What Does it Mean to be Consecrated?

Consecration, in general, is an act by which a person or object is dedicated to the service and worship of God.

All members of the Church become consecrated to God through the Sacrament of Baptism.

“According to the Old Testament, God Himself consecrated persons or objects by imparting His holiness in some way to them. …He took possession of them and set them apart for His direct service.” 1

He did this with the people of Israel. They were “‘holy’ as the ‘Lord’s possession’ (segullah = the sovereign’s personal treasury), and thus had a sacred character (cf. Exodus 19:5; Deut. 7:6; Psalm 134:4; etc.).”  2

However, “there was no individual, means, or institution, that by its inner force could communicate God’s holiness to men, however well-disposed. This would be the great newness of Christian Baptism, by which believers have their “hearts sprinkled clean” (Heb. 10:22), and are inwardly washed, consecrated, justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God’” (I Cor. 6: 11). 3

“Christ takes possession of the person from within through Baptism in which He begins His sanctifying action, ‘consecrating him’…”4

Thus, through baptism, we are consecrated to God, and our life of dedication to Him, of our union with Him, begins. 

Towards Perfect Union—Consecration by Means of the Evangelical Counsels

For all the Christian faithful, life in union with God is lived out by receiving His grace through the sacraments and striving to fulfill His primary precept, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength, and with thy whole mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (Luke 10:27).  The secondary precepts, the ten commandments, are the necessary means to fulfill the primary one. However, ordinarily, a person cannot fulfill the primary precept by these means only. While it is possible to remain in grace by refraining from mortal sin and observing common justice, which are the minimum requirements of the spiritual life, additional means are required if one would want to advance towards perfection, striving to fulfill our Lord’s command “to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) Therefore, those desiring greater union with God strive to imitate His Son’s life more closely. They commit themselves by sacred bonds, such as vows or promises, to practice a greater detachment from earthly goods, to remain celibate, to be obedient to the Father in all aspects of one’s life. Jesus Himself counseled all to imitate Him in this manner. Traditionally known as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they are typically adhered to in institutes of consecrated life.

“This life is all the more perfect and produces more abundant fruits of baptismal grace (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 44), inasmuch as the intimate union with Christ received in Baptism develops into a more complete union. Indeed, the commandment to love God with all one’s heart, which is enjoined on the baptized, is observed to the full by the love vowed to God through the evangelical counsels. It is a ‘special consecration’ (Perfectae Caritatis, no. 5); a closer consecration to the divine service ‘by a new and special title’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 44); a new consecration, which cannot be considered an implication or a logical consequence of Baptism.”5

Thus, those who have consecrated themselves anew, in a deeper and more profound way by means of the counsels, are considered as belonging to a distinct state of life (or group) in the Church, known as Consecrated Life, and is governed as such by Church laws. There are three states of life in the Church: the lay state (married and single); the clerical state; and consecrated life. Those embracing consecrated life are either in the religious state (they separate themselves from the world) or the consecrated lay state (they remain in the world).  “…they are essentially spiritual, supernatural realities affording the individual [the person in his or her particular state] the opportunity of taking his stance in life, his proper place in relation to God. As St. Thomas [Aquinas] indicates, the basis of the states is the grace of Christ the Head as it is participated in various ways in His members.”6  All members of the Church are governed by Church laws (Code of Canon Law) in accordance with their respective state of life. Church laws help each group in the Church understand better their function and their proper relation to one another. They direct members to act reasonably and justly within their roles.

Regarding those who embrace the consecrated state, “The Christian faithful freely assume this form of living in institutes of consecrated life canonically erected by competent authority of the Church. Through vows or other sacred bonds according to the proper laws of the institutes, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience and, through the charity to which the counsels lead, are joined in a special way to the Church and its mystery” (CIC 573 n.2)

“The evangelical counsels, based on the teaching and examples of Christ the Teacher, are a divine gift which the Church has received from the Lord and preserves always through His grace.” (CIC 575)

In the holy Gospels, Jesus teaches us about these counsels and their universal nature. “What I say to you, I say to all” (Mk 13:37). He invites all to a greater detachment from earthly goods when He says, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Mt. 19:21)

For the sake of perfect chastity, He invites all to follow Him in living a celibate life, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matt 19:12)

St. Paul also counseled celibacy when he said, “ I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about … how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. . . .I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord. (I Cor. 7: 32-35)

In being chaste and detached, one can now more easily respond to Jesus’ challenge to follow Him in being perfectly obedient to God the Father. “Come, follow me.” (Mt. 19:21)

“As a way of showing forth the Church’s holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ’s own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church’s purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery, will be achieved, and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt 22:30). The Church has always taught the pre-eminence of perfect chastity for the sake of the Kingdom, and rightly considers it the “door” of the whole consecrated life.”7

Thus, those who consecrate themselves by means of the counsels, and genuinely live them out, manifest in a greater way the fruits of the Spirit, i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. (see Gal 5:22-23) They therefore experience, in a greater way, as much as possible in this life, heaven itself. However, the grace to choose consecrated life is granted only to some. While it is a special grace, it is not an extraordinary one, for our Lord said, “Ask and you shall receive.” (Mat 7:7) Therefore, provided one has the natural gifts necessary for such a life, there’s no reason, ordinarily, that one would not be given such a grace if he asks for it.

Why the use of Sacred Bonds? The Purpose of Vows and Promises to God

A vow indicates a binding to do or omit some particular thing. It firmly fixes one’s will in a deep resolve to carry out an action, or to live one’s entire life in a certain way. It gives strength to one’s will in forming virtuous habits. Thus, for those who come to understand that there is no greater good than God, it’s reasonable that one would want to make use of all the means available, including vows, in order to possess Him always, with an undivided heart.

“A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion,” (CCC 2102)

To follow the counsels through vows obliges one to give himself to God. Therefore, unfaithfulness to one’s vows would be an injustice towards Him. Faithfulness towards one’s vows is known as practicing the virtue of religion, giving to God what is due to Him.

The evangelical counsels are not commandments of God. Ordinarily, one is free to follow them or not. To follow them by means of a vow is to form habits that are better for personal sanctification.

“In many circumstances, the Christian is called to make promises to God. Baptism and Confirmation, Matrimony and Holy Orders always entail promises.” (CCC 2101)

“The Church recognizes an exemplary value in the vows to practice the evangelical counsels” (CCC 2103)

Vows strengthen one’s will to follow the Lord.

Who are the laity and what is their mission?

“‘The term “lay faithful”’” -we read in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium’-  is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state sanctioned by the Church. Through Baptism the lay faithful are made one body with Christ and are established among the People of God. …They carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian people with respect to the Church and the world”.8

Those in Holy Orders are the bishops, priests and deacons of the Church while those in the religious state follow the counsels with a degree of separation from the world.

The uniqueness of the laity is their secular character, to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.”(Lumen Gentium 31) Laity do not separate themselves from the world.

On the contrary, “the lay faithful ‘live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven’. They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc. However, the Council considers their condition not simply an external and environmental framework, but as a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the fullness of its meaning. Indeed it leads to the affirmation that ‘the Word made flesh willed to share in human fellowship … He sanctified those human ties, especially family ones, from which social relationships arise, willingly submitting himself to the laws of his country. He chose to lead the life of an ordinary craftsman of his own time and place.’9

“The ‘world’ thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ. The [the Second Vatican] Council is able then to indicate the proper and special sense of the divine vocation which is directed to the lay faithful. They are not called to abandon the position that they have in the world…. On the contrary, he entrusts a vocation to them that properly concerns their situation in the world. The lay faithful, in fact, ‘are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others’. Thus for the lay faithful to be present and active in the world is not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way, a theological and ecclesiological reality as well.”10

Consecrated Laity and Their Rule of Life

All those, therefore, who have received and accepted the grace to follow our Lord’s counsels, but who have remained in the world, are known as consecrated laity. They live a life that is poor, chaste and obedient in accordance with a rule of life that has been approved by the Church. All institutes of Consecrated Life have what are called constitutions. It is in the constitutions of an institute of consecrated life that one would learn its rule and how it practically follows our Lord’s counsels. There also, one would learn of the preparation time required to make a definitive commitment. A minimum preparation period of six years is typical. All those pursuing consecrated life must make their commitment freely, with a clear understanding of what that commitment entails.

Regarding the vow of poverty, some institutes, at the profession of vows, oblige their members to give over all of their patrimony, while others allow members to keep their patrimony until death. In institutes of consecrated laity, some, at the profession of vows, oblige their members to give over all their salary, while others allow their members to keep their salary but have spending regulated through the approval of a budget. Regarding community life, some institutes of consecrated laity require members to live in common, while others allow members to live separately, on their own.

All members of institutes of consecrated life, however, have a superior or director who directs and regulates their lives in accordance with their institute’s own particular way of life. ‘The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in a spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ obedient unto death, requires the submission of the will to legitimate superiors, who stand in the place of God, when they command according to the proper constitutions.’ (CIC 601) As stated earlier, it is necessary for all Christians to follow God’s precepts. These precepts were revealed through Moses. Later, Jesus expounded on them in greater detail, helping all to understand more fully God’s plan for humanity. Today, the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church through those whom Christ gave authority to represent Him, namely, His vicar, and the bishops and priests in communion with him. ‘He who hears you, hears me.’ (Lk 10:16) God chooses, therefore, human beings to represent Him and be His voice in revealing His will. In institutes of consecrated life, He chooses superiors and directors to be His representatives. Superiors and directors help consecrated individuals not only follow the ten commandments, but be obedient in all aspects of one’s life, including one’s occupation, prayer life, study, and free time. It’s the most secure means by which one can advance towards perfect obediece to God. And, “far from being a servitude, [vowed obedience] bestows the highest liberty. …The grandeur of obedience is expressed in this frequently quoted, holy expression: ‘To serve God is to reign,’ that is, to reign over one’s passions, over the spirit of the world, over the enemy of souls and his suggestions; it is to reign in the very kingdom of God and, so to speak, to share in His independence toward all created things. It is to place oneself like a docile instrument in His hands for all that He wishes.”11

Consecrated life then, is a more demanding life, one that is magnanimous, because it focuses more on the one big thing, the greatest of all, the worship and service of God.  Precisely by a vigorous living out of this challenging life, which is for the greatest good, is greatness achieved. “[It’s] not just a dedication to God, it is a total dedication; it is not simply a sacrifice, it is a holocaust; it is not simply a quest for perfection, it is a zealous, studied pursuit; it’s not simply renunciation of sin, it is a total withdrawal from even the licit things of the world.”12   It’s about ridding oneself of all disordered attachments to created goods. It’s about allowing God to reign within one’s soul completely. It’s about embracing the most effective means to fulfill God’s command of totally loving Him and our neighbor, who is in His image.

Thus, where individuals are found who are vigorously living out this type of consecration, there are found magnanimous individuals, men and women who are striving to become saints, the greatest people, the salt of the earth.

In the company of his friends and disciples at the Last Supper, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one…as you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:15)

“Let no man therefore imagine that a life of activity in the world is incompatible with spiritual perfection. The two can very well be harmonized. That a man should develop and perfect himself through his daily work — which in most cases is of a temporal character — is perfectly in keeping with the plan of divine Providence. The Church today is faced with an immense task: to humanize and to Christianize this modern civilization of ours. The continued development of this civilization, indeed its very survival, demand and insist that the Church do her part in the world. That is why, as we said before, she claims the co-operation of her laity.”13

If you have questions or comments regarding this text, please email Bob Delogu, M.J. at adoration@milesjesu.com.  Bob currently works in the financial services industry and has been a consecrated layman for 15 years.


1Pope John Paull II, “Consecrated Life is Rooted in Baptism” L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, November 2, 1994
2ibid
3ibid
4ibid
5ibid
6Rev. Edward Farrell, O.P., “The Theology of Religious Vocation.” (Fort Collins, Roman Catholic Books, 1951), pg.112.
7Pope John Paul II, 1996 “Vita Consecrata.” Libreria Editrice Vaticana. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_25031996_vita-consecrata.html, n.32
8Pope John Paul II, 1988 “Christifideles Laici.” Libreria Editrice Vaticana, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici.html, n.9
9Pope John Paul II, 1988 “Christifideles Laici.” n.15
10ibid
11Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P., “The Three Ages of the Interior Life Volume Two.” (Rockford, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1989), pg. 156
12Farrell, O.P., “The Theology of Religious Vocation”, 141.
13Pope John XXIII, 1961, “Mater et Magistra.”  Libreria Editrice Vaticana, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-xxiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxiii_enc_15051961_mater.html, n. 255-256
Abbreviations:
CIC =  Code of Canon Law
CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church
Additional Notes: Full texts for Vatican II Council Documents Lumen Gentium and Perfectae Caritatis can be found at the Vatican’s webpages:
https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651028_perfectae-caritatis_en.html
https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html