Then there is consecrated or religious.
Religious was a term that was applied to consecrated men and women as far back as the Middle Ages, maybe earlier. It meant to be tied to. When a man or woman tied himself to the Gospel by the vow of obedience, he was said to be part of a religion. His way of life was dictated by a rule. His or her way of life was called an “ordered way of life”. If you put the two concepts together, to be tied and to live an ordered way of life, the term religious order is born.
A religious can be either male or female. Women cannot be priests. However, males can be priests. Many male religious are also priests. They’re not really religious priests. That term is bad translation from Latin. a priest who lives a live regulated by the rule of an order is a “regular priest”. Regular is any man or woman whose life is regulated by a rule of life.
A rule is not a single statement. That’s a statute. A rule is a document with many statutes. It dictates the spirituality of the community. When a man or woman joins the community he goes through many years of formation and probation, about 10 to 15. At the end of that time, he consecrates his life to God by vowing to obey the rule until death.
This consecration means that he is no longer part of the world around him. Here is the difference between a consecrated religious (priest or not) and a secular man (priest or not).
The consecrated religious does not own anything. He cannot earn money for himself. He cannot even inherit from his parents. He must obey his superior in all things. Unlike the secular priest who is bound to obey the bishop in all matters pertaining to ministry, the consecrated religious obeys in other things as well.
For example, I’m the superior in our community. I monitor the mail, telephone calls, prayer life, schedules, dress, friendships, relationships with family and others. I must make sure that every brother prays, does spiritual reading, does his share of the work around the house. I must make sure that he tries to be more like Christ by following St. Francis. I correct and encourage, depending on the need.
We do not eat alone. We eat together. You may never eat alone unless you have permission to do so. You may never step outside the house without permission from the superior or drive a car without permission. You don’t speak to outsiders without permission. Obedience is absolute. Obviously, permission is built into whatever your assignment is. If you’re assigned to work at a center, you have permission to speak to the people who work there and to those whom you serve. You don’t call home to ask for permission. That’s silly. But if you’re invited to eat dinner at a layman’s home, you ask for permission to go.
My daughter was married three weeks ago. I had to ask the community for permission to attend her wedding. Even superiors ask for permission. They ask the community chapter. This is a gathering of the brothers where they vote on a request from the superior. The superior does not govern without parameters. He governs according to Church law, the rule, and the authority given to him by his brothers.
None of this is present in the life of a secular, be he a priest or a husband. Each of them is governed by the rules that apply to his state in life. Those may be Church rules or unspoken rules. For example, a Catholic husband does not need a rule book to tell him that he has to help his wife take care of the kids or take Johnny to baseball practice. His state in life as a husband and father dictates this. Because Johnny will not always be age 10, dad will not be bound to follow this rule until death. Whereas a religious will be bound to follow the rules of his community until death.
If God calls a man to be both a priest and a consecrated religious, he is called a regular priest. If he calls him to be a priest, but to remain in the world, he is called a secular priest, just as his older married brother is secular. It does not mean worldly. His married brother cannot be worldly either. He must live by God’s law, not man’s.
If God calls a man to be a consecrated religious, but not a deacon, priest or bishop, he is still a regular, but he is not a cleric. The term in canon law is “lay religious”. This is not the same lay as in layman. A layman lives in the world. He or she is part of the laity, which makes up the largest segment of the People of God. The lay religious is best understood as the non-ordained religious. He belongs to a religious community and has consecrated his life to live the Gospel in that community, but his ministry is not clerical (clergy).
Remember for males only:
Religious - consecrated to live the Gospel according to a rule of life within a community or as a hermit
Cleric – an ordained deacon, priest or bishop whose ministry is to serve the People of God through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Secular – one who belongs in the world; can be ordained, married or single
Consecrated – one who has left the world to live in a vowed life of obedience. (Chastity and poverty are included under obedience). You can make vows of chastity, poverty or obedience or you can simply vow obedience as do Benedictines and the rule will call for chastity and poverty. NOTE: Benedictines also vow stability and hospitality. But those are not required of religious.
God can call a male to any of these or to a combo. He can call someone to be a Benedictine (consecrated religious) and to be a priest. Hence, a regular priest.
He can call someone to be a priest, but to remain in the secular world. Hence the term secular priest.
God can call someone to be a Benedictine, but not to be a priest. Hence, a regular, religious or consecrated man. Any of these terms are appropriate.
This only applies to males, because God does not call women to Holy Orders.