In this context it is only possible to make a few general statements about the different broad categories of both women and men religious. As a rule all religious make vows and live a fraternal life in common. Their communities must have been established with the approval of either the diocesan bishop or of the Pope himself.

Members of different religious institutes engage in a wide variety of ministries. Many brothers and sisters are teachers or are otherwise engaged in some form of active ministry. Brothers and Sisters live a communal life together in a convent or religious house but they can and must leave it regularly in order to perform their ordinary, daily duties.

The daily life of those women and men religious who embrace the contemplative life is very different. Certain religious institutes were founded so that their members may spend their entire lives engaged in prayer. Those men and women who make permanent vows in such institutes are responding to the vocation to spend their lives in a cloister, away from the outside world. As a general rule these religious men and women spend all of their life within the confines of the monastery or abbey.

The Church makes legal distinctions between these two basic categories of men and women religious. Women religious who are actively engaged in some sort of apostolate are referred to as sisters and the men are called brothers. Women who leave the world and willingly embrace the monastic life are nuns and the men who do the same are monks.

Things can get a little confusing because either a sister or a nun is ordinarily addressed directly as “Sister X.” and a brother or a monk (who is not a priest) is ordinarily addressed as “Brother Y”. Thus people tend to think that the two terms are interchangeable—but they aren’t. While a cloistered nun is called “Sister,” and a cloistered monk is called "Brother" this does not mean that all sisters are nuns nor all brothers are monks.

While we have explored some distinctions of terminology, we must not forget that the men and women who have totally dedicated their lives to God in taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience serve the Church in a special way, work for the salvation of the world, and strive for the perfection of charity in their own lives. Brothers, Sisters, Monks and Nuns are outstanding signs of the Church, and witnesses to Jesus Christ.

Some of the text for this answer was sourced from a Blog , Canon Law Made Easy by Cathy Caridi, J.C.L. 

Acknowledgements
Bluesky photo by Xavier Coiffic on Unsplash

Reviewed
18 October 2019

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