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Cloister, Canonical Rules for


Cloister, from the Latin claustra, a bar or enclosure, describes the physical space reserved in all houses of religious institutes for solitude and prayer. From a theological perspective, cloister witnesses to the contemplative nature of the Church in her intimacy with God through recollection and silence, the withdrawal from the world so necessary and present in every Christian vocation (Venite seorsum I). Cloister is enjoined on both contemplative and apostolic religious institutes through norms prescribed in Church law.

Code of Canon Law. Canon 667 §1 prescribes cloister for all houses of religious institutes in accord with their character and mission. Norms for the observance of cloister are to be determined in the proper law of each institute with some part of the religious house reserved for the members alone. The norm reflects Pope Paul VI's apostolic exhortation Evangelica testificatio 46, reminding all religious of the vital need for silence in their search for intimacy with God. Canon 667 §2 regulates a stricter (strictior ) cloister for monasteries ordered to the contemplative life. In keeping with Perfectae caritatis 16, the cloister should be adjusted to the conditions of time and place and all obsolete practices abolished. Canon 667 §3 provides for monasteries of nuns. Those monasteries entirely ordered to the contemplative life must observe papal cloister, i.e., cloister in accord with norms issued by the Apostolic See. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life revised the norms governing papal cloister; these were approved by Pope John Paul II and published on May 13, 1999, in the instruction Verbi sponsa. Monasteries of nuns that are not ordered entirely to the contemplative life are to observe cloister adapted to their proper character and defined in the constitutions; this latter form is referred to as constitutional cloister. Canon 667 §4 gives the diocesan bishop the faculty for a just cause to enter the cloister of monasteries of nuns situated in his diocese. He also has the faculty, for a grave cause and with the consent of the superior, of permitting others to be admitted to the cloister and permitting the nuns to leave it for a truly necessary period of time.

Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Canon 477 §1 provides that enclosure shall be observed in monasteries as prescribed in the typicon or proper law of the monastery. In individual instances and for a grave reason, the superior has the right to admit into the enclosure persons of the gender other than those who may enter in accord with the typicon. Canon 477 §2 provides that the parts of the monastery subject to the law of enclosure shall be clearly indicated, and Canon 477 §3 leaves to the superior of a monastery sui iuris, with the consent of the council and after notifying the local hierarch, to prescribe precisely the boundaries of the enclosure or to change them for just reasons. Canon 541 provides that the statutes of orders and congregations shall determine the norms for enclosure in accord with their own character. Superiors, even local ones, possess the right to permit something different for a just cause in individual instances.

[r. mcdermott]

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