The Brothers & Sisters of Charity is a Public Association of the Faithful in the diocese of Little Rock.
Before a group of the faithful is canonically approved as an institute of consecrated life (loosely, a religious order or community), it begins life as an association of the faithful.
Lay Catholics are free to form associations of the faithful which work toward the mission of the Church in some way. They can be public or private. Canons 298-329 treat them. I’ll mention only three.
Canon 298 §1. In the Church there are associations distinct from institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life; in wthese associations the Christian faithful, either clerics, lay persons or clerics and lay persons together, strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine or to exercise other apostolic works, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit. §2. The Christian faithful are to join especially those associations which competent ecclesiastical authority has erected, praised or recommended.
Canon 299 §1. The Christian faithful are free, by means of a private agreement made among themselves, to establish associations to attain the aims mentioned in can. 298,§1, with due regard for the prescriptions of can. 301,§1. §2. Such associations are called private associations even though they are praised or recommended by ecclesiastical authority. §3. No private association of the Christian faithful is recognized unless its statutes are reviewed by competent authority.
Canon 300 §1. Competent ecclesiastical authority alone has the right to erect associations of the Christian faithful which set out to teach Christian doctrine in the name of the Church or to promote public worship or which aim at other ends whose pursuit by their nature is reserved to the same ecclesiastical authority. §2. Competent ecclesiastical authority, if it judges it expedient, can also erect associations of the Christian faithful in order to attain directly or indirectly other spiritual ends whose accomplishment has not been sufficiently provided for by the efforts of private persons. §3. Associations of the Christian faithful which are erected by competent ecclesiastical authority are called public associations.
Such groups of the faithful can be de facto (people just get together and work toward some aspect of the mission but without a formal structure).
An assocation can also be found praiseworthy by Church authority after some kind of review.
In its most fixed or stable form, an association of the faithful can be erected by church authority.
An association “on its way” to seeking establishment as an institute of consecrated life whose members live out the evangelical counsels would develop its own constitution and statutes, and then the diocesan bishop or even the Holy See may give it approval and confirm its status.
Canon 576 It belongs to the competent authority of the Church to interpret the evangelical counsels, to regulate their practice by laws, to constitute therefrom stable forms of living by canonical approbation, and, for its part, to take care that the institutes grow and flourish according to the spirit of the founders and wholesome traditions.
These statutes may specify a common manner of attire (that is what a habit is). This association has to have some kind of distinctive charism and demonstrate its viability and usefulness to the Church. There are a number of criteria for determining this kind of viability. As I recall, there is a threshold of about 40 stable members, but I’d have to double check.
So even during a de facto stage, the members could agree to a common manner of attire without approval from a Church authority. But once it seeks recognition and establishment, those questions of attire as part of their proper law would be reviewed and subject to approval by competent authority. The BSC profess obedience to the pope and local bishops.
Then we would look at canon 669 §1. Religious are to wear the habit of the institute made according to the norm of proper law as a sign of their consecration and as a testimony of poverty. §2. Clerical religious of an institute which does not have its own habit are to wear clerical dress according to the norm of canon 284.
So, it appears all is well.
Thank you again for the information and all the help. I might not have found the answer otherwise.
PAX et Bonum