28 August 2013

Questions on Male version of Canon 604

[[Dear Sr. Laurel, I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I know about Canon 604 and how certain women can be consecrated virgins, and this consecration can never be dispensed with. But can laymen be consecrated celibates? Is there such a thing? Or would they just make a private vow of chastity? E.g., I know someone who was promiscuous for a number of years, came back to the Church, and made a private vow of chastity. I don't know if he took it a step farther and went through any ceremony with a bishop or priest, but he is a layman and not married, and plans on remaining unmarried. He refers to himself as a "consecrated celibate."]]

The answer to your first question is no. At this point in time there is no vocation for individual lay men who would like to be initiated into the consecrated state in a way similar to consecrated virgins. Rome is said to be talking about reprising the vocation which existed in the early Church (men consecrated in this way were generally called Ascetics), but as far as I know, no steps have been taken to do this. (By the way, a similar vocation has been proposed for widows, and a few Bishops have "consecrated" Widows in this way, but as yet, the vocation has not been ratified by Rome and c 605 which refers to new forms of consecrated life and  demands Bishops' openness to these requires that this ratification occur before it can be considered a new form of consecrated life. Until it does, we do not have consecrated widows either.) Canon 603 governs eremitical life and it is possible for a single lay man to discern an eremitical vocation, but again, this would be vastly different from the vocation of canon 604 or that of ascetics in the early Church. It is emphatically not, as some have reportedly said, the male counterpart to c 604.

If a person decides to remain celibate they may make a private vow. In such a case, they are, for the length of time the vow is kept, dedicated celibates, but not consecrated ones. Despite the wide misuse of the terms consecration or consecrate today as actions referring to one's self-disposition, it remains the case that only God consecrates, only God makes holy or sets aside as holy, only God through the public mediation of the church initiates one into the consecrated state of life. Vatican II was very careful to refer to the human action in profession with terms like dedication, etc and reserved the term consecration for the divine action in such a commitment. Additionally, therefore, its usage is reserved for initiation into the consecrated state of life. To use it otherwise is confusing at best. You see, since initiation into the consecrated state implies public rights and obligations along with new legal relationships as well as necessary expectations on the part of the whole Church (this is one of the reasons this is considered a public commitment), it is unhelpful to use it to refer to someone who has not been formally and publicly called to or accepted those rights and obligations. (By the way, it can and has been argued that no consecration can be dispensed, but the public obligations, rights, and legal relationships attached to the vows and to the consecrated state of life can be dispensed.)

Finally, your friend might have had a priest or Bishop witness his private dedication (or even receive these vows AS PRIVATE), though this is not strictly necessary,  but there is no provision in canon law for the public reception of such a vow by an individual. For this reason, their presence would not change or have changed the entirely private and dedicatory nature of the vow itself. It remains a significant but still-private act of personal dedication.

I hope this is helpful.