Consecrated life vs. religious life. Difference?

On this website (which seems legit), I found the following distinction between the religious life and the consecrated life. Problem is, I still don’t see the difference between the two:

Religious life is a form of consecrated life within the Church wherein the members profess vows of chastity, poverty and obedience within a Congregation or Community approved by the Church. Shared community life is an integral part of this form of consecrated life. In professing vows and living within community, the members individually and as a whole witness to a life of communion with Christ, the Church, and one another.
Apostolic religious congregations develop their own traditions based on the original vision of their founders or foundresses, while continuing to focus their ministries to meet the needs of the Church today. While every religious congregation is unique, together they form a rich source of inspiration for the entire Church.
Read more about religious life here

Consecrated life, in the canonical sense defined by the Catholic Church, is a stable form of Christian living by those faithful who feel called to follow Jesus Christ in a more exacting way recognized by the Church.
It “is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church”.
The Code of Canon Law defines it as “a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory.



(the Consecrated Life covers many forms …Religious Life being one of them).

All religious are “consecrated”. Not all “consecrated” are “religious”.

Religious life generally involves a community (i.e. an order of nuns, or an order of monks or friars).

Not all those who take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are part of a religious order or live in community. For example, those who take “private vows” (more properly called “personal vows” IMHO) are usually “consecrated” but not “religious”.

And such may not be in “Consecrated Life”…though they are further consecrated by their vows.

The vast majority of consecrated persons are religious. Consecrated Virgins, hermits, and consecrated widows (I don’t think this order has been restored though?) are examples of consecrated persons who are not religious.

Rather I should say the above are not necessarily religious. I understand that some professed nuns / sisters are also called to be consecrated as virgins.

Important to point out that those in private vows remain fully in the Laity in every way. They are not included in the Consecrated State of Life (as per Canon Law) and while there has been theological ‘conversation’ in Rome about including those in private vows in the consecrated state of life, it has not occurred to date.

I am referring in the above to those who have made private vows to the evangelical counsels.

Yes, and to clarify, the term consecrated in the sense of Consecrated Life means something specific: those who have the “public vows”, aka the Evangelical Counsels. Private vows would not fall under Consecrated Life, nor would total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Immaculata. These are wonderful things, but they are private, or as eloquently stated above, “personal”.

Consecrated people are publicly set apart by the Church to follow Jesus more closely in one way or another. Consecrated people are not allowed to get married in the Church because their whole lives have been consecrated to God. The consecration comes through a public rite (usually included within a liturgy). Consecrated people do not make private vows-they are public.

Religious Life is a branch of Consecrated Life and the most well-known of all the consecrated life. Again, religious life is branch or “subset” of consecrated life. All religious are consecrated. Not all consecrated people are religious. There are four main subsets of Consecrated life: religious life, consecrated hermits, those consecrated through a secular institute and consecrated virgins.

All consecrated people are called to live in the spirit of poverty, chastity and obedience. However, not all consecrated people make “vows” of poverty, chastity and obedience. Religious people profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and are thereby set apart by the Church to follow Christ more closely in the spirit of the evangelical counsels. Consecrated Hermits make the same vows as well and are set apart by the Church to follow Christ more closely in the spirit of solitude. You can also become a consecrated person by joining a Secular Institute–usually members of secular institutes makes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as well. Members of Secular Institutes do not live in community and are responsible for their own well-being; thereby the vow of poverty is something different to them than to a religious who is not allowed to own anything. They are hidden leven in the world and reach places where religious orders cannot reach. Finally, there are Consecrated Virgins who live in the world and are set apart by the Church to follow Christ more closely in the spirit of virginity as Christ was a virgin. Consecrated Virgins do not profess vows. Consecrated Virgins are set apart by the Church as symbol of the end times–when Christ will return and marry humanity. Most Consecrated Virgins live in the world although you can become a Consecrated Virgin in a religious community as well (a call within a call.)

The Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church has Consecrated Widows and there has been a lot of talk that this going to be renewed in the Latin rite as well.

Religious life are those men or women that have entered a Religious Order or Congregation, and are consecrated to God by their public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Consecrated Life are those who become consecrated to God by their public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as a hermit, anchorite, or Consecrated Virgin, under Canons 603, and 604. Their vows and formation are generally made under the guidance of the Diocesan Bishop, not a Religious Order.

Hope this makes it a little more clear. They are both in Consecrated Life, and can be called Brother or Sister, as they are no longer Lay People because of their vows.

See the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, which fleshes out the categories noted above.

Vita Consecrata includes this quotation under the heading “Thanksgiving for The Consecrated Life”:

“We are all aware of the treasure which the gift of the consecrated life in the variety of its charisms and institutions represents for the ecclesial community. Together let us thank God for the Religious Orders and Institutes devoted to contemplation or the works of the apostolate, for Societies of Apostolic Life, for Secular Institutes and for other groups of consecrated persons,**** as well as for all those individuals who, in their inmost hearts, dedicate themselves to God by a special consecration.”****

While it was affirming to have those in the laity who do dedicate themselves to God by a special consecration mentioned in the document on consecrated life, it does not mean that such people are in the Consecrated State of Life as per Canon Law. Such people remain fully in the Lay State of Life in every way and the Laity is an office of The Church with its own unique vocation and mission.

That’s true, but I don’t think that part of the apostolic exhortation was meant to define the categories. Later on (para. 8 - 12) where the holy father fleshes out the various forms of consecrated life, he doesn’t mention the unofficial, individual consecration. Historically, persons who make such secret promises to God often end up entering formal consecrated life, as we read in lives of the saints. As you note, official consecration is defined in canon law; specifically, Can. 573 ff.


And note too both forms of further consecration are founded on the quite profound consecration of all Christians by their *Baptism *into Christ.

Consecrated Virgins do not “profess” vows of poverty, chastity, or obedience although they are called to live in the spirit of the evangelical counsels. They do make a promise of perpetual Virginity. Consecrated Virgins do not use the title of Sister.

The vocation of Consecrated Virginity predates religious life (the vocation started almost at the inception of the Church); therefore, the Rite which is used at the Consecration does not mention the evangelical vows because they have not been formed yet-they did not come into formation until the time of St. Francis of Assisi.


I think that rather often Baptism is not regarded as an official consecration and a vocation and call from God with the vital and important mission and duties of the Laity - and as a defined (Vatican Documents on The Laity) Office of The Church. Those who are baptised before they reach the age of reason and some years after (it varies) are in a formation period overseen ideally by their god parent or parents - or in some cases undertaken fully by their god parent or parents.

I tend to think that Baptism and the role of the god parent(s) is not fully explained as a consecration and a vocation and call to follow Jesus and His Gospel. I may very well be wrong and I guess I would prefer to hold to the latter than to think that Baptism is not taken seriously by parents and god parent or parents, or even the one baptised as in adult baptism.

The (incorrect) notion does seem to persist that a person does not have a vocation unless called to marriage, priesthood and/or consecrated life. Because of this, Baptism is not given its due and Laity regarded as an important Office in the “front line” of The Church “Vocation and Mission of The Laity” (see ).
Baptism is a vocation or call from God and an important Office in The Church with its own unique and vital mission, apostolate and duties.



Very important document for all to read.

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