From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified
Evangelical Counsels (914)
The consecrated life is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels. Although not part of the Church's hierarchy, this life belongs to the Church's life and holiness.
Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience (915-916)
In the consecrated life, the perfection of charity entails the obligations of chastity in celibacy, of poverty and of obedience, in a permanent state of life recognized by the Church.
The religious state is a "more intimate consecration" of Baptism. The person serves the kingdom and proclaims the glory of the world to come.
Many Religious Families (917-919)
This seed of consecrated life has brought forth a tree with various forms, lived in both solitude or in community. There are various religious families which have spiritual resources for their members and for the Church.
From the very beginning, men and women have practiced the evangelical counsel. This has resulted in religious families accepted and approved by the Church. Bishops discern new gifts of the consecrated life but the approval of new forms is reserved to Rome.
The Hermit in Solitude (920-921)
Hermits devote their life to God "through a stricter separation from the world in the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer, and penance" (Canon 603). Hermits manifest the Church's interior mystery (a personal intimacy with Christ). The hermit finds in the desert the glory of Christ crucified.
The Consecrated Virgin (922-924)
Christian virgins cling to the Lord with a greater freedom and live in an approved state of virginity "for the sake of the kingdom" (Mt 19:12). Virgins are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop and are dedicated to the service of the Church (Canon 604).
The order of virgins establishes a woman living in the world (nun) in prayer, service, and apostolic activity. These virgins can form themselves into associations (Canon 604, #2).
Consecrated in Canonical Institutes (925-926)
Religious life is lived within canonical institutes which are distinguished from other consecrated forms by their liturgical character, public profession of the counsels, common life, and common witness.
In religious life, the Church offers a stable way of life to the faithful who are called to profess the counsels. In this way, the Church can manifest Christ and show that she is his Bride.
United with the Bishop (927)
All religious (whether exempt or not) are collaborators with the bishop. Missionary work and Church expansion have always required the help of religious. History shows the outstanding contributions of monastic institutions, medieval orders, and more recent congregations.
Consecrated Life in the World (928-929)
In a secular institute, the faithful live in the world and work for its sanctification from within. They are a "leaven in the world," trying to order temporal things according to God's plan. They commit themselves to the evangelical counsels and to a fellowship appropriate to their "particular secular way of life" (Canon 713).
Apostolic Life in Common (930)
Members of societies of apostolic life have no religious vows but they pursue their society's apostolic purpose and lead a life in common. In some societies, the members embrace the evangelical counsels "according to their constitutions" (Canon 731).
Consecrated and Serving (931-932)
By these states of consecrated life, the Church shows the wonderful actions of the Spirit. Therefore, the members must live out their consecration. They must also engage in the Church's missionary activity (Canon 783).
The consecrated life imitates Christ's self-emptying and is a special sign of redemption. Following this "narrower path," the consecrated members encourage others and show that the world can be transfigured with the spirit of the beatitudes.
While Awaiting Jesus' Return (933)
Every consecrated person's life takes its origin in Christ's final return. Their example reveals to believers the heavenly good already present in this age and the future glory of the heavenly (Second Vatican Council).