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St Mike Disclaimer 2

by Catherine Frakas 02 Jan 2007

Theological and Canonical Considerations

Extended Synopsis of our Status
The Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael is an experimental association that is known as a new foundation. This means that the Holy Spirit has called us to attempt to form a new kind of consecrated life that is not currently defined by the Church.
Groups throughout history have been in the same place we are now. Secular Institutes, for example, developed in the 16th century but it was not until 300 years later in the 1940's that the Church finally created a definition of Consecrated Life to fit these groups and thus to recognize them canonically.
We, and a handful of other communities around the world, are pioneers in a new form of consecrated life. We hope it will not take 300 years for us to be recognized. In the meantime we are organized as a group coming together privately amongst ourselves to pursue our mutual goals and vision. Canon Law allows the faithful to do this.
We are part of a growing worldwide movement. St. Pope John Paul expressed a positive note of this movement, this new and emerging charism, and so has the Congregation on Consecrated Life, and the Synod of Bishops. Discussions are already underway to consider a new definition of Consecrated Life that would fit those of us in this new and emerging charism. The mind of the Church is supportive and encouraging.
St. Pope John Paul and the Synod of Bishops has asked all bishops to be supportive of these new and emerging charisms.
Explicit permission of the local bishop is not required by canon law nor by the provisions of the Congregation on Consecrated Life for these emerging groups to exist and to operate under most circumstances. Although the ultimate recognition of these groups are reserved to the Holy See, it is normally to the local bishops, being local, that the Holy See relies upon for first evaluation of the progress of these new groups.
According to the Synod of Bishops, the role of the Bishop is to encourage and to facilitate these new groups. To help them work to the point where they can be recognized. The roll of the Bishop is to pastor these new groups rather than to discourage them.
However, not all bishops are understanding of the enthusiasm of the Holy See for the movement of the Holy Spirit in these new and emerging communities. Some bishops discourage the development of these groups. This is not in concert with the mind of the Church, but unfortunately it still happens.
We are desirous to be fully cooperative with all bishops and priests everywhere at all times, including our own, but without violating the Charism the Holy Spirit has given us. The Charism given to us by the Holy Spirit is, of course, moderated within, and we shall always strive to stay within, the parameters allowed to us and the legitimate limitations imposed upon us, (that is, to the kind of group we are), as dictated by Canon Law, the Congregation on Consecrated Life, and by the Holy Father.

WHAT IS THE EXPERIMENT?: The Experiment we are attempting is to form a new kind of association that the St. Pope John Paul called a “new Foundation.” These “new Foundations” may have a mixture of charisms (men, women, celibate, married).
As a “new foundation”, members of the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael may be male or female, married or celibate, and called to Secular or Semi-Eremitic (hermit) Expressions in accordance with our Rule and the member's state-in-life.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, St. Pope John Paul II in paragraph no. 62, states:

The Spirit, who at different times has inspired numerous forms of consecrated life, does not cease to assist the Church giving new charism to men and women of our own day so that they can start institutions responding to the challenges of our times. A sign of this divine intervention is to be found in the so called new Foundations, which display new characteristics compared to those of traditional Foundations. The originality of the new communities often consists in the fact that they are composed of mixed groups of men and women, of clerics and lay persons, of married couples and celibates, all of whom pursue a particular style of life.

We are encouraged that our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, looked upon these “new Foundations” with favor, as does our current Pope Benedict XVI. This is particularly exciting in that throughout the world there are only a handful of these integrated “new Foundations” involved in this experimental organizational design, of which ours is one.
This experimental design is seen not only in having a mixture of men and women, celibate and those who are married, but also in that these “new Foundations” form a charism that borrows many of the same elements or a combination of elements that are found in Religious Orders, Secular Orders and Third Orders all wrapped up in one organization.
The celibate members of our Community, for example, make private vows to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, wear a habit as a symbol of their consecration, and “voluntarily” come under many of the provisions of Religious Orders as detailed in our Rule. They live out their private consecration similar to a Secular Order, or as hermits. Married couples, families, and singles make promises and consecrate themselves according to their state-in-life in a way similar to that of the Third Order.
These “new Foundations,” therefore, find themselves not quite fitting into the current definitions of canonical Consecrated Institutes, even though they live a form of consecrated life. Thus they must organize as defacto Associations of the Christian Faithful. Although “privately constituted”, the devotion and commitment of these associations are equal to any formal canonical institute. See the discussion above from the Comments and Studies of the Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.
Speaking to this issue, our late Holy Father John Paul II nevertheless affirmed that although...

...these forms of commitment cannot be included in the specific category of the [canonical] consecrated life....This necessary clarification regarding the nature of such experiences in no way intends to underestimate this particular path of holiness.

Yet because these “new Foundations” do offer a form of consecrated life, albeit not publicly recognized, the Holy Father thus proposed something very exciting:

In view of such a wealth of gifts and creative energies, it seems appropriate to set up a Commission to deal with questions relating to new forms of consecrated life.

Perhaps these “new Foundations” will be eligible for full Consecrated Institute status sooner than that which was accomplished for Secular Institutes. It was not until 1947 that Secular Institutes were raised to the level of officially recognized Consecrated Institutes. (Secular Institutes, which began around the 16th Century, are men or woman living a consecrated life in the world instead of a monastery.)

Hopefully, with the opening of a Commission to study the issue, the “new Foundations” that are developing today will not have to wait the 300+ years that Secular Institutes did. In the meantime, the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael is organized as a defacto Association of the Christian Faithful.
As a new and experimental association — a “new Foundation” — the current vows, or covenant promises, taken by our members, whether celibate or otherwise, are strictly Private Vows taken before God and our Community. The personal consecration of those in private vows, while not formally received by the Church, are nevertheless binding under conscience and the Rule of our Society and are nevertheless a way of holiness.

Questions and Answers
Are the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael an “officially recognized” Religious Institute, Public Association, or Private Association?

CURRENT STATUS: The Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael, as an new foundation does not currently qualify as a Religious or Consecrated Institute according to current Canonical definitions, thus cannot be recognized as such at this time (see discussion below from the Sacred Congregation for Consecrated Institutes).
Thus, in the meantime, the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael is currently organized as an defacto Association of the Christian Faithful per Canon 215 and does not, at this time, have ecclesial recognition from a local ordinary. Like all Associations of the Christian Faithful, however, formal recognition is an option, and is not required in order for us to exist or to pursue our mission and apostolate.
Secondly, as an emerging new form of consecrated life, we are looking to the provisions of Canon Law pertaining religious institutes as our model and we voluntarily submit to Canon 573, para 1 and 607, para 1. In the meantime we look to the Holy See to eventually create a new definition of Consecrated Life.
Currently the Holy See is investigating the new forms of consecrated life within the Church. Hopefully sometime in the future, the Holy See will create a place, as she did for Secular Institutes, for groups like ours in the formal definitions of Consecrated Institutes. We pray that such recognition will take less than the 300 years it took for Secular Institutes.

DOES THIS MEAN WE HAVE NO CONSECRATED STATUS? According to the Comments and Studies of the Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life an organization may be considered Consecrated in one of two ways: Canonical or Theological.
The Sacred Congregation cautions that while an organization may qualify as a Consecrated Institute under Canon Law “there is no consecrated life in a canonical sense if the theological presumptions are missing.” In other words, valid canonical consecration must be both canonical and theological.
The theological consecration is therefore the fundamental determination of consecrated status.
The reflections from the Sacred Congregation further affirms that: “... there can be (our emphasis) a consecrated life in a theological sense without it being so in a canonical sense” (our emphasis).

WHAT THEN CONSTITUTES CONSECRATED LIFE? According to the Comments and Studies of the Sacred Congregation, what constitutes an association living in a state of theological consecration is determined by the intention of the association to do so under the norms of Canon 573, para 1 regardless of whether the association qualifies under Canon 573, para 2. The Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael qualifies, therefore, as it does intend to live under the norms of Canon 573, para 1. “In fact,” the Comment and Studies states, “the category of, new forms, in Canon 605 precisely regards the consecrated life by means of the profession of the evangelical counsels.”

ARE WE THEN A VALID FORM OF CONSECRATED/RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY? In our celibate expressions of community, the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael looks to the provisions of Canon Law 573, para 1 and 607, para 1 as a model and voluntary adherence for our celibate expressions of community.
Thus, from this intention and fact, according to the reflections outlined by the Sacred Congregation's official Journal previously cited, organizations such as the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael, that do not fit the current formal juridic definitions of Consecrated Life but are nevertheless theologically consecrated and under full intention of living the consecrated life formally established in the community Rule, are indeed valid forms of consecrated religious community even with the lack juridic personality as recognized by a local ordinary.
The Sacred Congregation recognizes that although communities similar to the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael believe that “...their charism could not be adequately expressed within the juridical scheme of institute of consecrated life” they are nevertheless valid expressions that verify “what has already happened so many times in the history of the Church and which was an occasion for the birth of new forms of consecrated life throughout the centuries.”
ARE WE THEN LAY OR CONSECRATED/RELIGIOUS IN STATE OF LIFE? The Comments and Studies from the Sacred Congregation asserts that...

The very concept of ‘lay associations of consecrated faith in the profession of the evangelical counsels’ first needs to clarified. From a theological point of view it is unimaginable that a member of the faithful be ‘lay’ and ‘consecrated by means of the profession of the evangelical counsels’ at one and the same time.... The state in life of the consecrated person in the profession of the evangelical counsels is not compatible with that of the lay person.

The Sacred Congregation's Journal further affirms that such organizations like the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael ceases to be a lay association when ...

its statutes require its celibate members to profess (even by private vow) to the evangelical counsels thereby making them theologically consecrated,
the association is formed with full intention of its celibate members living the norms of Canon 573, para 1 and 607, para 1.

The Comments and Studies of the Sacred Congregation states:

In fact, once the legislator officially and formally framed them (the organization) within the scheme of the consecrated life, such associations could not longer be qualified as ‘lay’ even from a canonical point of view.” (our emphasis) In fact, the category of ‘new forms’ in Canon 605 precisely regards the consecrated life by means of the profession of the evangelical counsels.” (our emphasis).

This means that consecrated life is defined by means of profession of the evangelical counsels, and not by formal juridic recognition.
As a point of fact, the legislator (founder) of the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael did indeed officially and formally frame the celibate life of the Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael within the scheme of the Consecrated and Religious Life according to the evangelical counsels. This intention was codified and framed within the Rule of St. Michael. Our celibate members who take private vows according to our Rule, do so with that full intention and with the requirement of living the consecrated and religious life according to the evangelical counsels.

[1] Canon Law affirms that all the Christian faithful have an equality in dignity and action to build up the Body of Christ:

Canon 208: From their rebirth in Christ, there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action by which they all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ to each one's own condition and function.

In light of that equality, Canon Law gives the Christian faithful not only the right to form associations without requiring ecclesial recognition, but also to perform the apostolate. Some of the pertinent Canons on this are:

Canon 211: All the Christian faithful have the duty and the right to work so that the divine message of salvation may increasingly reach the whole of humankind in every age and in every land.

Canon 215: The Christian faithful are at liberty freely to found and to govern associations for charitable and religious purposes or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world; they are free to hold meetings to pursue these purposes in common. (see c. 298)

Canon 216: All the Christian faithful, since they participate in the mission of the Church, have a right to promote or to sustain apostolic action by their own undertaking in accord with each one's state and condition; however, no undertaking shall assume the name Catholic unless the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority is given.

Canon 218: Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in which they have expertise, while observing a due respect for the Magisterium of the Church.

The Canon Law Society of America offers this commentary on these Canons:

Spreading the gospel is not only a duty incumbent upon each of the faithful; it is also a right. As a duty it binds Christians to bear witness to the gospel whenever it is in question or being attacked. It also calls for more active initiative in spreading the good news. The sacrament of confirmation provides the special assistance of the Holy Spirit to enable the confirmed to carry out this duty.
...Yet evangelization is also a right. It extends to all Christians. They need no further authorization of commissioning to exercise this right in the various circumstances of their lives. Unlike many other canons that contain principles of interpretation for moderating the exercise of rights, this canon places no conditions on the right to spread the gospel. This does not mean, of course, that the right can be used contrary to the common good. Its exercise is under the supervision of church authorities (cc. 754, 756), particularly if one were to claim to act in the name of the Church or to carry on evangelization within church property.
The Catholic Church has known a great variety of spiritual movements throughout its history. Many of these have traditionally been associated with religious communities and even today constitute a vital dimension of Catholic Life. Other forms of spirituality, adapted to varying conditions of time and place, are also evident in the many movements, associations, and personal styles of Catholics. All of these are available for free choice by Catholic; no one spirituality is preferred over the others provided each in in keeping with Catholic teaching.
... provided good order is maintained and nothing is done contrary to church teaching, people are entitled to develop and to participate in spiritual movements of their choice. It is contrary to the right guaranteed in this canon to prohibit a given form of spirituality or to require that only certain ones be observed by people in a given locality. Religious freedom applies within the Church as well as in society, and this it its most visible application.

This action on part of the Christian faithful must, of course, be conducted in obedience to the Church in faith and morals and in all other matters applicable; and the Christian faith must maintain communion with the Church.

Canon 209.1: The Christian faithful, even in their own manner of acting, are always to maintain communion with the Church.

Canon 212.1: Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

[2] Consecrated Life: The Holy See Speaks to Religious and Members of Secular Institutes, Volume 21, Number 2, [English Edition of Informationes SCRIS], an official publication of the Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life (published with Ecclesiastical Approval by the Institute on Religious Life.
[3] Canon Law as it pertains to defining Consecrated Status:

Canon 573.1:Life consecrated by the profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living by which faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having dedicated themselves to His honor, the upbuilding of the Church and the salvation of the world by a new and special title, they strive for the perfection of charity in service to the Kingdom of God and, having become an outstanding sign in the Church, they may foretell the heavenly glory.
Canon 573.2:Christian faithful who profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience by vows or other sacred bonds according to the proper laws of institutes freely assume this form of living in institutes of consecrated life canonically erected by competent church authority and through the charity to which these counsels lead they are joined to the Church and its mystery in a special way.

[4] Concerning Associations of the Christian Faithful Canon Law states:

Canon 298.1:In the Church there are associations distinct from institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, in which the Christian faithful, either clergy or laity, or clergy and laity together, strive by common effort to promote a more perfect life or to foster public worship or Christian doctrine or to exercise other apostolic works, namely to engage in efforts of evangelization, to exercise works of piety or charity and to animate the temporal order with Christian spirit.

While some of the purposes for Associations of the Christian Faithful listed in Canon 298.1 require ecclesiastical approval (teaching in the name of the Church and promoting public worship per Canon 301.1), other goals typical to such associations may be pursued privately by any group of committed Catholic laymen (Canon 299.1):

Canon 299.1:The Christian faithful are free, by means of a private agreement made among themselves, to establish associations to attain the aims in canon 298.1, with due regard for the prescriptions of canon 301.1.

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