To The First International Congress of Secular Institutes
A new form of consecration life stablished by PME



1. First of all I wish to express my sincere thanks to the organisers of this Congress who accepted the suggestion of the Congregation and organised everything with such patient thoroughness. They must be pleased and happy with the results of their labours.

2. A special word of thanks is due to the president, Professor Giuseppe Lazzati, for such a gracious reception given with such confidence and optimism.

3. Dr. Oberti, Secretary of the Organising Committee, has gained everyone's gratitude by giving so generously of his time, talent and energy to the preparation of this great occasion.

4. It is a great joy and privilege to welcome you to Rome, with the distinguished personages in your company and to extend a most cordial greeting to you all.

5. And let this be said not only to all here present but to all the members of the Secular Institutes, to all those who are associated with your work and all the many friends who admire and support you.

6. You represent a great number of men and women of many nations. The ideal you have in common sanctifying the world through an exemplary apostolate has made brothers and sisters of you all: you are today a telling force in the Church's mission to make the world more Christian, more human, more just.

7. A special word of greeting is also due to the priest members of Secular Institutes. Their great contribution, each in his own diocese, to the pastoral work of raising all the standards of the People of God is made possible by their personal consecration and selfless total commitment as faithful, devoted collaborators who work in full accord with their Bishops.

A Breath of Spring

8. I would like to make a few general remarks before coming down to the proper theme of our meeting.

9 Secular Institutes are recognised in today's Church as a beautiful springtime full of hope and promise.

10. In the history of the Church we see a long line of Associations at every stage of the Church's development and expansion. Today's new burgeoning in this field, Secular Institutes, is described and structured by the legislation in Provida Mater, Primo feliciter and Cum Sanctissimus. The first thing to note about these three documents is that they complete each other. Together they give safe and reliable orientation to what the Institutes are doing for the sanctification of each member and for the apostolate.

11 . It has been said that there is not a great deal about Secular Institutes in the documents of the Vatican Council. But it must be admitted and appreciated that the Council summarised what had been said and done by the Popes and gave us a clear, positive, solemn recognition not only of their canonical independent existence but also of what they set out to do in the apostolate, the aims and objects which inspire them and from which they take their bearings.

12. A pioneer of Secular Institutes, the late, greatly lamented Father Augustine Gemelli, author of a great historical survey of states of perfection which illustrates what they have done for the Church through the ages, laid great emphasis on the idea that the times in which we live call for special intellectual and moral qualities: at every level of society, he insisted, we must bring the good news of the Gospel.

13. Provida Mater, which is the work, above all, of the apostolic spirit and intelligent foresight of Father (now Cardinal) Larraona, shows quite clearly how in the course of history the Church has produced organisations, living organisms, which were themselves a proof that "in the world too, with the help of the call from God and of divine grace, one can reach a consecration exacting and effective enough, both in oneself and in visible form ... thus an instrument is found, just right for the circumstances, to get beneath the surface and fulfil our mission" (cf. Provida Mater, 9).

14. It may be said that the Secular Institute story is as old as the Church. Canonical recognition and the form of law have done no more than consecrate what was there.

15. One not uncongenial way of looking at it is that they are the lawful heirs of the fervent Christian communities which flourished in apostolic times and have always existed in various forms, their motive energy the same invisible actual grace, a brotherhood that can never be wanting in the Christian family.

16. Nor can we overlook the lesson of history. From the earliest times we see Christians consecrating themselves to God in the world, realising that this was a way of intensifying the life which they had first received in Baptism. The lives of many saints are also evidence of clear recognition of the fact that in the world, as well as in Religious Life, it is possible and necessary to give witness to the Gospel. The medieval Third Orders add their evidence of holy lives outside the cloister.

17. There ensued, alas, a period of some confusion in this field. To restore clarity to the situation came the work of St. Angela Merici which ensured a permanent active presence in the world of souls devoted to the apostolate.

Consecration in the World

18. The classic definition of Secular Institutes is in Provida Mater: "Societies, clerical or lay, whose members make profession of the evangelical counsels, living in a secular condition for the purpose of Christian perfection and full apostolate shall be distinguished from all other associations by the name of Institutes or Secular Institutes...".

19. So the Church recognises as members of Secular Institutes those who live their consecrated lives in the world, radiating Christ and his teaching in society.

20. As Pius XII proclaimed in Primo feliciter, the Holy Spirit has called to himself by a great and special grace many beloved sons and daughters so that, united and organised as Secular Institutes they may be salt, light and a powerful leaven in the world where it is God's will that they remain.

21. These words are echoed in the conciliar documents which reaffirmed their definition, clarified their requirements and underlined once more their differentiation, secularity. This is their badge, the justification for their existence.

22. Whereas men and women, cleric or lay, who become Religious change their canonical status and their official and social relationships within the Church, becoming subject to the Canons concerning Religious, with all the rights and duties there to attached, those who enter a Secular Institute make no such change: the lay person remains a lay person, the priest is still diocesan, more so in fact than before, as he has an additional title of obedience to his Bishop; there is no question of their ever being officially called or considered Religious.

23. The spiritual life of members of Secular Institutes is lived in the world and with the world and has a certain flexibility and independence of the forms and programs of Religious Life. Outwardly they are the same as any celibate lay person because their duties and their occupations are in the world and they may take work and responsibilities denied to Religious. If they prefer to live at home, in accordance with their Constitutions (which most of them do) or in a house of the Institute (Provida Mater, art. III § 4) they may do so, and they may enter any of the professions. That which is not of its nature sacred or eternal they must make holy and themselves within it, bringing Christ into the world. They are God's collaborators in the world of science, arts, thought, progress, social, technical, economic, cultural structures, in civil employment of every kind: at home, in the school, in the factory, on the land, in hospitals, military establishments, civil service, welfare work, the whole vast panorama of the world at work. Take it by and large, what their vocation means is to see and recognise in themselves and in all around them the mystery, the touch of the divine, which carries them to God through nature (cf. Gaudium et spes, 38). Living by this standard they see with new eyes the many faceted reality of the world in which they live.

24. It means a lot to Secular Institute people that Christ, pure, poor and obedient proclaimed his chastity, poverty and obedience to people like themselves, living in the world. And it rings true in our day as in his, for it has the simplicity, the candour of a divine word from the very heart of our Redeemer. Even if those who find room for it in their hearts are few, that is enough for a leaven, part of God's providence, preserving and propagating his gift to men.

25. The emergence of Secular Institutes is a phenomenon which illustrates the strength and vitality of the Church renewing its eternal youth with fresh and invigorating resources. The Church has given welcome and encouragement to this new thing: it signals the existence ¬of people who had a real desire in their hearts to be holy in the world by committing themselves definitely to the evangelical counsels. The Church has given authentication to this, has given the support and force of canonical status to this earnest search for an assured way of Christian perfection and apostolate. This means that to the two existing recognised states of perfection Religious Life and Common Life a third has been added, Secular Institute Life.

The Law of Secular Institutes

26. It is clear from all the existing relevant rulings that the Holy See intends to be precise and definite on the meaning of this new state of perfection.

27. The demarcation lines between Secular Institutes and Religious and Common Life are clearly drawn in "The Law of Secular Institutes" (in Provida Mater), where consecration, the nature of the bond and other features of the Institutes are described. It is at these points that we see the new kind of society created by Provida Mater. These fundamental norms for the founding and good government of Secular Institutes are clearly and briefly re stated in Cum Sanctissimus.

28. The executive norms laid down by way of approval and recognition of a given Society as Institute of Perfection imply that the society is in conformity with the Canon Law which regulates its life and work. Giving an organised form to a new state of perfection, the Church intends that the existing associations which have the essential features of this state should be structured in accordance with the norms laid down for the purpose. Only when it is established that such requirements have been met can such an association be recognised as a Secular Institute.

29. The Congregation has always been very careful to avoid any degeneration of these Institutes, has underlined the essential importance of their true nature as states of full consecration in the world, and has been strict about the exact fulfilment of all the requirements, first and foremost being "secularity", their hallmark. Secularity allow me to stress this once again is the positive constituent quality of one who lives "as a human being among human beings", "just one more Christian", who "has the feeling of being just one of the rest", and at the same time "is certain of a vocation to total and permanent consecration to God and to souls."

30. Besides consecrating the members to the following of Christ an Institute has a further effect on them. Whatever they do, all their secular activity, is pointed or directed to God and is, in its own way, consecrated, part of the total offering of oneself to God. This is the way they fulfil an apostolate "as from the world itself", which is proper to Secular Institutes (cf. Primo feliciter, II).

31. Perfectae caritatis has a beautiful summary of the Church's teaching on Secular Institutes: "profession in a Secular Institute means a true and complete profession of the evangelical counsels in the world". "Let these Institutes hold on to their proper form, i.e. the secular form".

32. This form of consecration is an enrichment of the life of the faithful, of their consciousness of being the Church and of the life¬-texture of the Institutes themselves into which it grafts the theology of the counsels.

The Gist

33. The Vatican Council officially recognised in Secular Institutes the essentials of Institutes of consecrated life and, on the lines of Primo feliciter recalled that their special features come from the three things which are the stuff of which they are made:

a) profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience;
b) acceptance of these counsels as an enduring, binding commitment made by vow, promise or oath, recognised in and governed by Church Law;
c) secularity expressed in the whole of life, permeating all apostolic activities.

34. These three are complementary, equally necessary and indispensable. An association lacking any one of the three could not be a Secular Institute. Its fundamental charism would be other: it would yet have to find canonical identity and status. So the three essentials may be put into a precise: enduring commitment (bond) of profession of evangelical counsels, in the secular sphere, recognised by the Church.

35. The three essentials are both theological and canonical. They give the true and exact image of an Institute and are the demarcation lines between Secular Institutes and Religious Institutes and all the many and varied forms of association which, by God's providence, exist, flourish and multiply before our eyes in today's Church.

36. The change in the name of the Congregation for Institutes of Perfect Life to "Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes" (Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, 15 August 1967), made for the purpose of distinguishing unmistakably the intrinsic difference between Religious (with their assimilated Societies) and the new forms of consecrated life in the world was therefore logical and consistent.


37. Secular Institutes are still in the first period, the first years of their history. They would not seem to be subjects for up dating renewal, to which by decision of the Vatican Council, all communities are called. This renewal in fact is to be put into effect through a return to sources and revival of the spirit of the Founders.

38. Looking at Secular Institutes from this angle, we must emphasise once more that only those associations can be recognised as Secular Institutes which measure up to the required standards of papal teaching. If therefore any Secular Institute, perhaps under the influence of local feeling about the traditional structures of Religious Life, has receded to any extent from the clear teachings of Provida Mater, Primo feliciter and Cum Sanctissimus, it should re assess the situation and return to the sources of its life which are the rulings of these three documents.

39. Any study undertaken for the purpose of looking into this matter must of course be done in conjunction with the one authority which is competent to pass judgment in matters as important as this.

40. At all events it is clear that as Secular Institutes cannot be Religious, (cf. Perfectae caritatis, 11) their laws must be couched in terms which make it impossible for anybody to take the one for the other in any way and in words which do not lend themselves to that sort of misunderstanding.

41. The difference between Religious Institutes and Secular Institutes is so clear out and precise and, as we have seen, so much a part of their nature that it is hard to imagine how the proper adaptation of Religious to the conditions of the modern world could consist in making a transit (to give it a name much in use) from the state of being a Religious to the state of being a member of a Secular Institute. The fact is that Religious (as Perfectae caritatis tells us) are to achieve renewal by returning to the spirit of their Founders in a life of prayerful poise and balance, a life altered indeed and improved, not made other. When Religious clearly do not know how to live according to the charism of their foundation one can hardly expect them to assimilate the spirit of a Secular Institute: it is not just a question of canonical structures but rather of a vocation given by God and sealed by the Church.

42. A kind of pseudo adaptation calculated to lead a Religious to take on the form, the special features, of consecrated life in the world obscures the authentic ecclesial image of Secular Institutes and which is here the most important thing of all would do great harm to the Religious Orders and Congregations. This sort of thing would in fact be the beginnings of the levelling process, the impoverishment of Religious Life referred to by Pope Paul VI in his discourse to Superiors General in November 1969. In the last analysis it would be simply asking for total secularisation of the Religious state, it would eliminate the specific features by which it is distinct from other Institutes of perfection in the Church. A secularised Religious Institute ceases to be what it was and is no longer recognisable: one cannot but wonder about the stuff of which the new creature is made. I hasten to add that there are some Religious Institutes where people are by no means at ease and there are many things hard to put up with. These should be dealt with by improvement of the conditions in which they are having to live the essentials of their religious life.

43. The Secular Institutes for their part must realise that their whole future depends on their loyalty to the vocation to be a leaven of apostolic activity in the world with their own charism different from all others.

Incomprehension. Hope for the future

44. Here I must add that Secular Institutes have not always met with the understanding and appreciation they deserve.

45. Every new thing in the Church finds on the one hand enthusiasm and hope, on the other reserve and diffidence. Religious Orders were no exception. Many of them had to be tried in the crucible of criticism and opposition before being recognised and accepted as creators of genuine spirituality and truly energetic apostolate. No wonder the Secular Institutes, which bring a breath of fresh vitality into the Church, sometimes meet with incomprehension, obstacles, even outright opposition.

46. To see them in the perspective of traditional structures and rules of Religious, and to think that they ought to conform to that way of life, is simply to fail to understand them. To lack the nerve to welcome pioneer movements which open ways to broader views on modern needs and a freer, more flexible living out of the Gospel, this too is a source of incomprehension.

47. Today men and women who want to consecrate themselves to Christ without leaving the world have the choice of Secular Institute life as a sure way of holiness and of effective, active, productive apostolate. They have the right, and they feel the need, to be understood and supported.

48. I have expatiated on secularity, the specific quality of Secular Institutes. Some of you may be thinking that I have put consecration, i.e. profession of the evangelical counsels in second place.

49. True, I have though after re affirming more than once, the intrinsic power of consecration emphasised secularity. That was because the value of this characteristic feature of Secular Institutes must be made quite clear especially in some quarters which shall be nameless--in order to avoid confusion and the sterile polemics to which confusion gives rise.

50. It is also said though not by Institute members, certainly that secularity is something of a pretence, an outward show, and that the reality underneath is very different; and this is just untrue. The sense and meaning of this word has to be the straightforward, normal, unqualified acceptation in which it is commonly used. Just as Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, do not affect the secularity of a person, neither does consecration in a Secular Institute.

51. But it is equally true, and important to have clear in your minds, that although the secularity of the Institutes does draw a necessary dividing line between them and Religious, this must not lead us to underestimate the consecration which is their common inheritance.

Consecration is the very soul of this new kind of association approved by the Church.

52. Over and above the reality of consecrated life in Secular Institutes, there is another factor which must never be overlooked the fact that members are trained to live this life in many different kinds of Institute, each with its own life style; equally at home in the canonical structure of conciliar and papal teachings.

53. For the present I simply refer to these three themes consecration, formation, variety of type but I am sure they will be on the agenda of your Congress and may then be considered as fully as they deserve and with the serious preliminary study and reflection which they call for.

Priest Members

54. But before I bring these few words to a close I must give you some of my thoughts on clerical Secular Institutes, or, more precisely, priests who become members of Secular Institutes because they consider that this is, for them, a better response to their call to consecration and to spiritual service of their brethren. They are looking for a spirituality in which Christ will hold them closer and the bond uniting them with their Bishops will be more deeply felt in their hearts and ensure that they remain his faithful and effective co workers.

55. The Vatican Council has a relevant passage in Presbyterorum Ordinis, 8: "Worthy too of high regard and zealous promotion are those Associations whose rules have been examined by competent Church authority, and which foster priestly holiness in the exercise of the ministry through an apt and properly approved rule of life and through brotherly assistance Thus these associations aim to be of service to the whole priestly order."

56. It is worth noting that one reason given by the Council for approving associations of priests, in principle, is the natural right of association which, within the framework of law, is common to all the faithful and indeed to all human beings. When the Council was discussing priests' associations, in answer to a question raised, a Response was given by the competent Commission to the following effect: "No one can deny to priests what the Council, in the light of human dignity in general, has declared to belong to the laity, being in accord with natural law". This Response was approved by the Council in General Meeting of 2nd December 1965.

57. Priests, then, have the right of such association as may be appropriate to the Clergy's needs: to intensify their spiritual life, to improve their apostolate, to foster closer relations among themselves, to strengthen their selfless dedication to the work they do for the Bishop.

58. One of the cardinal points for Priest Members is their right to choose in this way the spiritual ways and means which are most suitable for them personally in the fulfilment of their duties as diocesan priests.

59. The Hierarchy's role here is one of surveillance, assistance, general direction. But the priest may not be deprived of, or impeded in, the working out of his new, higher, spiritual condition provided, of course, that whatever he does as an Institute member is within the framework of the Church's teaching.

60. These priests are different from those of all other associations of priests: they have made a lasting commitment to live the evangelical counsels in a togetherness that has the Church's explicit approval as a right way of going about it. That is why they come under the Sacred Congregation which has watch and ward and fostering of the holy bonds of perfection.

61. Wherever they are (and they exist in nearly every country in the world) they ought to be distinguishable by their integrity and poverty, obedience to the Bishop, dedicated service, an authentic contribution of evangelical apostolate in the Church for the expansion of God's kingdom. Their fidelity to the Church makes them a secure bulwark in the diocesan Clergy against the growing dangers which lie athwart the path of their ministry.

62. Another point worth noting is that the Constitutions of Priests' Secular Institutes are explicit, even eloquent on this matter. Members are taught that they are not only united with the Bishop by the bond of their Ordination Promise but also by a second bond of obedience arising from membership of a Secular Institute. In these constitutional provisions we find it stated in so many words that in all pastoral activities members work in total and exclusive dependence on the Bishop: he may place them wherever he chooses and appoint them to any post, and they undertake to be ready and available for posts which require the highest degree of loyalty and commitment.

63. One of the most difficult things required of priests members is that they must have the spirit of poverty and detachment from earthly goods.

We talk a lot about "the Church of the poor" but we must also bear in mind that unless priests are poor, generous, devoted to the destitute and the have nots of this world, the work they do for men's souls will not produce genuine results. Secular Institutes do help a diocesan priest to be poor; in fact they bind themselves to poverty by vow, oath or a promise. The Constitutions of Secular Institutes based on Provida Mater, do provide a structure of poverty in most admirable, telling, practical terms.

64. Experience has shown that Secular Institutes also provide a reliable framework for a deep spiritual life in the midst of the vocational hazards to which every priest is subject. "If we want to maintain unimpaired in our Clergy a deep interior life", wrote the Bishop of Nantes in a letter to the Congregation, "our surest way of doing it would be to enrol them in societies which direct them in the path of perfection by the observance of the vows"

65. Finally, Institutes give their priest members a training: ascetical, ¬devotional customs, meetings, study circles; in this way they receive a sound training in holiness of life, lessons, in the teaching of papal encyclicals and Conciliar Decrees, they are able to prepare their own teaching of the faithful and similar pastoral duties.

66. We may conclude, surely, that it is a blessing of Providence for a Bishop to have priests like this in his diocese on whom he can count, without reserve, for loyalty, piety, theological competence real co-operation. That all diocesan priests should be members of a Secular Institute aiming at a life of perfection, or at least to some association of the kind, in which they can make Christ's priesthood intensely real in lives lived in imitation of his virtue this would be, to my mind, highly desirable.

67. I'm always glad to recall, as I do to you now, some words of Pope Paul VI. Speaking to the priests of the F.A.C.I. in 1965 he said: "We all know, alas, that for all Clergy, especially parochial Clergy, one of the greatest dangers can be isolation, becoming a lone wolf, a loss of contact with other priests, even with the people. The F.A.C.I. does make provision to cope with such a sad state of affairs, giving a line of action, making priests feel the need, making them realise the actual union between them not of an organised trade union togetherness but a union of brothers, all priests working together."

68. These words are a faithful reflection of the fraternal spirit of priests who belong to Secular Institutes whose simple purpose is the closest possible collaboration with the Bishop, whom they love and hold in veneration, mutual understanding between all members of the Clergy of the diocese, and the well being of the souls entrusted to their care.


69. What I had in mind in opening this conference was to explain some prerequisites which seem to me fundamental to the purposes for which the Congress is being held. Everything said by the eminent speakers who will address you in the course of the Congress will, whatever their themes, necessarily be linked with these prerequisites.

70. As the program proceeds, point by point, and in the subsequent discussions, representatives of the Institutes which are taking part in the Congress will contribute their own experience and will be able to give us the benefit of their thoughts and give free expression to their opinions. It is essential that each one should say what membership means to him personally, and what he believes he is, and achieves, as a member, and what (within the framework of the papal and conciliar teachings) he would like to see done.

71. Finally, it is a pleasant duty to express my deep appreciation of Secular Institutes in general. In these days of such anxiety and confusion they have kept to their apostolate in a spirit of discipline which one cannot but admire, in sharp contrast to some of the wild movements of protest which flood the Church and almost invade the sanctuary. This fact alone speaks volumes for the Secular Institutes.

72. Secular Institutes do have the inevitable experience of development and wise adaptation suggested by circumstances, but there is something firm and consistent about them. This way of life has not been productive of dissent, demonstrations, opposition to what they have received from their forefathers, the inheritance which has the Gospel for its guarantee and which moves them along a straight path--it means a life of perfection and of apostolic action in the world with the healthy spiritual freedom which belongs to all God's children.

73. I have given you my findings on this subject with the conclusive evidences on which they are based and with that I am happy to extend to you all, on my own behalf and that of my collaborators in the Sacred Congregation a sincere wish and hope that with the help of God "from whom all good things come" you may accomplish a fruitful work. May your vocation sink ever deeper into your hearts. May you always work together as brothers and sisters for your own perfecting in charity and for the good of the society in which it is God's will that you should live and in which you are called by the Church to diffuse the light and warmth of Christ's Gospel.

Rome, 20th September 1970.

Apostolic efficacy depends of personal sanctification


 Beloved sons and daughters in the Lord,

1. You are welcome indeed and specially welcome because, unrecognised by the world which only sees what appears on the surface you are in fact representing the Secular Institutes, and for this you are gathered in Congress.

2. And we know what has brought you here. Two things are in your minds and hearts, confidence and generosity: confidence which makes you stand up and be counted as consecrated persons in the world; generosity which makes you give yourselves to the Church, perceiving its primary purposes which are, first, the mysterious supernatural union between mankind and God our heavenly Father, brought about by the Master and Saviour Jesus Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and second, a union between men, to be achieved through serving them in all manner of ways and promoting human welfare and that higher destiny which is salvation for ever and ever.

3. This is indeed a meeting dear to mind and heart. It brings home to us the miracles of grace, the hidden riches of the Kingdom, the incalculable resources of virtue and holiness of which the Church disposes even today when, as you well know, there is, above, below, all round us, profane and profaning, a humanity drunk with its conquests in the temporal sphere, a world whose need of Christ is matched only by its unwillingness to meet him.

4. Criss cross in the Church today run currents of various kinds. As we think of them in terms of that unity, that truth which Christ wants us to long for, and jealously to guard, we see that not all of them are good and helpful. The Church is a tree, an olive of ancient growth, its old trunk twisted, lacerated with the scars of martyrdom, a picture that might not suggest youthful vitality but geriatric aches and pains. Yet you are a living proof in these our days that this same Church can burgeon fresh and vigorous, can put forth new branches full of the promise of abundant fruit of a kind we had never foreseen. You are a phenomenon of the modern Church, typical, comforting.

For this we greet you, for this we would give you new heart.

5. We could go on from here to explain to you in canonical terms what you mean to the Church, how it is that in these days the Church has come to recognise you, give you canonical existence and standing. We could speak of the theology of Secular Institutes according to the Vatican Council (Lumen gentium 44, and Perfectae caritatis 11), the canonical assessment of the institutional forms which you, living bodies of Christians consecrated to our Lord, are taking in these days, we could spell out for you the place and function of Secular Institutes in the structure of the People of God, the specific distinctive marks, the forms, the dimensions in which they are seen to live and work. But you know all this well enough.

6. We are kept informed of the Congregation's work on your behalf and of their constant concern, care, guidance and assistance. We have also gathered the substance, the gist, of those carefully prepared scholarly reports which you have drawn up at this Congress.

So we will not give you a simple replay of a record so competently made by you yourselves. If we must add a word of our own in this canonical context we prefer to speak, in the light of all the circumstances and without dramatising the subject, about the psychological and spiritual aspects of your special form of dedication to the following of Christ.

7. What is the origin of this phenomenon which is yourselves what is there inside you, personal, spiritual, what is your call? Your vocation has much in common with other vocations in the Church of God but some features make it different from all others. These must be pinpointed.

8. First of all, note the importance of conscious acts, acts of which you can say that you watch yourself doing them: they mean a lot to us Christians: they are quite fascinating, especially in youth and adolescence when they can decide the shape of things. We call these acts, done with self awareness, conscience, and everyone knows very well the meaning and value of conscience. So many people today are saying so many things about it, some talk of its distant dawn in Socratic philosophy, then of its revival due principally to Christianity (a well-known historian said that under the influence of Christianity "the soul's deep foundation is changed Taine III, 125). We ask you to think only, for a moment, of the unique point of everybody's experience at which psychological conscience, that is, self-awareness, becomes moral conscience (cf. St. Thomas I, 79,13) as it adverts to the cogency of a law proclaimed innerly, written on the heart, but binding in external conduct, in real life, with an accountability beyond the human scene and, at its topmost point, a rapport with God himself. It has then become religious conscience.

9. The Vatican Council refers to it in these terms: "In the depths of conscience man discovers a law, which he has not given himself, but which he ought to obey; its voice is always calling him to love and do good to others and to avoid evil ... Man truly has a law written by God within his heart; to give obedience to this law constitutes his dignity, and he will be judged by it (cf. Rom 2.14 16). Conscience is the most secret kernel and shrine of man, where he is alone with God." (The Council then refers to a marvellous discourse uttered by Pius XII on 23rd March 1952).

10. In conscience, this first stage of acts of self-awareness, is born the senses of accountability, of personality, man becomes aware of who and what he is and what it all means and demands. Following up this line of reflection in the light of the effects of baptism a Christian first gets the idea, deep and firm, of a theology of man, a theology of human beings who know they are children of God, members of Christ, incorporated into the body which is the Church, marked with priesthood of the faithful. From this pregnant doctrine of common priesthood recalled to our attention by Vatican II (cf. Lumen gentium, 10 11) comes the common Christian commitment to holiness (cf. ibid. 39 40) to the fullness of Christian life and to perfect charity.

11. This same conscience, this commitment, was for you, at a given moment of time, lit up by a glorious grace from God: conscience and commitment were transferred into vocation, vocation was to a total response: to a true, unreserved profession of the evangelical counsels or the priesthood (and in either case the interior magnet is perfection); vocation to consecration, your soul's way of self giving to God, supreme act of will and abandonment. Conscience has become an altar of sacrifice. "Let my conscience", says St. Augustine, "be your altar" (En. in Ps 4 9; P.L. 36, 578): it mirrors the 'Fiat ' of the Annunciation.

12. This is all in the sphere of conscious activity; we call it "the interior life"; it is now no longer one voice but a dialogue: the Lord is present. St. Augustine once more: "Devout conscience, abode of God" (En. in Ps 45, P.L. 36, 520). You speak with your Lord, but what you seek is decision, resolutions, like St. Paul near Damascus, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" (Acts 9.5). Then your baptismal consecration of grace awakes and speaks its conscious word of actual and chosen consecration, deliberately opening out to the evangelical counsels, stretching out to Christian perfection. This is the first, the capital decision, the qualifying decision, deciding what the whole of your life will be like.

13. And what is your second decision? The second decision is the new thing, the original contribution of Secular Institutes. What is it then, actually? What is your chosen way of living this consecration of yours? It is like this you say: "Shall we give up our life in the world, as we know it, or can we stay as we are? " The Church replies: "Choose. You may do either".

And you have chosen, for many reasons of your own, well weighed. You have made your decision to remain secular, to continue to be "just like everybody else " in the passing show of this world. Then comes the choice of this or that sort of life in the world and here you have, in full accord with the pluralism allowed to Secular Institutes, made your own decisions according to individual preference. Secular, then, are your Institutes, as distinct from the Religious. Both kinds of Institute have the one end in view, Christian perfection. You for your part have made a choice which does not cut you off from this world with all its desacralised life and worldly scale of values, its moral principles often threatened by pressure of temptation, enough to make a man tremble.

14. Discipline, moral discipline, eternal vigilance, is what you need: you must be fending for yourselves all the time: the plumb line straightness of your every act must come from your sense, your realisation of the consecration you have made, and this for twenty four hours of every day. 'Going without and putting up with' is a catch phrase of the moralist. This is what you will have to do all the time. It is a feature of your 'spirituality'. Here we see a new kind of attitude of conscience, a disposition of heart and mind hidden.

15. A vast field of work lies open before you. Here your twofold purpose is to be achieved, your own sanctification, and 'consecration of the world'. This fascinating commitment calls for perceptiveness and tact. The world which is your field is a world of human beings: restless, real, dazzling. It has its virtues and its passions, its opportunities for good, its gravitation to evil, its magnificent modern achievements, the inadequacies underneath it all, its inevitable sufferings. You are walking on an inclined plane. It would be easy to go down, it is hard work to go up, but a challenge. You are spiritual mountaineers with a stiff climb before you.

16. Like combat troops (to change the metaphor) you have your operation planned. Keep three things in mind. First your consecration is not only a commitment, it is also a help, a support; love it, it is a blessing and gives joy to your heart, you can turn to it always: it fills up the voids which your self denial scoops out of your human life, it is compensation, it makes you able to realise the paradox of charity: giving, giving to others means receiving, in Christ. Second, you are in the world, and not of it, but for it. Our Lord has taught us how to find in this play on words both his and our mission for the salvation of the world. Never forget that as members of a Secular Institute you have this mission in the modern world. The world needs you today, it needs in the world itself, pathfinders to salvation in Christ.

17. The third thing ever to be borne in mind is the Church. Church enters into you as part of the awareness, the conscience, which we have just been thinking about. It becomes part of your mind, a meditation unintermittent, your sensus Ecclesiae, your 'feel of the Church'. It is within you, the air which your spirit breathes. No doubt you have experienced the exhilarating effects of this inexhaustible source of inspiration, and, blending with it, you have, especially since the Council, the prompting and incentives of theology and of your own spirituality. Of these incentives there is one which should never be missing, the unique quality of your membership of the Church. To your special life as consecrated seculars belongs a special membership of the Church. The Church has every confidence in you, we want you to be quite clear on this point. The Church follows your progress, supports you, accepts you as belonging to the family, favourite children, active responsible members loyal, yet trained for flexible mission, ready for silent witness, for service and, when required, for sacrifice.

18. You are in fact lay people whose open profession of Christianity is a constructive force, supporting both mission and structure, giving life to the charity, the spiritual life of the diocese and especially of Catholic institutions.

19. You are lay people who can know at first hand, better than others, the needs of the Church on earth, and perhaps you are better placed to see its defects: these you do not take as an opportunity for biting, ungracious criticism, an excuse for standing aloof, a disdainful elite. They only serve to bring out in you a greater love, a humbler and more filial service as sons and daughters coming to her aid.

20. Secular Institutes of today's Church, take with you our greetings, our encouragement, to your brothers and sisters. To each and all of you we give our Apostolic Blessing.

Rome, 26th September 1970

A presence and an action which will transform the world from within

Dearest sons, members of the Secular Institutes.

1. It is good to be with you on a day when the Liturgy recalls the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and we have it in mind to recall the Silver Jubilee of Provida Mater.

2. The promulgation of Provida Mater Ecclesia was an event of very great importance for the life of the Church of today. It gave the acceptance, warrant and approval of our venerated Predecessor, Pius XII, who thereby laid down the lines of the canonical structure of Secular Institutes and spelt out their meaning in the life of the spirit. February 2nd means a lot to you. It was the day on which like Christ coming into the world, offering himself to the Father to do his will you were presented to God, to be a beacon for the Church, consecrated to God, a lever of the world for the glory of God our Father.

3. We share your joy today because we well remember those far off days when this historic document, your Magna Charta was reaching its final form. There had been long years of gradual growth. Secretly, slowly, the breath of the Spirit had prepared you for your emergence into the light of day. For Secular Institutes Provida Mater was a birth certificate. They were now accepted officially by the supreme Authority. It was largely due, I may add, to the work of Cardinal Larraona; and it was the signal for a new burst of energy, a boost into the future.

4. Twenty five years is a comparatively short space of time, but they have been years intensely lived like the years of youth. There has been magnificent new growth. We have only to look around us here today or to think of the projected reunion of Directors General planned for September here in Rome. So today our purpose and theme must simply be encouragement, confidence, exhortation, in the hope that this jubilee may be fruitful, that something real may come of it, for your good and for the good of all God's Church.

In Conciliar Perspective

5. A) To get a true picture of Secular Institutes you have to see them in the perspective which the Council contemplates the Church a living reality both visible and spiritual (cf. Lumen Gentium 8) whose life is lived and whose development happens within the context of history (cf. ibid. 3, 5, 6, 8). It is made up of many members and various organs, yet all are intimately united and inter communicating (cf ibid. 7), all share the same faith, the same life, the same mission, the same responsibilities of the Church itself. But each has a distinct gift, a particular charism of the life giving Spirit (cf ibid. 7, 12), given not simply for the benefit of the receiver but for the whole community.

So the anniversary of Provida Mater, the document which put into official words the charism which is yours and approved it, invites you to return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the Institutes" (Perfectae caritatis, 2), to check on your own fidelity to the charism of your foundation.

6. Now what was the original inspiration of Secular Institutes? What was the soul, giving birth, animation, development? It was a longing, a search, deep and preoccupying, for a synthesis, a way of life combining the two characteristic features of your way of life: full consecration according to the evangelical counsels and freedom to take on the responsibility of a presence and transforming action in the world, from the inside, to shape it, to make it a better world, to sanctify it. On the one hand the profession of the evangelical counsels is a specific form of life, giving both strength and witness to that holiness which is the vocation of all the faithful. It is a sign of perfect identification with the Church, and with the Lord and Master himself and the aims and purposes which he has entrusted to the Church. On the other hand, to reside in the world implies the Christian responsibility of men and women who, themselves redeemed by Christ, are, as surely committed to "illumine and organise temporal affairs in such a way that they may always start out, develop, and persist according to Christ's mind, to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer" (Lumen Gentium, 31).

7. In this picture of the present situation there is a deep, providential, unmistakable link you might say identification between the charism of Secular Institutes and one of the clearest and most important themes of the Council, the Church's presence in the world. In fact the Council documents underline the various relationships between Church and world: the Church is part and parcel of the world, destined to serve the world, to be the leaven in the lump or the soul in the body, for the Church is called to sanctify and consecrate the world, to shed upon it the pure light of the supreme values of love, justice and peace.

Towards a New World

8. The Church is very much aware of the fact that it exists in the world and walks together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot as the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society (Gaudium et spes, 40). So the Church has a truly secular dimension, part of its very self, and of its mission; the root ends of this secularity are deep down in the mystery of the Word made flesh; it takes many different charismatic forms in its members, priests and laity.

9. Unremittingly the Popes have called upon Christians especially in recent years to face up loyally and unequivocally to their responsibility to the world. Today the call is more urgent than ever. Mankind is at a cross roads of history. A new world is rising: men are looking for new forms of thought and action which will determine their life in the centuries to come.

10. The world believes that it can stand on its own feet and has no need of divine grace or the Church in its self development and expansion: a tragic divorce has come about between faith and life, between the two lines of progress, technology on the one hand, faith in the living God on the other. It has been said, not without good reason, that the most serious problem in current development is that of the relationship of the natural and supernatural order. The Church of Vatican II has not been deaf to this "voice of the times; she has answered, she has no doubts about her mission to the world, to society: conscious of her own nature as "the universal sacrament of salvation" the Church sees the impossibility of human fulfilment without grace, that is, without the Word of God who is "the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilisation, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings" (Gaudium et spes, 45).

11. At a time like the present, Secular Institutes, in virtue of their charism of consecrated secularity (cf Perfectae caritatis, 11), have emerged as providential instruments to embody this spirit and to pass it on to the whole Church. Their life, even before the Council, was a kind of forging ahead in this matter, and that is the best of reasons today for giving witness as specialists in the field as models, of the Church's attitude and mission in the world.

12. Clear directives and repeated instructions are not enough, as things stand today, to accomplish those changes in the Church which are needed in today's world. We need the realities of person and community, people who embody and transmit consciously and responsibly, the spirit with which the Council required all members of the Church to be imbued. This is the mission given to you and being given it enhances your stature to be the model of untiring inward energy towards the new relationship and attitude to the world, to service of the world, which the Church seeks to embody.

Interior alchemy

13. B) How can this be done? Through that blending of two realities which is the very shape and fashion of your lives. First of all, your consecrated life in the spirit of the evangelical counsels means that you belong inseparably to Christ and the Church, that you are permanently and profoundly intent on the pursuit of holiness, and that you are fully aware that, when all is said and done, it is Christ alone who brings about by his grace the redemption and transformation of the world. It is deep down in your hearts that the world becomes something consecrated to God (cf Lumen Gentium, 34). If that is how you live, then it is quite certain that the mutual understanding and feeling between you and the world will not become worldliness or naturalism but will tell the world that Christ loves us and has been sent forth to us by the Father. Your consecration is the root of hope, which must always support you, even when visible results are scanty or non existent. Rather than by visible good works, your life is fruitful for the world above all through the love of Christ which has impelled you to make the gift of yourselves to God in a life that will give witness to him in the conditions of everyday life.

14. Seen in this light the Counsels which you follow (as do members of other forms of consecrated life) take on a new meaning, they come to mean something very topical and typical in today's world:

Chastity comes to mean being a living model of self control, life in the spirit, tending, stretching out all the time to heavenly things, and this in a world which has no thought but for itself, no rein or brake on its human instincts.

Poverty tells the world where we stand with the good and chattels of this world, and the use we make of them: your Christian attitude in this matter is the true one both for the highly developed countries, where the rat race for money is such a threat to the values we learn from the Gospel, and for the unhappy countries which have fewer resources. Here your poverty is the token of your union of spirit: you are with your brothers in their trials.

Obedience becomes witness of the humble acceptance of the mediation of the Church and, in general of the wisdom of God governing the world through created causes; today in the modern crisis of authority, your obedience becomes witness to the Christian order of the universe.

Making all creation holy

15. In the second place, because you are essentially secular you accentuate your relationship with the world (and in this you differ from Religious). Secularity is not simply your condition as people living in the world, an external condition. It is rather an attitude, the attitude of people who are aware that they have a responsibility, being in the world, to serve the world, to make it as God would have it, more just, more human, to sanctify it from within. This attitude is primarily one of respect for the world's rightful autonomy, its values, its laws (cf Gaudium et spes, 36), though of course this does not imply that the world is independent of God, Creator and final end of all. One of the important dimensions of this characteristic quality of your secularity is that you take the natural order seriously, working to bring it to perfection and to holiness so that things which are necessarily a part of life in the world may be integrated into the spirituality, the training, the ascetics, the structure, the external forms, the activities, of your Institute. Thus it will be possible to fulfil what Primo feliciter expresses in these words: "(that) your own special character, the secular, may be reflected in everything" (II) .

16. The requirements of life in the world and the options open to anyone who would work in the world with the world's own tools, are so many and various that one must expect great variety in ways of achieving the ideal: individual, corporate, private and public as was in fact envisaged by the Vatican Council (cf Apostolicam Actuositatem, 15¬-22). All these forms are available to Secular Institutes and to each one of their members. The pluralism of your forms of life (cf. the Recommendation on Pluralism World Congress of Secular Institutes Rome, 1970) allows you to set up various kinds of community, and to create and animate, within, the atmosphere and climate and surroundings of your various life situations your own ambient air climate of thought and life in which your ideal is a reality, and to make use for this purpose of various ways and means, even in situations where the only possible witness to the Church will be individual, silent and hidden

Priest Members. Where they stand

17. Now we must add a few words for Priest members: (priests who join Secular Institutes). Priests can join a Secular Institute, as is explicitly envisaged in the teaching of the Church, beginning with Primo feliciter and the Council Decree Perfectae caritatis. Both priests and laymen, as such, have an essential relationship with the world. To fulfil his own vocation the priest must translate this relationship into real life as a model to all. As Christ was sent forth from the Father (cf John, 20,21) he also is sent into the world. But as a priest he assumes a responsibility specifically sacerdotal for the shaping, the true fashioning of this perishable world. Unlike the layman he does not (except in rare cases, as described in a Recommendation of the recent Synod of Bishops) exercise this responsibility by direct contact and activity in the temporal sphere, but by ministerial action and through his role of educator in the faith (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6): this is the best and noblest way of contributing to the world's progress, day by day, in accordance with the order and the meaning of creation.

18. When a priest becomes a member of a Secular Institute, he is still a secular priest and for that reason the close bond of obedience and collaboration with the Bishop is unbroken; as with other priests of the diocese his assistance is available to this brotherhood of the diocese, this "presbyterium" in the great mission which makes them "co operators with the truth", carefully preserving the "special bonds of apostolic charity, of ministry and of fraternity" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 8) which must be a distinguishing feature of this diocesan organism. As a member of a Secular Institute the priest finds, over and above this feature of his priestly life, help in the following of the evangelical counsels. I am well aware that this matter of priests belonging to Secular Institutes, is a problem. The implications are widely perceived and felt. It goes deep. Any solution must fully respect the "sensus Ecclesiae". I know that you are actively engaged in finding satisfactory answers to the questions raised. Persevere in your efforts: it is good work in a sensitive area.

Relations with the Bishops

19. Indeed there is a problem arising from three factors, each of the greatest importance: the "secular" aspect: the need to maintain a close personal link with the Institute from which the priest expects spiritual food, refreshment and support; and the need to remain in strict dependence upon the bishop of the diocese. I am well aware, as I said a moment ago, that you are studying the question in the hope of reconciling these apparent incompatibles. Continue this search for solutions, work freely along the lines I have indicated, make full use of the talent you have, your training, your appreciation of what is involved, your experience. I would only direct your attention to one or two points which seem to me particularly worthy of your consideration.

20. a) No solution must impinge in any way whatsoever upon the authority of the bishop, who, by divine right, is exclusively and directly responsible for the flock, the "portion of the Church assigned to him " (cf Acts, 20,28).

21. b) In this connection there is another very real factor which you must bear in mind and never lose sight of: a man is a unity, personal, psychological, practical; the distinction between the spiritual and pastoral dimension is theoretical.

22. Far be it from me to condition your research allow me to emphasise this much less do I intend to restrict it by suggesting some ready made solution. It is just that I want to suggest that you do not lose sight for a moment of two factors which to my mind are of capital importance.

23. So we come to the end of our reflections together, though there would indeed be much more to say. There are many possible options in a developing situation. But it is a great joy to tell you of my hopes and wishes for you: that your Institutes may be, increasingly, models and examples of the spirit which the Council breathed into the Church: thus may the withering threat of secularism be removed, with its merely human set of values, values cut off from their origin, God, from whom their whole meaning and purpose really comes; and through the example you give may the Church be truly the haven, the animator of the whole world.

24. The Church needs your witness, and what the whole world is looking for is more and more tangible evidence of the Church's new attitude. In you, because of your consecrated secularity, this must be very clear indeed. To speed you on your way you have the Apostolic blessing given from my heart to you and to all the members of your dear Institutes who deserve so well of the whole Church.

Rome, 2nd February 1972

A new and original form of consacration

Beloved sons and daughters in the Lord,

1. Once more I have an opportunity to meet you, heads of Secular Institutes, members and representatives of a portion of the Church which at this historic moment is flourishing, overflowing with vitality.

2. This time the occasion which brings you is the International Congress which you have held and are about to bring to a close here at Nemi close by this summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. In this Congress you have been giving your critical attention to the statutes of the "World Conference of Secular Institutes" which is to be created.

3. I will not attempt to assess your work. I have no doubt that you have worked with the ever attentive participation of the Department concerned, earnestly and with deep reflection. I trust you will bear much fruit and that your numbers will grow. I prefer to linger for a while on a few reflections upon a possible function of Secular Institutes in the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Church.

4. As I look at you here and think of those thousands upon thousands of men and women that you belong to, I cannot but feel a deep sense of consolation and joy and gratitude to the Lord. The Church of Christ as seen in you, is indeed strong and flourishing! Our venerable Mother is today the object of sharp and shameless carping, and some of her own children are guilty. Some take a positive pleasure in describing what they imagine to be symptoms of decrepitude. They talk of impending collapse. Here, to give the lie to their foreboding, is a Church of new-found treasures, one after another, new paths of holiness, new holy enterprises, unforeseen, unpredictable. It had to happen, I know, it could not be otherwise: Christ is the divine inexhaustible source of the Church's vitality. Your presence here today is one more proof of it. You bring it home to us.

5. Now, peering more closely at your family likeness in the People of God, I see that (like others in other sectors of the Church's life) you are mirrors of a special way, a "way of your own", of reliving the mystery of Christ in the world, and a may, unlike anyone else's, of making the mystery of the Church visibly present in the world.

6. Christ the Redeemer is a fullness, a plenitude that we shall never be able to comprehend or completely express. He is the All for his Church, and, in it, whatever we are we are through him, simply through him, with him, in him. This means that for you, Secular Institutes, as for all of us, he is ever the ultimate model, the one from whom all inspiration comes, the well spring to which we must go.

7. With Christ the Saviour for foundation and model, you fulfil, in your own distinctive way, an important ecclesial mission. But the Church itself is also, in its own way, like Christ, a plenitude too rich for anyone, or any institution, to comprehend or fully express. Nor could we, who are members of it, ever explore it completely because its life is Christ, and he is God. So the Church and its mission can in real terms only be fully expressed in the multiplicity of its members. It is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, the doctrine of gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit.

8. It will not have escaped your attention that the drift of what I am saying inevitably poses the question: How do we fulfil this special role in the mission of the Church? What is your special gift, your distinctive role, the new factor you bring to today's Church? Or put it this way. What exactly is your way of "being today's Church? " You know the answer. You have made it clear to yourselves and to the Church. We can take it as said.

9. You stand at the confluence of two powerful streams of Christian life and your own life is enriched by both. You are lay people, consecrated as lay people by baptism and confirmation, but you have chosen to underline your consecration to God with the profession of the evangelical counsels, accepted as binding, and the bond is firm and enduring and recognised by the Church. You are still lay people, committed to the secular values of the lay state of life (Lumen Gentium, 31), but with you it is a matter of "consecrated secularity", you are both secular, living as lay people in the world and consecrated .

10. There is a difference between your situation and that of the other lay people. You are indeed committed, as they are, to the secular values but as consecrated persons: that is, your commitment not only asserts the authenticity of human values, it also directs them towards the evangelical beatitudes. On the other hand you are not "Religious": yet there is a similarity between your life and theirs because by your consecration you tell the world that spiritual and eschatological values count more than anything else and that Christian love is your "absolute". Indeed the greater your love the greater its power to show that secular values are but relative and at the same time to help you and everybody to make the most of those values.

11. Neither of these two aspects of your spiritual image can be overestimated without damaging the other. They are essential to each other.

12. "Secularity" means that your place is in the world. But it does not mean simply a position, a function which happens to coincide with life in the world and a "secular" job or profession. It must mean, first and foremost a realisation that you are in the world as "your very own field of Christian responsibility. To be in the world, that is, to be committed to secular values, is your way of being the Church, of making the Church present, of working out your own salvation and being heralds of redemption. The condition in which you live, your life description in human society becomes your theological self and your way of bringing salvation into the realm of reality for all the world to see. In this way you are an advance guard of the Church "in the world": you are yourselves an expression of the Church's mind: to be in the world in order to shape it and sanctify it "as from within, like leaven in the dough" (Lumen Gentium, 31) a task, remember which falls mainly on the shoulders of the laity. You are a clear, tangible, telling proof of what the Church sets out to do for the building of the world of "Gaudium et spes ".

13. "Consecration", on the other hand, indicates the personal, unseen structure supporting your inmost self and all you do. Here is the deep, hidden human potential for which the people you live with have no explanation, often no idea. Your baptismal consecration has been more deeply and strongly rooted by a greater claim of love. It is the stirring of the Holy Spirit. It is not identical with that of Religious. Nevertheless it impels you to a fundamental life option of the beatitudes of the Gospel, so that you are really consecrated and really in the world. "You are in the world and not of the world but for the world" as I said on another occasion. You live a true, genuine consecration according to the evangelical counsels but without the fullness of visibility proper to religious consecration which consists in a more strictly common way of life and the "sign" of the religious habit. Yours is a new and original form of consecration. It was the Holy Spirit that put this idea into the minds of the faithful, so that they could live in this way, still surrounded by the world's realities and that the power of evangelical counsels - the divine values of eternity - should find their way into the heart of human, space time values.

14. The poverty, chastity and obedience which you have chosen are ways of sharing the cross of Christ because like him and with him you give up the things which, without any infringement of law or precept, you could, if you wished, have and enjoy. But they are also ways of sharing the victory of the Risen Christ because they give you a new freedom. This world's values are always a threat to our openness of soul, complete availability to God.

Your vows take the sting out of it. Your poverty tells the world that it is possible to live with this life's good things and that we can make use of what makes for a more civilised life and progress without becoming slaves to any of it; your chastity tells the world of a selfless love, fathomless as God's own heart from which you draw it. Your obedience tells the world that a man can be happy without digging in his heels over the things which just suit him, and can be always completely open to God's will as seen in the daily grind, in the signs of the times and in the world's need, here and now, of salvation.

15. Hence your activity, whatever it may be, personal, professional, individual or common, is more distinctly signposted "To God": it is in fact all the time interwoven with your consecration and carried along with it. The unique providential way of things in your spirituality has given today's Church a new model secular life lived in consecration, consecrated life lived as secular. The Church is the richer for it.

16. Of all the good things brought into the world by Secular Institutes there is one upon which I would like to dwell for a moment ¬the tributary stream of consecrated ministerial priesthood which flows into the Secular Institutes carrying a goodly band of men who wish to add to their priestly life the bond of self giving which is profession of the evangelical counsels. As I think of these brothers of mine in the priesthood of Christ, I feel that I must encourage them. Here once more I see, and wonder at, the work of the Spirit ceaselessly rousing in men's hearts a restless yearning for greater perfection.

17. All I have said up to now applies to them too, yes, but in them it calls for reflection on a deeper level and careful qualification. They seek and find consecration in the evangelical counsels and commitment to "secular" values not as laymen but as clerics, channels of the sacred to the People of God.

18. Besides Baptism and Confirmation, the fundamental consecration of every lay person in the Church, they have received the differentiating sacrament of Orders and this has given them a specific ministry with regard to the Eucharist and the Mystical Body of Christ.

19. Their "secular" Christian vocation is what it was; they can now find more in it, living it as consecrated in Secular Institutes, but their spiritual life in this condition must be other than what is normally required of the member, and there will be a visible difference in the way in which they follow the Counsels and in their secular commitment

20. In conclusion I want to make a most urgent appeal, as your father: keep, before all else, keep alive and growing in your hearts, your union, communion, in and with the Church. You are living joints in the body of this ecclesial communion you too are the Church. I would never, never weaken those joints. Anything ecclesial is unthinkable outside the Church. Don't be taken off your guard in this. Keep your hearts well clear of the temptation so seductive in these days to think that you can have true communion with Christ and yet be out of tune out of accord, with the ecclesial community governed by lawful pastors. It would be a snare and a delusion. What can an individual do, or a group, with the best of intentions and the highest of ideals, outside this communion? Christ requires it of us as a condition of communion with him, just as he requires our love of each other as proof of our love of him.

21. So you are of Christ and for Christ in his Church; and Church means your local community, your Institute, your parish, but always in communion of faith, of Eucharist, of discipline and of loyal, faithful collaboration with your Bishop and the Hierarchy. Your structures and activities, be you clerical or lay, must never produce divergent orientations, as if you took your bearings from two different points of the compass. They must never create "justified non involvement ", either interior or exterior, nor (worst of all) antagonism against the pastors.

22. These are the things I put before you hopefully: they represent my wishes for your welfare. Thus I hope that you may be, in the midst of the world, true labourers for the one saving mission of the Church, in your very own way to which you have been called and invited. Thus may the Lord help you to prosper yet more, to bring forth yet greater fruit, ever with the Apostolic Blessing which I give you.

Castel Gandolfo, 20th September 1972

Opening speech to the Assembly of Directors General
Ecclesial sense and joy for the secular consacration


Dear brothers and friends,

1. I should like to greet you with the same words that the Apostle Paul addressed to the Romans: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom 15,13).

2. This is a heartfelt wish at the beginning of your encounter in the Lord (cfr. Mk 6,30), and it regards three attitudes that the contemporary world in which you are fully inserted by virtue of a special vocation ¬expects of you: a profound and serene peace, a contagious joy, and an irresistible and creative hope.

3 May prayer, which is the theme of your Assembly, make you artificers of peace, harbingers of joy, and prophets of hope. We stand in great need of these. And they are needed no less by the men, our brethren, to whom Christ sends us in this hour of history to announce the Good News of salvation (cf. Rom 1,16).

4. In beginning the labours of this Assembly I should like to offer you some simple reflections. This is not intended to be an opening speech, but simply some reflections that a brother and friend desires to share with you. I just want to tell you, in all simplicity, what I feel your Assembly ought to be.

5. First of all, an ecclesial event, an ecclesial fact. Indeed, it is the Church as a whole that looks to you for an answer. It is the whole of the Church that sends you to the world to transform it from within "like leaven" (L.G., 31). For the Church, you represent a new way of being "universal sacrament of salvation" in the world: you are consecrated laymen, fully incorporated in the history of men by means of your professions and your style of life that are no different from those of the others, but at the same time radically dedicated to Christ, through the evangelical counsels, as witnesses of the Kingdom.

6. Your existence and your mission as consecrated laymen would have no meaning unless they sprang from within a Church that presents herself to us as the daily renewed presence of the Christ of the Passover, as the sign and instrument of communion (L.G., 1), as the universal sacrament of salvation. When all is said and done, the Church is this: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1,27). To be sign and communication of Christ for the complete salvation of all mankind - this is what gives meaning to your mission in the Church.

7. To live this Assembly as an ecclesial event must therefore mean two things: to live with joy the profundity of the mystery of the presence of Christ within her, and to feel with serenity the responsibility of responding to the expectations of the men of today. It is for this reason that we have to be open to the Word of God and, at one and the same time, have to pay heed to the needs of history. It is with fidelity and joy that we have to live this concrete moment of the Church: in her topicality of today, and in her specific physiognomy of local Church indissolubly bound to the universal Church.

8. But by very virtue of the fact that it is an ecclesial event, this Assembly is also a family event or, better still, it is the meeting of the family of Secular Institutes, with their diversity of charisms, but all with the same identity of consecrated secularity. It is a profound and fraternal encounter of all those who have been chosen in a special manner by Christ to realise their total consecration to God by means of the evangelical counsels, in the world, starting from the world, and for the transformation of the world, ordering the temporal realities according to God's design.

9. And because it is the meeting of a family brought together by the Holy Spirit from the four corners of the earth it has to take place in a climate of extraordinary simplicity, profound prayer, and sincere evangelical fraternity.

10. A climate of simplicity and poverty: all of us must be open to the Word of God, because we have great need of it, and open also to the fertile and manifold riches of brethren, all of whom are disposed to share in humility and generosity the different gifts and charisms with which the Spirit has endowed us for the common good (l Cor 12,4 7). Anyone who feels sure of himself and in exclusive possession of the whole truth, indeed, is not capable of opening to the Word of God and, consequently, incapable of a constructive Church dialogue. The Word of God, just as in the Holy Virgin Mary, calls for a great deal of poverty, much silence, and a great availability.

11. Then we need a climate of prayer, and even more than that because prayer is essential to your meeting. You have not come together for a technical reflection about prayer, but to consider, in the light of the Word of God and your own daily experience, what the prayer of consecrated laymen must be today. As far as you are concerned, this is not a case of discussing the various forms of prayer, but of seeing in practical terms, living to the very utmost your profession and your temporal commitment: how you can enter into an immediate and constant communion with God.

12. For this reason your Assembly--which is concerned with prayer as the expression of secular consecration, as the fountainhead of mission, and as the key to formation--must in the last resort be an Assembly of prayer. In other words, the primary purpose of our meeting is to pray together. And Jesus will be in our midst and assure the infallible efficacy of our prayers because we are gathered together in his name (cfr. Mt 18,20).

13. Lastly, we need a climate of evangelical fraternity: this is a truly profound meeting of brethren whom the Spirit has brought together in Jesus, each preserving his specific identity, specially faithful to the charism of his own Institute, but living to the very full the selfsame experience of Church, because we all feel ourselves members of the People of God (cfr. Eph 2,19), members of the same body of Christ (I Co 12,27), and living stones of the same temple of the Spirit (I Pet 2,5; Eph 2,20 22). For this is what the Church is: the calling of all into Christ by the Spirit, for the glory of the Father and the salvation of man.

14. This evangelical fraternity expresses itself wondrously in the simplicity and the joy of everyday life. These were the characteristics of the early Christian community: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2, 46). When things become unduly complicated and faces become painfully sad, you may be sure that there is no authentic and constructive evangelical fraternity.

15. These, then, are the three conditions or needs of this Assembly of consecrated laymen: the simplicity of the poor, a profundity of prayer, and sincere fraternity in Christ.

16. I should now like to mention--only touch upon, mind you, because I do not want this introduction to become unduly long--three things that seem to me to be essential for this Congress that is beginning today: the Church, consecrated secularity, and prayer.

17. Permit me to do this--seeing that the Assembly is concerned with prayer--in the light of the priestly and apostolic prayer pronounced by Jesus. Indeed, let us listen together to some of the verses of our Lord's most beautiful orison: "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, ... Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one ... and know in truth that I came from thee... As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world... I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth... And for their sake consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth" (John 17).

18. Taking as our starting point this prayer spoken by Jesus, who always illumines your fundamental activity of men who live in the world and pray, I should like to underscore the three points I mentioned before: ecclesial sense, needs of consecrated secularity, mode of praying.

19. 1° Ecclesial sense. Our prayer is realised from within the Church conceived as a fraternal communion of men with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. " I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one", this is what the Church is. And therefore our prayer, even when we are praying alone or in small groups, always has an ecclesial dimension. It is the whole of the Church that is praying in us. In short, it is Christ himself--mysteriously present in the Church (Sacrosanctum concilium, 7)--who is within us and prays to the Father with us. Through the Spirit, who dwells within us (Rom 8,9 and 11), he intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom 8,26) and cries: "Abba! Father!" (Rom 8,15).

20. This ecclesial sense ensures that our prayer will have a profoundly human and cosmic dimension, that it will be directed towards men and history. A prayer that illumines and epitomises the sorrow and the joy of man and, from within history, offers them to the Father. A prayer that tends to transform the world "saved in hope" (cfr. Rom 8,24) and to accelerate the final coming of the kingdom (cfr. I Cor 15,24 28). Indeed, in the Our Father we ask each day: 'Thy kingdom come".

21. Ecclesial sense! It is essential if we are to be Christians. It is essential if we are to be consecrated. It is essential for our prayer. When one feels fully Church or saving presence in the world of the Christ of the Passover one also feels the urgent need for prayer, just as Jesus did, starting from the Heart of Christ, Son and redeemer, the adored of the Father and servant of man.

22. This Assembly will have to reflect continually about this ecclesial sense. The Church will have to be felt here in a tangible form, as presence of the Paschal Christ, as a sacrament of unity, as universal sign and instrument of salvation. Live the Church, express the Church, communicate the Church, so that you may pray with Christ from within the Church.

23. But for this you will need the gift of the Holy Spirit, who in the Church is "the principle of unity in communion" (L.G., 13). The Holy Spirit is at the beginning of our prayer, he cries out within us with sighs too deep for words (Rom 8,26) and "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Co 12,3). But he is also the fruit of our prayer, the central content of the very thing we ask in prayer. " How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11,13).

24. It is the Holy Spirit that creates unity in the Church. For this ecclesial unity, the true communion of all in Christ, is the fruit of our prayers made with authenticity in the Spirit. And this unity is something urgent in our Church today, in our Church so painfully shaken and under stress, just as it is urgent also in the heart of the history of mankind that is advancing towards the final encounter through a series of contrasts and profound misunderstandings, through insensitivity and hate.

25. But this Church communion a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (St. Cyprian, quoted in L.G., 4) is sent to the world in order to be "universal sacrament of salvation" (A.G.1). It is a Church that is essentially missionary and evangelising, inserted in the world as the light, the salt and the leaven of God for the salvation of all men. "The Church"..., says the Council, "goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family" (G.S., 40).

26. This need of the Church essentially a Church of witness and of prophecy, of the incarnation and the presence, of mission and of service presupposes that there will be an irreplaceable contemplative profundity in all the members of the Church. Faced with the urgent needs of the Church of today, as also with the expectations of the men of today, the only thing that remains possible is the simple and essential attitude expressed by the words "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11,1 ) .

27. And it is precisely this that brings us together here.

28. 2. Consecrated Secularity. Your specific vocation, dear friends, is collocated precisely in this fundamental Church world relationship, in this missionary insertion of the Church in the history of mankind. Because the whole Church is missionary, albeit not in the same way; the whole Church is prophetic, but not at the same level; the whole Church is incarnated in the world, but not in the same manner. Your manner is irreplaceable, original and unique, lived with generosity and joy as a special gift of the Spirit.

29. In fact, we are here concerned with your consecrated secularity. You are fully consecrated, radically dedicated to "following Christ" through the evangelical counsels, but you continue to be laymen in the full sense of the word, living in Christ your profession, your temporal commitment, your "duties in the ordinary conditions of life" (A.A., 4).

30. The consecration to God does not remove you from the world, but rather incorporates you in it in a new way. Interiorly you give plenitude to your baptismal consecration, but you continue to live in the world, in each and all of its activities and professions, as also in the ordinary conditions of family and social life. It fully belongs to you, it is within your competence by virtue of your peculiar vocation to seek the kingdom of God by dealing with temporal things and ordering them according to God (L.G., 31). Indeed, the prayer of Jesus assumes special significance in you when he says: "I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. And for their sake I consecrate myself (= immolate and sacrifice myself), that they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn, 17).

31. It is a new way of the Church's presence in the world. Nobody in the Church ever ceases to be present in the world, not even the contemplative, nobody is ever estranged from history. And nobody who has been "anointed by the Holy One" in baptism (I Jn 2,20) ever ceases to be radically dedicated to the Gospel as a witness in the world of our Lord's Passover. But your special consecration to God by means of the evangelical counsels commits you to being witnesses of the kingdom in the world and incorporates you in Jesus' paschal mystery in his death and resurrection in a more profound and radical manner, but this without in any way lessening your normal responsibilities connected with your family, or social and political activities, which constitute the peculiar ambit of your vocation and your mission.

32. These then, dear friends, are the two aspects of your wondrously rich and providential vocation in the Church: your secularity and your consecration. You have to live both of them with the same intensity and fullness, inseparably united, like two essential elements of the selfsame reality: your consecrated secularity. As far as you are concerned, the only way of living your consecration is that of dedicating yourself to the radicality of the Gospel from within the world, starting from the world, remaining indissolubly faithful to your temporal tasks and to the interior needs of the Spirit as privileged witnesses of the kingdom (cfr. G.S., 43). And the only way of realising fully your secular vocation right now because the Lord has entered mysteriously into your lives and has called you in a special manner to follow him radically is to live with a daily renewed joy your fidelity to God in the fecundity of contemplation, in the serenity of the cross, in the generous practice of the evangelical counsels.

33. This world has to be transformed, it has to be sanctified from within, by living the spirit of the evangelical beatitudes to the very limit and thus preparing "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pt 3,13).

34. Consecrated secularity expresses and realises in a privileged manner the harmonious union between edifying the kingdom of God and constructing the earthly city, the explicit announcement of Jesus, in evangelization and in the Christian need of the full promotion of man.

35. You live the joy of this secular consecration, which in the world of today is topical more than ever before. There is great need for courageous witnesses of the kingdom. May you be faithful to the needs of the Gospel and prepare a new world from within. May you live with responsibility and strength of heart the risk of your committed secularity in a special consecration to Christ by means of the Spirit. May you be faithful to your hour, to your profession, to your temporal commitment, to the fame of Jesus and his kingdom.

36. May you fully live your consecration based on a wholly realised secularity with your hearts open to the kingdom, to the Gospel, to Jesus and may you commit yourselves to transforming the world starting from the joy of your consecration, in the spirit of the Beatitudes that you generously express and have made your own. May you be deeply contemplative to discern the Lord who is passing by in the present circumstances of our history and thus to collaborate in God's plan of salvation that wants "to bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under Christ's headship " (Eph 1,10).

37. 3. Prayer. This introduces us to the last point of our simple reflection: prayer. This Assembly of yours is dedicated not only to thinking, to reflecting about prayer, but also and above all to celebrating it. In the restless heart of each one of us there exists an ardent and simple desire: "Lord, teach us to pray!" (Lk 11,1). This is the invocation resplendent with hope of the poor who seek in Jesus, the Master of prayer. And it is in him, too, that we as concrete men of a new age will learn to pray. "Lord, in this tormented moment of history, in this difficult period of the Church, I who am living in the world as a person radically consecrated to the Gospel, to transform the world in accordance with thy design, Lord, I who am suffering and hoping with the suffering and hope of the men of today, how must I pray? How must I pray in order not to lose the contemplative profundity, nor the permanent capacity for serving my brethren? How must I pray in order not to escape either the problems of man or to abandon the needs of my daily life, yet all the time bearing clearly in mind that thou are the only, God, that only one thing is needful (Lk 10,42) and that it is urgent to begin by seeking God's kingdom and his righteousness (Mt 6,33) ? How must I pray in the world and starting from the world? How can I find a moment of silence and a deserted spot to listen to Thee in an exclusive form and dedicate myself with joy to thy Word in the midst of a city that reverberates with the words of men and where I am pressed on all sides by activities and problems? Lord, teach us to pray !"

38. And this, my dear friends, is your desire. It is your painful preoccupation and also your serene hope. In this Assembly, a communitarian celebration of prayer, the Lord will teach you to pray. Above all, he will tell you that prayer is neither difficult nor, even less so, impossible. Because he has commanded us to pray always and untiringly (Lk 18,1) and God never asks us to do impossible things (Saint Augustin, De Natura et Gratia 43, 50).

39. I do not want to go into the details of the theme of your Assembly. I only ask you, as a brother and a friend, to permit me to suggest some outlines for your work.

40. First and foremost, the very person of Christ. In the Gospel we have to seek the figure of Christ in the act of praying: in the desert, on the mountain, at the last supper, in an agony on the Mount of Olives, and on the cross. When, how and why did Christ pray? I only want to remind you that the prayer of Jesus--so profoundly filial and redeeming was always permeated by a strong experience of the Father in solitude, by a very dear consciousness that all were seeking him, and by an untiring missionary activity as harbinger of the glad tidings of the kingdom to the humble and as spiritual physician for the all embracing cure of the sick. Saint Luke sums it all up in a passage that would merit a detailed analysis: "But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (Lk 5,1 5 1 6).

41. Secondly, I should like to remind you that the beginning of your prayer is always the Holy Spirit, but that the specific manner the only one for you is that of praying on the basis of your consecrated secularity. And this feature obliges you, in an altogether particular manner, to seek the unity of contemplation and action, and to avoid "this split between the faith that many profess and their daily lives", a split that "deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age" (G. S., 43).

42. Not only must your prayer precede your task and render it fruitful, it must wholly permeate it and give it an altogether special sense of offering and redemption. Not only can your occupation neither prevent you from praying nor cause you to suspend your prayer, it must rather serve you as a source of inspiration, of life, of contemplative realism. This certainly is not easy, and you will have to look for ways and means of doing it. I shall limit myself to suggesting just two of them: try to be truly poor, and ask this insistently of the Holy Spirit and of Our Lady of Silence and of Contemplation.

43. Lastly, I should like to underscore three evangelical conditions that are essential for every type of prayer: poverty, authenticity of silence, and true charity.

44 Poverty: to be conscious of our limits, of our inability to pray as we ought (cfr. Rom 8,26), of the need for dialogue with others, and above all of our profound thirst for God. Only the poor will have the secrets of the kingdom of God revealed to them (cfr. Lk 10,21). The poor have a simple and serene manner of praying, a manner that is infallibly effective: "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean" "I will; be clean" (Mt 8,2 3).

45. Silence: this is not easy in the world, but it is not easy even in a convent. Everything depends on an interiority that is pacified and centered on God. What opposes true silence is not external noise, activity, or words; what really opposes silence is one's own self constituted as the centre. The primary condition for praying well is therefore to forget oneself. At times, indeed, a layman committed in the world will pray better than a monastic wholly concentrated on his problem. And this is also why we speak of the "authenticity of silence". For this, at least in part, is what Jesus meant when he said: "When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt 6,6). The essential thing here is not the going into your room; what is really important is the fact that the Father is there and is waiting for us.

46. True charity: it seems to me that this is the secret of a fertile prayer. We have to enter into prayer with the heart of a "universal brother". Nobody can open his heart to God without a fundamental aperture to his fellows. The consequence or the fruit of a true prayer will be a more profound and joyful opening to others. One cannot feel the presence of Jesus in men unless and until one has had a profound experience of God in the fecund solitude of the wilderness. But this encounter with the Lord, an encounter in the privileged intimacy of contemplation, must lead us to the unceasing discovery of his presence in the needy (cfr. Mt. 25).

47. What I am trying to say is this: if one wants to pray well, one has to live charity at least in an elementary form; but if one prays well ¬entering with sincerity into communion with the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit one comes out of one's prayer with an inexhaustible capacity for donation and service of one's fellows. Authentic charity conceived as immolation to God and donation to one's brethren therefore stands at the beginning, the centre and the end of true prayer.

48. The prayer of a consecrated layman--if it is to be a true expression of his joyous donation to Jesus Christ, the fecund source of his mission and an essential key to his formation--must be offered "in the name of Jesus" (Jn 16,23 27), that is to say, under the infallibly effective impulse of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of Truth that guides us into all truth (Jn 16,13) and helps us, at one and the same time, to give witness of Christ (cfr. Jn 15,2627) in the concrete and daily reality ¬of our lives. He not only helps us to enter more profoundly into Christ and to cherish his Word, but also reveals to us his passage in history and causes us to listen with responsibility to the calls and the expectations of man.

49. In other words, the Holy Spirit dwells within us (Jn 14,17) and makes us understand, deep down in the profound unity of consecrated life in the world, that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3,16 17).

50. Secular consecration is a testimony of this intimate and universal love of the Father. The life of a consecrated layman, through the continually re-creative action of prayer, thus becomes converted into a simple manifestation and communication of the inexhaustible goodness of the Father. Because the Holy Spirit turns it into a new presence of Christ: "You are a letter from Christ..., written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on the tablets of human hearts" (2 Co 3,3).

51. May the Most Blessed Mary, model and master of prayer, accompany you and illumine you in these days of your gathering; may she introduce you into her contemplative heart (cfr. Lk 2,19) and teach you to be poor. May she prepare you for the profound action of the Spirit and make you faithful to the Word. May she repeat within you these two simple phrases of the Gospel, one spoken by herself, the other by her Son: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5); "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Lk 11,27).

A living presence in the service of the world and of the Church

Dear Sons and Daughters in the Lord,

1. We accepted very willingly the request of the Executive Council of the World Conference of Secular Institutes when it duly informed us of its desire for this meeting. It offers us, in fact, the opportunity to express to you, with our esteem, the Church's hopes in the special witness the Secular Institutes are called to bear among men today.

2. It is not necessary to stop to throw light on the particular characteristics which define your vocation. For, in their fundamental features which are "a completely consecrated life, following the evangelical counsels, and a presence and an action intended in all responsibility, to change the world from within", these characteristics can now be considered a certain attainment of your institutional conscience. We recalled all this on the occasion of the twenty fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater (Address on 2nd February 1972).

3. In the position that we hold, our desire is to stress rather the fundamental duty which springs from the characteristics just called to mind, that is, the duty of being faithful. This faithfulness, which is not opposition to progress, means, above all, attention to the Holy Spirit who renews the universe (cf. Rev. 21:5). Secular Institutes, in fact, are alive to the extent to which they take part in man's history, and bear witness, among the men of today, to God's fatherly love, revealed by Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, 26 ) .

4. If they remain faithful to their specific vocation, Secular Institutes will become, as it were, "the experimental laboratory" in which the Church tests the concrete ways of her relations with the world. That is why they must listen to the appeal of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, as being addressed particularly to them: "Their primary task... is the implementation of all Christian and evangelical possibilities, hidden but already present and active in things of the world. The specific field of their evangelising activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, social matters, economy, but also culture, sciences and arts, international life and the mass media" (no. 70).

5. This does not mean, of course, that Secular Institutes, as such, must undertake these tasks. That normally falls on each of their members. It is therefore the duty of the Institutes themselves to form the conscience of their members to a maturity and open mindedness which drive them to prepare zealously for the profession chosen, in order to face afterwards, competently and in a spirit of evangelical detachment, the weight and the joy of the social responsibilities towards which Providence will direct them.

6. This faithfulness of the Secular Institutes to their specific vocation must be expressed above all in faithfulness to prayer, which is the foundation of strength and fruitfulness. It is a very good thing, therefore, that you have chosen, as the central subject of your Assembly, prayer as the "expression of secular consecration" and the "source of the apostolate and the key to formation". The fact is that you are in search of prayer that will express your concrete situation as persons "consecrated in the world".

7. We exhort you, therefore, to continue this search, endeavouring to act in such a way that your spiritual experience may serve as an example to every layman. In fact, for anyone who is consecrated in a Secular Institute, spiritual life consists in being able to assume one's profession, social relations, environment of life, etc. as particular forms of collaborating in the coming of the Kingdom of heaven. It consists further in knowing how to impose rest periods on oneself in order to come into more direct contact with God, to thank him and to ask him for forgiveness, light, energy and inexhaustible charity for others.

8. Each of you certainly benefits from the support of his Institute through the spiritual guidance it gives, but especially through the communion that exists among those who share the same ideal under the leadership of those responsible. And, knowing that God has given his Word, the consecrated person will set himself very regularly to listen to Holy Scripture, studied lovingly and accepted with a purified and available soul, to seek in it, as well as in the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, a correct interpretation of his daily experience lived in the world. In a special way, based on the very fact of his consecration to God, he will feel committed to promoting the efforts of the Council for a more and more intimate participation in the sacred liturgy, aware that a well ordered liturgical life, closely integrated in the consciences and habits of the faithful, will help to keep the religious sense alert and permanent, in our times, and to give the Church a new springtime of spiritual life.

9. Prayer will then become the expression of a mysterious and sublime reality, shared by all Christians, that is, the expression of our reality as children of God. It will be an expression that the Holy Spirit purifies and assumes as his own prayer, urging us to cry with him: "Abba", that is, Father! (cf Rom 8, 14 f; Gal 4,4 f ).

10. Such prayer, if it becomes a conscious part of the very context of secular activities, is then a real expression of secular consecration.

11 . These are the thoughts, dear sons and daughters, that we wish to entrust to your reflection, in order to help you in your search for a more and more faithful response to the will of God, who calls you to be in the world, not to assume its spirit, but to bear witness in its midst in a way that will help your brothers to accept the newness of the Spirit in Christ.

With our Apostolic Blessing.

Rome, 25th August, 1976

Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (C.R.I.S.)
Married people and the Secular Institutes


1. The peculiar vocation of the Secular Institutes, a vocation of presence among the values of the terrestrial realities, has led several of them to concentrate attention on the family and the "sacred value of the married state" (Gaudium et spes, 49).

2. This attention can take different concrete forms. Direct work in the cause of the Christian family is a case in point, and some Institutes have come into being with this specific aim. Another way is to permit married people to participate in the spirituality and the life of an Institute, and indeed there are some who offer them this possibility: certain Secular Institutes give them instruction and support for living an evangelical commitment in the married state, and also consider them as members in the wider sense.

3. In fact, the fundamental documents relating to the Secular Institutes, especially the Instruction Cum Sanctissimus (art. VII, a), provide for the admission of such members; but the general principle implies different applications, and problems arise in actual practice.

4. In 1973, therefore, the Section for the Secular Institutes, desiring to have a more complete appreciation of the effective situation, carried out a survey of all the Institutes whose Constitutions visualised the existence of members in the wider sense. The results of this survey have brought out a large variety of attitudes towards these members: commitments, participation in the life of the Institute in different ways and to different degrees, etc. Some Institutes even wanted to consider the possibility of accepting married people as full members.

5. The Section for the Secular Institutes did not deem it necessary to make an official statement about a disposition that is already as clear, definite and well known as the one relating to the chastity in celibacy of the Secular Institute members in the strict sense. Nevertheless, mainly in order to see whether it would be desirable to issue directives in the matter of members in the wider sense, it decided to ask its nine consultors to consider this problem. A small questionnaire was therefore drawn up that required them to reflect not only about the presence of married people as members in the wider sense, but also about the possibility of a complete integration of such people into the Secular Institutes.

6. The answers taken as a whole have brought out the need for submitting the question to the Congress with a view to possible decisions. As is known, the Congress is the collegial organ of the Congregation and is made up of the Cardinal Prefect, the Secretary, the Under-secretary, and the Section Officials. It also has the benefit of expert advice, the experts being specially consulted on the topic under consideration. The Congress has power to study, examine, and decide (cf. Informationes, Vol. I, no. 1, p. 52).

7. For the purposes of the Congress, therefore, the Section asked two experts (theologians and canon lawyers) to examine the problem here outlined and to express their motivated opinions, taking due account of the answers previously given by the consultors.

8. Below we first give a summary of the answers of the consultors, while a second part states the conclusions and decisions of the Congress.


9. Summarising the answers of the consultation, one can say that it brought out the following three assertions:

Chastity in celibacy must be absolutely affirmed for members of the Secular Institutes.
Married people can be members in the wider sense if certain measures of prudence are observed.
It would be desirable to create Associations of married people...

A. Chastity in celibacy for Secular Institute members.

10. The affirmation is based on:

a) Doctrinal and Canon Law Reasons

The charter of the Secular Institutes is sufficiently clear in this matter: "Besides the exercises of piety and self denial which are a necessary part of the search for perfection of Christian life, those who desire to be formal members in the strict sense of the word, of a Secular Institute, must in fact tend to this perfection in the distinctive ways here specified:

11. 1. By profession made before God of celibacy and perfect chastity in the form of a vow, oath, or consecration binding in conscience, according to the norms of the Constitutions"
(Provida Mater, Art. III, 2).

12. Now, subsequent developments of the doctrine have only confirmed this essential condition of the profession, made before God, of celibacy and perfect chastity. To convince oneself of this, indeed, one has to do no more than refer to the various conciliar and post conciliar texts, especially Lumen Gentium, 42-44, Perfectae caritatis, 11, Discourses by Paul VI. One of the consultors expresses this in the following terms:

13. "Even though important developments in Catholic doctrine of the laity have taken place between 1947 and the present day, this particularly as regards marriage, the evangelical distinction between the life of a married person and that of a 'celibate for the sake of the Kingdom' has not undergone any appreciable variation (nor could it have done so). Indeed, the great crisis that has come to the fore in connection with priestly celibacy has made it possible to obtain a clearer and more profound insight into this value, which occupied an 'outstanding' place among the counsels and has always been held in particular honour by the Church' (Lumen Gentium, 42)".

b) A specific Choice in Response to a Call of the Lord

14. By means of a free response to the choice of the Lord, "the called one" elects to renounce certain things, even legitimate ones, for the sake of the Kingdom. The renunciation of the legitimate quid represented by marriage is imposed on the members of the Secular Institutes who choose a life of total consecration to God.

15. This also comes out very clearly from the answers given by the consultors:

"...Deciding to live according to the evangelical counsels means that one strives towards specific values and at the same time limits oneself by renouncing other values...".

16. "...The special significance of the choice of celibacy made by the members of the Secular Institutes (does not lie) in the observance of canon law or any extrinsic reason, but exclusively in the free and spontaneous response to a special call of the Lord".

17. Again, Paul VI, speaking to the Directors General of the S.I. in 1972, made the following declaration: "The poverty, chastity and obedience which you have chosen are ways of sharing the cross of Christ because like him and with him you give up the things which, without any infringement of law or precept, you could, if you wished, have and enjoy" (20.9.1972).

18. The Lord does not require this renunciation of legitimate things of all people; indeed, He does not normally require it of those who live in the state of marriage and who, by giving and receiving, should participate in the human joys of a Christian home. This total renunciation is peculiar only of those whom God calls specially to Him to bear witness to an absolute preference and who respond to this call by consecrating themselves totally to Him.

c) The Need for avoiding Confusion

19. It follows from these different choices that married people and those who are specially consecrated to God must arrive at the perfection of Christian life, at the sanctity to which all of us are called, by different roads that befit their special situations: the former by adhering to the sacrament of marriage, in the sense that they must permit the spouses to attain the highest degree of sanctity in the married state, the latter on the basis of a "special consecration" to the Lord. The sacrament of marriage offers Christian spouses the means of sanctification and bearing witness to the glory of God in their peculiar condition of spouses, in their sublime office of being a father or a mother (cf Gaudium et spes, 48); and nothing whatsoever prevents those who desire to do so from having recourse to evangelical commitments in keeping with their state if such commitments help them to better accomplish their obligations and mission. As regards the faithful who have chosen to follow Christ in a more intimate manner, they will similarly find that their consecration by means of the profession of the evangelical counsels will give them the support and the grace to realize their total donation to the Lord. This distinction appeared very clearly in the conciliar texts, and it was equally underscored in the answers given by the consultors:

20. "We are here concerned with absolutely distinct realities, even though they tend to wards one and the same sanctity, and it would be dangerous to confuse them. It would be dangerous for the Secular Institutes, who would end up by losing the true sense of their charism; but it would be equally dangerous for married people, who would be drawn onto ground where they would eventually become subject to rules that are not in keeping with their state of life".

21. Paul VI, in his message of the 20th March 1975 on the occasion of World Vocation Day, highlights the specific witness given by the faithful consecrated to God. He begins by stressing the irreplaceable and admirable part that laymen play in the Church's faith and witness at a time that is characterised by a lack of vocations, so much so that they assume responsibilities, exercise ministries, and so on. He rejoices at the idea, and encourages this promotion of the laity. But then he adds:

22. "But all this, needless to say, cannot be a substitute for the indispensable ministry of the priest or the specific witness of the consecrated faithful. It calls these latter. Without them there would be the risk that Christian vitality might become severed from its roots, the Community sterile, and the Church secularised" .

23. Without in any way minimising the witness given by laymen who are authentic Christians, the Holy Father makes it clear that Church expects a specific witness from the consecrated, a witness that is essential for the very vitality of the ecclesial community as a whole. It is therefore desirable to avoid all possibility of confusion between the state of married people who commit themselves to the practice of conjugal chastity and the state of people who have chosen chastity in celibacy as a response to a special call of the Lord. Although it is true that both the latter and the former must tend towards the perfection of Christian charity and bear witness to the Love of Christ, it is equally true that they must do so by means of two entirely distinct roads, two states of life that are so different that one cannot possibly embrace both of them at one and the same time.

24. It therefore follows that married people cannot be admitted to full membership of Secular Institutes, since these are characterised by the fact that their members are essentially vowed to chastity in celibacy.

B. Married people as members of Secular Institutes in the wider sense

25. The Secular Institute members in the wider sense have the chance of remaining in their peculiar state of life--which may be that of married people, for example--and yet training themselves for evangelical perfection by participating in the spiritual advantages of the Institute, in its peculiar apostolate, and also in complying with some of the demands it makes on its members. It is only in this precise sense that one can speak of the admission of married people to membership of a Secular Institute. It also presupposes that certain measures of prudence should be observed in order to safeguard the value of marriage. According to the answers given by the consultors, these measures concern the following points:

a) The Reasons for the request for Membership and the Conditions for accepting it

26. One of the consultors alludes to the reasons that in the past have led Secular Institutes to admit married people as members in the wider sense: firstly, a certain primacy accorded to the "celibates for the sake of the Kingdom" and, consequently, the need for spouses to learn from their example; secondly, the vague need felt by the Secular Institutes to create a first zone of influence, this not without the hope of arousing some vocations for the Institutes themselves.

27. Only one of the answers deals in a precise and clear cut manner with the reasons underlying the request for membership and the conditions for accepting it:

28. "The reasons that cause spouses to want to enter a Secular Institute should be examined with particular care. If the underlying reason is an escape from marriage or a concept of marriage that detracts from the value of marriage, the request should be refused. If the Institute did not offer the possibility of living marriage in a Christian manner, i.e. perfectly, the entire object of such membership would be defeated.

b) The Consent of the other Spouse

29. Almost all the answers are concordant in saying that the consent of the other spouse is an essential condition for the admission of a married person to membership in the wider sense of a Secular Institute. So much so that one of them specifically says that "the lack of such consent would be in contrast with the very nature of marriage understood, first and foremost, as a spiritual community ". Only one of the consultors is of the opinion that this condition should not be imposed, but even he supposes that the two spouses will have reached a prior understanding:

30. "While I deem it desirable that the two spouses should inform each other, seek together and reach an agreement, I would not impose the condition that the one has to obtain the consent of the other.

31. This amounts to saying that, generally speaking, a married person should not be admitted to membership of a Secular Institute without the knowledge of the other spouse.

c) The Participation of a Married Member in the Government of the Institute

32. The answers given by the consultors in connection with this matter are rather more complex. All the same, they make it quite clear that the active participation of married members in the government of the Institute does not seem to be desirable. Only one of the consultors frankly visualises such a participation, but even he hints at the serious risks involved:

33. "If in fact there exist Secular Institutes who admit married people as members in the wider sense, I would be in favour of the representatives of these members participating in the government, but only in proportion to their effective numbers. In fact, if an Institute admits married people, it is only right and proper for it to accept all the consequences thereof. There are also risks: the inevitable interactions of the Institute on family life and of the family on the life of the Institute. Moreover, at a historical moment when it is becoming particularly difficult to live virginity, the celibates would have a minority representation in the government and this implies a danger of insufficient value being attributed to virginity".

34 Taking the answers as a whole, participation of the married members in the government of the married members in the government of the Institute is visualised as follows:

Three answers hold that this possibility should not be considered.
The other consultors suggest that representation of the married members in the government of the Institute could be considered, but only to deliberate questions that concern them.
According to one of these latter, it would be desirable for the married members to have a government of their own.

35. This last answer, suggesting a separate grouping with a government of its own, brings us to the third aspect of our problem.

C. The creation of associations of married people would be desirable...

36. This desire is expressed more or less explicitly in all the answers of the consultors. First of all, let us quote from two of the proposals made:

I) "I should like to state the problem differently. Let us not ask 'Some married people are interested in the Secular Institutes, what place could be accorded them in these Institutes?', but rather 'Some married people are attracted by evangelical perfection, what can be done to help them?'.

37. The second formulation would permit a freer search and would undoubtedly lead to the true solution. We are here face to face with the problem of whether it is possible to have a certain radicalism of evangelical life in marriage ".

38. 2) "It seems desirable to set up Associations for married people who want to commit themselves on a communitarian basis to following Christ in the spirit of the beatitudes and the evangelical counsels. One would thus respond to the desire of many married people for the Church to give full recognition not only to the sanctifying value of marriage, but also to the substantial equality of all the members of the People of God as regards the precept of tending to the perfection of charity. The definition of the concrete content of the commitments of obedience and poverty to be assumed by married people cannot but be the outcome of their own experiences and reflections. If this is to be done in an adequate manner, it seems absolutely essential that the experimentation and reflection should develop among married people, without being confused with other forms of life ".

The following two ideas can be abstracted from the replies as a whole

39. It would be desirable to promote Associations of married people. The reasons adduced in support can be summarised as: responding to the need felt by these people to associate in order to live their faith better; responding to their desire to see the Church recognise in full the sanctifying value of marriage and substantially the possibility of all members of the People of God to tend towards the perfection of charity; offering to these people the effective possibility of a certain radica1ism of evangelical life in marriage.

These Associations of married people would be distinct from the Secular Institutes

40. In connection with this second affirmation, however, one of the consultors suggests that the period of experimentation could be entrusted to the general management of the Section for the Secular Institutes.


41. As we already mentioned above, two experts were invited to state their motivated opinion in the course of a Congress that was held at the headquarters of this Congregation. Their arguments, retracing those of the consultors, were to be grouped around the same points, on which the collegial organ of the Dicastery took its decisions.

1. The "Special Consecration" of the Members of the Secular Institutes cannot be called into question

42. The experts base their affirmations first and foremost on doctrinal principles, but also mention the metaphysical and spiritual aspects of the question. They recall that the Secular Institutes constitute essentially a state of perfection or consecration recognised by the Church, and they draw support for their contention from the teachings of the Magisterium and the practice followed during the last few decades.

43. As regards the Secular Institutes, just as in the case of the religious Institutes, "their very nature requires the commitment to perfect chastity in celibacy and this necessarily excludes married people (formaliter ut sic) - to poverty and to obedience ".

44. " The teaching and the practice of the Church, right up to the Council and the most recent speeches of the Holy Father, very clearly determine the need for the effective profession of the three evangelical counsels, a profession that married people cannot make".

45. A further clarification is added in order to avoid all misunderstanding in connection with these counsels:

"Here we are not concerned with just any counsel of the Gospel but with the 'typical' evangelical counsels, that is to say, chastity in celibacy, poverty and obedience, assumed as a stable form of life by means of a vow or other sacred bond recognised by the Church in an Institute. This is the very thing that characterises a member of a Secular Institute in the world and distinguishes him from ordinary baptised. The constitutional texts of the Secular Institutes, i.e. Provida Mater (I, Art 13), Primo feliciter (II) and Cum Sanctissimus (VII ab.), just like the pontifical speeches, leave no doubt whatsoever as regards this 'consecration' that qualifies the Secular Institute member in the world ".

46. It is therefore essential to reaffirm this fundamental principle that the profession of the three evangelical counsels confers a " special consecration", a consecration that is rooted in baptism and completes it. Now, "perfect chastity is the essential and constitutive element of the reality that consecrates to God in the vocation of an Institute of perfection. While poverty and obedience especially in the Secular Institute can be subtly shaded, perfect chastity imposes itself as an indispensable element of belonging totally to the Lord".

47. The expert then continues: "Here we are at the very centre of the specific vocation ... that essentially characterises a Secular Institute and its members in the strict sense. If one were to exclude, even unwittingly or unconsciously, the reality that is at the very heart of the 'novelty' of the spring of grace in the world that is represented by the Secular Institutes, the 'special vocation' underlying these Institutes would no longer have any raison d'être in the Church".

48. Thus, the consultors, the experts and the Congress are wholly agreed in confirming the same conclusion: the gift of God represented by the "special consecration" imposes the profession of the evangelical counsels upon the Secular Institute members in the strict sense, and therefore the practice of perfect chastity in celibacy.

2. The Married People in the Secular Institutes are Members in the Wider Sense

49. The possibility of married people belonging to a Secular Institute cannot be called into doubt. Indeed as an expert pointed out at the Congress, even Provida Mater already admits this possibility when it says: "Associates who desire to belong to the Institute as members in the strict sense..." (P. M. III, 2). This is equivalent to saying that others can belong to the Institute as members in the wider sense. In fact, this possibility was later explicitly affirmed by the Instruction Cum Sanctissimus (Vll, a). However, these constitutional documents make it clear that there are different degrees of membership, differences that are rightly and essentially expressed by the fact that a given person embraces each of the evangelical counsels to a greater or a lesser degree. There can be no doubt that this refers in a very special manner to the counsel of chastity: although chastity in celibacy "for the sake of the Kingdom" is absolutely indispensable for the members in the strict sense, the members in the wider sense do not have to comply with this requirement and can therefore be married people. If, therefore, the mode of membership in a Secular Institute is based primarily on the effective profession of the counsel of chastity, it follows that it will never be possible to eliminate all distinctions or to make the married members in all respects equal to the celibate members. In other words, married people necessarily belong to Secular Institutes as members in the wider sense. This is a normal conclusion reached unanimously by both the consultors and by the collegial organ of this Congregation.

50. Does one have to conclude from this that the distinction in the degree of membership in a Secular Institute supposes measures so rigid that one cannot visualise a close participation of the one group in the life of the other? There are different experiences as regards this matter, and the expressed opinions are widely shaded. The conclusions of the consultors reflect different trends as regards, for example, the conditions of admission or participation in the government of the Institute. Bearing in mind this variety of views, the experts and the Congress ask that this experience of life should be prudently continued.

51. However, since it is clearly impossible to introduce married members into an Institute with "the same rights and duties" as the members in the strict sense, one could not but wonder whether it would not be better to visualise a new formula for married people. The Congress therefore examined the possibility of Associations of married people.

3. Towards Associations of Married People?

52. As was brought out by the answers of the consultors, Associations of married people or with married people correspond to a present day trend within the context of the universal call to sanctity of which the Council has spoken (Lumen gentium, Chap. 5). The experts, in turn, showed that it was desirable "to face up to this reality in a concrete manner because, there too, the breath of the Spirit was pushing or calling to the perfection of charity, choosing the means that He deemed suitable for our times ".

53. The Congress, desiring to take account of the profound and legitimate aspirations that would like to give birth to such groupings, therefore considered the problem with the greatest attention. It recognised the need for helping, supporting and possibly also guiding such Associations of a new type. In this field, however, as also in many others, only actual experience of life can suggest, clarify, and perfect. It is therefore premature to try to visualise the practical modalities that would permit the eclosion of these new "buds" in the Church. The conclusion of the Congress, in affirming that it may be desirable to give consideration to such Associations with married people, does not in any way diminish their value and raises hope for the future, and at the same time reasserts very clearly the excellence of consecration in celibacy (cf. Lumen Gentium, 42).

10th May 1976

On the 30th anniversary of the apostolic constitution
Provida Mater Ecclesia


1. Today, this very day, thirty years ago, an event was celebrated in the Catholic Church which communicated to many of her sons the charism of this feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, that is the oblation of Christ to his Father's will.

2. We wish, in fact, to recall an anniversary that falls today. Thirty years ago, on 2 February 1947, the Church recognised a new form of consecrated life, when our predecessor Pius XII promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater.

3. A new form, different from that of religious life not only in its implementation of "the following of Christ" but also in its way of assuming the Church world relationship, which is also essential to any Christian vocation (cf. G.S., 1).

4. Thirty years are not that many, but already significant is the presence of secular institutes in the Church, and we ask you to join us in thanking the Father of heaven for this His gift.

5. And we wish to send to one and all, men and women, our greeting and blessing.

Rome, 2nd February, 1977