The Order of Saint Benedict (Latin name: Ordo Sancti Benedicti) is a Roman Catholic religious order of independent monastic communities that observe the Rule of St. Benedict. Within the order, each individual community (which may be a monastery, a priory or abbey) maintains its own autonomy, while the organization as a whole exists to represent their mutual interests. Today the terms "Order of St Benedict" and "Benedictine Order" are also used frequently to refer to the total of the independent Roman Catholic Benedictine abbeys, thereby giving the wrong impression of a "generalate" or "motherhouse" with jurisdiction over dependent communities. The Benedictine Confederation, which was established in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII in his brief Summum semper, is the international governing body of the order.
The Benedictine monasteries went on to make considerable contributions not only to the monastic and the spiritual life of the West, but also to economics, education, and government, so that the years from 550 to 1150 may be called the "Benedictine centuries".
Even today Benedictine monasticism is fundamentally different from other Western religious orders insofar as its individual communities are not part of a religious order with "Generalates" and "Superiors General". Rather, in modern times, the various autonomy houses have formed themselves loosely into congregations (for example, Cassinese, English, Solesmes, Subiaco, Camaldolese, Sylvestrines) that in turn are represented in the Benedictine Confederation that came into existence through Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Brief "Summum semper" on July 12, 1883. This organization facilitates dialogue of Benedictine communities with each other and the relationship between Benedictine communities and other religious orders and the church at large.
The Rule of Saint Benedict is also used by a number of religious orders that began as reforms of the Benedictine tradition such as the Cistercians and Trappists although none of these groups are part of the Benedictine Confederation.
The largest number of Benedictines are Roman Catholics, but there are also Benedictines within the Anglican Communion and occasionally within other Christian denominations as well, for example, within the Lutheran Church.
Benedictine abbots and abbesses have full jurisdiction of their abbey and thus absolute authority over the monks or nuns who are resident and have full authority to, for example, to assign them duties, to decide which books they may or may not read, to take charge of their comings and goings, and if necessary to punish and even to excommunicate them.
A tight communal timetable (horarium) is meant to ensure that the time given by God is not wasted but in whichever way necessary used in his service, whether for prayer, work, meals, spiritual reading, sleep.
The Benedictines make no vow of silence, nevertheless the hours of stricter silence are fixed, and even at other times, out of fraternal love, silence is maintained as much as is practically possible. Social conversations tend to be limited to communal recreation times. But such details, like many others details of the daily routine of a Benedictine house that the Rule of St Benedict leaves to the discretion of the superior, are set out in its customary.
In the Roman Catholic Church according to the norms of the Code of Canon Law 1983 a Benedictine abbey is a "Religious Institute", and its professed members are therefore members of the "Consecrated Life", commonly referred to as "Religious". All Benedictine monks and nuns who have not been ordained are members of the laity among the Christian faithful. Only those Benedictine monks who have been ordained as a deacon or priest are also members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. Benedictine Oblates, who are not members of the consecrated life, nevertheless endeavour to embrace the spirit of the Benedictine vow in their own life in the world.
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