Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life (3): consecration as a specification of baptismal grace

Let me start this post with a couple of anecdotes. From time to time I attend Mass at St Patrick's Soho Square. On one such occasion, having been asked to do one of the readings, I noticed that those asked to do the second reading and bidding prayers were, like me, using Magnificat to aid their participation in the liturgy. From time to time, I am sure that I share the experience of others in meeting a Catholic who has a more than typical awareness of (not the same as perfection in, I hasten to add!) what is involved in living a Christian life. Enquiry not infrequently reveals that they have gained that awareness from participation in the life of one or other of the new ecclesial movements. On the one hand this suggests a certain inadequacy in parish life that is in itself unable to form such stronger Christian living; but on the other hand, rather than necessarily indicating an inadequacy, it indicates that a certain "more" is needed for a vivid living of a Christian life.

The primary consecration of the faithful, and that which is most represented by parish life in its celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, is that of the sacraments of initiation. As Lumen Gentium n.10 (cf also  Apostolicam Actuositatem n.3 in particular reference to baptism and confirmation as the basis of the office of the lay person in the Church) teaches:
Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people "a kingdom and priests to God the Father". The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.
We can suggest that this baptismal/confirmational consecration represents a seed that needs to grow throughout a subsequent living of the Christian life, and that it therefore requires a "more" in order to achieve its fruition. That "more" can be expressed, and is lived, in many different ways in the life of the Church; but what each of those ways has in common is that they are in some way a more specific manifesting or expressing of the consecration first received in baptism and confirmation. In the anecdote above, that particular specification of baptismal/confirmational consecration comes about through experience of the charism of an ecclesial movement. When Pope Francis, and his predecessors, speak of the need for a "personal, living relationship with Christ" they too are speaking of a greater specification of the original consecration of baptism and confirmation which do, indeed, themselves involve a relationship with Christ. Marian consecration is to be understood in this way, too, as is the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" of the Charismatic Renewal.

The consecration, as consecration, represented by the profession of the evangelical counsels is one manner, with a particular excellence, of this specific living of the consecration first received in baptism and confirmation. Speaking of religious life, Lumen Gentium n.44, says:
Indeed through Baptism a person dies to sin and is consecrated to God. However, in order that he may be capable of deriving more abundant fruit from this baptismal grace, he intends, by the profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church, to free himself from those obstacles, which might draw him away from the fervor of charity and the perfection of divine worship. By his profession of the evangelical counsels, then, he is more intimately consecrated to divine service. 

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