Adaptation and renewal of Religious Life: Go back to the sources in the past Print
Reflections on Religious Life
Thursday, Jun. 04, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Reflections on Religious Life column by Abbot Marcel Rooney

Editor’s note: During this Year of Consecrated Life, this is the fifth in a series based on the Second Vatican Council’s document, Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life) written by Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, former abbot primate of the Benedictine order who now resides in Madison.

This commentary on the Second Vatican Council's Decree On the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life has already examined the council's basic understanding of the role of Religious Life in the Church.

If this special vocation within the Church is to be renewed, just how would one go about that?

The Council Fathers answered in a particular way in Article 6 of the decree.

Go back to the past

The first way to renew for the future is to go back to the past.

• "Drawing therefore upon the authentic sources of Christian spirituality . . ." -- Christian spirituality has seen many different manifestations over the 20 centuries of the Church's history. Some of these were quite specifically aimed at situations in life in which the Church found itself at a given time.

For example, when there were naval battles between Islam and the Western powers, it was not uncommon for sailors and other travelers to be kidnapped and held for ransom.

One can understand how some very charitable folks would want to create a group, even a whole new Religious Order, dedicated to "ransoming the captives" who had been caught in this unfortunate situation.

But this is a relatively unique situation, which has not lasted to our own historical period. Therefore, a Religious group founded to deal with that unique situation would definitely be in need of renewal today.

Return to sources

• "Return to the authentic sources" -- The statement of the Council Fathers calls first of all for an examination of all forms of Religious Life in the light of the Sacred Scriptures.

This will entail a renewal of the prayer life of every religious community -- just as has been called for in every parish throughout the world.

The renewal of the sacred liturgy, then, is for Religious tied to the renewal of their own lives. It is not their task to try to come up with "new" liturgies, unique to their own communities. Rather, "they should celebrate the sacred liturgy . . . as the Church desires, and so nourish their spiritual life from this richest of sources" (Decree, #6).

It is especially in prayer, when it is authentically from the heart and not merely the recitation by rote of traditional formulas, that we meet Christ, the center and heart of all the Sacred Scriptures.

Religious life is a life completely devoted to Jesus, in form and spirit. Otherwise, it is just a form of fraternity or sorority such as one would find on a college campus.

Religious do not live together as a community just because they like each other. Rather, they do so because they have been called to devote their lives to Christ and to the Church through one particular way of self-surrender.

But all the forms which different orders take will be based on the Holy Spirit teaching and forming through the Word of God at a given time in history.

Re-examine founders

At the source of every Religious Order is a founder (or group of founders) who were fired by the grace of the Holy Spirit, inspired by the teaching and example of Jesus, and driven to answer the needs of the Church and the world in which they lived.

What the council wanted was for all Religious to examine their lives so as to return to that original inspiration and allow it to breathe renewal into every aspect of thought and practice.

Once this re-examination was done, then the order would be able to see where adaptation to changed conditions would be required.

Such adaptation would be as a rule aimed at updating and refocusing apostolates, while maintaining the heart of the original charism, especially as regards community prayer and the life of charity.

If that were done, the Council Fathers were convinced, a profound renewal of the entire Church could be assisted and furthered.

The renewal of this one group, Religious Orders, then, would make a great contribution toward the renewal of all groups and individuals throughout the Church.


Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art. The institute is dedicated to the renewal of the sacred liturgy in our churches and other Catholic institutions. If its work would be helpful in your parish, call 608- 203-6735.