Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life (4): what is "consecration"?

I have already noted that the "consecration" of those who live the consecrated life in the Church is a greater specification  of their original baptismal/conformational consecration: The Year of Consecrated Life (3): consecration as a specification of baptismal grace . This post wishes to explore further the meaning of the word "consecration".

Fr Rene Laurentin wrote  a book, based on a previous course, which was published in French in 1991. It's French title is Retour a Dieu acec Marie: De la secularisation a la consecration - literally "Return to God with Mary: from secularisation to consecration".   In English, it has been published as The Meaning of Consecration Today: A Marian model for a secularised age. The book is particularly dedicated to exploring the place of Marian consecration in the Church. Chapter 4, however, entitled "They Mystery of Consecration" surveys and develops an understanding of the meaning of the term "consecration" in general.

In surveying the Biblical development of the idea of consecration, Fr Laurentin considers it to mean the movement of an object or person into the sacred domain of God. As such it involves an aspect of separation - nothing profane can touch a sacred object - and it involves an aspect of union with God - sacred things belong to God and are not to be used for other purposes. In the context of the Old Testament, Fr Laurentin observes:
Sacrifice, which is a consecratory act, involves these same two negative and positive aspects, separation and union, and also the same transference.
Fr Laurentin also points out that the Jewish prophets protested against a consecration that limited itself to the external forms and lacked the essential heart - the sacrifice of the heart in a turning towards God.

Still in the context of the Old Testament, it is persons (the high priest, first born males), objects and places (the tabernacle, the Temple in Jerusalem), and times (the Sabbath) that can be consecrated - that is separated from the profane and dedicated towards God. These consecrations are also expressed in signs (circumcision), that then in themselves become consecrated.

He suggests that Jesus left to his Church a much reduced ritual, comprising especially the Sacraments. Within this dynamic of consecration there is a "moment" in which God acts - it is the divine intervention which achieves a consecration that has been sought by the movement and desire of the person.

Fr Laurentin then devotes a section to considering the juridical aspects of consecration in the Church, noting an at times unclear use of the term. Usefully emerging in this discussion is a distinction between consecration as a divine act (the "inner meaning" for want of a better term, and denoting the action of God in the heart of the one who is consecrated) and consecration as a human act (the "rite" that is undertaken). It is the former which will fully realise the latter. The section concludes by citing canon 607 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law:
As a consecration of the whole person, religious life manifests in the Church a wonderful marriage brought about by God, a sign of the future age. Thus the religious brings to perfection a total self-giving as a sacrifice offered to God, through which his or her whole existence becomes a continuous worship of God in charity.
In his short theological analysis, Fr Laurentin follows St Thomas Aquinas in recognising that it is only persons who  are consecrated in the sense of being engaged in the life of God, and that places and objects are consecrated only with regard to their purpose.

The final section of this Chapter is entitled "The essence of Consecration":
Consecration properly so called is nothing else but divinization: the transformation of human life into divine life by the communication of the latter, offered to our participating liberty. This process is not a passage or crossing in the material sense form earth into heaven. Rather, it is a transformation, or transfinalization, or transfiguration of human life - a life penetrated, elevated, and supernaturalized from within by the gift of divine life, that is to say, by the love of God: his agape. It is given to us by means of consecration to know and love God as God, that is to say, by God's love, not by our own love.
God realizes this transformation by means of grace..... [(Grace] is a new actuation of the soul by God, by means of his own life. The actuation serves to raise human acts to God's level; it permits us to know and love God in himself, as if it were God himself knowing and loving himself in the interpersonal relation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From this fact we come to know and love others also as God loves them - with and by him. It is in this way that the love of neighbour is to be identified with the love of God (cf Rom 12:9-10).....
By grace we pass beyond the order of natural and scientific knowledge in order to arrive at a connatural and existential knowledge of God, comprising a special wisdom, intuition and union. At the same time, eros (egoistic love) will be transformed into agape, that is, divine love, capable of loving quite gratuitously, as God knows how to love.... 
 A first observation to be made on Fr Laurentin's account is that the external form of the consecration is one thing, and its realization in the life of God-love another. The consecrated person needs to participate in their freedom in order that the fullness of this realization can come in to being.

A second observation is that it is based on a particular understanding of nature and grace. The polarities of separation (from the world) and union (with God), and of transformation of the human into the divine life are dependent on this understanding. One can acknowledge that the profane from which one moves away is not profane in the sense of having a complete lack of any divine presence; but nevertheless it is less than being directly God himself.

A third observation is that the characteristics that Fr Laurentin finds in the Old Testament accounts - separation and union, the consecration of places and times, the consecration of persons and the existence of consecrating signs - can all be recognised, in a different way, in the life of the monk or enclosed nun of today. The life of a consecrated religious in an apostolic society will perhaps lose something of the element of separation, though not altogether, though their life should retain a consecration of place (the chapel) and time (hours of prayer). For the consecrated person living in the world, the reflection on how these characteristics are relevant to their consecration, if at all (it may be that they are superseded in a certain purity of consecration) is more complex.

And a final thought: if you do have access to Fr Laurentin's book, do read the parable of the "Orbit of God" at the end of this chapter, in which he uses the idea of planets in orbit around the sun and electrons in orbit around the nucleus to develop a way of presenting the notion of consecration.

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