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The consecrated life in the Christian tradition, especially the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Anglican Church and to some extent other Christian denominations, is "a stable form of living by which faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having dedicated themselves to His honour, the upbuilding of the Church and the salvation of the world by a new and special title, they strive for the perfection of charity in service to the Kingdom of God and, having become an outstanding sign in the Church, they may foretell the heavenly glory" (cf. The Code of Canon Law, 1983, canon 573).
Institutes of consecrated life
- Religious Institutes, being societies "in which members, according to proper law, pronounce public vows either perpetual or temporary, which are to be renewed when they have lapsed, and live a life in common as brothers or sisters" in order to "bring to perfection their full gift as a sacrifice to God by which their whole existence becomes a continuous worship of God in love" (cf. The Code of Canon Law, 1983, canon 607).
- Secular Institutes, being "institutes of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful living in the world strive for the perfection of charity and work for the sanctification of the world especially from within" (cf. Code of Canon Law, 1983, canon 710).
Other forms of consecrated life
Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes
- the Eremitic Life "by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance" (cf. Code of Canon Law, 1983, canon 603 §1). Roman Catholic Church law recognizes a hermit as "...one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop, and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction" (cf. canon 603 §2).
- The Anchoritic Life (as under "Eremitic Life" above).
- The Order of Virgins who "committed to the holy plan of following Jesus more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Jesus, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church" (cf. Code of Canon Law, 1983, canon 604).
- Consecrated Widows/Widowers (cf. 1 Tim 5:5, 9–10; 1 Cor 7:8) who "through a vow of perpetual chastity as a sign of the Kingdom of God, consecrate their state of life in order to devote themselves to prayer and the service of the Church" (cf. "Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata of the Holy Father John Paul II on the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World", Rome, 25 March 1996, §7.3). – Canon 571 of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches (CCEO) specifically allows consecrated widows/widowers.
- Code of Canon Law, 1983, also makes a provision for the Apostolic See approving new forms of consecrated life (cf. canon 605). – The parallel canon in the CCEO is canon 571.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church of 11 October 1992 (§§ 918, 920–921) comments on some of the above mentioned norms for the Consecrated Life as follows:
§918 From the very beginning of the Church there were men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate him more closely, by practicing the evangelical counsels. They led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families. These the Church, by virtue of her authority, gladly accepted and approved. (Footnote 458: PC 1.)
The eremitic life
§920 Without always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly, hermits "devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance." (Footnote 460: CIC, can. 603 §1).
§921 They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.When reading the comment in §920 of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church it must be remembered that no one living as a hermit is forced to seek the Church's recognition. But if a hermit feels called to be recognised by the Roman Catholic Church "as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life", with all the consequences this has, then it is an indispensable requirement of The Code of Canon Law 1983 (which is normative and thus binding, whereas the purpose of the Catechism is merely to make the "deposit of Christian doctrine more accessible" to the Christian faithful and other interested persons) that "he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels…" (cf. canon 603 §2). That is to say, by professing the three evangelical counsels only in private, or by professing them not at all, a hermit is not a member of the consecrated life. This has important implications, for example that – contrary to a hermit recognised by the Church – someone who lives the life of a hermit but who does not make the prescribed public profession of the three evangelical counsels remains free to marry, and if he/she wishes to seek dispensation from his/her vows no papal indult is required.
For the Catechism's comments on the Consecrated Virgins see §§922–924.
- Section on the Consecrated Life in The Code of Canon Law, 1983
- Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata of the Holy Father John Paul II, Rome 25 March 1996
- Catechism of the Catholic Church – "The Consecrated Life"
- Chart showing the place of members of the Consecrated Life among the People of God
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