Consecrated or Lay?

by Therese Ivers, JCL

St. Therese of Lisieux is my patron saint.  I celebrate her feast day as my name day every October 1st.

The Little Flower has been an inspiration to me in many ways.  This devout, pious laywoman lived in a convent from the age of 15 to 24, where she died of TB.  Life in the convent was very hard.  Her fellow sisters, also very devout laywomen, with their own gifts and personality quirks, did not always understand her very well and the saint suffered as a result.  St. Therese loved her vocation.  She loved being a pious laywoman who recited the Divine Office, prayed and lived in common with the other sisters, and she kept her religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience with assiduous care.  The Lord guided her on the path to holiness in the midst of her humble occupations within the convent.  Prior to her death, she wrote an autobiography which has transformed the world.  Eventually, this work and its influence helped her become the 33rd Doctor of the Universal Church, a great honor for this religious laywoman.

I hope that people reading the above paragraph reacted in dismay because I called the Little Flower a pious laywoman even though she was a religious nun with solemn vows.  Why did I call her a pious laywoman?  I called her a laywoman for the exact same reason that people call consecrated virgins laywomen, which is because in a sense she was a lay person (non-ordained so she was not in the hierarchy).  There are, as I have mentioned before, two ways of looking at the Church.  One is dividing the Church according to hierarchy (lay vs. ordained).

Now we know that religious men and women (publicly vowed members of diocesan right or pontifical right institutes of consecrated life) are in the consecrated state.  This is because the other way of dividing the Church is by doing so into vocational states (lay vs. hierarchy vs. consecrated).  “In itself, the state of consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay (canon 588).”  St. Therese was in the consecrated state.  In this view, then, she was neither clerical nor lay.  She was in the consecrated life. Therefore, it is not entirely correct to write that she was a “pious laywoman” when describing the time she was in the convent, because in the strict charismatic sense in the Church, she was in a state that was different from the laity’s.

That being said, I’d like to draw your attention to this sentence, which I found describing consecrated virgins, “Single lay people have chosen to be consecrated virgins and have made private vows in the presence of the local bishop as they lived out their vocation in various walks of life.”  Consecrated virgins are not laywomen.  They are not “single lay people”.  Yes, they were single lay women before their consecration, just as the Little Flower was a single lay woman before she professed her vows in Carmel.  Once consecrated by her bishop, the consecrated virgin is no more a pious laywoman than the Little Flower.  Also, just as a reminder, consecrated virgins do not make private vows in the presence of the local bishop, they are consecrated brides of Christ through the ministry of the Bishop.  They do not make vows of any kind.

Men and women who are members of a diocesan or pontifical right institute of consecrated life (religious) are in the consecrated state.  Female virgins who have received the consecration of virgins (whether in the world or as nuns) from their bishop are in the consecrated state.  Diocesan hermits who have professed poverty, chastity, and obedience in the hands of their bishop are in the consecrated state.  Members of other forms of life are NOT in the consecrated state.  They are, therefore, either lay or ordained.

There is only one form of “consecrated laity”.  Consecrated laypersons are non ordained men and women members of Secular Institutes who take vows or promises of poverty, chastity and obedience.  All other lay persons in other groups and organizations remain lay, without consecration.  Some groups label their men or women members who have commitments to living out poverty, chastity, and obedience, as “consecrated” members.  This is incorrect.  They are no more consecrated than any other lay person if they are not religious, diocesan hermit, consecrated virgin, or member of a secular institute.

Anyone trying to say that members of an organization that is not a diocesan right or pontifical right religious community (who belong to the consecrated state) or of the only way of life that is “consecrated laity” (secular institutes who have semi-public vows but the non-ordained members remain lay), is incorrect.  I have recently read a convoluted argument from a pious group which is facing a Vatican investigation that claims that they are “consecrated” even though they are a collection of lay persons.  In a nutshell, because they are not a diocesan/pontifical right institute of religious life nor a secular institute, they have no right to collectively call their members with promises, “consecrated”.

(c) 2010 by Therese Ivers, JCL

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