08 April 2016

Do Catholic Hermits Seal Their Vows With Blood?

[[Sister Laurel, do Catholic Hermits seal their vows with blood? I've heard of blood vows (something about the Mafia) and blood oaths but before today I never heard of a Catholic hermit sealing his or her vows with blood or a Catholic priest allowing it. Is this part of canon 603 or the ritual of consecration?]]

Assuming this is a question prompted by an actual situation and not by an old (or new!) Sister Fidelma mystery, I should say that the entire situation you describe completely creeps me out. However it also raises the serious question of the use of normative rites for profession.

One of the things I don't think I have written much about here is the idea that public professions and consecrations are done according to approved rites and liturgies. This, I think, is part of the truth of the traditional saying "as we pray, so we believe" ("Lex orandi, lex credendi"). Let me also say that it goes almost without saying that the approved rites for religious profession in the Roman Catholic Church (including the profession and consecration of the c 603 hermit) or the consecration of Virgins do not EVER use blood to seal the commitment.

The idea of doing so smacks of pagan sacrificial or esoteric rites which attribute mystical powers to blood or think in terms of a kind of crude physicalism and magic. (This is the kind of mistaken and unsound physicalism that talks about hosts spurting blood or speaks of munching on Jesus' bones or fingernails when one is consuming the Eucharist! Too often have Catholics been accused of believing such nonsense. Too often have theologically or spiritually naive Catholics contributed to this judgment --- something which has needlessly inflamed anti-Catholic sentiment over the centuries.) In any case, this notion of sealing vows in blood certainly ignores the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection, something celebrated anew in the Mass that contextualizes a public profession, has done away with such things forever.

Contrary to what you describe or at least imply has occurred, I honestly can't imagine a Catholic priest allowing such a thing either --- and of course in the profession and consecration of diocesan hermits we are also dealing with diocesan bishops and canonists who absolutely would never allow such a thing to happen. As alluded to above, hermits in such situations are ordinarily professed using either the established Rite of Religious Profession approved by the Vatican or a version of profession for anchorites which is vetted by the hermit's Diocese beforehand. Whichever is used, the insigniae given, the vow formula and forms to be signed and witnessed, and the liturgy more generally are all approved beforehand. (Any individual accommodations are prepared and submitted to the diocese prior to the day of celebration.) The necessary forms are embossed or stamped with the diocesan seal and signed by the Bishop, the Ecclesiastical notary and/or Vicar for Religious, the one professed, and witnesses (pastor, delegate, etc). Barring an inadvertent paper cut or something similar blood plays no part at all.

While all of this may seem to be nit-picky and legalistic it really does serve the foundational truth of "Lex orandi, lex credendi." We Catholics do not make blood oaths and no Catholic Hermit professed by the Church to live eremitical life in her name uses such a gesture with her vow formula because it does not comport with our faith. Could you please let me know where you heard of or read about such a thing? I am actually feeling a bit stunned or off-footed by the question; the notion that anyone might do such a thing, especially a Catholic hermit in a Roman Catholic liturgy is offensive.

Postscript: Perhaps I should rewrite this whole post instead of writing a postscript but I have now seen what brought this issue up for you yesterday. It was a post by "joyful hermit" on the A Catholic Hermit blog. The author writes:

I admit the profession ceremony was intimately holy, beyond anything I could ever have dreamt nor asked for. God provides! I yet have the vows written, signed by the priest and myself, my blood spread inside a small heart drawn at the bottom--a seal that only my spiritual father has seen. (cf.,Major Occurrence)
Please remember that according to her blogs the author of this description is Catholic and lives as a dedicated lay hermit. Her vows are a private matter between herself and God; they are not public and have not been received by the Church --- an act which allows and in fact, commissions one to live vows in the name of the Church. (In this situation it is particularly important that we understand this lay hermit was not making a public (canonical) commitment in the name of the Church! To do so in this specific instance could actually give scandal.) Because Joyful Hermit does not say whether the blood-filled heart on the vow formula was added during or after the ceremony  anyone reading about this should remember that whenever it happened it did not occur at a public liturgy nor does this action reflect Catholic theology, belief, or praxis. (I personally expect the blood had to have been added afterwards in an entirely personal and sentimental gesture because again, I don't believe the priest witnessing the vows would ever have approved or allowed it himself)

I do think this action illustrates one reason it is sometimes especially important to distinguish those persons who make and live their professions in the name of the Church  from those who make dedications which are not --- why it is sometimes critical to distinguish between Catholic hermits who live a public profession and Catholics who may live as hermits as part of a private commitment. It also helps illustrate my concern with individualism and sufficient formation in eremitical life with commensurate catechesis prior to any formal commitment. While to some extent I can understand the sentiment behind the act, I believe and sincerely hope it is very rare for those making private vows and dedications to err in this way; I also see even more clearly why the Church does indeed supervise the professions and lives of those living eremitical life in her name. Namely, she does so in order to help make sure that these persons reflect the Faith and are edifying in all the ways they are called to be by God through the ministry of the Church. This would  include ensuring that profession liturgies celebrated as instances of Catholic worship truly are Catholic in every sense. Again, lex orandi, lex credendi!!