07 November 2010

Dedicare vs Consecrare, Half-way States, and Related Questions

Dear Sr. Laurel, I want to commend you, first of all, for your most erudite and intelligent posts, esp. regarding the "Intercessors of the Lamb" and all that has gone on. Fabulous! However. I have become very heavy of heart in reading your commentary on the status of "Public Associations of the Faithful". I have a copy of Fr. Gambari's book stating that those in Public Associations of the Faithful, while not belonging to an Institute of Consecrated Life, do indeed live a consecrated life, within the framework of a Public Association; they are considered to be consecrated "theologically" while not "canonically", as members of an Institute of Consecrated Life, acknowledged by the Church.

For those of us who have made vows, under the diocesan bishop, in an Association of the Faithful, Public, there is a "midway" point; it is not considered to be 'public' in the same way as a diocesan institute, a diocesan hermit, nor in the case of a consecrated virgin consecrated by a bishop (realizing that this is not a "vowed" state, but a consecrated state); Fr. Gambari makes it clear that those in this situation are considered "consecrated persons" but not those in an institute of consecrated life.

I think you may be too rigid in your definition of what consecrated life entails. From my understanding, a man or woman may make consecration to the evangelical counsels under a bishop without belonging to an institute of consecrated life, while not belonging to either the order of hermits nor of consecrated virgins. There is a "half-way"...of diocesan oblates....those men or women who would make consecration to the evangelical counsels at the service of a Diocese under a bishop who would not belong to an institute of consecrated life nor any of the ancient orders. I'm just bringing this to your attention. You are doing great work in making these matters known. Please do not take this as a criticism of what you have said. I am just offering this to you as further information.

Dear Father,
I can understand your concerns and the depth of your feelings here. I actually know them first hand from both sides of the dedicare/consecrare distinction. The theological dimension of any significant form of dedication or commitment should be recognized and esteemed. Again, as I have said before, there is nothing insignificant about lay life, nor about private or non-canonical vows. (And by private vows I mean any vows the Church herself does not regard as public and which do not bind in LAW or create necessary expectations on the part of the whole Church as public vows do. The latter is also true of non-canonical vows made by members of non-canonical communities.) There is no doubt that there is a serious moral and theological dimension to EVERY vow, resolution, act of personal dedication, etc. Fr Gambari's work MAY be attempting to do justice to that dimension, as well as looking at the diverse ways the Spirit moves in the Church. I don't know (the book is out of print and I have not read it).

But I do know that Vatican II worked mightily to reverse elitist trends and get the laity to embrace their part in the universal call to holiness. If, beyond the vows and promises associated with the sacraments of initiation, laity feel called and wish to make commitments which specify their baptismal consecration, and if they truly require these to live their baptismal commitments fully (the reasons here would need to be substantial for additional vows or promises), then those commitments should be regarded. However, this does not mean these commitments are synonymous with initiation into the consecrated state of life any more than it means Baptism per se signifies entry into this particular state. Nor should it mean this. Were this to happen we simply would continue to foster the sense that lay life is not a significant calling to holiness, that is, it is not, in and of itself, special or capable of representing an exhaustive form of discipleship. I am afraid all this talk of "middle" or "half-way" states makes me feel that the realization of the mandate of Vatican II in regard to the laity is still very far away --- and I say this as a theologian, not as a canonist, for I am emphatically NOT the latter.

Let me respond to one of the specific examples you gave, and also note that in doing so I have consulted with a canonist on some of what I am saying here. I will start with the issue of diocesan oblates. I have never heard of such a thing so it sounds like a local practice. It is unclear from your description whether these are individuals or a group of people. At this point, let me assume it refers to individuals who may be akin to what is sometimes called a "diocesan sister". In such a case we would be speaking about a potentially new form of consecrated life not yet recognized in Canon Law, similar to the male equivalent to consecrated virgins perhaps -- which some would like to see recognized as a new form of consecrated life. While a Bishop may (and in fact is encouraged to) discern "new forms of Consecrated Life" these forms must, according to Canon Law (c 605) be ratified by the Apostolic See before being considered new forms of consecrated life. (The authority to do this is specifically reserved to the Holy See who amends Canon Law with a Motu Proprio. Bishops may not do so on their own. On the other hand, Institutes of Consecrated Life MAY be erected by a Bishop when the Apostolic See is consulted but this requires a formal Bishop's decree.)

In such cases the titles, etc which are associated with the consecrated state MAY be extended to individuals or groups while the Church discerns the nature of the vocation at hand but unless and until the Church mediates God's own call to enter the consecrated state of life to the person through public profession, the individuals themselves still remain in the lay state. Their dedication of themselves to God is a significant specification of their baptismal vows nonetheless. Legitimate and valuable speculation about "theological consecration," (or what I have heard referred to as "passive consecration" as opposed to "active consecration") and reflection on the moral dimension of personal dedication to God may occur among theologians and canonists, but this cannot and ought not be confused with what is identified by the Church at this point in time as entrance into the consecrated state of life. In terms of Canon Law there is indeed an anomaly with regard to secular institutes (which have semi-public vows), but here members remain lay (or ordained). They do not enter the consecrated state of life.

Once again, the rule (exceptions mentioned below are cc 603-604) is that the consecrated state is entered by public vows (which means more than that these vows are made in public even if witnessed by the Bishop). Public vows are RECEIVED (not simply witnessed by someone) in the Name of the Church and are canonical vows which bind legally in ways private vows do not. (So, for instance, as part of the vow formula of public profession and consecration, and with the person's hands in the Bishop's own, a sentence like the following will be included: "I ask you, Bishop_______, as Bishop of the Diocese of_______*** to accept my vows in the name of the Church and to grant me your blessing. May the Word of God which I touch with my hand today be my life and my inspiration, this I pray.") Except for the anomaly already mentioned all other vows, no matter the venue in which they are made or who is present, are private.

*** (N.B This part of the formula may refer to the legitimate superior with authority to act in the name of the Church who may not be (and usually is not) the Bishop. However, the person MUST have the authority and the intention of receiving public vows in the name of the Church.)

Theological and Canonical speculation and reflection may lead eventually to changes in Universal Law and to the Church publicly affirming new forms and expressions of consecrated life. However, as it stands now the distinction between entering the consecrated state through profession AND the mediation of God's own consecration of the person, and remaining in the lay state with significant dedication of one's life to God even through the use of private vows, is linked to public vows except in two cases. These are, consecrated virgins (no vows at all) and those relatively unusual diocesan hermits making their public commitment through sacred bonds other than vows. These stable forms of life are both specifically recognized and provided for in Canon Law and their associated rites of profession or consecration are public in the canonical or ecclesial sense of that word. At this point in time there are no other exceptions, no other new and stable forms of consecrated life recognized by the Church. As the CCC affirms after noting that every person is called to live the evangelical counsels (par 915): [[It is the profession of these counsels within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God.]]

Given the confusion and even concern caused by the (sometimes indiscriminate and injudicious) use of habits by the HIOL and triggered by their suppression, not to mention the thousands of cases of people calling themselves "consecrated" while adding "though privately," mistaking private vows for public ones because they are witnessed by a priest during Mass despite the fact that these do not bind in Law in the same way public vows do, adopting religious garb on their own initiative, etc, and especially given the very clear and assiduously maintained distinction between dedicare and consecrare in the documents of Vatican II, I believe the CCC and Canon Law leave no wiggle room for half-way states in this specific regard. I strongly believe we should use the second Vatican Council's language here and respect the distinction it clearly maintained, just as we should work harder on assisting everyone to truly and seriously regard the place of the lay state in the universal call to holiness and as a gift of the Holy Spirit to Church and world.

While the proliferation of associations and institutes which desire to be institutes of consecrated life MAY represent the work of the Holy Spirit with regard to potential and diverse expressions of consecrated life, they may also (or instead) be a piece of the Church's heritage of failure to esteem lay life adequately and its propensity to make the lay state a kind of second or third-class reality in the Church. Only through mutual discernment will this be determined and groups either remain lay or be publicly recognized as part of and their members be initiated into the consecrated state; until and unless this discernment occurs the positing of half-way or middle states (which supposedly represent neither the lay nor the consecrated state) seems detrimental to the challenge of adequately regarding lay life. It is theologically problematical, canonically unjustified, and, it seems to me, does an injustice to both the lay and consecrated states. I do promise to read more about this (especially if I can find a copy of Gambari's book) and consult further with the canonist I mentioned. In the meantime, many thanks for your email.