Academic journal article Cithara

The Laity, the World and the Legacy of Vatican II on the Consecrated Life

Academic journal article Cithara

The Laity, the World and the Legacy of Vatican II on the Consecrated Life

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Since the 1960s, the number of Catholics living the consecrated life in Canada has declined considerably. Most of those who began their consecrated life journey in the decades on either side of Vatican II are now in the twilight of their lives. They represent the vast majority of the roughly 18,000 men and women still living that life in Canada-a number that decreases by about 1,000 each year.1

As the numbers diminish, many of those living the consecrated life have reflected deeply on the state of that life and its future. Despite the decline in members, most continue to believe that the consecrated life ought to have a privileged place in the mission of the Catholic Church in their own country and throughout the world.2 Among other resources, many use or have rediscovered ideas from the documents of Vatican II to bring focus to religious life in our time and perspective on future developments.

This essay proposes to describe the consecrated life in Canada, and the United States by extension, especially those living under the Rule of St. Benedict in the light of the Second Vatican Council. After a brief survey of documents relating to the consecrated life from and in the wake of the Council, we will focus our comments on three specific areas: monastic life as 'sign', the increased interest in Benedictine monasticism by the non-religious laity and other visitors, and the striking increase of oblates or lay associates affiliated to monastic institutes.

Though this essay focuses on developments in one stream of religious life in the Catholic tradition, it speaks to broader trends. Indeed, the Benedictine tradition is but one among many institutes that are now governed in the Catholic Church by the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Yet, this juridical category is not necessarily representative of all those who live or have lived the consecrated life. Often Benedictines and other religious are perceived as a static category of aging people. However, at the outset we recognize that the Benedictine tradition, like all other traditions of Catholic religious life, has undergone a number of changes, most notably movements for reform and significant periods of expansion and retraction. Hence, when we study the changes in Benedictine life in our era we are not positing that change is something new, per se, but rather that there are particular developments in this generation that were not necessarily common in previous generations. These changes, we argue, are not incidental to that life, but are major developments that will affect at least the next several generations of those who wish to continue to associate themselves to the life under the Rule of St. Benedict.

II. Brief Review of the Consecrated Life and Vatican II

Though it is impossible to review the wide impact of Vatican II on the life of religious in North America, it is helpful to have at least a brief overview of discussions pertinent to that life. Even if a number of other social and cultural influences shaped religious communities in the latter half of the 20th century, the discussions leading up to that council and those initiated by it were of deep importance to most communities. No doubt, many other social, economic and religious pressures influenced religious orders and the public perception of them in the second half of the 20th century. Yet, the repercussions of Vatican II have marked all religious even if the manner in which individual congregations dealt with the transformations following the Council varied widely. No doubt, this has to do with the Council texts under discussion themselves. Even among those outside religious communities, the documents of Vatican II3 specifically dealing with the consecrated life have been subjected to differing opinions. Though not all would share his conclusions, Pope Benedict XVI's view that there are multiple "hermeneutics" at work is shared by most. …

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