Archdiocesan Mass celebrates Consecrated Life on Feb. 4

January 23, 2024

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo greets a group of Dominican women religious following a Mass for World Day for Consecrated Life. Cardinal DiNardo will celebrate the 2024 Mass for Consecrated Life at 11 a.m. on Feb. 4 at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. (Herald file photo)

HOUSTON — On Feb. 4, women and men in consecrated life will gather in celebration with Daniel Cardinal DiNardo at the 11 a.m. Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, located at 1111 St. Joseph Pkwy. in downtown Houston.

This event, which is open to the public, is a special time for parishes to celebrate the gift of consecrated life and pray for men and women discerning a consecrated vocation with the global Catholic Church. This celebration joins churches around the world during its annual celebration of World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life on Feb. 2. Parishes will commemorate the event over the weekend of Feb. 3 to 4.

In Galveston-Houston, there are approximately 400 women and 185 men in consecrated and religious life — prophetic signs of God’s closeness and eagerness to share their lives, hopes and joys at this time of celebration. Local religious serve in a broad variety of ministries: as priests, educators, ministers in health care, retreat work and spiritual direction, catechetical ministry, pastoral care, and services among the homebound, the poor and the marginalized.

In 1997, then-pope St. John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.

This feast is also known as Candlemas Day, the day on which candles are blessed, symbolizing Christ, who is the light of the world. So, too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been different forms of consecrated life and various ways of expressing a desire to follow Christ more intimately. Through vows of lifelong celibacy and often through vows of poverty and obedience, men and women have sought to follow Christ’s own example as closely as possible. Consecrated life may be lived as a member of an institute, such as in a religious congregation, or individually, where vows are made to the diocesan bishop.

Religious Life

Religious life is the form of consecrated life that Catholics are most familiar with. There are hundreds of different religious orders or congregations, each of which contributes a particular gift to the life of the Church. We are familiar with some within our own Archdiocese, including Dominicans, Carmelites and Franciscans. Within religious life, the main distinction is between monks and nuns, who live in an enclosed convent or monastery, and religious who work outside the cloister, for example, in education, health care or evangelization.

Religious make vows of lifelong celibacy, poverty and obedience (though these are named differently in some congregations). They usually live in a community where they support each other, in prayer, in ministry and in providing for the daily needs of each one.

Each religious congregation is a public witness to one particular way of following Christ. Some religious wear distinctive clothing or habits, others express their solidarity with those among whom they live and work by wearing ordinary clothes, often with a cross or distinctive symbol of their religious congregation.

Many male religious are priests, but there is also a strong tradition of religious brothers in the Church. Male religious congregations can be made up of only brothers (such as the De La Salle Brothers), only priests (such as the Marist Fathers), or both (such as the Capuchin Franciscans), where members who are priests and those who are brothers express together the essential charism of the congregation.

Consecrated virgins, consecrated widows and widowers

Long before the emergence of religious life, consecrated virgins and widows had a distinctive identity in the Church. St. Paul describes women who remained unmarried and devoted themselves to prayer (1 Cor 7) and records the personal qualities required to be eligible to be ‘enrolled’ as a widow (1 Tim 5). However, as communal forms of consecrated life gradually became the central form of ecclesial consecration, these ancient Orders disappeared.
However, in the 1960s, the Church reinstated the Order of Virgins, where women who have not lost virginity through voluntary intercourse and who have never married are consecrated to perpetual virginity, to a life of prayer and penance, and to the service of the Church under the guidance of their local bishop.

Consecrated hermits

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been a small number of people who are called to the life of a hermit — a call to leave “the world” to seek God in solitude, austerity and prayer. Today, most hermits are attached to a religious community, in which they have lived and grown to a mature understanding of their particular calling. For example, Thomas Merton lived in community as a Trappist monk for 25 years before becoming a hermit attached to his community.

Societies of Apostolic Life

A society of apostolic life is a group of men or women within the Catholic Church who have come together for a specific purpose. While members of apostolic societies have some community life, the mission of the community is given emphasis. Examples of these include the Companions of the Cross, the Paulist Fathers, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Consecration in a Secular Institute

Secular institutes are a relatively new form of consecration in the Church. They developed in the 20th century, enabling lay people to live entirely in the secular world of work and society while also promising to live in poverty, chastity and obedience, according to the institute. Through this distinctive form of consecration in the world, members of Secular Institutes contribute in a particular way to the Church’s evangelizing mission by helping to ensure that the Church has an effective presence in society. 

In his message for the 2023 World Day for Consecrated Life, Pope Francis said, “You consecrated persons have a specific role that derives from the particular gift you have received: a gift that gives your witness a special character and value, for the very fact that you are fully dedicated to God and to His kingdom, in poverty, virginity and obedience. If each person is a mission in the Church, then each and every one of you is a mission with a grace of your own, as a consecrated person.”