Diocese of Ogdensburg

The Roman Catholic Church in Northern New York


In your work as parish vocation ministers, you may need to know what a word means so that all involved in the ministry have a common understanding. Here is a collection of some of the “vocation” terms you may come across.

Common Vocation Terms and Definitions

General Terms

Vocation: from the Latin “vocare” meaning to call; by virtue of baptism each is given a special mission in life to serve the Kingdom of God; living out this call (way of  life) and mission faithfully leads us to holiness.

Discernment: process of discovering through prayer, reflection and discussion what that call and mission in life is- whether as a priest, a consecrated religious, a married person or a single person.

States of Life: the church considers vocations to priesthood, consecrated life, married life and the dedicated single life as the states of life; through discernment one state is chosen.

Laity: generally considered all those not ordained or a member of a religious community; vast number of the faithful with an important role in the church. “Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth.” Lumen Gentium

Terms Related to Consecrated Life (Men and women)

Consecrated Life: A permanent state of life recognized by the Church, entered freely in response to the call of Christ to the perfection of love and characterized by the making of public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Evangelical Counsels: another term for the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Vows: public commitments to God to follow Jesus in His poverty, chastity and obedience in religious community; with poverty the members hold all things in common, taking care of each other’s needs; with chastity the member gives up marriage to be free for the sake of God’s kingdom; with obedience the member imitates and shares in Jesus’ obedience to His Father in order to accomplish God’s work.

Religious Life: a way of life that can be priests, brothers or sisters living in community, embracing the spirituality, charism and teachings of the community’s founder; members follow Jesus taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, growing in holiness through their gift of themselves to God and His people.

Religious Community: the founder brings together a group of men or women who share the same charism and mission in the Church; these are religious communities of priests and brothers and communities of sisters; those dedicated primarily to prayer are contemplative communities; those who combine prayer with apostolic ministries are called active communities.

Brother: man who lives in a religious community, takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; promises to use his talents to serve God wherever the community decides they are needed; not ordained priests.

Sister: woman who lives in a religious community, takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; promises to use her talents to serve God wherever the community decides they are needed; traditionally referred to as a bride of Christ.

Nun: sister / brides of Christ called to pray and serve the needs of the Church in a more hidden way, living in cloistered communities and not leaving their convents for any outside apostolates.

Monk: usually applies to a man who belongs to a cloistered/contemplative community whose apostolate is prayer.

Postulant/Candidate: first stage of becoming a consecrated religious; depending on the community it can be from about six months to a year.

Novice: second stage of becoming a consecrated religious; strong emphasis on prayer and developing a deep relationship with Jesus; depending on the community lasts one to two years.

Junior professed/ temporary vows: after the novitiate, if the man or woman discerns God continues to call them to religious life, he/she takes the three vows for a period time, usually one year; each year the vows are renewed until the man / woman and the community decide it is time for permanent/perpetual vows.

Charism: a particular attribute or spirit of a religious order/community; special way of loving in the world.

Apostolate: The type of work or mission of the order through which their particular charism is lived out.

Cloistered: men or woman who belong to a religious community whose mission is prayer; do not generally leave the cloister to do other work.

Associates: many religious communities have lay groups of men and women who meet regularly to learn about and live the particular charism/spirit of the religious founder; after a period of candidacy promises are usually taken.

Secular Institute: an institute of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful lives in their homes, working for the sanctification of the world especially from within; they make a commitment to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience; do not necessarily live together as a community; their goal is to be a transforming presence in society.

Terms Related to Holy Orders

Holy Orders: sacrament by which a man becomes a member of the ordained clergy - deacons, priests and bishops; it is by nature permanent; enables mission entrusted by Christ to Apostles to continue in the Church through the laying on of hands.

Permanent Deacon: man is ordained for ministry, but not to the priesthood; assists at Mass, baptizes and presides at weddings and funerals; have jobs outside the Church to make a living; men at least 35 years of age, married or single, may be ordained permanent deacons.

Transitional Deacon: the final stage of formation before being ordained a priest; usually serve as deacons for one year before ordination to the priesthood while continuing their studies and serving in parish assignments.

Priest: man ordained to priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Diocesan priest is called to serve the people of a particular diocese; live the spirit of the counsels by promising to live in celibate chastity, obedience to their bishop and a simple life. Men called to be religious order priests belong to communities and also take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.