What is Religious Consecration

Paul Keggington

August 28, 2011

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora reflects on consecration in the life of consecrated religious presupposing the primacy of baptismal consecration.  

Things that are consecrated are set aside for a specific use and no other.  The altar in Church is consecrated for the Eucharistic sacrifice, and chalices are consecrated to hold within them wine that will become the precious blood of Jesus.  I would not expect to see the parish picnic serve hamburgers from the altar in Church, nor would I expect to see chalices used as beer steins.  These would be violations of their consecration.

Religious life in the Church falls within the wider category of consecrated life.  A consecrated religious, in the mind of the Church, is a person who is set apart to

  • follow Christ as manifest in the Gospels more closely, sharing his experience of chastity, poverty and obedience.
  • to strive for the perfection of charity, to which all are called, in the service of God’s Kingdom
  • to pursue the holiness that is intrinsic to baptismal consecration in a more exacting way 

First, it is important to note that these elements, which are constitutive of religious consecration, presuppose the primacy of baptismal consecration.  It is not that religious strive for holiness, while the baptized do not; or that the holiness to which consecrated religious aspire is different from the holiness to which all the baptized are called. Religious consecration necessarily exists in relationship to our baptismal consecration.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the teaching of Vatican II when it says that «The state of consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a “more intimate” consecration, rooted in Baptism . . . ».  While acknowledging the tradition that has, over the centuries, given expression to the consecrated life as an “objectively superior” way of life.  And without wishing to contradict that tradition, it may also be possible to affirm that the life of evangelical consecration is “subordinate” to baptismal consecration; “subordinate” in the sense that religious consecration is and must be a rendering visible of what it means to live one’s baptismal consecration. A religious consecration that is not consciously lived as an articulation of one’s baptism risks being sterile . . . or worse.

The second item of note is that religious are to live the holiness intrinsic to baptism in a more exacting way. This gives rise to the question, “What is more exacting about the way consecrated religious live their baptism?” Well, at least three items can be listed in response to this question:

  • The public profession of the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience that a religious makes in imitation of the chaste, poor and obedient Christ.  Because of the public nature of the vows, the whole Church, in a sense, has a hand in keeping religious accountable for how their consecration is lived.
  • The ecclesial commitment to an intense life of both personal and liturgical prayer in imitation of Christ who was often found in prayer.
  • Living Evangelical charity in fraternal communion, that is, in community with others who are not of our choosing and to whom we must constantly surrender our agenda in imitation of Christ who surrendered himself to us.

Any comments on religious consecration? We invite you to learn more about Franciscan religious consecration by reading Habitually Speaking and Sierra Vista Sister-Franciscan Blogs.

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