Lay brother

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In the Catholic Church , lay brothers are men of the order who have made profession but are not ordained a priest. If male lay people are members of a religious community that consists primarily of clergy , they live with the religious priests , but can usually not perform any leading functions within the religious community. There are also orders of brothers , where brothers and sisters can also act as superiors of priests.

working area

Until the decree of the Second Vatican Council Perfectae caritatis (on the modern renewal of religious life), which the lay brotherhood abolished as an institute because it contradicted the actual religious ideal, lay brothers lived separately from the members of the convention , did mostly manual work and had fewer prayer obligations than this. Typical activities were housework, work in the field or in the stable, as a craftsman, sacristan or at the monastery gate. In addition, there were some monks in the monasteries who (possibly not yet) were priests, but were fully integrated into the monastic convent ( fratres ).

In historical epochs

Cistercian conversations in the 13th / 14th centuries century

As in the early days of the Order, conversations came from all walks of life. In the General Chapter of 1311 it is documented that there was even a tendency among people of high birth and knightly culture to enter the monastery as lay brothers. Of course, there were also times when they fell back into their previous habits and were less exemplary. In any case, the number of Cistercian conversations fell sharply in the 14th century.

Numerous examples show that the Conversi could form a turbulent element of the monastic community. In 1237 the Converses of Grandselve in Gascony physically attacked their abbot; other confreres who were in his office were also injured. In 1241 the abbot of Eberbach was seriously mutilated by a lay brother. Such examples can be multiplied from all countries: it is not always clear whether the conversations were solely responsible for it or, as was often the case, also priest monks were part of the rebellion. On the way to the General Chapter, abbots sometimes found a brutal attitude on the part of the lay brothers in the monasteries where they stopped. In 1241 there was a scuffle between the servants of four English abbots and a conversus from Vauluisant. Nine Spanish abbots complained about treatment in a Bonneval manor when they tried to stay there in 1236. The converse, who was the master of the estate, refused to accept them.

Early modern age

The manuscript from the Abbey of St. Peter in the Black Forest, written by Br. Heinrich Rauscher (1740–1802), gives a rare insight into the life of conversations in a Benedictine abbey in the early modern period. They did not attend the choir prayer , but instead prayed other prayers. They attended Holy Mass every day ; half an hour was reserved for the Lectio divina . Most days they were allowed to eat meat and drink wine. Her areas of work were the monastery gate, the sacristy and domestic work. Every day after Prim , they met in the chapter house , where a chapter from the Rule of Benedict was read. After the debt chapter , they received their work assignments.

In the monasteries of the other orders the brothers lived in a similar way of life.

20th century

In most monastic orders, the designated lay brothers were not considered full-fledged monks until the adjustment of religious life to the requirements of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis (on the contemporary renewal of religious life) of the Second Vatican Council . In many communities after 1970 they gained full chapter rights and duties.


In the tradition, the lay brothers were often considered more humble and holy than the priest-monks. The Trappist abbot P. Eugene Boylan wrote in 1958:

“If you want to find mystics in the monastery, look among the lay brothers. For me, one of the greatest humiliations of my life is celebrating Holy Mass when a lay brother is present as an altar boy. I have the Lord Jesus in my hands, but I know well that Christ is much more interested in the man who kneels next to me. It is the greatest humiliation I know. "

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: lay brother  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. A. Hamilton Thompson, [Review of:] Statuta Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis ... , in: The English Historical Review 55 (July 1940), pp. 451–458, here 455.
  2. ^ Ulrich Lehner: Enlightened Monks: The German Benedictines, 1740-1803, Oxford 2011, ISBN 978-0199595129 , p. 52.
  3. ^ Eugene Boylan, Partnership with Christ. A Cistercian Retreat, Collegeville [USA] 2008, ISBN 978-0-87907-016-8 , p. 143.