Glossary of Cloistered Life Terms

Cloistered life has a whole vocabulary of its own. As you read about nuns, you may wonder why they sit in choir, rather than singing in choir. You may wonder how Great Silence is different from other kinds of silence. And you may have absolutely no idea what a hebdomadarian is. Never fear. This guide is here to help you.

Cell A monastic term for the individual room of a sister or monk where one can pray and work in solitude, as well as read and rest.

Chapter room A room near the choir in some communities where the members come together each day for the procession to the choir before Lauds and Matins, as well as for the Solemn “Salve” and community meetings.


Nuns in the choir, wearing mantles and praying the Divine Office. Maybe one of them is the hebdomadary.

Choir The chapel within the enclosure where the sisters or monks gather for Mass, the Divine Office, and other prayers throughout the day.

Clappers A stationary piece of flat wood to which are attached two loose pieces of wood, one on each side. By holding the handle and moving one’s wrist back and forth, the loose boards clap against the stationary one. The clappers is used instead of a bell at certain times during the day.

Collation The light meal taken in the evening during the time of the monastic fast, September 14 to Easter day.

Communion window A small opening in the choir grate in some communities used for receiving Holy Communion at Mass as well as for the reception of the veil at a sister’s solemn profession.

Cowl Choir mantle with long, large sleeves; worn for the Office except for the Little Hours and on warm summer days.

Divine Office In his Rule, St. Benedict uses this term to indicate the organization of the prayers covering the whole day.

Domestic bell A small bell used inside some monasteries to call individual sisters or monks who have special duties or offices, such as the prior(ess), subprior(ess), etc. It is also used for some of the Hours of the Divine Office when the tower bells cannot be rung or may not be heard throughout the monastery where the members are working.

Great Silence The time of strict silence prescribed by the Rule from after Compline in the evening until after Lauds the next morning.

Hebdomadary The sister or monk whose duty it is to begin and end the Hours of the Divine Office and the Solemn “Salve,” and to lead the prayers at the graces before and after meals. A hebdomadarian is the one who carries out this task.

Lectio divina A time for prayerful spiritual reading, such as the Holy Bible, the Fathers of the Church, the lives of the saints, spirituality, theology, etc.

Mantle A long cloak worn by some nuns during Holy Mass and Liturgy of the Hours

Night silence Silence is kept by the nuns or monks from the end of Compline till the end of Prime the next morning, save in an emergency.

Novitiate Strictly speaking, this refers to that part of the monastery reserved for the use of those in formation. This initial formation includes from the time one enters the monastery until the end of the second year of simple vows. The sisters or monks in formation are sometimes referred to as “the novitiate.”

Recreation A time for communal sports and relaxation.

Refectory A large room where members take their meals in silence.

Stall The place assigned for a nun or monk in the choir.

Vigils The night Office, 15 minutes after Compline.