In the great family of Carmel, Notre Dame de Vie (Our Lady of Life) is a secular institute.
On 21 November 1973 the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life recognised NOTRE DAME DE VIE as one single Institute made up of priests, laymen and laywomen.
The Institute is made up of three independent branches :
- the laywomen’s branch
- the laymen’s branch
- the priest’s branch
They have their own constitutions and are each governed by a person in charge, his or her assistant and a council.
A Superior Council made up of the people in charge of the three branches ensures unity and faithfulness to the spirit of Notre Dame de Vie.
In the Church
In the Church there are more than 200 secular institutes which comprise around 25,000 members (as of 31 December 2010).
A new vocation
« Your lives express this deep need for a synthesis, the simultaneous affirmation of two characteristics :
- The full consecration of life according to the evangelical counsels ;
- The full responsibility of a presence and a transforming action within the world to shape it, make it holy and bring it to perfection. »
(Pope Paul VI, 2 February 1972)
A mission in the Church
” By a life perfectly and entirely consecrated to sanctification of the world, the members of secular institutes share in the Church’s task of evangelization, in the world and from within the world, where their presence acts as leaven in the world. Their witness of a Christian life aims to order temporal things according to God and inform the world with the power of the gospel.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n° 929)
(John Paul II to members of secular institutes, 2 March 1997)
“Announce the beauty of God and his creation. Following Christ, be men and women of gentleness and mercy, capable of travelling the ways of the world and doing only good. Put the Beatitudes at the heart of your life, contradicting human logic to make manifest your unconditional trust in God, who wants man to be happy. The Church needs you in order to carry out its mission to the full. Be seeds of holiness thrown from full hands into the furrows of history … Write by your life and your witness parables of hope, write them by works sprung from the “creativity of charity”…”
(Benedict XVI to the congress of secular institutes, 4 February 2007)
A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life whose members live a normal life. They have a job or a ministry and try to carry out all their activities according to God. They take part in evangelization by their presence in different environments and by their witness of a Christian life. The members of these institutes are laypeople and secular priests. The commitments they make in their vows are a true consecration recognized by the Church. They live in celibacy for the kingdom of God, in a spirit of evangelical poverty and in complete adherence to the will of God as shown by obedience to a rule of life and to the person in charge of them.
In May 2014 Pope Francis addressed the Italian Secular Institutes (extracts from his speech):
JI know and I appreciate your vocation! It is one of the newer forms of consecrated life recognized and approved by the Church, and perhaps one that is not yet fully understood. Do not be discouraged: you are part of that poor and outward reaching Church that I dream of! (…)
Yours is an outward reaching vocation by nature, not only because it brings you to others, but also because it asks you to live where every man lives. (…)
You are like antennas ready to seize the seeds of innovation prompted by the Holy Spirit, and you can help the ecclesial community to take on this gaze of goodness and find new and bold ways to reach all peoples. Poor among the poor, but with a burning heart. Never still, always on the move. Together and sent out, even when you are alone, because your consecration makes you a living spark of the Church. Always on the road with the virtue of pilgrims: joy !
To find out more, read Les Instituts séculiers : une vocation pour le nouveau millénaire (The Secular Institutes : A vocation for the new millennium) by Pierre Langeron (Éditions du Cerf).