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A Divine Institution
Part three in a series of articles on the consecrated life by Bradley Poore

A Divine InstitutionIn the previous article in this series, the consecrated life was considered from the standpoint of the sacrament of baptism. It was Perfectae Caritatis from Vatican II which defined, for the first time, the consecrated life as a fuller expression of baptism. Baptism configures a person to Christ. The consecrated life configures a person to Christ in a new way. By defining consecrated life in this way, Vatican II established for the first time a clear distinction within the Church for those consecrated to God by sacred bonds.

Vita Consecrata, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, and now known as the Magna Carta of the consecrated life, gives even stronger foundations to this specific definition of the consecrated life and of its place in the Church. Some excerpts from this apostolic exhortation make this clear:

“...the consecrated life, present in the Church from the beginning, can never fail to be one of her essential and characteristic elements, for it expresses her very nature... This is clearly seen from the fact that the profession of the evangelical counsels is intimately connected with the mystery of Christ and has the duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose... Jesus himself, by calling some men and women to abandon everything in order to follow him, established this type of life which, under the guidance of the spirit, would gradually develop down the centuries into the various forms of the consecrated life. The idea of a Church made up only of sacred orders and lay people does not therefore conform to the intentions of her divine Founder as revealed to us by the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament.” (VC, 29)

Throughout this apostolic exhortation, John Paul II makes frequent reference to how the consecrated life belongs to the essence of the Church. It is a stable form of life willed and established by Our Lord, for the specific purpose of bearing witness to the form of life that he chose for all the faithful to share, lay and cleric, as their final goal in Christ – when God will be “all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28 ) For those in this state in life, their call is a specific grace to live, now on this earth, this final goal which all Christians share, being sustained in their life essentially by a special intimacy with Christ. “It is precisely this special grace of intimacy which, in the consecrated life, makes possible and even demands the total gift of self in the profession of the evangelical counsels.” (VC, 16) All Christians are ultimately called to eternal life, in which they make a complete gift of themselves to Christ. This is why the consecrated life is not only a structure in the Church, but one of the fundamental and constitutive structures of the Church in its essence and nature. “The Church cannot in any way renounce consecrated life because it expresses in eloquent fashion her intimate ‘spousal’ essence.” (VC, 105)

Thus John Paul II strengthened elements of the Church’s teaching on the consecrated life which were already implicit in the documents of Vatican II and which represent an historic doctrinal development in the Church’s understanding of the consecrated life. Without the consecrated life, the Church would no longer be that which Christ willed. It is a divine institution as is the married state and the sacred ministry (cf. Lumen Gentium, n.11).


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