Religious life was born in the East during the first centuries of Christianity. Lived within institutes canonically erected by the Church, it is distinguished from other forms of consecrated life by its liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, fraternal life led in common, and witness given to the union of Christ with the Church.
Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church. It is a gift she has received from her Lord, a gift she offers as a stable way of life to the faithful called by God to profess the counsels. Thus, the Church can both show forth Christ and acknowledge herself to be the Savior’s bride. Religious life in its various forms is called to signify the very charity of God in the language of our time.
All religious, whether exempt or not, take their place among the collaborators of the diocesan bishop in his pastoral duty. From the outset of the work of evangelization, the missionary “planting” and expansion of the Church require the presence of the religious life in all its forms. “History witnesses to the outstanding service rendered by religious families in the propagation of the faith and in the formation of new Churches: from the ancient monastic institutions to the medieval orders, all the way to the more recent congregations.”
“A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful living in the world strive for the perfection of charity and work for the sanctification of the world especially from within.”
By a “life perfectly and entirely consecrated to [such] sanctification,” the members of these institutes share in the Church’s task of evangelization, “in the world and from within the world,” where their presence acts as “leaven in the world.”Their witness of a Christian life” aims “to order temporal things according to God and inform the world with the power of the gospel.” They commit themselves to the evangelical counsels by sacred bonds and observe among themselves the communion and fellowship appropriate to their “particular secular way of life.”
Societies of apostolic life
Alongside the different forms of consecrated life are “societies of apostolic life whose members without religious vows pursue the particular apostolic purpose of their society, and lead a life as brothers or sisters in common according to a particular manner of life, strive for the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions. Among these there are societies in which the members embrace the evangelical counsels” according to their constitutions.
From Catechism of the Catholic Church 925-930