What Does it Mean to be a Nun in the Catholic Church?
Having lived 17 years of my life in a highly religious country such as Italy, I have been influenced - and most recently curious - of the role women partake in such an ancient religious tradition. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of negative attention surrounding the Catholic Church priests’ in the past years but what about nuns? What is their role and what rules must they follow to be part of the Church?
A nun is a woman of the Church that decides to dedicate her whole life to religious service. In order to become a nun, one must be of Catholic faith and an unmarried virgin. They also have three major vows nuns they must live by: chastity, obedience, and poverty. Because of these restricting demands, it isn’t hard to believe that compared to a few decades ago, many young women choose not to follow such a rigorous religious path. Yet those who have a strong calling to serve God undergo different levels of training.
Depending on the country, some churches require women to have a degree in religious studies or from a religiously affiliated college before being eligible to apply. The next step would be to pick an Order (group or community) that values the same beliefs the aspiring nun shares. Afterwards, the woman is trained based on the teachings and routines of the Order she chose and gets to live a first-hand experience of what her life will consist of for the rest of her life, should she like the training and nuns. Temporary vows of poverty, obedience and chastity will follow the training and usually last for 9 years at which point they take their final vows and are official members of the Order they have trained with. Their role in the Church then becomes of assisting priests during or before mass, assisting the community through acts of charity, assisting their congregation, educating parishioners and maintaining their home or Church in good conditions.
While these are general rules the majority of Catholic nuns follow, each Order and Congregation has a unique constitution that may focus more heavily on one specific aspect of the three vows or they might have more strict rules on when to visit family or what their usual attire must be.
For those women who have an extremely strong devotion to God and value serving him more than anything else, there is also the choice of becoming a Cloistered nun. These nuns spend their lives inside a monastery, or their congregation, without ever interacting with the outside world except in case of extreme situations, and pray day and night in complete silence. Nowadays, there are very few cloistered nuns left because their calling is so strong and lonesome that many women could not bear the conditions.
From a feminist perspective, these demands may seem extreme and sometimes unreasonable but we must remember that if these women choose and are not pressured by their culture, or family, to purse this unique course of life, we must respect their decision regardless of our differing thoughts.