VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and reflect on the major changes it brought to consecrated life, the Vatican’s congregation for religious has overhauled the course it offers on theology and canon law.
The Second Vatican Council’s call for religious to return to the founding inspiration of their orders and, at the same time, to respond to the needs of the modern world “was not an easy task,” said Sister Nicla Spezzati, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ and undersecretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
“Laudable initiatives were undertaken by various institutes and organizations,” she told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
At the same time, she said, there was also “a certain ‘experimental’ character,” which made it “difficult to find a wise balance” in how religious orders could remain faithful to their founding inspiration while adapting to modern needs and concerns.
In the past 50 years, Sister Spezzati said, religious orders faced enormous challenges and most of them experienced “tensions that were painful at times” as they rewrote their constitutions and attempted to minister in the church and to a changing world by in a way that flowed from the original inspiration of their order.
The congregation for religious, which for 60 years has offered a two-year course in theology and canon law, has revised and expanded the program in the hopes that it will help leaders in religious congregations and diocesan officials working with religious better respond to challenges posed by the Gospel, the tradition of the church and papal teaching, and their vows to follow Christ in poverty, chastity and obedience, Sister Spezzati said.
“The essence of consecrated life is simple and must be proposed and lived as such,” she said. “Nevertheless, this simplicity must be able to respond to the questions that today’s culture poses.”
“One must be able to identify the path that brings everything back to the essential, which is and always will remain the mystery of a vocation to follow Christ in the radical style of the Gospel,” she said.
Religious orders experienced the same tensions as the wider Catholic community because of the way they interpreted the teachings of Vatican II — seeing them as a complete break with tradition or viewing them a development of tradition, Sister Spezzati said.
“Within the reality of consecrated life where a ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity’ prevailed, there were more serious problems,” both in relations between members and in identifying and living the specific identity of each order, she said.
The congregation’s new course includes 200 hours of lectures and seminars over a two-year period. Courses begin Oct. 24 at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome. It is open to religious, priests and laypeople interested in the topic. Those who successfully complete the program will be awarded a diploma recognizing them as an “expert” in church teaching and canon law on consecrated life.