Consecrated Life (Catholic Church)
Consecrated life, in the canonical sense defined by the Catholic Church, is a stable form of Christian living by those faithful who feel called to follow Jesus Christ in a more exacting way recognized by the Church. It "is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church". The Code of Canon Law defines it as "a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory."
What makes the consecrated life a more exacting way of Christian living is the public vows or other sacred bonds whereby the consecrated persons commit themselves, for the love of God, to observe as binding the counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience from the Christian Gospel, or at least, in the case of consecrated virgins and widows/widowers, a vow of total chastity. The Benedictine vow as laid down in the Rule of St Benedict, ch. 58:17, is analogous to the more usual vow of religious institutes. Consecrated persons are not part of the Catholic Church hierarchy, unless they are also ordained bishops, priests or deacons.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments: "From the very beginning of the Church there were men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate him more closely, by practising the evangelical counsels. They led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families. These the Church, by virtue of her authority, gladly accepted and approved."
Consecrated life may be lived in institutes, in which the members may be either clergy or laity, or it may be lived individually.
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