With regard to the dowry required of a nun, the customs and rules of the different orders vary much according to circumstances.
The convents thus were always homes of industry, and just as formerly they played no small part in the spread of civilization, so now they are almost indispensable handmaids to the cause of the Catholic Church.
It is not necessary here to refute the many base and vile charges that have from time to time been brought against the conventual system; a mere general reference to them is sufficient, for the evidence of the salutary work done by convents and the gruits of the lives of the nuns are in themselves ample refutation.
Canon law contains a large and important section relating to the establishment and government of convents.
The privileges of such as are exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, the appointment of confessors for the nuns, and the duties of the same, the regulations of the Church concerning enclosure, and the admission and testing of candidates, the nature and obligations of the vows, the limits of the powers of superiors, and the conditions regarding the erection of new convents are among the many points of detail legislated for. The law of the Church requires that no new convent be established, whether it be one that is exempt from episcopal jurisdiction or not, without the consent of the bishop of the diocese ; for what is technically called canonical erection further formalities, including approbation from Rome, have to be complied with.
In most of the older contemplative orders the choir nuns are bound to rthe whole Divine Office in choir. Cistercians, Dominicans, and Poor Clares, do the nuns rise in the night for Matins and Lauds ; in the others these Offices are generally said in the evening "by anticipation".
In some there are other additional offices recited daily; thus the Cistercians and the Poor Clares say the Office of Our Lady and that of the Dead every day, and the Brigittines say the latter thrice in the week, as well as an Office of the Holy Ghost.
The nun Us day is divided between the choir, the workroom, the schoolroom, the refectory, the recreation room, the cell, and, with the active orders, the outside work, in periodical rotation. The earliest rules for nuns, as well as the most modern, all prescribe labour of some useful kind.
The medieval nuns could always read and write Latin, and they also employed themselves in transcribing and illuminating sacred books, and in many of the fine arts , the cultivation of which they consecrated to the service of God.
Almost all the active orders, both enclosed and unenclosed, use the Office of Our Lady, but some, like the Sisters of Charity, are not bound to the recitation of any Office at all.
In most orders the nuns are divided into choir sisters and lay sisters.