A  Delegation of the World Conference of Secular Institutes A Delegation of the World Conference of Secular Institutes  (Vatican Media)

Pope to secular institutes: 'Bring the world to the Church'

In a message for the 75th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution “Provida Mater Ecclesia”, Pope Francis highlights the vital role played by Secular Institutes in the Church and society.

By Lisa Zengarini

Pope Francis sent a message on Wednesday marking the 75th anniversary of “Provida Mater Ecclesia”. 

On 2 February 1947, Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution, recognizing Secular Institutes as a new form of official consecration in the Catholic Church.

Papal recognition of Secular Institutes

Secular Institutes are societies whose members attempt to attain Christian perfection through the practice of poverty, chastity and obedience and to carry out the work of the Church while “living in the world”.  They do not require public vows, a distinctive garb, and communal life.

Though most of them are composed of lay people, they may also be clerical, or both. Unlike Apostolic Societies, dedicated to a particular work, they are organizations of Catholics who share a certain vision lived out personally.

Secular Institutes received papal recognition at a time when this particular form Christian witness, dating back to the 16th century, was attracting a growing number of Catholic lay men and women.  Their specific secular charism was further defined in 1948 in Pope Pius XII’s  Motu Proprio Letter “Primo Feliciter” and in the Instruction “Cum Sanctissimus” by the Congregation for Consecrated Life.

A gift to the Church

In his message addressed to the Chairperson of the World Conference of Secular Institutes, Ms Jolanta Szpilarewicz, Pope Francis encouraged their members to preserve this identity and to continue their “creative and prophetic work” which, he said, has made them “a great gift to the Church before and after the Second Vatican Council.”

Consecration and secularity

The Pope's letter highlights the importance of conciliating the two distinct dimensions of “consecration” and “secularity”, remarking that their status must not be confused with that of religious life.

"You should be animated by the desire to live a ‘holy secularity’, because you are a lay institution,” the Pope says, stressing that “it is Baptism that constitutes the first and most radical form of consecration.”

He notes that both the Greek term ‘hagios’ and the Latin word ‘sanctus’ refer not so much to what is ‘good’ in itself, but to ‘what belongs to God’.

"With baptism,” he explains, “we belong to Him. We are founded in an everlasting communion with God and with one another. This irreversible union is the root of all holiness, and also gives us strength to separate from worldliness.”

Being seed and leven in Church and society

Pope Francis goes on to say that the peculiar charism of Secular Institutes calls on their members “to be radical and at the same time free and creative” in their Christian witness so as to be “seed and leven”, both in Church and society.

While noting that Secular Institutes “have experienced numerous changes in advance” and have played a vital role in bringing the Church to an ever-changing world, he stresses that “a further step” is needed today to “make the world (not worldliness!), present in the Church.”

“This”, he explains, “does not mean returning to the sacristy, but being ‘receptive antennas’, which transmit messages.”

Giving flavor to the faith

Recalling his encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis points out that secular consecrated life is a “prophetic sign” requiring concrete action rather than words, if is to reveal the love of the Father.

“This is a time for witness, because apologetic rhetoric divides, while  beauty attracts,“ he says.

The Pope therefore encourages Secular Institutes to continue putting into practice the Gospel's call to be “leaven and salt” of the world.

“Be a leaven of truth, goodness and beauty, making communion ferment with the brothers and sisters who are close to you, because only through fraternity can the virus of individualism be defeated. And be salt that gives taste, because without flavor, desire and amazement, life remains insipid and initiatives remain sterile.”

Looking forward

Recalling how Secular Institutes prophetically “anticipated” the Second Vatican Council, the Pope concludes by inviting their members “to be sentinels who look up and forward, with the Word of God in their hearts and love for brothers and sisters in their hands.”

02 February 2022, 15:49