by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV
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.