A lay brother is a member of a religious institute who commits to a life of prayer and service in the name of Jesus Christ. His work usually involves physical labor within his community or the management of its temporal affairs, but it also may include teaching or service within a parish, school, or local neighborhood. He takes vows or promises in accordance with the constitution of his institute but retains the lay state and is not in preparation for the priesthood. He shares in the spiritual life of his community but usually is not bound by the requirement to pray the Divine Office.
While all brothers in religious institutes are “lay” in the sense of not being among the ordained clergy, the term “lay brother” was formerly used to differentiate from the “choir brothers” of a community who were bound by the Divine Office and led a more rigorous life of prayer and study. In the spirit of service, the lay brothers would take on the manual labor and maintenance work necessary for the smooth operation of community life in order to free the choir brothers, including those in formation for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, for prayer and study.
Today that distinction is less evident, but the role of lay brothers in the Church and in their witness to the world is as important as ever. By leading lives dedicated to prayer, celibacy, faith, and joyful service to the needs of others, lay brothers shine forth by their example with the spirit and presence of Christ.