12 December 2008

Canon 603 as Male Counterpart of Canon 604?

[[Hi Sister O'Neal. Is it the case that Canon 603 is the male counterpart of Canon 604? I read recently that that was the case, but you are professed under Canon 603, right? So, how can that be? Are males admitted to consecration under Canon 604? Is there a male option similar to Canon 604 if they are not?]]

Hi there. I read the same thing about a year ago in a newspaper article about the consecration of virgins citing an associate professor of religious studies at a Catholic college. The passage read: [[While men wishing to affirm their vows of celibacy cannot be consecrated virgins, they can become diocesan hermits, a lay group of men similar to the consecrated virgins said (name), associate professor of theology. The archbishop has the power to deny this sacrament from candidates who he may not deem mature or independent enough. . .(name), said.]]

Assuming the paper is citing accurately (and I am not sure they are), it is an astounding mistake (or series of mistakes!) to make, not only because Canon 603 is used to profess AND CONSECRATE hermitesses or female hermits, but also because the life governed by Canon 603 is vastly different than that of Canon 604 (Consecrated virginity). I suppose there are some stereotypes about hermits that suggest they are male, but history disproves this from the very first years of the Desert Fathers and MOTHERS. So, the notion that men become hermits and women become consecrated virgins is just silly. Also, calling this consecration (Canon 604) a Sacrament is misleading and just plain wrong. So is referring to canon 603 men as lay hermits. (These particular errors convince me that the paper is not citing accurately here for the professor associated with the comments is knowledgeable about consecrated life and would not make such egregious errors!)

As for Canon 604 itself, no, men cannot be admitted to this consecration. Perhaps that seems unfair but the canon represents a recovery of the very ancient Order of Virgins from the first years of the Church (men were generally called ascetics) and at this point the Church, despite discussing doing so has not opened this or a similar vocation to men. Today also, Canon 604 is for women in the world despite the fact that a version of the Rite is for nuns at solemn profession who are called to a strictly contemplative life; CV's living in the world (saeculum) may be drawn to contemplative prayer, but generally their entire lives as such are not separated from the world (meaning mainly that which is resistant to Christ and only secondarily to the saeculum and God's good creation) and involve direct apostolic service to the church and to the world to a much greater degree than a hermit's can ever do; nor are they strictly contemplative.

Further, their vocation, no matter the tenor and intensity of their prayer lives, is not primarily characterized canonically as the hermit life is by stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance. What I mean is these are NOT the defining characteristics of the life of the consecrated virgin living in the world per se. Instead what defines their lives is a consecration by God and a commissioning to serve God and his Church in the things of the spirit and the things of the world as paradigms of the Church as eschatological Bride of Christ. Neither do consecrated virgins make vows (chastity as a commitment is affirmed in the Rite of consecration itself but is not a vow), nor do they necessarily live according to a Rule of Life they write as do diocesan hermits.

Finally, as relatively uncommon as it still is today and will probably always be, consecrated virginity is much less rare a vocation than the eremitical call. Setting the two off against each other as male and female counterparts --- especially since there are female hermits --- completely neglects this reality. The comments cited above make it sound as if any male who wishes to consecrate his virginity in the service of God and his Church simply needs to approach a diocese about consecration and profession under Canon 603, never mind all the distinctions between the two calls. I suppose that is what is most frustrating about the comments cited. They show no sense at all that these two vocations are different in character and charism. It is for this reason the Church needs both --- not because they are male and female counterparts of one another.