Vocations Ministry Resources
VARIOUS FORMS OF CONSECRATED LIFE: WHAT IS AVAILABLE IN THE CHURCH TODAY?
Mary, image of the church, the bride without spot or wrinkle which by imitating you “preserves with virginal purity an integral faith, a firm hope and a sincere charity,” sustain consecrated persons on their journey toward the sole and eternal Blessedness.
To you, Virgin of the visitation, do we entrust them, that they may go forth to meet human needs, to bring help, but above all to bring Jesus. Teach them to proclaim the mighty things which the Lord accomplishes in the world, that all peoples may extol the greatness of his name. Support them in their work for the poor, the hungry, those without hope, the little ones and all who seek your Son with a sincere heart. [Vita Consecrata, '112.
We know that Divine Providence, out of total love for each one of us, designs our life’s experiences in order to bring each of us to perfection in Jesus Christ. No two lives are identical, but each person is called to holiness, which means complete love for God Himself. It is up to each of us, however, to discern the vocation, the state of life, that God has created for us individually and then to follow that vocation. Parents, teachers, friends, mentors of one type or another, often serve to point out to us which state of life we are called to.
The Church in recent years, particularly under the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, has clarified in a series of three documents the states of life in the Church. Each of these documents was preceded by a synod of bishops who prayerfully examined the respective canonical states of life. The Holy Father then promulgated the reflections from the synods in the following three documents: Christifideles laici for the laity, Pastores dabo vobis for the clergy and specifically for the priesthood, and Vita Consecrata for consecrated persons. At the conclusion of the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, the Holy Father invokes the Most Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for all consecrated persons, as quoted in the opening of this article. Mary is unequivocally the model for all Christians, but in particular she is most appropriately the model of the consecrated person.
The entire text of Vita Consecrata can be accessed on the Vatican’s website: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jpii_exh_25031996_vita-consecrata_en.html
What forms of consecrated life are available in today’s Church?
Vita Consecrata identifies four categories of consecrated life available in the Church today. It would be worthwhile now to know a few characteristics of each form and then where one might find further information about that respective category of consecrated life. It should be noted from the outset that often semantics are not perceived accurately, thus to clarify, I give a bit of explanation here. The term “consecrated life” is not synonymous with “religious life.” That is, although all religious live a form of consecrated life, not all consecrated persons are members of “institutes of religious life.” Moreover, “consecrated life” is defined in the Code of Canon Law as a state of life distinct from both clergy and laity [C. 588.1]
Members of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life [C. 607-709; C. 731-46]
Sisters, Brothers, nuns, and monks live the consecrated life in common and according to the constitution of their particular institute. In most cases, they profess a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience while expressing in their lives of prayer and service the charism of their founder or foundress.
Information about any one of institutes may be obtained from that particular institute itself, as well as from organizations like the Institute on Religious Life, P. O. Box 410007, Chicago, Illinois 60641. On the Internet: http://www.religiouslife.com
Societies of apostolic life have as their particular mission to announce Jesus Christ to the world while living a fraternal life in community. For information on these societies, two excellent sources on the Internet are: http://www.newevang.org/mvceng/society.htm and http://www.msagen.org/msaang/mnrdian/angsva.htm
Secular institutes [C. 710-30]
In mid-20th century, secular institutes were recognized by the Church as another true form of consecrated life. They are to be a “leaven” in society, usually working in secular occupations but fully committed to the consecrated life through their vows or promises, according to their individual constitutions. The members have spiritual and legal bonds with each other and promote the particular charism of their founder or foundress. Examples of secular institutes include those for celibate women only, institutes for celibate men only, institutes for priests only, and/or institutes with married couple affiliates.
A wide range of choices is available among these institutes. Further information can be obtained by contacting the United States Conference of Secular Institutes at their national address: P. O. Box 4556, Washington, D.C. 20017, or by visiting their website: http://www.secularinstitutes.org
Hermits or anchorites [C. 603]
This ancient form of consecrated life was recently restored in the Latin Rite, and is now noted in Canon 603 of the Code of Canon Law. A hermit commits himself to living the evangelical counsels by some form of vows or promises made to the bishop. He follows a rule or plan of life approved by his diocesan bishop, and usually supports himself financially by some form of work that can be done in the hermitage. Open to both men and women, this form of consecrated life is strictly removed from the world. The hermit serves the Church and local diocese through ‘constant prayer and penance.’ If interested in this form of consecrated life, one should contact the Delegate for Consecrated Life in the diocese.
Consecrated virgins living in the world [C. 604
Also recently restored as a form of consecrated life for virgins living in the world, this ancient form of consecrated life now also has its own Canon, namely C. 604. Unlike the aforementioned hermits, consecrated virgins do not draw up a rule of life, as their daily, individual schedule of prayer and service must be harmonized with the demands of their employment. By their very lives, consecrated virgins witness the brideship of the Church herself.
The Roman Pontifical [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 62 (1970): 650] states the following prerequisites for women to be eligible to consecrated as virgins by their bishop:
Further information on this form of consecrated life can be obtained from the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, 300 West Ottawa Street, Lansing, Michigan 48933-1577; or from their website: http://www.consecratedvirgins.org
Sometimes people who aspire to live a perpetual commitment of celibacy find that they fit into none of the above categories. What option do they have? A private vow of perpetual chastity is most frequently the answer. After discerning this call with one’s spiritual director, a man or woman may make a private vow of perpetual celibacy with the spiritual director, pastor, or other competent authority.
An interest has been growing in this country and worldwide for the ancient Order of Widows to be reconstituted in the Church, Latin Rite. Like consecrated virgins, consecrated widows were a viable part of life in the early Church as they continued their consecrated life of prayer and service in the everyday world. As of this time, there is no official, canonically recognized Rite for widows to be consecrated in the Latin Rite of the Church, but they are encouraged, nevertheless, to make a private vow of perpetual celibacy. They should, in addition, inform their bishop of their desire to have this ancient form of consecrated life restored. It is understood, however, that no individual should take it upon himself to undertake anything which would suggest that the Consecration of Widows is already a viable reality.
Mary as our model and Intercessor
To love God with one’s whole mind, strength, will, and heart is the first and the greatest commandment. The second, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, flows from the first and greatest commandment. Who better than the Most Blessed Virgin Mary exemplified these two Great Commandments? Mary is a model to all forms of consecrated life.
When Vita Consecrata speaks of consecrated persons as poor, chaste, and obedient, who has modeled the consecrated life better than the Blessed Virgin Mary? Who was the first to proclaim her resolve for perpetual virginity, if not Mary at the Annunciation? Who was the first “missionary” to proclaim God made-man, if not Mary at the Visitation? Who was so attentive to her neighbors’ needs than Mary at Cana? Who lived in silence and prayer better than Mary at Nazareth? And, as a widow, can we not imagine how Mary must have encouraged the faith of the Apostles as she prayed in their midst while awaiting the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as well as during the years that followed? Like the consecrated widows of the early Church, can we not reflect how Mary must have served her neighbors’ needs even as she was entrusted to the care of St. John until her Dormition?
All the forms of consecrated life now spoken of in Vita Consecrata as well as those forms which lie in the future can look to Mary, Virgin and Mother, as the model par excellence as well as the great intercessor for all consecrated persons who follow closely in her footsteps.
May Mary be our Guide!
by Loretta Matulich, consecrated virgin, Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon
ATH Female Institutes
“How to Discern”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd06TswZts (7:46 minutes)
“Fishers of Men Catholic Priesthood”
“Follow Me: Journeys to Priesthood” (made in Los Angeles Archdiocese)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApEPnWOoRfE (13 minutes)
for listing of secular instates in the U.S.:
(lists: title of institute; for priests, men, or women; when founded; purpose)