Introduction

On the Consecrated Life and Its Mission in the Church and in the World

In October 1994 the world Synod of Bishops considered the consecrated life and its mission. On March 25, 1996, the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata (the Consecrated Life), his reflections on the proceedings of the Synod. In this lengthy but important document, the Holy Father presents to all members of the faithful his reflections on the gift and mission of the consecrated life at the service of the Church. This study guide to Vita Consecrata has been prepared for groups and individuals who wish to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the consecrated life as presented by Pope John Paul II. This guide is not a substitute for the complete text of the document but is intended to stimulate further prayer, study and reflection.
This guide is a document printable document (66 KB). You may print and use it in order to further your study of consecrated life. View the complete document here online.

Introduction

1. The consecrated life is based upon the example of Christ (poor, chaste and obedient), serving as a visible sign in this world of the Kingdom of God to come.

Thanksgiving for the consecrated life

2. We thank God for the great gift of the consecrated life, which inspires and accompanies evangelization throughout the world. The diversity of its forms and charisms, as well as the vast array of cultures it flourishes in, shows that giving one’s self to God is compatible with every culture and historical situation. It is also particularly alive and well in the monasticism of the Orthodox Churches and in some ecclesial communities stemming from the Protestant Reformation.

The consecrated life: a gift to the Church

3. The consecrated life is integral to the life of the Church and is at the very heart of the Church’s mission in the world. It is not only a help and a support, but also a precious and essential gift to the People of God.

Gathering the fruits of the Synod

4. This Apostolic Exhortation aims at setting forth the results of the Synod of Bishops on the consecrated life, thus completing the treatment of all three states of Christian life: priesthood, consecrated persons and lay faithful.

The work of the Spirit in the various forms of the consecrated life

5. The Synod looks with gratitude to the Spirit for raising up many different forms of consecrated life and charisms, and holy men and women who take up radically the evangelical counsels to serve their brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Monastic life in the East and the West

6. The Synod Fathers from the Eastern Catholic Churches emphasized the evangelical values of monastic life, a practice that dates back to the dawn of Christianity. Through monastic participation in the Paschal Mystery, by taking up the cross, they become bearers of the Spirit, engendering fruitfulness by unceasing praise, intercessions, counsels and charity. The West, too, has an ancient monastic tradition, inspired chiefly by Saint Benedict. Monks strive to create a harmonious balance between the interior life and work. They serve to provide a place for those seeking the things of the spirit, and to build an earthly city, in anticipation of the heavenly city.

The Order of Virgins; hermits and widows

7. Consecrated Virgins embody the image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life that is to come. Hermits bear witness to the impermanence of the world and the fact that we must always remember: that the most important goal in life is to be with the Lord. Consecrated widows and widowers serve as a sign of the Kingdom of God, devoting themselves to prayer and service of the Church.

Institutes completely devoted to contemplation

8. Institutes of contemplative life bear witness to the love of the Church for the Lord, and contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness, to the growth of the People of God. There is hope that they will continue to grow in the younger churches, as a sign that the Gospel has taken firm root, and provide witness to other faiths of Christian asceticism and mysticism.

Apostolic religious life

9. Additionally, others have felt God’s call and have devoted themselves to the service of the Church, following the signs of the times and meeting new needs. These include the various canons regular, the mendicant orders, the clerics regular, and in general the religious congregations devoted to apostolic and missionary activity.

Secular Institutes

...there have arisen new expressions of consecrated life, in response to new needs of the Church.

10. In our time there have arisen new expressions of consecrated life, in response to new needs of the Church. These secular institutes consist of those who seek to live out their consecration to God in the world through the profession of the evangelical counsels in the midst of society. They strive to transfigure the world from within and help to ensure the effective presence of the Church in society. Diocesan priests who belong to clerical secular institutes are enabled to be a leaven of communion and apostolic generosity among the clergy.

Societies of Apostolic life

11. Also called societies of common life, these groups are distinguished by the specific nature of their consecration. They pursue a specific apostolic or missionary end. These groups have produced much good fruit. The specific identity of this form of life is to be promoted and maintained.

New expressions of consecrated life

12. The perennial youth of the Church is evident in the variety of new forms of consecrated life that have arisen. Their vitality is to be judged by the authority of the Church, which is responsible for discerning their authenticity of purpose and for preventing the risk of harmful fragmentation. These new forms bear witness to the attractiveness of the total giving of self to God. In this newness, the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself; these new forms of consecrated life do not supplant the ones already in place.

Purpose of the Apostolic Exhortation

13. The reason for this work is to offer to the whole Church the results of the Synod’s labor. Recent years of renewal have been difficult for the consecrated life, as they have been for the whole Church. While it has been a time full of hopes, there have also been tension and struggle. The purpose of this exhortation is to combat discouragement and to increase the joy of the whole People of God. Fresh enthusiasm is needed, as is a deeper understanding of the great gift of the consecrated life in its three aspects of consecration, communion and mission.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Why is the consecrated life a gift from God? How does it inspire and accompany the work of evangelization throughout the world?
  • Review the various forms of consecrated life. What do these reveal concerning the multitude of charisms that exist to serve the needs of the Church?
  • How do the new expressions of consecrated life manifest the spiritual vitality of the Church according to the pressing needs of the People of God and the world?
  • Since Vatican II, the consecrated life has faced many difficulties and much discouragement. How does Vita Consecrata concretely address these challenges and provide clarity and insight to overcome these problems?
  • What does the consecrated life mean specifically to you, from your own experience in light of the Holy Father’s teaching?
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