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In the Roman Catholic Church, the term "congregation" is used not only in the senses that it has in other contexts (to indicate, for instance, a gathering for worship or some other purpose), but also to mean specifically either a type of department of the Roman Curia, or a type of religious institute, or certain organized groups of Augustinian, Benedictine, and Cistercian houses.


Department of the Roman CuriaEdit

The term "congregation" is used for the highest-ranking departments of the Roman Curia. Lower-ranking departments include pontifical councils, pontifical commissions, tribunals, and offices.[1]

In origin, the congregations were selected groups of cardinals, not the whole College of Cardinals, commissioned to take care of some field of activity that concerned the Holy See. Today, as a result of a decision of the Second Vatican Council, the membership includes diocesan bishops from diverse parts of the world who are not cardinals. Each congregation also has a permanent staff to assist it in dealing with the business that comes before it.

Type of religious instituteEdit

A religious congregation is a type of religious institute in the Catholic Church. They are distinguished from religious orders — the other major type of religious institute — in that members take simple vows, whereas members of religious orders take solemn vows.

Until the 16th century, the vows taken in any of the religious institutes approved by the Apostolic See were classified as solemn.[2] This was declared by Pope Boniface VIII (1235–1303).[3] According to this criterion, the last religious order founded was that of the Bethlehem Brothers in 1673.[4]

The 1983 Code of Canon Law maintains the distinction between solemn and simple vows,[5] but no longer makes any distinction between their juridical effects, including the distinction between "orders" and "congregations". It has accordingly dropped the language of the 1917 code and uses the single term "religious institute" (which appears nowhere in the 1917 Code)[6] to designate all such institutes of consecrated life alike.[7] The word "congregation" is never used of a class of religious institutes, but only of the congregations of the Roman Curia or of monastic congregations. In the English translation of the Canon Law Society of America, the word "congregation" is used also in canon 767 §§2–3 of the people at Mass, where the Latin text has "populi concursus", not "congregatio".[8]

The Annuario Pontificio lists for both men and women the institutes of consecrated life and the like that are "of pontifical right" (those that the Holy See has erected or approved by formal decree).[9] For the men, it gives what it calls the Historical-Juridical List of Precedence.[10] In this list it maintains to a large extent the historical distinction between "orders" and "congregations", giving information on 96 "clerical religious congregations" and 34 "lay religious congregations", but it does not distinguish, even for men, between "orders" and "congregations" of Eastern Catholic Churches, nor does it distinguish between these two pre-1983 classes when listing the pontifical-right religious institutes of women. These are much more numerous than those for men. The Annuario Pontificio devotes 216 pages to listing them, with 6 or 7 of them (mostly 7) on each page.

Group of religious housesEdit

The term "congregation" is used for a group of monasteries or for a group of chapters of canons regular. Each congregation is presided over by a superior with a title such as abbot general, arch-abbot, abbot president, president, abbot ordinary, provost general or superior general. The generic term for such a superior is "abbot primate".

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Roman Curia, index to departments
  2. ^ Arthur Vermeersch, "Religious Life" in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911 Archived 2012-01-15 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 18 July 2011
  3. ^ "Illud solum votum debere dici solemne . . . quod solemnizatum fuerit per suceptionem S. Ordinis aut per professionem expressam vel tacitam factam alicui de religionibus per Sedem Apostolicam approbatis" (C. unic. de voto, tit. 15, lib. III in 6, quoted in Celestine Anthony Freriks, Religious Congregations in Their External Relations, p. 17).
  4. ^ Álvarez Gómez, Jesús, C.M.F., Historia de la vida religiosa, Volume III, Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid, 1996.
  5. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 1192 §2
  6. ^ IntraText concordance to the 1917 Code
  7. ^ Robert T. Kennedy, Study related to a pre-1983 book by John J. McGrath – Jurist, 1990, pp. 351–401
  8. ^ IntraText concordance of the English translation
  9. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 589 Archived April 18, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2012, pp. 1411–1429