Abbess

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Eufemia Szaniawska, Abbess of the Benedictine Monastery in Nieswiez with a crosier, c. 1768, National Museum in Warsaw Anonymous Abbess Eufemia Szaniawska.jpg
Eufemia Szaniawska, Abbess of the Benedictine Monastery in Nieśwież with a crosier , c. 1768, National Museum in Warsaw

In Catholicism, an abbess (Latin abbatissa, feminine form of abbas, abbot) is the female superior of a community of nuns, which is often an abbey. [1]

Contents

Description

In the Catholic Church (both the Latin Church and Eastern Catholic), Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican abbeys, the mode of election, position, rights, and authority of an abbess correspond generally with those of an abbot. [2] She must be at least 40 years old and have been a nun for 10 years. [3] The age requirement in the Catholic Church has evolved over time, ranging from 30 to 60. The requirement of 10 years as a nun is only 8 in Catholicism. In the rare case of there not being a nun with the qualifications, the requirements may be lowered to 30 years of age and 5 of those in an "upright manner", as determined by the superior. [1] A woman who is of illegitimate birth, is not a virgin, has undergone non-salutory public penance, is a widow, or is blind or deaf, is typically disqualified for the position, saving by permission of the Holy See. [1] The office is elective, the choice being by the secret votes of the nuns belonging to the community. [2] Like an abbot, after being confirmed in her office by the Holy See, an abbess is solemnly admitted to her office by a formal blessing, conferred by the bishop in whose territory the monastery is located, or by an abbot or another bishop with appropriate permission. Unlike the abbot, the abbess receives only the ring, the crosier, and a copy of the rule of the order. She does not receive a mitre as part of the ceremony. [1] [4] The abbess also traditionally adds a pectoral cross to the outside of her habit as a symbol of office, though she continues to wear a modified form of her religious habit or dress, as she is unordained—females cannot be ordained—and so does not vest or use choir dress in the liturgy. [1] An abbess serves for life, except in Italy and some adjacent islands. [1]

Roles and responsibilities

Princess Maria Theresia Isabella of Austria, a noble abbess with her crosier. Maria Theresia Isabella Austria 1816 1867 portrait.jpg
Princess Maria Theresia Isabella of Austria, a noble abbess with her crosier.

Abbesses are, like abbots, major superiors according to canon law, the equivalents of abbots or bishops (the ordained male members of the church hierarchy who have, by right of their own office, executive jurisdiction over a building, diocesan territory, or a communal or non-communal group of persons—juridical entities under church law). They receive the vows of the nuns of the abbey; they may admit candidates to their order's novitiate; they may send them to study; and they may send them to do pastoral or missionary, or to work or assist—to the extent allowed by canon and civil law—in the administration and ministry of a parish or diocese (these activities could be inside or outside the community's territory). They have full authority in its administration.

However, there are significant limitations.

There are exigent circumstances, where due to Apostolical privilege, certain Abbesses have been granted rights and responsibilities above the normal, such as the Abbess of the Cistercian Monastery of the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas near Burgos, Spain. Also granted exceptional rights was the Abbess of the Cistercian order in Conversano Italy. She was granted the ability to appoint her own vicar-general, select and approve the confessors, along with the practice of receiving the public homage of her clergy. This practice continued until some of the duties were modified due to an appeal by the clergy to Rome. Finally in 1750, the public homage was abolished. [1]

During the Middle Ages (7th-10th centuries) in the Catholic Church, greater restrictions on abbesses' spiritual independence gained pace. Instruments of church authority, from papal bulls down to local sanctions, were increasingly used to restrict their freedom to dispense blessings, administer sacraments, including the veiling of nuns, and publicly read the gospels or preach. Such spiritual - and even temporal - authority had in earlier church history, largely been unremarkable. As Thomas Oestereich, contributor to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), makes clear, abbesses' past spiritual authority was increasingly seen as the "usurpation" of corresponding priestly power, and a solely male privilege. He gives an example of the attitude toward such practice, from the 9th century, which persists in church administrative control into the modern era: [1]

Thus, in the Capitularies of Charlemagne, mention is made of

certain Abbesses, who contrary to the established discipline of the Church of God, presume to bless the people, impose their hands on them, make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of men, and confer the veil on virgins, employing during that ceremony the blessing reserved exclusively to the priest,
Louis Thomassin, Vetus et Nova Ecclesae Disciplina, pars I, lib. II, xii, no. 17.

all of which practice the bishops are urged to forbid absolutely in their respective dioceses.

Similarly, in 1210, Innocent III (died 1216) expressed his view of the Cistercian Abbesses of Burgos and Palencia in Spain, who preached and heard confessions of their own religious, characterizing these acts as "unheard of, most indecorous, and highly preposterous." [1]

History

Historically, in some Celtic monasteries, abbesses presided over joint-houses of monks and nuns, [2] the most famous example being Saint Brigid of Kildare's leadership in the founding of the monastery at Kildare in Ireland. This custom accompanied Celtic monastic missions to France, Spain, and even to Rome itself. In 1115, Robert, the founder of Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon and Saumur, France, committed the government of the whole order, men as well as women, to a female superior. [2] [5]

In Lutheran churches, the title of abbess (German : Äbtissin) has in some cases survived (for example, in the Itzehoe Convent  [ de ]) to designate the heads of abbeys which since the Protestant Reformation have continued as monasteries or convents (German : Stifte ). [2] These positions continued, merely changing from Catholic to Lutheran. The first to make this change was the Abbey of Quedlinburg, whose last Catholic Abbess died in 1514. [1] These are collegiate foundations, which provide a home and an income for unmarried ladies, generally of noble birth, called canonesses (German : Kanonissinen), or more usually, Stiftsdamen or Kapitularinnen. The office of abbess is of considerable social dignity, and in the past, was sometimes filled by princesses of the reigning houses. [2] Until the dissolution of Holy Roman Empire and mediatisation of smaller imperial fiefs by Napoleon, the evangelical Abbess of Quedlinburg was also per officio the head of that reichsunmittelbar state. The last such ruling abbess was Sofia Albertina, Princess of Sweden. [6] The oldest women's abbey in Germany is St. Marienthal Abbey of Cistercian nuns, near Ostritz, established during the early 13th-century.

In the Hradčany of Prague is a Catholic institute whose mistress is titled an Abbess. It was founded in 1755 by the Empress Maria Theresa, and traditionally was responsible for the coronation of the Queen of Bohemia. The Abbess is required to be an Austrian Archduchess. [1]

In 1997, it was estimated the Catholic Church had around 200 presiding abbesses. [4]

See also

Footnotes

Related Research Articles

Abbot Religious title

Abbot is an ecclesiastical title given to the male head of a monastery in various Western religious traditions, including Christianity. The office may also be given as an honorary title to a clergyman who is not the head of a monastery. The female equivalent is abbess.

Nun Member of a religious community of women

A nun is a woman who vows to dedicate her life to religious service, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the enclosure of a monastery or convent. The term is often used interchangeably with religious sisters who do take simple vows but live an active vocation of prayer and charitable works.

Fontevraud Abbey

The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud or Fontevrault was a monastery in the village of Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, near Chinon, in the former French duchy of Anjou. It was founded in 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. The foundation flourished and became the center of a new monastic Order, the Order of Fontevraud. This order was composed of double monasteries, in which the community consisted of both men and women — in separate quarters of the abbey — all of whom were subject to the authority of the Abbess of Fontevraud. The Abbey of Fontevraud itself consisted of four separate communities, all managed by the same abbess.

The Reverend Christian religious style

The Reverend is an honorific style most often placed before the names of Christian clergy and ministers. There are sometimes differences in the way the style is used in different countries and church traditions. The Reverend is correctly called a style but is often and in some dictionaries called a title, form of address, or title of respect. The style is also sometimes used by leaders in non-Christian religions such as Judaism and Buddhism.

A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. It is usually composed of laypeople and, in some orders, clergy. Such orders exist in many of the world's religions.

Trappists Roman Catholic religious order

The Trappists, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance and originally named the Order of Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe, are a Catholic religious order of cloistered monastics that branched off from the Cistercians. They follow the Rule of Saint Benedict and have communities of both monks and nuns that are known as Trappists and Trappistines, respectively. They are named after La Trappe Abbey, the monastery from which the movement and religious order originated. The movement first began with the reforms that Abbot Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé introduced in 1664, later leading to the creation of Trappist congregations, and eventually the formal constitution as a separate religious order in 1892.

Monk Member of a monastic religious order

A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate their life to serving other people and serving God, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live their life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.

Bridgettines

The Bridgettines, or Birgittines, formally known as the Order of the Most Holy Savior, is a monastic religious order of the Catholic Church founded by Saint Birgitta or Bridget of Sweden in 1344, and approved by Pope Urban V in 1370. They follow the Rule of Saint Augustine. There are today several different branches of Bridgettines.

<i>Advocatus</i> Medieval office-holder

During the Middle Ages, an advocatus was an office-holder who was legally delegated to perform some of the secular responsibilities of a major feudal lord, or for an institution such as an abbey. Many such positions developed, especially in the Holy Roman Empire. Typically, these evolved to include responsibility for aspects of the daily management of agricultural lands, villages and cities. In some regions, advocates were governors of large provinces, sometimes distinguished by terms such as Landvogt.

Territorial abbey Particular church of the Catholic Church whose abbot performs the same function as a diocesan bishop

A territorial abbey is a particular church of the Catholic Church comprising defined territory which is not part of a diocese but surrounds an abbey or monastery whose abbot or superior functions as ordinary for all Catholics and parishes in the territory. Such an abbot is called a territorial abbot or abbot nullius diœceseos. A territorial abbot thus differs from an ordinary abbot, who exercises authority only within the monastery's walls or to monks or canons who have taken their vows there. A territorial abbot is equivalent to a diocesan bishop in Catholic canon law.

Prior Ecclesiastical title

Prior is an ecclesiastical title for a superior in some religious orders. The word is derived from the Latin for "earlier" or "first". Its earlier generic usage referred to any monastic superior. In abbeys, a prior would be lower in rank than the abbey's abbot or abbess.

Ecclesiastical titles and styles

Ecclesiastical titles are the formal styles of address used for members of the clergy.

Cistercian nuns

Cistercian nuns are female members of the Cistercian Order, a religious order belonging to the Roman Catholic branch of the Catholic Church.

Amesbury Abbey was a Benedictine abbey of women at Amesbury in Wiltshire, England, founded by Queen Ælfthryth in about the year 979 on what may have been the site of an earlier monastery. The abbey was dissolved in 1177 by Henry II, who founded in its place a house of the Order of Fontevraud, known as Amesbury Priory.

Amesbury Priory was a Benedictine monastery at Amesbury in Wiltshire, England, belonging to the Order of Fontevraud. It was founded in 1177 to replace the earlier Amesbury Abbey, a Saxon foundation established about the year 979. The Anglo-Norman Amesbury Priory was disbanded at the Dissolution of the monasteries and ceased to exist as a monastic house in 1539.

Degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism

The degrees of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic monasticism are the stages an Eastern Orthodox monk or nun passes through in their religious vocation.

Diocese of Meath and Kildare Anglican diocese of the Church of Ireland

The United Dioceses of Meath and Kildare is a diocese in the Church of Ireland located in the Republic of Ireland. The diocese is in the ecclesiastical province of Dublin. Alone of English and Irish bishops who are not also archbishops, the Bishop of Meath and Kildare is styled "The Most Reverend".

Bishop of Kildare

The Bishop of Kildare was an episcopal title which took its name after the town of Kildare in County Kildare, Ireland. The title is no longer in use by any of the main Christian churches having been united with other bishoprics. In the Roman Catholic Church, the title has been merged with that of the bishopric of Leighlin and is currently held by the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. In the Church of Ireland, the title has been merged with that of the bishopric of Meath and is currently held by the Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

Kildare Abbey is a former monastery in County Kildare, Ireland, founded by St Brigid in the 5th century, and destroyed in the 12th century.

Bolton Abbey, Moone, County Kildare is a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1965. It was established by monks from Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, and became an independent monastery and abbey in 1977. The monastery works a dairy farm on its property.

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