
A type of hermit or anchorite who is distinguished by the fact that he or she resides in a community. From the Latin cenobium, the cenobites were the precursors of the monastic orders. The Benedictines and Cistercians are considered cenobitic.
From the Latin claustrum meaning bar or bolt, and from claudere meaning to close, it is the term used to describe a limited access to particular monastic communities who willingly embrace the contemplative life and thereby separate themselves from life in the world. A cloistered religious has limited opportunities to leave his or her cloister. Similarly, outsiders are restricted from entering the cloister. Cloistered monasteries are frequently surrounded by high walls to preserve the privacy of the enclosure and to keep the outside world at a distance. Cloister can also refer to this physical enclosure itself. In architecture, the term cloister is often restricted to describe the covered passageway around the open courtyard or quadrangle, which is technically called the garth, located at the center of an enclosed monastery.
Founded in 910, this Benedictine abbey, named after the south-central French village where it was built, was the centre of spiritual renewal. It was distinguished by profound prayer and adherence to the Rule of Saint Benedict. Religious houses similar to Cluny sprang up in England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The influence of this abbey, which existed until 1790, waned in the twelfth century.
Coenobium (also Coenobites)
Derived from the Greek koinon meaning common, coenobium is the ecclesiastical term used to refer to a group of monks who live their religious lives in community. The individual in this community is called a coenobite or cenobite, a term that was used in the early Church to refer to monks. While Isidore of Seville reflects a knowledge of the Greek etymology, he also relates this term to the Latin cena (meal), since the coenobites, in contrast to the hermits and anchorites, would share their meals in community. Saint Pachomius (c. a. 290-347), author of the earliest rule for coenobites, is honored as the “Founder of Monasticism.” Coenobium is also the Latin name for the monastery where the coenobites lived their community life; it can also be the specific name for the monastery church, to distinguish it from the other buildings.
Those religious orders in which the monks and nuns remain within their cloisters to chant the Liturgy of the Hours and engage in works for the support of their communities. To be distinguished from the active orders.
The building, or group of buildings, where a religious community lives.
A term used to describe either (1) hood worn by monks and other religious; or (2) long-hooded robe worn by monastic men and women during the chanting of the Office.
In liturgical usage, the word “Hour” refers to any section of the daily cycle of prayer, known in its totality, officially since Vatican II, as “the Liturgy of the Hours,” and formerly referred to as “the Divine Office.” Technically, the term “day hours” is best suited to what is now called Daytime Prayer, which may (but need not) be celebrated in three sections: midmorning (officially, Terce, or the “third” hour, about 9:00 a.m.); midday (Sext, the “sixth” hour, at noon); and mid-afternoon (None, the “ninth” hour, about 3:00 p.m.). Only one of these “Hours” is obligatory for priests and religious working in an active apostolate. Contemplatives are expected to keep the traditional sequence.
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The harsh and often brutal liquidation of the monasteries of England under King Henry VIII (reigned from 1509-1547), a particularly dark episode in the English Reformation. While the monasteries of England had been targets of complaints in the late Middle Ages due to their laxity and corruption, no extensive programs of reform had been introduced. As a result, by the Tudor era, a small number had become quite infamous for their abuses and a few were suppressed. No action on a grand scale was contemplated either during the reign of Henry VII (from 1485-1509) or in the early part of that of Henry VIII. This situation changed, however, as a result of two circumstances: Henry’s desire to advance his claims of supremacy over the Church of England, and his dire need for money to bolster his depleted treasury. The monasteries, generally staunch supporters of the papacy, and often very wealthy because of their treasures and gifts, proved to be a tempting target. With the help of his able, but unscrupulous minister, Thomas Cromwell, Henry secured a report that, not surprisingly, found the monasteries to be hives of corruption. In fact, only a tiny number of houses were actually visited and abuses were minimal. Based upon this false report, the Act for the Dissolution of Smaller Monasteries was passed in 1536, putting an end to those houses who had an annual value below £250. In October 1536, an uprising, called the Pilgrimage of Grace, arose to protest this measure which was swiftly put down. Having seized the goods of some two hundred fifty monasteries, in 1539, Henry and his agents passed the Act for the Dissolution of Greater Monasteries. In early 1540, the last houses had been suppressed and the treasury was considerably enhanced. The dissolution had caused the displacement of a large number of clergy. Most of the priests were either pensioned or compelled to enter the ranks of the clergy of the Church of England. Nuns spent years in disrepute and received pitiful pensions. The monks, who had been the focus of Henry’s program, were the most harshly treated. As well as this tragedy, there was the catastrophic loss of valuable manuscripts, works of art, treasures, and buildings which were either seized, looted, or destroyed by Henry’s officials. Moreover, England lost an educational tradition that dated back over a millennium.
The former name for the official, public (although often recited privately), daily liturgical prayer by which the Church sanctifies the hours of the day. The Vatican II revision of this prayer is entitled the Liturgy of the Hours, although the title page of the official books still bears the designation “The Divine Office: revised by decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.” Officium was the common Latin word referring to public services of prayer, and indeed “office” is still more or less commonly used among the Churches of the Reformation to describe their non-Eucharistic worship services.
A title used before the names of monks of certain monasteries, mainly the Benedictines and Carthusians.
Christian monasticism originated in the East in early third-century Egypt when Saint Anthony (a.d. 251-356) sold all his possessions and went into the desert to more perfectly follow Christ. When he attracted followers, he organized them into a community of hermits under a rule (later formulated as the Rule of Saint Pachomius). The Eastern models were imitated by Saint John Cassian and Saint Martin of Tours in the West. While Western monasticism eventually came to be shaped by Saint Benedict’s adaptation of Eastern models, in the East, it was the Rule of Saint Basil the Great (mid-fourth century) that had the widest influence. Eastern monasticism evolved into two principal forms: cenobitic (large communities living under one roof) and idiorrhythmic (groups of individuals living in separate quarters and coming together for meals and prayer). Monasticism flourished in the Byzantine world, spreading from Greece to Russia and the Slavic countries. Despite persecution, monasticism remained a powerful force throughout the Communist period, and has now emerged as an important source of Christian renewal in Eastern Europe.
A layperson who lives and works within a monastic community but who has taken no religious vows. Such a person has a share in the spiritual benefits of the prayers and good works of the religious community with which he lives.
From the Latin frater, French frere, Middle English fryer all meaning brother. The term is used to describe a member of one of the mendicant orders. The term distinguishes the mendicant’s itinerant apostolic character, exercised broadly under the jurisdiction of a superior general, from the older monastic orders’ allegiance to a single monastery, formalized by their vow of stability. The most significant orders of friars are the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians.
It is the liturgical book containing Gregorian chant notation and Latin text of the proper chants sung at Mass (that is, introit, responsorial psalm, alleluia, and so on). It is to be distinguished from the Liber Usualis, which contains all the chants for Mass plus the musical notations and texts for much of the Divine Office. The post-conciliar Graduate Romanum is an adaptation of its predecessor in accordance with the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It eliminates Mass propers that are no longer in common use (for example, the season of Septuagesima, octave of Pentecost), transfers the texts of those saints whose feast days have been changed, and adds new chants for new Mass propers. A shortened version, “for use in smaller churches,” has been published in accordance with Sacrosanctum Concilium under the title Graduate Simplex.
A plain chant with more individuality and characteristic expression than other early chants (such as Ambrosian). These chants appear to have been compiled and arranged by Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540-604), hence the name “Gregorian.” After Vatican II and the introduction of the vernacular into the liturgy, Gregorian chant was put aside by most Church musicians. In 1974, however, a publication entitled “Letter to Bishops on the Minimum Repertoire of Plainchant” was sent to all bishops and heads of religious congregations throughout the world. This letter spoke of Jubilate Deo, which contains basic chants that should be taught to all, a copy of which was also included.
The eight musical scales used in Gregorian chant, divided into authentic and plagal groups. Only one accidental occurs in the Gregorian modes, the half-tone lowering of the seventh note of the scale to “B flat.”
The term refers to wandering monks who are either not attached to a monastic community or never reside in their proper community. This has always been regarded by Church authorities as an abuse.
From the Greek word eremites, meaning one who dwells in the desert, it refers to a religious ascetic who lives a solitary life for purpose of the contemplation of God through silence, penance, and prayer. The hermits first arose in the Church in the third century. The eremitical life was to exercise a profound influence on the rise of monasticism. The Christian era foundation/basis for the hermit is traced back to Elijah in the Old Testament and Saint John the Baptist in the New Testament.
A monk invested with the priesthood in the Eastern Church.
A conical, flexible, brimless headdress that, when worn, covers the entire head but not the face. It is either a separate garment or part of a cloak. Today, the hood is usually associated with orders that are comprised of contemplatives, monks as well as nuns and/or mendicants.
The four lesser sections of the Divine Office that took their names from the times of the day when they were recited. Originally prime, terce, sext, and none, they have been replaced by one “hour” called daytime prayer in the revised Liturgy of the Hours.
It is a book of Gregorian chants for the Ordinary and Propers of Masses, chants for rites and special Masses, and chants of the Divine Office. Edited by the Benedictine monks of Solesmes, the chants of the Liver are of great historical value and, while the book is currently out of print, today it can still be used at Mass.
Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A devotion to Our Lady consisting of hymns, antiphons, psalms, and collects arranged according to a single day’s cycle of “canonical hours” based on the model of the Divine Office. Since the advent of the new Liturgy of the Hours, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been preserved, almost in its entirety, through the use of a Saturday memorial of the B.V.M. during Ordinary Time. A new and somewhat expanded edition of the Litde Office was published as recently as 1986 in England and 1988 in the United States. This edition suffices for those who are not required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or those who may find the book too expensive to purchase, or too daunting to use.
Liturgy of the Hours
The official cycle of the Church’s daily prayer. It was formerly called the Divine Office (a title still frequently used). The renewal of the Liturgy of the Hours at Vatican II called for the public celebration of the Hours whenever possible. Whether recited privately or publicly, the Liturgy of the Hours has the following structure: Morning Prayer (Lauds), Midday Prayer (Terce, Sext, or None), Evening Prayer (Vespers), Night Prayer (Compline), and the Office of Readings. The First Hour (Prime), while suppressed for the universal Church, continues to be observed in contemplative monastic communities. There is an obligation to pray at least one of the Midday Hours, but Contemplative communities should, however, recite all of them. The Liturgy of the Hours consists of hymns, antiphons, psalms, selections from sacred Scripture, readings from the Church Fathers, commentaries on the Scriptures and Christian life, writings of the saints, and standard Catholic prayers. It is arranged according to a four-week cycle called a Psalter. Normally, the Liturgy of the Hours is available in a four-volume set (it is three volumes in England and Ireland). There is also a one-volume abbreviated edition available.
This terms refers to the monk’s full-length vesture in the Byzantine Church, which differs in color and symbolism from the lower clergy’s simple black cloak, and the ornate vestments of the archimandrite and the bishop.
It is from the Latin term tempora matutina meaning morning hours. Originally called the morning hours of Lauds (Laudes matutinae). Later, it referred to the preceding hour of Vigils, sung around midnight. These vigils were eventually incorporated into monastic practice and evolved into the hour of the Divine Office known as Matins. Matins has the following structure: Psalm 95(94) (the invitatory); hymn; Psalms; readings from sacred Scripture; commentaries on sacred Scripture (or, on feast days, an appropriate reading); Responsories; Canticle on solemn feasts.
Members of the French Congregation of Benedictines (O.S.B.), founded by Saint Maur in 1618, but dissolved as a consequence of the anticlericalism of the French Revolution. Maurists are mainly associated with hagiography because of their research into the lives of the saints. Their work survived the demise of their order through the continued publication of the Acta Sanctorum. From their ranks came Montfaucon and Mabillon, the founders of Greek and Latin paleography.
The house of a religious community, usually, in current usage, the cloistered or contemplative type. The typical monastery is constructed around a quadrangle (the cloister garth), containing a church or chapel, a refectory, chapter hall, common room, work rooms, and individual rooms (cells) for the residents (monks or nuns). The entire physical property of the monastery, or at least some portion of it, is called the enclosure and is normally closed to the public.
The lifestyle followed by those persons who choose to withdraw from society in order to devote themselves totally to God through prayer, penance, and solitude. Two types of monasticisms have emerged: anchoritic (where the monks or nuns live as hermits and come together for prayer and certain meals); and cenobitic (where they live in community). Saint Anthony is regarded as the Father of Monasticism, but another monk, Saint Pachomius, formulated the first monastic rule. In Eastern Christianity, the most influential monastic rule is that of Saint Basil, while in the West, the Rules of Saint Benedict and Saint Augustine have prevailed. In both the East and West, monasticism has proved to be a highly durable form of Christian life. It has contributed enormously to the vitality of the Church and the wider culture. Important examples of anchoritic monasticism in the West include the Carthusians and Camaldolese, while Benedictines and Cistercians are representative of the cenobitic type.
From Greek word monachos meaning one who lives alone, it refers to a person who withdraws from society in order to pursue a life totally dedicated to God in prayer, penance, and solitude. Monks are commonly distinguished from communities of clerics or friars who engage in some form of active ministry. While the term “monk” can refer both to men and women monastic religious, common English usage restricts it to men and prefers the term “nun” for women.
From Latin word nocturnus meaning of the night, it originally referred the whole of the night office (Matins and Lauds). Later, it came to refer to just a part of Matins (three nocturns on feasts, one nocturn on ferias). For monks, two nocturns were usual practice (up to twelve psalms and readings for Matins).
In the strictest sense, the term refers to a woman who belongs to a religious order with solemn vows, but it is commonly used to refer to any woman religious.
From the Latin word oblatus meaning offered, it originally referred to those children who were sent to a monastery with the intention of remaining there to study and be raised by the monks. In modern use, it can refer to a layperson who is united to a religious order by simple vows.
Properly called the Divine Office, it refers to the official daily prayers of the Church. The Office is now called the Liturgy of the Hours. It can also refer to any portion of the Divine Office that might be recited.
Office of the Dead
The portion of the Liturgy of the Hours that is chanted or recited for the happy repose of the deceased. It is prayed on All Souls’ Day and may be used after a death.
A term that is originally from the Latin words planus meaning flat or level and cantus meaning song. It is also referred to as plainsong, an ancient monodic chant consisting of an unaccompanied melodic line, usually sung with Latin text, that is used within the liturgy of the Church.
Literally “first,” from the Latin title of this part of the Divine Office, ad primam, meaning at the first hour of the day. Prime began in monastic communities as an additional prayer before the morning work period. Prime consisted of the reading of the martyrology (or saint of the day), a selection from the monastic Rule and a prayer to “prosper from the work of our hands.” In the reform of the Divine Office following Vatican II, Prime was suppressed and the obligation to pray it was removed. However, some monastic communities continue to use the Office of Prime because the Psalterium Monasticum (Monastic Psalter) makes allowances for its celebration.
The house of a monastic order that is governed by a prior or prioress. Some priories are “conventual” (that is, autonomous but not an abbey), “simple” or “obedientiary” (that is, dependencies of abbeys).
The title for the leader of certain male monastic communities. The prior can also be the assistant to an abbot.
The woman religious superior who governs her community, much as a prior is superior over friars or monks.
The basic regulations of a religious institute, encompassing its daily order and discipline.
Rule of Saint Benedict
A monastic rule drawn up by Saint Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547) as the basis for uniting the practices of a community of monks who gathered around him. Saint Benedict consulted other monastic rules in order to develop his own. The Rule is distinguished by its common sense, balance, an emphasis on following Christ, chanting the Divine Office, stability, work, and the leadership of an elected abbot. The Rule of Saint Benedict has been the most influential and widely used monastic rule in the West.
That part of the Divine Office which is said at midday.
In popular use, it refers to any woman religious; in strict terms, the title applies only to women belonging to institutes whose members never professed solemn vows. Most of the institutes whose members are properly called Sisters were established either during or since the nineteenth century. Women who take solemn vows, or belong to institutes whose members formerly profess solemn vows, are properly called nuns.
The French village that is home to the Benedictine Abbey known for its monks’ work in restoring Gregorian chant melodies to their original form. Their famed abbot, Prosper Gueranger, was responsible for coordinating the publishing of the Liber Usualis.
The Great Chartreuse
Established in 1084 by Saint Bruno, the Great Charterhouse is the name of the original foundation house of the Carthusian monks. The popular liqueur called Chartreuse originated at The Great Charterhouse and was made by the monks.
In the Eastern churches, a method of eight standard melodies with variations for plain chant.
The custom of shaving part (or all) of the hair on the head, originating with monastic observance in the fourth and fifth centuries. This custom was retained until the reform of minor orders after the Second Vatican Council. When it was in use, tonsure symbolized admission to the clerical state.
Similar to votive Masses because these can substitute for the regular daily office on particular occasions. The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours states that “for a public cause or out of devotion [except on solemnities and certain feasts].. .a votive office may be celebrated, in whole or in part: that is, on the occasion of a pilgrimage, a local feast, or the external solemnity of a saint.” The clearest example in the present edition of the Liturgy of the Hours is the Office for the Dead.