Secular Institutes

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With the apostolic constitution, Provida Mater Ecclesia, dated Feb. 2, 1947, Pope Pius XII formally recognized secular institutes as a specific and unique form of total consecration to God and others, lived out in the secular state. Historically, secular institutes had precedents in the ministry of St. Angela Merici (c. 14741549), whose followers remained in their homes while consecrating themselves to God and carrying out charitable works. In various parts of Europe, as persecution, anti-clericalism, and social and cultural secularism threatened the foundations of the faith and placed increasing obstacles in the way of priests and religious, initiatives were undertaken to bring the Gospel into the fabric of society in more discreet ways. An early clerical institute, Priests of the Sacred Heart, was founded in the eighteenth century by Père Pierre-Joseph Picot di Clorivière (l735l820) following the suppression of the Jesuits in France. In Poland, Bl. Onorato Kosminski, OFM Cap. (l829l916) founded numerous institutes. In Italy, Agostino Gemelli OFM (l875l959) wrote a Pro Memoria (l939) defending the possibility of lay persons consecrated to God in the world, and with Armida Barelli, he founded the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ.

Foundational Documents. . The apostolic constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia recognized secular institutes as a true and complete "state of perfection." Before its publication, the state of perfection, or consecrated life, had been considered synonymous with religious life. The apostolic constitution also provided the particular legal norms (lex peculiaris ) needed for the institutes since there was no reference to them in the l9l7 Code of Canon Law. In the lex peculiaris secular institutes were distinguished from all other associations by the fact that their members "make profession of the evangelical counsels, living in a secular condition for the purpose of Christian perfection and full apostolate" (Art. I). Members were permitted to use a vow, oath, or consecration binding in conscience for celibacy, and vows or promises for poverty and obedience (Art. III).

On the first anniversary of Provida Mater Ecclesia, Pope Pius XII's motu proprio entitled Primo feliciter complemented the earlier document, using terminology that continues to be echoed in ecclesial texts. Secular institute members must be light, salt, and leaven in the contemporary world (Intro.). They live a full profession of Christian perfection "in the world," adapted to secular life (II-a). The whole consecrated life of the members must "become an apostolate" in the world and growing out of the world (II-b).

A third foundational document was an instruction from the Sacred Congregation for Religious, Cum sanctissimus (March 19, 1948). It provided additional guidelines to help distinguish secular institutes both from associations that did not have the characteristic of a totally consecrated life, and from religious institutes whose lifestyle and law they were not to follow (n. 7-d; n. 8). The distinction between members in the strict sense, and others associated with them, flowed from the stable assumption of the evangelical counsels (n. 7-a).

Vatican II. In Perfectae caritatis, the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life (l965), the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed that secular institutes are not religious institutes, although they involve "a true and full profession of the evangelical counsels in the world" (n. 11). The institutes, whether of men or women, clerics or laity, are identified by their secular character, carrying on an effective apostolate everywhere in and, as it were, from the world. They are to be leaven for the strengthening and growth of the Body of Christ. The original inspiration of a transforming presence in the midst of temporal realities was greatly enriched by Vatican II's ecclesiology and its emphasis on the role of the laity in the Church and the world. The identification of the laity's secular character for permeating temporal affairs with the spirit of the Gospel (Lumen gentium n. 31) coincided with the role assigned to secular institutes. Apostolicam actuositatem (l965) on the apostolate of the laity provided further validation of lay members' lives which, through consecration, were to become apostolate. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes (l965), articulated the Church's radical redefinition of its own locus within the modern world, reflecting on such issues as culture, economics, social life, politics, human solidarity, and peace. Pope Paul VI, saw the charism of the secular institutes as a realization of that reality and referred to them as "experimental laboratories" in which the Church could test her relations with the world. He frequently described the life of the members with synthetic terms, such as "secular consecration" and "consecrated secularity."

Canonical Norms. The 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church replaced the lex peculiaris of Provida Mater Ecclesia. As institutes of consecrated life, secular institutes are regulated by the norms common to all such institutes (cc. 573606) and by those specific to secular institutes (cc. 710730). Their particular identity in continuity with the earlier documents is preserved in the canons. The members' role of contributing to the sanctification of the world from within (c. 710) is carried out without a change in their canonical status as lay persons or clerics (c. 711). While their whole consecrated life is to become apostolate (c. 722 §2), their particular apostolic activities will follow from their particular state. Laity share the Church's evangelizing task in and of the world, through the witness of their lives and their efforts to inform the temporal with the power of the Gospel (c. 713 §2). Clerics work for the sanctification of the world through witness within the presbyterate and through sacred ministry (c. 713 §3). The gospel image of leaven characterizes the apostolic approach of secular institutes and their members (c. 713 §1). Typically, lay members work individually in any form of secular profession or labor, although some institutes have certain corporate works.

The assumption of the evangelical counsels in secular institutes continues to allow for the use of diverse sacred bonds. These bonds and the obligations flowing from them must be defined in the constitutions of each institute. A life of permanent celibate chastity is integral to membership in secular institutes. The life of evangelical poverty and the obligations of obedience will be defined in constitutions, preserving the distinctive secularity of the institute (c. 721). Normally members contribute from their earnings to the financial needs of the institute, but do not place their goods in common or depend on the institute for their material needs or future retirement. Because clerical members are usually incardinated in a diocese, they depend on the diocesan bishop except in matters specific to their consecrated life in the institute (c. 715 §1). In keeping with the secular character of the institutes, members live in the "ordinary conditions of the world," alone, with family, or with others of their institute (c. 714). They are to maintain an intense spiritual life of personal, liturgical, and sacramental prayer; retreats; and spiritual direction (c. 719).

Provida Mater Ecclesia provided for secular institutes to follow, with adaptation, the model of religious and of societies for structuring offices and organs of governance (IX). There are moderators with councils at various levels, and delegate assemblies through which members participate in the animation and governance of the institute. Moderators are to foster the unity of spirit of the institute and encourage active participation of members (c. 717 §3). Initial formation in secular institutes is longer than that of religious, respecting the particular nature of the vocation. First probation prior to undertaking sacred bonds must be a minimum of two years (c. 722 §3) while first incorporation must be for a minimum of five years (c. 723 §2).

Institutes are clerical or lay (c. 588); pontifical or diocesan (cc. 589, 594, 595). Each has its own spiritual patrimony and enjoys a rightful autonomy of life and governance in order to live and preserve it (c. 586 §1). The initial erection of an institute and approval of its constitutions, are in the hands of the diocesan bishop in consultation with the Apostolic See (c. 579). Competency rests with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, or with the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Parallel norms for Eastern rite secular institutes are found in the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches (cc. 563569).

The World Conference of Secular Institutes (CMIS) holds international assemblies every four years and publishes a quarterly, Dialogue, in various languages. National Conferences of Secular Institutes exist in a number of countries as expressions of collaboration and ecclesial communion. Commenting on the role of secular institutes in the Church, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata reiterated: "Through their own specific blending of presence in the world and consecration, they seek to make present in society the newness and power of Christ's kingdom, striving to transfigure the world from within by the power of the Beatitudes" (n. 10-b).

Statistics for 2000 from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life indicate 71 secular institutes of pontifical right and 135 of diocesan right. At the end of l998, the estimated number of members was 38,665, of whom 33,125 were women, 4,794 clerics, and 746 lay men.

Bibliography: Annuario Pontificio, published annually. j. beyer (ed.) Etudes sur les Instituts Séculiers, 3 v. (Bruges l963, l964, l966). Commentarium pro Religiosis et Missionariis 78 (l997) 191346. Issue dedicated to Secular Institutes on the 50th Anniversary of their Constitution. CRIS. "Secular InstitutesInformative Documents," CLD 11, 109131. s. holland, "Secular Institutes: Can They Be Both Clerical and Lay?" CLSA Proceedings 49 (l987) 135145. john paul ii, "Bearing Witness to Christ in Secular Life," L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. (February 12, l997) 5. b. m. ottinger and a. s. fischer, eds., Secular Institutes in the l983 Code (Westminster, Md. l988). Secular Institutes, Documents (3d ed. Rome l998). g. sommaruga, "Les Instituts Séculiers en route vers l'an 2000," Vie Consacrée 59 (l987) 247252.

[s. holland]

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Secular Institutes

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