DEAR FATHER | Consecrated religious are set apart to the service of God

What does the word 'consecrated' mean when we refer to consecrated religious life? 

President Abraham Lincoln gave us a fairly good working definition of "consecrate" in the most famous discourse in presidential history in his remarks at the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg: to dedicate something as hallowed (by God). The word itself derives from the Latin sacrare, meaning "to devote or make holy, to set apart."

The Church uses the word a lot, but somewhat inconsistently. She speaks, for example, of the bread and wine at Mass as being "consecrated" (i.e., changed) into Jesus' Body and Blood, but she also speaks of bishops and altars as "consecrated," too. Clearly there's a difference. In the usage we're considering now, "consecrated life" refers to the act whereby someone formally dedicates himself or herself to pursue a closer union with God through a deeper participation in the three evangelical counsels (more about them later).

Consecration, whether of a person or a thing, has three central elements: First, the person or thing being consecrated is being "set apart." From what? From the common and profane. Following consecration, the person or thing is dedicated to a higher purpose or calling, namely, to the service of God Himself. Second, it is a perpetual state, and, third, there is some kind of ritual involved, usually performed by a bishop.

The Church speaks of those in religious life as being consecrated because they meet those three criteria. Let's talk about religious life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple" (CCC #915). The evangelical counsels are poverty, obedience, and celibacy "for the sake of the Kingdom." Not everyone is called to live them all, but those who publicly "profess," or vow, them enter into consecrated religious life. They aspire to greater spiritual perfection through a more proximate imitation of the lifestyle of Jesus and the Apostles, thereby giving a singular and profound witness to the world that God's Kingdom is present on earth.

The Church recognizes three different modes of living the evangelical counsels. First are the hermits, who live lives of prayer, penance and solitude, secluded from the world, but intimately connected with it through their closer union with Christ. Hermits typically profess the evangelical counsels, but not always; they simply live them.

Second are the consecrated virgins and widows. From earliest times, the Church has embraced those who forswear marriage to live in perpetual virginity, and they are the ones who profess this counsel. They typically work in some secular field and may or may not live with others similarly consecrated.

Third are those in religious life, who take the three vows, live in community, and engage themselves directly in the work of the Church, first through prayer, and then by their own apostolate, for example, teaching, missionary work, etc. Jesus invited the rich young man to make that commitment; he demurred. Jesus promised great rewards to those who faithfully accept His invitation.

Msgr. Mitas is pastor of St. Angela Merici Parish in Florissant.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)