Monday, March 13, 2017

In Celebration of Secular Institutes

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the proclamation Provida Mater Ecclesia by Pius XII  confirming Secular Institutes as a new form of Consecrated Life within the Church. The website for the World Conference of Secular Institutes has a section on Basic Texts – foundational and magisterial. They are well worth reading. Herewith some reflections on Secular Institutes.

Secular, not Religious

In canonically defining Secular Institutes in Provida Mater Ecclesia, Pius XII indicated one of the distinguishing characteristics of Religious Institutes was their common life.[1] Secular Institutes, not being bound to live a common life, were therefore freed from many of the requirements that mark the manner of living consecrated life in its religious form.[2] It was this common life “apart” that rendered consecrated religious Life as a separate “state” within the Church, though not of a different order, for consecrated life itself – in any form – does not pertain to the hierarchical structure of the Church.[3] In the Revised Code of Canon Law,[4] Secular Institutes are to retain their secularity and not become water-downed religious.[5] Magisterial documents, while acknowledging two forms of Secular Institutes, those who “collaborate” in some work and those whose way is one of “presence and penetration”,[6] repeatedly stress the secular nature of these Institutes as one of their defining hallmarks. However, while they are not “Religious Communities”,
they carry with them in the world a profession of the evangelical counsels which is genuine and complete, … This pro­fession confers a consecration on men and women, laity and clergy, who reside in the world. For this reason they should chiefly strive for total self‑dedication to God, one inspired by perfect charity. These Institutes should preserve their proper and particular character, a secular one.[7]

What do we mean by “lay”?

Scholars write volumes on the what is meant by “laity”. One paragraph hardly suffices. However, what differs between 1947 and now is the complexity of the term “lay”. In the early Church the term ‘lay’ was used to represent the non-clerical members of the Christian community, and it still carries this meaning in the hierarchical structuring of the Church. However, often the term “lay” is used interchangeably with the term ‘secular’, specifically in contexts relating to the charismatic structure of the Church articulating different “states” of life. Thus depending on context, ‘lay’ and ‘secular’ are not always the same. Religious who are not ordained are lay within the hierarchical structuring of the Church, but the canonical configuration of their lives does not deem them to be also ‘secular’ within the charismatic structuring of the Church. Some members of Secular Institutes are ordained. So one can be both ‘lay’ and ‘secular’, both ‘lay’ and ‘religious’,  both ‘clerical’ and ‘secular’,  both ‘religious’ and ‘clerical’; but one cannot be both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’. Lumen gentium stated clearly that “what specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature”[8]. Addressing the First International Congress of Secular Institutes, Cardinal Antoniutti stated:
Whereas men and women, cleric or lay, who become Religious change their canonical status and their official and social relationships within the Church, becoming subject to the Canons concerning Religious, with all the rights and duties there to attached, those who enter a  Secular Institute make no such change: the lay person remains a lay person, …there is no question of their ever being officially called or considered Religious.[9]

The First Secular Institute – a dynamic towards the world rather than away from it

St Angela Merici is credited as founding the first Secular Institute in the Church in 1540, known as the Company of St Ursula.[10] In her rule for the Company, Merici spoke of “sacred virginity.”[11] For her this meant being irresistibly drawn to God and His Kingdom and nothing will satisfy except to shape the whole of one’s life around this. It was a theologically spousal relationship. Thus virginity, for her was a response to love. It was what we call, in the language of today, “consecrated celibacy”. It was sacred, as in consecrated – set aside for God, a gift of self in response to the gift of love itself, the gift of self in totality.
However, whereas the dynamic of this overwhelming attraction to the person of Christ for many centuries for Religious engaged a “fuga mundi – both flight from a contaminating world and space for divine action”, [12] the dynamic for Merici was a movement into the world to share the empowerment for transformation that comes from relationship to Christ.[13] For Merici and her companions, it was their shared gift that established a koinonia in Christ through the Spirit, a participation in the communion of the Triune God, something that could not be protected by monastic enclosure, but rather had to be a lived response of love incarnated in the midst of the world, shared beyond the community, for the transformation of the world.[14]

More than a conjunction of the vertical and horizontal in life

Historically, while formal recognition by the Church of Secular Institutes with Provida Mater Ecclesia is relatively recent, Merici’s original forerunner of this vocation occurred at a time when lay holiness was to the fore. In a climate of much needed reform in the Church, the early sixteenth century had a number of lay associations and paths for lay holiness. The originality of Merici’s Company, was not the conjunction of vertical and horizontal, nor a claim to provide a path for lay holiness that did not otherwise exist. Ranson suggests that Secular Institutes have given way to Ecclesial Movements, their purpose of establishing a conjunction between secularity and baptismal consecration, or the vertical and horizontal, having been achieved and their juridical confinement no longer required.[15]
But this was not the purpose of the original intuition of this vocation.  Rather, it was the claim, that total dedication of one’s life to Christ in a theological spousal relationship, could be lived in the secular domain, and this at a time when there were only two options for women – marriage or the monastery. The originality lay not merely in a claim that this consecration could be lived in the secular domain, but also in the belief that living such consecration in the secular domain had a missionary effect. It sprang up in a simultaneous embrace of the world and a spousal commitment to Christ as a single reality, an interior alchemy.

Relationship to the world

The conjunction of consecration and secularity in Secular Institutes witnesses to the fundamental relationship of Church and world, and is a particular affirmation of the world. It’s interior orientation and wide ranging professional engagement differentiates it from Apostolic Religious Congregations, while its consecration in an abiding stance of hope gives a particular witness to that eschatology that is an arriving determination, a future that is already unfolding in the present, a future that subsumes the present into itself, and a past that is being healed and reconciled. Outwardly the same as all the lay faithful, interiorly the alchemy of Consecration and Secularity gives this vocation its specificity:
Consecrated Secularity. Your specific vocation, dear friends, is collocated precisely in this fundamental Church world relationship, in this missionary insertion of the Church in the history of mankind. Because the whole Church is missionary, albeit not in the same way; the whole Church is prophetic, but not at the same level; the whole Church is incarnated in the world, but not in the same manner. Your manner is irreplaceable, original and unique, lived with generosity and joy as a special gift of the Spirit.[16]
Hope is a theological gift. It is constituted first and foremost by a way of being, a way of being open to a future, rather than the pursuit of a specific object. It lives in the absurdity of the cross, the promise affirmed and to be fulfilled in the Resurrection, the maturity of surrendering to an uncontrollable future and the incomprehensibility of God, trusting absolutely in the infinite goodness and boundless love of God. Hope beckons one away from the comfort zone of the buffered self and controlled world. It stretches one’s being towards the infinite horizon of God, drawing one ever more deeply into Trinitarian communion. Focused in this way, the consecrated secular lives an obedience that is the obedience of the cross, the obedience of surrender to an uncontrollable future, a constant dialectic and discernment between one’s own will and participation in the transformative promise that draws us forward. Their poverty seeks out and affirms that which is of perennial value, and testifies to the beauty and aesthetics, the goodness, generosity and welcome of an ever-loving God:
You are not called to establish special forms of living, of apostolic commitment or social intervention, but rather, forms that can come into being through personal relations, a source of prophetic riches. May your lives be like the yeast that leavens all the dough (cf. Mt 13: 33), sometimes silent and hidden, but always with a positive and encouraging outreach capable of generating hope. [17]


Repeatedly, Magisterial documents affirm for consecrated seculars that “there is no question of their ever being officially called or considered Religious.[18] And yet at the same time it likewise affirms over and over again their full and complete consecration, the same as that of Religious. To Secular Institutes the Church says:
With Christ the Saviour for foundation and model, you fulfil, in your own distinctive way, an important ecclesial mission. But the Church itself is also, in its own way, like Christ, a plenitude too rich for anyone, or any institution, to comprehend or fully express. Nor could we, who are members of it, ever explore it completely because its life is Christ, and he is God. So the Church and its mission can in real terms only be fully expressed in the multiplicity of its members. It is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, the doctrine of gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit.[19]
Nevertheless, the very hidden nature of this charism of Consecrated Secular life continues to be overlooked with its lack of visibility and numbers leading people to assert that it has been eclipsed by Ecclesial Movements or that this vocation formally recognized by Provida Mater Ecclesia has failed to blossom. But the transcendent immanence that characterizes this vocation cannot be subjected to such ready judgments. Its very hidden nature and particular transcendent and immanent reality demands that it not be judged according to scientific criteria of numbers or visibility, for after all: “Even if those who find room for it in their hearts are few, that is enough for a leaven, part of God's providence, preserving and propagating his gift to men.[20]
Often Secular Institutes struggle to be understood, sometimes being met with incomprehension, obstacles, outright opposition, and ignorance of their existence. Such obstacles and opposition can be as subtle as allowing persistent ignorance to endure, or visible representation in vocational flyers, banners and websites imaging only one form of Consecrated Life.[21]  More than an issue of justice for those discerning their life vocation having a right to know of all possibilities, it is a matter of bringing to the fore the primary discernment for all the baptized of their relationship to Christ and how they are called in that relationship to grow to maturity in love. Giving priority to modality over consecration fails to witness to the diffentiating  unity of the gifts of the Spirit:
Each state in the Church, while having a specificity of its own, also includes the others. Each state is in its self-giving to God (the “Non-Other”: Non-Aliud) and to the other in the Church and in the world. Thanks to this self-giving, the one, Catholic Church lives in the wonder of divine Love.[22]
In their secularity Secular Institutes fully identity with the world. In their Consecration, they carry the inner yearning of the world for its eschatological fulfillment, living in continuous discernment and dialogue. And in the conjunction of their Secularity and Consecration they embody that hope that pivots on the border between immanence and transcendence. Consecrated Secularity is a reality, a possibility, albeit a hidden one by nature. Life at the margins, life at the edge and definitely not for the feint-hearted – Consecrated Life in Secular Institutes incarnates in the temporal sphere, as an abiding determination, the full depth and mystery of our eschatological hope in Christ through the Spirit.

[1] Pius XII, Provida Mater Ecclesia Apostolic Constitution (February 2, 1947),15, 20. Accessed 6 April, 2015.  See also Thomas E. Molloy “Secular Institutes Canons 710-730” in Religious Institutes, Secular Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life, A Handbook on Canons 573-746 eds. Jordan Hite T.O.R., Sharon Holland I.H.M., and Daniel Ward O.S.B. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1985), 276. Molloy notes that Canon 711 affirms that “members of secular institutes do not change their canonical condition in the Church by reason of membership. Lay members remain lay people… It follows then that in the new understanding of consecrated life in the revised Code that religious having special canonical condition in the Church is not by virtue of their consecration, but rather because of their common life which is a specific character and which puts them apart from other Christian people.”
[2] Pius XII, Provida Mater Ecclesia Art.II #1.
[3] Molloy “Secular Institutes Canons 710-730”, 277. Commenting on Canon 711 Molloy highlights that “Consecrated life does not pertain to the hierarchical structure of the church, but rather to its life and its holiness. Consecrated life, likewise, is by its nature neither clerical nor lay, but arises from among both groups, as a special gift of the Holy Spirit to the People of God.” See also Lumen Gentium 43 in The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M Abbott (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966), 74 .
[4] prepared by The Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, The Code of Canon Law in English Translation, ed. The Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Irelan in association with The Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand and The Canadian Canon Law Society, 1983 ed. (London: Collins, 1983).
[5] Molloy “Secular Institutes Canons 710-730”, 278. Molloy interprets Canon 712 as an affirmation of the value of secular institutes as a distinct form of consecrated life.
[6] Jean Beyer “Religious Life or Secular Institute”, The Way 7 (1969), 116. See also Paul VI, "A Presence and an Action Which Will Transform the World from Within," in On the 25th Anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia (Rome: 1972). Accessed 6 April, 2015.  In article 16 he notes that there is a pluralism of forms of life available to Secular Institutes to meet their various needs.
[7] Perfectae Caritatis 11 in The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M Abbott (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966), 473-474. Likewise, see Sacred Congregation for Religious, Instruction “Cum Sanctissimus”, 7.10.  Accessed 6 April, 2015.
[8] Lumen gentium 31. 57.
[9] Card. Ildebrando Antoniutti, “A New Form of Consecration Life Stablished [Sic] by PME.” To First International Congress of Secular Institutes  (Rome, 1970), 22. Accessed 6 April, 2015.
[10] Although the canonical form of the Secular Institute was not recognized officially until 1947, St Angela Merici’s rule for her Company was approved by the diocesan Ordinary in 1536 and confirmed by Pope Paul III in 1544 with the Papal Bull “Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae”. The decree recognising the current Federation of Companies of St Ursula as a Secular Institute acknowledges the Company of St Ursula so founded in 1535 as the forerunner of the vocation of the Secular Institute. Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Prot.n.I.s.4189/93. See also Antoniutti A new form of consecration life stabilised [sic] by PME, #14-17. Antoniutti suggests that Secular Institutes are as old as the Church, having always existed in various forms (#14-15), with Provida Mater Ecclesia merely consecrating what was and always has been present in the Church. However history also came to engender confusion in this field and “To restore clarity to the situation came the work of St Angela Merici…” (#17).  Although the later development of Religious Institutes of Ursulines overshadowed the Companies of St Ursula by strength of numbers and monastic visibility, both forms have coexisted since the foundation in 1535. Many of the Companies were suppressed and dispersed under Napoleon and later refounded, but the Company of St Ursula in Bologna was never dispersed or scattered. There has been historical continuity of the Company of St Ursula since foundation. See Luciana Mariani osu, Elisa Tarolli, and Marie Seynaeve osu, Angela Merici. Contributions towards a Biography (Milano: Ancora, 1986), 508.
[11] St Angela Merici, Rule of the Company of Saint Ursula IX, 40, translated from the manuscript in the Trivulzian Library, Milan Accessed 6 April, 2015.
[12] M.R. MacGinley, A Dynamic of Hope: Institutes of Women Religious in Australia (Sydney: Crossing Press for the institute of Religious Studies, 1996), 333.
[13] Card. Eduardo F. Pironio, “Ecclesial Sense and Joy for the Secular Consacration [Sic],” to Assembly of Directors General (Rome:1976), 32. Accessed 6 April, 2015.: “You have to live both of them with the same intensity and fullness, inseparably united, like two essential elements of the self same reality: your consecrated secularity. As far as you are concerned, the only way of living your consecration is that of dedicating yourself to the radicality of the Gospel from within the world, starting from the world, remaining indissolubly faithful to your temporal tasks and to the interior needs of the Spirit as privileged witnesses of the kingdom (cfr. G.S.43). And the only way of realising fully your secular vocation right now because the Lord has entered mysteriously into your lives and has called you in a special manner to follow him radically is to live with a daily renewed joy your fidelity to God in the fecundity of contemplation, in the serenity of the cross, in the generous practice of the evangelical counsels.”
[14] See Mary-Cabrini Durkin, Angela Merici’s Journey of the Heart, the Rule, the Way (WovenWord Press, 2005), 97-105.
[15] David Ranson, “From Secular Institute to Ecclesial Movement: Conjunctions of the Sacred and the Secular in the Twentieth Century” in The Australia Catholic Record 89 No 2  (April 2012), 137. Ranson interprets Provida Mater Ecclesia giving recognition to new forms of association in which there is a synthesis of the vertical and the horizontal. He asserts that with the rise of Ecclesial Movements, the juridical confines of secular institutes are relieved for “Religious Profession uncompromisingly belonged within a Religious Order”. Accordingly, Ranson works with a conjunction of baptismal consecration and secularity, whereas the intention of Provida Mater Ecclesia 15 was a conjunction of a further theological consecration with secularity, for it stated “they profess the evangelical counsels” and addressed those who were already living as such and sought recognition of this consecration within their secular life. See also Provida Mater Ecclesia 17 and ART III no.2. Profession of the evangelical counsels for Secular Institutes is likewise confirmed in Vita Consecrata 2. See also Beyer, “Religious Life or Secular Institute”, 116 where Beyer observes that Lumen Gentium came as a bitter disappointment for some with the expression in the text arising out of theologians cast in the monastic mould and “who conceived the religious vocation as a consecrated life fully separated from the world, wholly concerned with personal holiness, with eschatological sign and ecclesial witness.” The assumption behind the oblique reference to other sacred bonds as “that the narrower the religious engagement, the profounder the gift of God; which once more casts doubt on the totality of the consecration to God and man in secular Institutes.”
[16] Pironio, “Ecclesial Sense and Joy for the Secular Consacration [Sic],” 28.2.
[17] Benedict XVI “The Church Needs you to fulfil its mission” 2007. Address to Participants in the International Symposium of Secular Institutes,” (2007), Accessed 6 April, 2015.
[18] Antoniutti, “A new form of consecration life stabilised [sic] by PME,” 22. See also Sacred Congregation for Religious, Cum Sanctimus 12.
[19] Paul VI, “A New and Original Form of Consacration [Sic],” 7.
[20] Antoniutti, “A new form of consecration life stabilised [sic] by PME,” 24.
[21] Antoniutti,  “A new form of consecration life stabilised [sic] by PME,” 44, 46-47.
[22] Sara, “Secular Institutes According to Hans Urs von Balthasar,” 311.

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