Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Catholic Church are popularly known as Religious Congregations. These Institutes are divided in the Eastern Catholic Church Law (Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches - CCEO) as Monasteries, Hermitages, Orders, Congregations, Societies of Common Life in the Manner of Religious, Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life. The difference between these Institutes and Societies is mainly on the basis of the nature of the vow they profess and the rigorousness of their life-style. The Church Law envisages also the emergence of new forms of consecrated life.
All these Institutes and Societies are further divided into three categories, namely of Pontifical, Patriarchal/Major Archiepiscopal or Eparchial Right. An Institute of consecrated life canonically erected or approved by the Pope is known as Pontifical. Similarly those erected or approved by a patriarch is known as Patriarchal and those by a major archbishop is known as major archiepiscopal. On the other hand Institutes canonically erected or approved by eparchial bishops are known as eparchial Institutes. In an Institute of Pontifical Right normally permissions etc. are to be obtained from the Pope except a few instances where the Patriarch or the Major Archbishop can grant them. In other two cases they are to be obtained from the Patriarch/Major Archbishop or the eparchial bishop as the case may be.
In each of the Churches that make up the Catholic Communion there have come into existence various types and categories of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life according to the needs of time and place. The institutes for men are divided into clerical and non-clerical. Clerical comes from the word clergy. If the members of a given Institute or Society are priests then it is called clerical. In some Institutes where the members are not priests, they are known as brothers. Such institutes are called non-clerical.
There is no clear evidence for the existence of Institutes of Consecrated Life in the Syro-Malabar Church before the arrival of the missionaries from the Latin Church under the Portuguese Padroado regime that was introduced in India in the 16th century. The reason could have been the place given in the Indian tradition for individual ascetical life. There is little evidence for any attempt on the part of the East Syrian Bishops who governed the Indian Church until the end of the 16th century to found any Institute of Consecrated Life here. With the arrival of the Portuguese there were some attempts here and there to begin some form of organized religious life. Finally the first Indian Institute of Consecrate Life for men came into existence under the initiatives of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Thomas Porukara and Thomas Palackal. The first Institute for women, Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC) was started on 13 February 1866 by Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Fr. Leopold OCD. The first Institute with exclusively non-clerical members, Congregation of St. Therese of Child Jesus (CST) was founded at Mookannur in 1931.
Ever since the first Institute of Consecrated Life was founded by Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara a number of Institutes and Societies both for men and women took origin in the Syro-Malabar Church. There are also some Institutes, though their members imitate the life of Religious, are not canonically erected as a Religious Institute. They are called Societies of Common Life in the Manner of Religious.
At the same time many young men and women from the Syro-Malabar Church joined Institutes of Consecrated Life belonging to the Latin and Malankara Churches as well. In some of them, there is considerable number of Syro-Malabarians. Following the teaching of the Church in the Second Vatican Council some of them started their Syro-Malabar provinces or regions.
About the middle of the 20th century Institutes of Consecrated Life of the Latin Church of mainly European origin began to recruit candidates from India when they had a steep fall in the number of vocations in Europe. Many of these Institutes eventually established in India their own houses, some of them in the Latin Church and some others in the Syro-Malabar Church. In the course of time the foundations of some in the Syro-Malabar Church became Syro-Malabar regions or provinces of those Latin Congregations. Yet some others who do not have the system of provinces started entirely independent branches in the Syro-Malabar Church.
The Institutes of Consecrated Life that exist in the Syro-Malabar Church currently can be put into one or other of the categories mentioned above
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