Discerners must always be vigilant to ensure that the community they are discerning is both in communion with Rome and that if the Consecration of Virgins is imparted, that it be done validly. Here’s a case in point. People formally adhering to the Society of St. Pius the Tenth (SSPX), are excommunicated. Certainly pseudo nuns who make vows in a convent formally established by the SSPX and only attending SSPX liturgies can be considered formally adhering to this group and hence excommunicated. Why someone would want to join a religious community that is excommunicated is beyond me. However, it gets better. The SSPX, though they vaunt their great fidelity to tradition, cast tradition and theology of time immemorial aside when they “consecrate” virgins with one of their priests.
Having a priest be the “officiant” at the “consecration” is like having a justice of the peace preside at a Catholic wedding: Neither has the authority to for officiating! The Catholic man and the Catholic woman standing in front of the Justice of the Peace can say the vows but they are not married in the eyes of God or the Church. Similarly, the women in SSPX communities can make vows in front of their priests and the prayer of the Consecration of Virgins can be read over them, but they are no more religious, no more consecrated persons than Edel Quinn or Gianna Molla. The Church regulates what is required for validity in the Sacraments, Sacramentals, etc. If these requirements are not met, the most elaborate ritual will not make a difference in effect. The people might as well be actors in a make believe play for all the good it does. Or perhaps worse, there is scandal since it is truly “simulation” of what the Church does.
The existence of ontological bonds in some of the Church vocations are among the most challenged teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Three bonds in particular are challenged for different reasons. They are the ordained priesthood, the nuptial bond of sacred virgins, and the nuptial bond of marriage.
Most Protestant sects do not believe in ordained clergy in the sense that Catholics do. Catholics believe that clergy receive a special mark of the soul, an ontological bond that is unique to men who receive Holy Orders. This ontological bond separates the clergy from the rest of the faithful. The Church teaches that this bond:
Has ontological existence (it is based in metaphysical reality and not just moral or legal)
Comes into existence when the Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred upon the man
Is restricted to baptized males
Is indissoluble (nothing can dissolve it; men can be priests in Hell)
Is essentially different from the common priesthood of the faithful
Most Protestants, however, consider this to be an elitist position and following their interpretation of St. Paul in his “one Body” analogy, do not believe that a priest is essentially different than a layperson. They cannot conceive of a Divinely instituted hierarchy with a power given to some that is not equally given to others. Protestant pastors are pastors by reason of their persona, education, preaching ability, by choice of the people, etc., and not because they have a special ontological bond with Christ Jesus that the other faithful do not possess. This is especially true of the beliefs of major sects who do not accept Transubstantiation and/or other Sacraments.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that an ontological bond is formed between a man and a woman when they are validly married. Here are some dogmatic facts about this ontological bond:
Has ontological existence (it is based in metaphysical reality and not just moral or legal)
Comes into existence during the exchange of vows of the spouses
Is restricted to the unions of one man with one woman
The bond is indissoluble only when it is both sacramental and consummated(the bond is dissoluble by death alone; once a spouse has died the bond totally disappears)
Is essentially different than the common motherhood or fatherhood of the baptized faithful since it is a commitment of a specific woman to a specific man
The Catholic Church, from its very inception, has been under attack for these teachings. Licentious Rome was all for divorce. Polygamy, polyandry, adultery, and other sins against the bond of marriage were and continue to be quite common. The most challenging dogma is about indissolubility of consummated sacramental marriages. All major religions other than the Catholic Church teach that under certain circumstances, the consummated sacramental marriage can be dissolved. Many speculate that it was not so much the primacy of the Pope or the stance on consubstantiality that led to the rift between the Catholics and the Orthodox, but the teaching on divorce with the Catholics claiming indissolubility and the Orthodox claiming dissolubility of consummated sacramental marriages. People are very passionate when it comes to sexual matters, and we live in an age of “temporary marriages” and other aberrations.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sacred virgins (female virgins who have received the Consecration to a life of Virginity from their bishop) have an ontological bond between the virgin and Christ. Here are some facts about this bond:
Has ontological existence (it is based in metaphysical reality and not just moral or legal)
Comes into existence when the Sacramental of Consecrated Virginity is conferred upon the woman
Is restricted to baptized females who are virgins
Is indissoluble (nothing can dissolve it; virgins can be virgins in Hell)
Is different from the common priesthood and bridehood of the faithful
The sacred virgin’s bond, just like the bond of the priesthood and of marriage, does not come about simply by her fiat, but by the ministry of another (in marriage this is a mutual conferral). The Church teaches that it is an indissoluble nuptial bond, which means that it cannot be dissolved by anyone. While it may come as a surprise to some, Martin Luther was not the first person to think that consecrated life, and in particular, consecrated virginity or consecrated chastity was worthless, or even against Christian principles. Jovinianus was one of the first to erroneously claim that all lifestyles (marriage, digamy, virginity, widowhood, etc.) were all to be given the same and equal reward in Heaven.
Because there are people who dispute these aspects of all three of these vocations with ontological bonds in the Catholic Church, no comments will be permitted that make it clear that documents such as Pastores dabo vobis, The Council of Trent Session 24, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, and Vita Consecrata have not been read and understood. A working knowledge of theological terms (such as vinculum) and their significance, as well as ecclesiastical Latin may be necessary to fully understand the full import of the Church’s writings. Any comments not in keeping with these documents will be deleted or edited.
Right now I am in the middle of reading a book on marriage by a priest. As with many books, I think there are some solid gems in it, but I also disagree with certain sections that I believe are incorrect. It may seem strange for some that a vocations blog would cover marriage, but I consider marriage to be a vocation. Further, I am a canon lawyer, and most of my work is in the marriage nullity process. My tribunal work gives me a nuanced perspective when I read marriage prep or relationship advice books because certain expectations of singles and behaviors of the married are pretty typical and surface frequently in the evidence in cases. Reading this book reminded me of some posts I have been meaning to write on the vocation of marriage. This post, however will be more of a collection of random musings on the subject, rather than something more focused.
Marriage is Two in One Flesh NOT Two in One Person!
Marriage exists for the very fundamental reason that most people will find it easier for themselves to get to Heaven by marrying than by remaining single or by following another Church vocation. It is true that a bond arises in marriage between the couple and that this bond is objectively more or less firm depending on what kind of marriage it is. It is this bond that makes for a valid marriage, not the carnal union of bodies. But, what is not true is that the two souls meld and become one. It is possible for one spouse to die and go to Heaven, and the other to die and go to Hell. Each has independent thought, each has their own dignity as a human person, and each is an individual person with their own virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, many people act and behave as if they are one person, one soul, even though what they do is not the way God designed people in marriage to behave. Some couples will tell each other confidential information that is meant for their individual ears only and not the other spouse. This is a clear no-no, and yet people justify this all the time by saying that they are “one unit”. No, folks, this is sinful, a breach of trust. Other couples isolate themselves and draw all their emotional support in their spouse and children. Very unhealthy. God never designed one human being to be the end all be all of social interaction for another. Probably the worst form of specious unity I have seen is when the spouses act as each others’ spiritual directors and/or go to spiritual direction together. Again, their souls are unique and they are not a “unit”.
Men and Women have Different Expectations When it Comes to Marriage
I was reading testimony in a marriage nullity case, and this pearl leaped out at me. Someone made the observation that “Men marry and expect their wives to remain the same. Women marry and expect to change their husbands. Both are frustrated because women change and men don’t.” I don’t quote this verbatim but I think whoever said this was on to something. Women complain all the time that their husbands are not living up to par, and men are confused as to why their wives are different from when they got married.
Discerners take heed! If you are a woman, do not, absolutely do not marry a man you want to reform. 99% of the time, men will not change. Only marry a person whose weaknesses are things you can tolerate. If you don’t know if someone’s traits are tolerable, look them up. See the havoc heavy drinking, porn, and other habits wreak on marriages! Not that women are exempt from these behaviors. Men, be open to the idea that women will change for better or for worse. If you only value women for their body and looks, then you should really reconsider getting married.
Marriage is Something to Work on Continuously
Many people find themselves going from this in their courtship
to this in marriage:
Part of this has to do with the modern notion that marriage is a 50/50 proposition. Each spouse contributes equally to the marriage. Not. The. Catholic. Understanding. of. Marriage. Another reprehensible idea of marriage is going into it for what YOU get. Intimacy, social status, financial stability, or other motivations should not be THE reason for getting married (if one of them is, then you might be staring at an invalid marriage). If you go into it for what you get, then complacency sets in and you get a lack of romance and a lack of trying to be spiritually perfected in the vocation of marriage.
Think that the woman pictured on the left was a religious sister? Think again. She was a dedicated laywoman, who was a member of what is now a Society of Apostolic Life. This particular lay person came from a simple farming family. She entered a community that was designed by its canonized founder (St. Vincent de Paul) to remain lay, rather than become religious. Her Society of Apostolic Life (SAL) is known as the Sisters of Charity. Sr. Catherine was not a religious or a consecrated person. However, unlike many a religious or consecrated person, she had visions of Our Lady. After living her call in life to the fullest, she became a saint in Heaven. This pious laywoman’s body is incorrupt- has been for several centuries.
St. Catherine Laboure, the woman who introduced us to the Miraculous Medal, was not a religious. She was not a sister, although the members of her community and many other Societies of Apostolic Life for women are often called sister. She was a member of a kind of institution many Catholics do not really understand. Worse, as it turns out, some fledging SALs don’t appear to fully understand themselves either.
Let’s get some things straight from the get-go. Members of SALs are NOT “consecrated persons”. It is a myth to think they are. They are either diocesan clerics or they are lay persons. They do not receive a consecration that transforms their being to sacred persons like members of the consecrated state do. Instead, their form of consecrated life entails a special dedication through Church approved promises or other sacred bonds for apostolic mission living in community. They, in a certain sense, “imitate” consecrated life but are not consecrated. How can you understand this? Well, one example will be military boarding school. It is not truly military but it imitates military life to a certain extent with drills and discipline. But no one would confuse a member of the armed forces with a student in miltary school. Likewise, SALs imitate many aspects of consecrated religious (or secular institute) life, but are not themselves consecrated or in the consecrated state.
By definition, SALs are not religious with all that religious profession and consecration entail. A very remarkable difference lies in how the evangelical counsel of poverty is lived out. A diocesan hermit, a religious, and a member of a secular institute give up certain rights with regard to property by their vows. They simply give up the right to administer their property which they own, or they give up the right to own and administer property, depending on the rules. A member of an SAL owns and administers their own property and can acquire property! (By the way, this is something that a LOT of people misunderstood when commenting on the Corapi case.) This is what canon law has to say about property of members of SALs:
According to the norm of proper law, members are also capable of acquiring, possessing, administering, and disposing of temporal goods, but whatever comes to them on behalf of the society is acquired by the society. 741.2
SALs are a blessing in the Church. They allow clerics and laypersons to band together for apostolic purposes and lead lives designed for growth in charity. There is a lot of flexibility in how they are set up and organized. This is why they are not part of the consecrated state nor are members considered consecrated persons. For example, true consecration entails a permanent commitment. Did you know that St. Catherine Laboure’s commitment was one year at a time? That she could have walked away a dozen years after entering the Sisters of Charity at the annual expiration of vows?
SALs are not religious life nor are they stepping stones to religious life (or secular institutes for that matter). Because they are neither religious nor secular institutes, they get a lot of leeway in how they live. Here is a SAL of Pontifical Right:
Did you notice that these women members of the Regina Virginum SAL are wearing a habit? They were founded recently, and this is part of their statutes.
From the famous “coronette” (a headdress adapted from French peasant dress) topped habit, the Sisters of Charity have returned to their origins (no habit). iWhy? First, because St. Vincent de Paul did not want his daughters to wear a habit. Second, because they are not religious, there is no obligation for there to be a habit. Two very good reasons why they went from
Let us now turn our attention to a well known SAL that has been in the public eye for many reasons, including the media frenzy triggered by the actions of a famous TV personality, Fr. (?) John Corapi. The Society of Our Lady of the Trinity, or the SOLT, is a SAL of diocesan right. They want to be of pontifical right. However, it appears from their public statements that there is a strong possibility that they do not know what it is that they really want to be. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
The SOLT describes itself as a family embracing its priests, sisters, and lay members. Unfortunately, they are blurring the lines between consecration and dedication. For example, the sisters are not religious. But, on their website, they say things that manipulate women into thinking they are religious. For example, they say that profession of vows makes them “brides of Christ”, and they direct “inquiries of religious life” to their sister contact. A woman may unwittingly become convinced that these laywomen are consecrated women because of the terminology they employ. The same goes for their dedicated widows branch. They call their group of widows “consecrated widows”, again, misleading the good women into believing that they are truly consecrated.
It seems to me that the SOLT needs to do some deep introspection and decide whether the women groups should be religious/secular institute or if they should remain a society of apostolic life. Given their way of life, I’d guess that it’d be much more appropriate for them to apply to become a religious institute. Or, on the other hand, because they do have widows who do not live in common, maybe they should be a secular institute that has a common life branch and an in the world branch.
Until then, while it remains a Society of Apostolic Life, they need to drop the religious life terminology (they aren’t religious), the bride of Christ terminology (they aren’t brides of Christ the way consecrated persons are), and the consecration terminology (they aren’t consecrated persons). Interestingly, if you take this away, they will have nothing substantial left to describe their life on their website because they haven’t tapped into the theology of dedicated life as a Society of Apostolic Life! Either there is a profound lack of understanding of their own way of life in the Church or there is a deliberate deception for luring women into their way of life under the pretense of them being just as consecrated as consecrated persons! I prefer to think that it is a lack of knowledge that prompted their fuzzy theology on their website.
Very seriously, SOLT needs to rethink its theology! Here’s another example of erroneous theological categorization. Under LAITY tab are listed PERMANENT DEACONS! Since when are DEACONS with HOLY ORDERS lay men? They are clerics!!! Their “brothers” are not consecrated any more than their “widows”. As for consecrated widows, Our Lady was not one. You can’t be Virgin, Bride, and Mother and simultaneously be a consecrated widow (goes against being a bride!).
While we’re at it, I should also point out in advance that to my knowledge, there is NO such thing as a consecrated widow in the Latin Rite unless you’re referring to a widow who is a member of a religious institute of diocesan/pontifical right, a secular institute of diocesan/pontifical right, or a diocesan hermit. A widow who is a member of an association of the faithful, or a society of apostolic life is a dedicated widow. Period. By definition a member of an association of the faithful or a society of apostolic life is not a consecrated person (even if they make vows or promises). Therefore, they cannot be consecrated widows! On the other hand, the Eastern Catholic Churches do have consecrated widows. They make a vow of chastity (unlike consecrated virgins who make no vows) in the hands of their bishop and receive the consecration of widows, thereby entering the Order of Widows. It is to be hoped that one day Rome will open the door to this to the Latin Rite widows/widowers as well.
The phrase “consecrated layperson” can refer to one of two realities. The first is a generic reference to anyone who has received consecration into any of the four forms of consecrated life that is mediated by the Church: religious, hermits, sacred virgins, or members of secular institutes. In other words, generically, a religious monk can be said to be a consecrated layperson. A hermit can be called a consecrated layperson. A consecrated virgin can be called a consecrated layperson. This use of the word “layperson” is used to differentiate from “cleric”. It is a hierarchical reference to consecrated people who are not also clerics.
The phrase can also be specific. When it is used specifically, it refers to men and women who have professed the evangelical counsels as members of secular institutes. Such persons unite in themselves being both lay and consecrated. This phrase is used to help differentiate the different forms of consecrated life. It is a description that refers to a very particular kind of consecrated life. It is this sense that the phrase will be used for the remainder of this post.
At best, only 5% of the faithful know what a consecrated layperson is. For this reason, it is good to review the essential characteristics of a consecrated layperson:
1) The consecrated layperson professes the evangelical counsels by means of vows or sacred bonds. Either the bishop or the authorized leadership of the secular institute can admit the person to such a profession. These vows or sacred bonds are NOT private. They constitute the person into a public state and vocation in the Church- the status of being a consecrated layperson in a secular institute.
2) The consecrated layperson professes the counsels according to statutes of the institute of diocesan or pontifical right. God in His turn, consecrates the layperson as a consecrated layperson. (For what it’s worth, the consecrated layperson’s counterpart is the consecrated diocesan priest member of the secular institute. But we are discussing consecrated laypersons.) This consecration is true. It is equal to religious consecration, eremitic consecration, and virginal consecration as a consecration. It is different in its form or kind of consecration.
3) The consecrated layperson may live in common (often secular institutes have some houses of common life in addition to having members who live by themselves), but this is not a defining characteristic of the vocation unlike the religious vocation.
4) The consecrated layperson lives IN THE WORLD, and not separated from the world. Again, this is a huge difference from religious life, which by definition is separated from the world. It is a matter of Church teaching that the evangelical counsels DO NOT require in themselves, separation from the world. For this reason, consecrated laypersons live externally like other people. They do not live separately, nor are their forms of recreation, style of dress, work commitments, or other details of life greatly altered as they would be for religious. This bears repeating. Secular consecration DOES NOT require separation from the world. None of the trappings of religious life that serve to visibly separate them from others are a part of this vocation and are not supposed to be lived in this vocation.
5) The consecrated layperson remains in the lay state! This is the extremely unique aspect of secular institutes. Even though the lay members remain lay, they receive a true consecration from the Church. This makes them “consecrated + lay” or “consecrated laypersons”. It is the Church who determines what vocations are in the clerical state, the lay state, and the consecrated state. In this vocation, the person receives a true consecration equal to the consecrations of other forms of consecrated life, but unlike those other forms, receiving the consecration does NOT put them into the consecrated state.
6) A female virgin member of a secular institute can add the consecration to a life of virginity. A sacred virgin living in the world can add the consecration of the secular institute, just like secular priests can add the consecration of the secular institute. The consecrations of holy orders and sacred virginity are not incompatible with the consecration of secular institutes per se. Religious and eremitic consecrations are by definition incompatible with the consecration of secular institutes. Both require separation from the world as part of their definition whereas life in the world is part and parcel of the secular institute lifestyle.
In summary, a professed member of a secular institute of pontifical or diocesan right is a consecrated layperson.
For discussion: Using the six points above, demonstrate why members of Regnum Christi and other lay movements are not consecrated laypersons but are dedicated laypersons.