Why use the term "Consecrated Life"? Isn't it the same as "Religious Life"?
No. Consecrated Life is not the same as Religious Life. To help understand the difference one can use the analogy of genus and species whereby Consecrated Life is the genus and Religious Life is but one particular species of this genus(1) albeit the dominant and most widely recognized and known form of Consecrated Life, particularly in Australia.
The revised Code of Canon Law came out in 1983. However, Australia would be one of the few countries in the world to persist in using the term "Religious" for all consecrated persons, and this in spite of the fact that the magisterial documents have repeatedly stressed that members of Secular Institutes, and thereby other forms of consecrated life, are not "Religious".(2)
Our persistent use of the term "Religious" in Australia may reflect merely our historical experience of Religious Institutes being the dominant form of Consecrated Life known and experienced in Australia. Religious Institutes are far more visible in terms of numbers, works and external signia, inclusive not only of dress and title, but also residence and community life. And in the many works they have undertaken they have contributed significantly to our nation, especially in the fields of health and education. Their works deserve due acknowledgement and recognition.
However, continuing to persist in using the term "Religious" rather than ""Consecrated" has certain potential implications. Firstly, reflecting what is known, rather than what is possible, may appear to be committed to fostering only the Religious form of Consecrated Life in the future. It can be perceived as a subtle suppression of the development of other forms of Consecrated Life. It keeps our vision limited by the past rather than open to new possibilities. Vatican II specifically directed that new forms of Consecrated Life be encouraged.
Secondly, for those living other forms of Consecrated Life and taking seriously the Magisterial assertions that they are "not" Religious, then the persistent use of the term "Religious" when "Consecrated" is intended leaves them in a confusing state of both being and not being "religious". However, it also offers them a unique Gospel challenge, for in our society, the position and recognition of minority groups is often under debate. It gives them a solidarity with others who belong to minority groups and invites of them the challenge of a Gospel response of living this position. It also poses for them the invitation that the only recognition of their vocation will derive exclusively from the integrity with which they live it. There is a certain giftedness in this challenge. Nevertheless, Cardinal Antoniutti's words are also to be noted here:
45. Every new thing in the Church finds on the one hand enthusiasm and hope, on the other reserve and diffidence. Religious Orders were no exception. Many of them had to be tried in the crucible of criticism and opposition before being recognised and accepted as creators of genuine spirituality and truly energetic apostolate. No wonder the Secular Institutes, which bring a breath of fresh vitality into the Church, sometimes meet with incomprehension, obstacles, even outright opposition.46. To see them in the perspective of traditional structures and rules of Religious, and to think that they ought to conform to that way of life, is simply to fail to understand them. To lack the nerve to welcome pioneer movements which open ways to broader views on modern needs and a freer, more flexible living out of the Gospel, this too is a source of incomprehension.(3)
Thirdly, and most importantly, for Religious themselves, it fails to call forth and honour what is most distinctive about their particular manner of living Consecrated life and it fails to underscore the deep Consecration at the heart of their lives also. Too often our Religious are honoured only for their works, whereas the Australian Bishops Conference rightly shifted this emphasis when they wrote in their Pastoral Letter on the Consecrated Life:
We must emphasise that those who have consecrated their lives to God are not primarily the work force for the Churc. Rather, they are catalysts for renewal, exploring new frontiers and possibilities. Their task is to inspire and to keep the fire of the Gospel burning for the sake of the Church and of the world. (4)
(1) See Maria Casey Breaking from the Bud. New Forms of Consecrated Life. Sydney: Srs of St Joseph NSW, 2001, 5.
(2) See Card. Ildebrando Antoniutti, A New Form of Consecration Life Stablished [Sic] by PME: To the First International Congress of Secular Institutes 22 (Rome, 1970), accessed 6 April, 2015 http://www.cmis-int.org/en/documents-2/basic-texts/ See also Sacred Congregation for Religious, Cum Sanctissimus: Instruction 12. Accessed 6 April, 2015 http://www.cmis-int.org/en/documents-2/basic-texts/ .
(3) Card. Ildebrando Antoniutti, A New Form of Consecration Life Stablished [Sic] by PME: To the First International Congress of Secular Institutes (Rome, 1970), accessed 6 April, 2015 http://www.cmis-int.org/en/documents-2/basic-texts/
(4) Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Letter on the Consecrated Life, 26 February 2015. https://catholic.org.au/acbc-media/media-centre/media-releases-new Accessed 20 April, 2015.