Explanation of Consecration
Theological Foundations For a Consecration to the Holy Angel
Jubilation: The Consecration to the Holy Angels
At the request of the Delegate of the Holy See, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently approved a consecration to the holy Angels for Opus Angelorum. The Congregation for the Faith declared that this consecration prayer submitted for approval is “not contrary to the theological-spiritual Tradition” of the Church.
This consecration, insists the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, should be understood and fostered according to the “patristic, thomistic and counter-reform Tradition” as well as according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, for it is “only with a positive integration in Tradition that this spirituality can find a proper place for itself in the multiplicity of Catholic devotions”. It is therefore appropriate that we reflect upon the meaning and purpose of holy consecrations and especially upon a consecration to the holy Angels within the Church.
The Deposit of Faith: The Foundation of every Spirituality
Why was it, anyway, that in the Decree issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on June 6, 1992 “the various forms of consecration to the Angels (‘Engelweihen’) practiced in Opus Angelorum” were prohibited? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was concerned about the proper anchoring and growth of the OA in the Church. So it was that in the Decree the theological principles were articulated in appropriate guidelines: for every spirituality in the Catholic Church there can only be one foundation, the Deposit of Faith. A prophetic charism may, indeed, give a new spiritual impulse, it may cast a light upon the truths of Faith, especially those which may fall into the shadows and be neglected. But a charism may never lay another foundation.
Consecrations to the holy Angels as such were not condemned, but rather only those consecrations to the holy Angels, as they were understood and practiced in the Opus Angelorum.
Before we present the now approved Consecration to the holy Angels in the next Circular Letter, we want to reflect presently upon how a consecration to the holy Angels is anchored in the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
On The Essence and History of Consecrations
Generally speaking, the word ‘consecration’ means a dedication of persons or things to the Divine Cult. The consecrated person or object is withdrawn from profane use and placed in the holy service of God. This holy ‘setting apart’ takes place either through the direct initiative of God or through a rite or a blessing.
Every consecration in the History of Salvation has its origin in God. It is He Who chooses individuals for His service and calls them into communion with Himself. Since God intends a covenant of love, He requires the free answer on the part of the creature. For this reason, man’s answer to God may also be called a ‘consecration’. Consecration and covenant are found throughout the entire History of Salvation; and they find their acme and fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ.
Consecration and Covenant in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament God chose and ‘sanctified’ the entire people of Israel for Himself, that is to say, He ‘set them apart in His priestly’ service (cf. Ex 19,6; Catechism of the Catholic Church =CCC, nr. 1539); He established a covenant with them to the glory of His name.
From the midst of this priestly people God further chose the tribe of Levi and “set it apart for liturgical service” (CCC 1539, cf. Num 1,48ff). The priests were “appointed to act in behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5,1). The goal of the consecration, both of the people and of the priests, is the glorification of God. This, however, is achieved through the sanctification of persons who are called to union with God.
The New Covenant in Jesus Christ
The original and principal consecration is that of the human nature of the Word of God made flesh, unto Whom all other consecrations are ordered. Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed, Consecrated One, is the Mediator between God and man, the true High Priest, the Head of the Church. The consecration, separation and sanctification of the People of God in the OT, together with its cult and priesthood, was a type, a ‘shadow’, of the New Covenant, which Christ, in virtue of His sacrifice, His consecration of Self, established: “I sanctify (consecrate) Myself for them, so that they too may be sanctified (consecrated) in the truth” (Jn 17,19). It is only in and through Jesus Christ that the divinely worked consecration receives the effective sealing in the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 1,13).
Sacraments of the Church
Through the ministry of the Church Christ brings about — particularly in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders — the consecration of man by granting him a share in His own priesthood and holiness. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2,9).
This participation is impressed upon the soul through the sacramental character, which is an indelible, spiritual mark of the covenant of the Divine consecration and the basis for sanctity in the Church. Through these Sacraments, the faithful receive a share in the priestly office of Christ as well as the gift of sanctifying grace. Consequently, they are no longer of the world (cf. Jn 17,14); and through their bond to Christ they are dedicated to the service of God.
Man’s Response to God as Consecration
In the Sacraments
Since in the aforementioned sacraments one is dealing with a covenant between God and man, it follows that man, for his part, must freely consent to the sacramental consecration in faith. Consequently and drawing on their efficacy, he should conduct his life in a way pleasing to God. By their share in the priesthood of Christ, the faithful are enabled to render fitting worship to God and to participate in the liturgy of the Church.
The theological virtues of faith, hope and charity bind us immediately to God, whereas religion is that virtue by which man subjects himself perfectly to God and pays Him due homage in Divine worship and service (cf. Summa Theol. II-II.81,3,2m). With regard to charity, St. Thomas highlights the difference in the following manner: “It belongs immediately to [the virtue of] charity that man should give himself to God, adhering to Him by a union of the spirit; but it belongs immediately to religion, and, through the medium of religion, to charity which is the principle of religion, that man should give himself to God for certain works of Divine worship” (Summa Theol. II-II.82,2,1m).
The celebration of the liturgy is the summit of Divine worship. “The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ’s insistent love. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured fourth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness” (Vatican II, On the Sacred Liturgy, nr. 10).
The primary and principal act of Divine worship is devotion.”The word ‘devotion’,” explains St. Thomas, “is derived from the word ‘devovere’ [to devote, to dedicate, to make a vow], wherefore those persons are said to be devout who, in a way, devote themselves to God, so as to subject themselves wholly to Him” (Summa Theol. II-II.82,1c). ‘Devotion’ can therefore be fittingly rendered as the zealous will to dedicate one’s self to God.
In the Consecrated Life
In general, “all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love” (Vatican II, On the Church, nr. 40). This means, first of all, a pursuit of perfection according to the consecrations of Baptism and Confirmation and the basic obligations attached to them, namely to observe the commandments of God and to participate in the Divine cult.
Beyond that, there is, however, an even more perfect way to live this consecration: “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 practicing the evangelical counsels. They led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way” (Vatican II, On the Up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life, nr. 1). Whoever wants to be perfect can offer themselves to God under a new title, namely, through the perfect renunciation of earthly possessions, marriage and self-determination, in order to follow Christ more closely and to belong to Him fully. The Church accepts the vows of the consecrated life in the name of the Lord (cf. ibid., nr. 5). The vows as means to serve and glorify God constitute acts of Divine worship and devotion
Consequently, there are two meanings of ‘devotion’ that derive from man’s answer to God: the one being found in the reception of the sacraments, the other in the profession of the evangelical counsels. In each case, in their own proper way, men are separated from the world and enabled to lead a life pleasing to God.
Since the covenant between God and man is ratified by mutual consent and acceptance, the same word ‘devotion’ indicates both the Divine causality and the response of man.
In Acts of Piety and Devotion
Beyond the sacramental consecrations and the vows of the religious life there are still further acts of ‘devotion’ in the life of the Church. In these the faithful recommend themselves to the special protection of the Lord or commit themselves to acts in honor of God or in the service of neighbor. Through these acts they hope to honor God, gain special graces, strength and other fruits. In this context we can speak of dedicatory consecrations and entrustments.
Although such consecrations, according to their rank and nature, are subordinated to the religious vows, still they belong to the same virtue of devotion (cf. CCC 2102). They bear the name ‘consecration’ precisely because they contain a permanent resolve to practice a particular devotion that has been approved by the Church. The Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a classic example.
Pope Pius XI teaches: “But assuredly among those things which properly pertain to the worship of the Most Sacred Heart, a special place must be given to that consecration, whereby we devote ourselves and all things that are ours to the Divine Heart of Jesus …” “[Moreover], the consecration proclaims and confirms this union with Christ” (Encyclical Most Merciful Redeemer, nr. 4 and nr. 11).
Pope Pius XII further teaches: “It is beyond question that this devotion is an act of religion of high order; it demands of us a complete and unreserved determination to devote and consecrate ourselves to the love of the divine Redeemer” (Encyclical Haurietis Aquas). Not surprisingly, he affirms it to be: “a religious practice which helps very much towards the attaining of Christian perfection” (ibid.).
Consecration to Mary and the Holy Angels
The goal of devotion is always the glorification and service of God. The question arises, whether holy creatures may be venerated. The liturgical veneration of the Mother of God, of the Angels and Saints gives a positive answer to this question. St. Thomas explains why: “Devotion to God’s holy ones … does not terminate in them, but passes on to God, in so far as we honor God in His servants” (Summa Theol. II-II.82,2,3m).
In the course of history, several different devotions have, in fact, led to consecrations which are not addressed exclusively to God but which are directed towards holy creatures, e.g., to the Blessed Mother, the Angels and Saints. Such consecrations present the full development of the respective veneration or devotion. The ultimate goal of such a consecration remains always the glorification of God. A consecration to a holy creature establishes a certain communion in love, by which the faithful hope to love God even more and to serve Him even better. This is especially true in the case of the Mother of God.
Consecration to the Mother of God
The historical roots of the Consecration to Mary lie in the early history of Christianity. One of the oldest Marian prayers, the Sub tuum praesidium, already contains an act of devotion, in which the faithful entrust themselves to her protection.
According to St. Louis de Montfort (?1716) the consecration to Mary consists “in giving ourselves entirely to Our Lady, in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her” (True Devotion, 121). This perfect devotion to Mary brings with it the duty to make a perfect renewal of one’s baptismal promises, and yields the corresponding fruit of aspecial maternal solicitude on the part of Mary. In a word, St. Louis founded the Consecration to Mary on the baptismal promises, which he saw as a ‘covenant’ which is ordered to leading us to Jesus through Mary. The ‘more’, in terms of duty, consists in doing “all our actions by Mary, in Mary, and for Mary; so that we may do them all the more perfectly by Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus” (ibid., 257).
In a discourse to members of the Marian Society Pope Pius XII explained: “The consecration to the Mother of God … is a complete gift of self for one’s entire life and eternity; it is not just a sentimental gift or a mere formality, but an effective gift, accomplished in the intensity of the Christian and Marian life, in the apostolic life, by which the members are made ministers of Mary, and so, in a way, become her visible hands on earth, with the spontaneous overflowing of a superabundant interior life which channels itself into all the exterior works of solid devotion, cult, charity and zeal” (Discourse, Jan. 21,1945).
Pope Paul VI exhorted all the faithful “to renew personally their consecration to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of the Church and to bring alive this most noble act of veneration through a life ever more consonant with the divine will and in a spirit of filial service and of devout imitation of their heavenly Queen” (Signum Magnum, 8).
When Pope John Paul II, in union with the bishops of the world, consecrated mankind to the Mother of God, he linked the consecration to Mary with Christ’s consecration of Himself to the Father: “Mother of Christ, before your Immaculate Heart, we desire, together with the whole Church, to unite ourselves with the consecration which, for love of us, your Son made of Himself to the Father: ‘For their sake’, He said, ‘I consecrate Myself that they also may be consecrated in the truth’ (Jn 17,19)” (Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, The Message of Fátima, June 2000, p.6-7).
Here again, in this consecration, we aspire through Mary’s help, to a more perfect participation in the self-consecration of Jesus, our divine Redeemer, to His Father (cf. Jn 17,19) for the salvation of the world. The consecration to Mary is directed, therefore, to Christ as its proper goal: by means of this consecration and union with Mary the individual is not only a recipient of the redemptive graces of Christ, but takes active part in the redemptive work of Christ.
Consecrations to the Holy Angels
On the meaning of a Consecration to the holy Angels
The possibility of a consecration to the holy Angels follows upon the very nature of the virtue of devotion. Indeed, “the Church venerates the Angels” (CCC 352) and recommends this devotion for the glorification of God: “Father,… we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks. In praising Your faithful Angels and Archangels, we also praise Your glory, for in honoring them, we honor You their creator” (Roman Missal, Preface to Mass of the Angels).
St. Bernard indicates how we ought to love and honor the Angels: “‘He has given His Angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways.’ How these words should induce respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence; respect for their presence, devotion over their loving service, and confidence in their protection. … Let us be devoted and grateful to such great protectors; let us return their love and honor them as much as we can and should. Yet all our love and honor must go to Him [God], for it is from Him that they receive all that makes them worthy of our love and respect” (Sermo 12 in Ps 91). In this reverent submission, devotion, confidence, gratitude and resolution are expressed many of the elements of a consecration to the Angels, which goes beyond them expressing our ultimate relationship with the Lord.
On the History of the Consecration to the Angels
In the Old Testament God Himself placed His Chosen People under the protection of the holy Angels (cf. Ex 23,20f.; Dan 10,13.21; 12,1). As Prince of the heavenly hosts, St. Michael was understood to be the special protector of the People of God (cf. Dan 10,21; Rev 12,7f).
In the Church the veneration of St. Michael goes back to the First Century. From the earliest days of the Church the Angels in general were also honored. Churches were soon dedicated to the Angels, and the people of God sought their protection and patronage.
After the Council of Trent (1545-1563), when the consecrations to the Sacred Heart and to the Blessed Mother began to thrive, consecrations to the holy Angels also appeared in many places. In the 19th century, such consecrations to the Angels became a widespread and acknowledged practice of piety. Many pious organizations in honor of the Angels foresaw such a consecration for the admittance of new members. The Church fostered these societies in honor of the holy Angels and acknowledged their prayers of consecration.
In the consecration to the holy Angels the unity of the pilgrim and triumphant Church is expressed. St. Augustine writes: “Both parts together will make one eternal consort, as even now they are one in the bond of love — the whole instituted for the proper worship of the one God” (Enchiridion, 15). And in the Catechism we read: “Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of Angels and men united to God” (CCC nr. 336).
Relation to Baptism and Religious Vows
The consecration to the holy Angels, like that to the Blessed Mother, is a covenant that is based on the consecration to Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism. At Baptism we renounced the fallen Angels and said, ‘yes’ to Christ. This ‘yes’ to Christ brings not only union with Him and the human members of His Mystical Body, but also communion with the holy Angels (cf. Heb 12,22f), since Christ is not only the Head of mankind but also of the holy Angels (cf. Summa Theol. III.8,4 sc; Col 2,10).
Many Fathers of the Church drew attention to the relation between Baptism and the world of the holy Angels. St. Cyril of Jerusalem tells the baptismal candidates: “Each one of you is about to be presented to God before tens of thousands of the Angelic Hosts: the Holy Ghost is about to seal your souls: you are to be enrolled in the army of the Great King” (Catechesis III,3).
St. Leo the Great describes the Christian confession and the grace of Redemption through Christ as a military oath by which we are enlisted as combatants into the heavenly host, and encourages: “By the Incarnation of the Word you were given power to return from afar to your Maker, so that you who were born of corruptible flesh, may be reborn by the Spirit of God and obtain through grace what you had not from nature, and, … dare to call God ‘Father’. … Do God’s will supported by the Divine help, imitate the Angels on earth, feed on the strength of immortal sustenance, fight fearlessly,… and if you keep your pledge of allegiance in the heavenly warfare, doubt not that you will be crowned for your victory in the triumphant camp of the Eternal King” (Sermon 22,2).
This communion with the Angels is deepened and intensified even further by the profession of the evangelical counsels according to the frequent testimony of the Fathers, particularly those of the East: “The Christian East… considers monks as ‘Angels of God on earth’ who proclaim the renewal of the world in Christ” (John Paul II, Vita consecrata, 27).
The longing for a life in communion with the holy Angels is felt widely in the Church and not only within the religious state. “Innumerable are the pages of Christian literature that could be cited as credible and magnificent witnesses of this longing for the city of the Angels, of that ‘great, spacious, celestial city’, whose citizens ‘enjoy the vision of God’ since God Himself is the wonder ever new which the blessed contemplate” (García Colombás. Paraíso y Vida Angélica, Montserrat, 1958 p. 88; cf. Augustin, In Psalm 147,4).
On the Essence of a Consecration to the holy Angels
The consecration to the holy Angels is a covenant. That which is implicit in the baptismal promise, namely, communion with the holy Angels, is formally expressed and adhered to in the consecration. The soul commits itself trustingly in fraternal love to the holy Angels as to those brothers and fellow servants before God (cf. Rev 19,10; 22,9), who are entirely holy and irrevocably united to God. In this way, the soul opens itself consciously to the efficacy of their spiritual help. Simultaneously, the soul obliges itself to listen to and heed their admonitions (cf. Ex 23,21), which always have the glorification of God and the accomplishment of His Will as their goal. The soul pledges itself to an intimate collaboration with them for the spreading and the defense of the Kingdom of God upon earth and for leading a life of perfection as a living member of the Church.
A consecration to the holy Angels assents wholeheartedly to their salvific mission, which, as ministers of Christ, they exercise in behalf of man (cf. CCC 331). It means a voluntary bond with the Angels, so that with their help and imitating their virtues one strives not only for Christian perfection according to one’s state in life but also to collaborate with them in the apostolic mission of the Church for the salvation of souls.
Through the Consecration to Mary, the soul accomplishes all its works through, with and in Mary, so as to perform them more perfectly with and in Christ. Similarly can it be affirmed of the Consecration to the holy Angels: by it the soul strives to do everything like the Angels and with them, so as to be more perfectly united to Christ and to be transformed into His likeness.
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
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