Catholic religious orders are organizations of clergy or laity who have taken solemn vows and have taken to living a common life according to a constitution or religious rule oversaw by a superior religious leader. Catholic religious orders were founded with the aim of closely imitating the life of Jesus, though not exclusively, by way of observing evangelical chastity, obedience, and poverty.
The three are considered to be the evangelical counsels of perfection. Member of religious orders commits themselves to adhering to the three evangelical counsels by publicly taking vows which are guided by the church law. Additionally, they vow to obey the laid down guidelines for living, since each order has its norms. Members of religious orders do not form part of the hierarchy, except in instances where they get ordained as priests or deacons. According to the Annuario Pontificio, religious orders can be grouped into four major branches. These are; Monastic orders, Canons orders, Mendicant orders and Clerks Regulars.
These are groups of men and women who have dedicated their lives to God and either stay alone or in isolated monasteries. They are majorly monks or cloistered nuns who practice ascetic lifestyles and typically wear robes or plain clothes. They pray, eat and meditate several times a day and have taken vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Monastic orders recite the divine office.
Mendicant orders refer to Catholic religious orders which have committed themselves to a lifestyle of poverty, traveling and staying in urban areas with an objective of evangelization, preaching and ministering to communities, especially the poor. The Mendicant religious order started in France and became popular in the poor cities of Europe at the beginning of the 13th Century. Due to their refusal to pay tax and own property, some mendicants were suppressed by Pope Gregory X in the year 1274 at the Second Council or Lyon. Mendicants avoid owning property, trading property and often adopt an itinerant lifestyle. They depend on the goodwill of the society in which they are preaching for their survival. Examples of Mendicant orders are the Franciscans and Dominicans.
These are priests who live in the community, commonly sharing property under the Latin “regular” rule. They are different from monks in that they engage in the public ministry of sacraments and liturgy. They are sometimes called White or Black Canons, depending on the color of the religious garments that the mother congregation wears. Canons take three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, though this occurs at later development stages. They recite the divine office and are mostly in charge of parishes.
This order is composed of priests who have taken vows and live very active apostolic lives. Clerks Regular are completely devoted to pastoral care with only a few penitential observances. An example of the Clerks Regular order is the Society of Jesus order.