There have always been lay people in a more or less close relationship with a monastic community, finding in it an inspiration and a support for their Christian life, and sometimes a group of friends of a particular community. During the last quarter century something new has developed. Lay people have felt called to integrate into their lay vocations – family and professional life, as well as their social and religious commitments – the most fundamental values of the Cistercian life.
These people are known by different names (oblates, associates, etc.); but in general they are called "Lay Cistercians," and form a group of laity attached to a community of Cistercian nuns or monks.
Successive General Chapters, beginning with Holyoke in 1984, while recognizing a movement of the Spirit, have preferred not to legislate concerning them, leaving to each monastic community the care of watching over the evolution of the movement.
These communities of Lay Cistercians have created bonds among themselves, and in 2000 began to hold periodic international “encounters”. Following these meetings, they have sent messages to the General Chapters, to which the Order has responded. In the course of the meeting at Huerta in 2008, they drafted a document describing the lay Cistercian identity, which was communicated to the General Chapters of the same year. The chapters officially recognized the groups as "a lay expression of our Cistercian charism."
Since the third international meeting (at Clairvaux, in 2005), there has been an International Committee of three people charged with the task of preparing the international meetings, which now take place every three years in order to maintain communication among the local lay communities, and with the Order. A website in several languages offers the most important documents, as well as a list of the communities officially recognized – about 70 of them.
The total number of Lay Cistercians is estimated to be about 1300.
Membership in the Lay Cistercians is handled directly by the individual lay groups. If you would like more information, please contact one of the groups listed on the International Lay Cistercian site.