God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a communion of relationships, or a communio personarum (Communion of Persons), in which the three divine Persons eternally gift themselves to one another in love. When the triune Creator allowed his perfection to overflow out of himself in establishing the universe, he imprinted and endowed it with his own image, by which all things live in a communio vitae, caritatis, et veritatis (communion of live, charity, and truth). God’s relationships in himself and this vestigia Trinitatis (trace of the Trinity) that is found in all creation is the divine law, in which all other law finds its legitimacy. Once a person begins to know the master pattern of the Trinity, he will not be able to cease finding the semblance and image of God woven in the fabric of all being; it is full of generic communions with specific individuated beings, i.e. genus and species. The most prominent image of the Trinity is man himself, who was created to live in a communion of persons—a family—and perhaps the most sublime family is the Church, the family of God and imago Trinitatis (Image of the Trinity), which “shines forth as ‘a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’” (Lumen Gentium 9).
Canon law has practical usefulness when it comes to living the relationships of the Church. Its letter and spirit shines as a light to illumine these relationships, a blueprint that reveals their constitution and structure, a compass to guide us in living them well, a defense against the enemy of God who frequently attacks them, but most of all, it serves to bring the People of God to be “one unceasing hymn of praise to the Most Holy Trinity.” When read in this light, canon law says to the Church, “Family of God, Become what you are!” (Familiaris Consortio 17).
“By virtue of their rebirth in Christ, all the faithful share a common dignity; all are called to holiness; all cooperate in the building up of the one Body of Christ, each in accordance with the proper vocation and gift which he or she has received from the Spirit (Rom 12:3-8)” (Lumen Gentium 32, CIC c.208). The Church, modeled after the Triune God, has three fundamental states of life that share one divine calling. The Most Holy Trinity is the key to understanding their unity and diversity, equality and complementarity, in what ways they are the same and what ways they are not. “Every Christian’s identity has its source in the Most Holy Trinity.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis 12) Just as in the Trinity there is only one divine essence, being, intellect, will, and act so in the Church there is only one people of God, one mission, one priesthood, one consecration, one family “called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each” (CIC), can. 204 § 1). Canon law speaks of three states of life that mirror the three divine Persons:
“By divine institution, there are among the Christian faithful in the Church sacred ministers who in law are also called clerics; the other members of the Christian faithful are called lay persons.
§2. There are members of the Christian faithful from both these groups who, through the profession of the evangelical counsels by means of vows or other sacred bonds recognized and sanctioned by the Church, are consecrated to God in their own special way and contribute to the salvific mission of the Church.” (CIC, canon 207 § 1-2).
If we examine each state of life according to cannon law, we can see that there is strikingly close resemblance between each state and a divine Person. If we understand each divine Personality, or how it relates to the other Persons, we will be given a very special insight into the nature of each state of life.
The priesthood most resembles the Father, that is why we call them by that name. The priest, configured to Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, “is seen by the assembly of the faithful as the one who presides in loco Dei Patris” (Pastores Gregis 7; St. Ignatius of Antioch) and from the most ancient of times has been seen in the Church as “in persona Dei Patris” (Pastores Gregis 34) Priests serve in the joyful generosity of God the Father giving Jesus in the Eucharist to the Church, which is at the heart of their paternal fruitfulness. Like the Father they have been entrusted with the sacred power to forgive sins. Yet it must always be remembered that, while they are fathers, they ever remain sons, for there is only one Father who has no Father, origin or principle; and only one therefore who is truly worthy of the name “Father” (Mt 23:9), by whom all other fathers receive their name (Eph 3:14-15). Humbled by this reality, a priest must never lord his fatherhood over the children of the Church, because he too is an evangelical child of God, and therefore ought not ever to fall prey to clericalism, or a domineering, self-serving spirit. Just as the Eternal Father would not exist without the Eternal Son, so the priest must remember that he exists for the children of the Church. His fatherhood can never leave the context of brotherhood, for he is also a son of God with the rest of the faithful. Here also lies the special value of the vocation to consecrated brotherhood, which reveals to all Christians the brotherhood of Christ.
Laity have the vocation that most closely resembles the divine Personality of God the Son, who is eternally begotten and proceeds from the Father. Priests are the usual celebrants in the very act by which the lay vocation is born, Baptism, by which they become sons in the Son. For the past few centuries, priests have been spoken of using the radical term of St. Augustine, “alter Christus,” other Christ, yet we ought not forget that he used this term originally to refer to all Christians, (In Iohannis evangelium tractatus, tr. 21, 8) who must work in the world as the fragrance, aroma, leaven, light, salt, savor, and presence of the Incarnate Son of God, bringing the temporal order to be patterned in Jesus Christ the Lord. God desires that this filiation not remain merely inchoate, abstract, or ephemeral, but be solidly grounded and incarnated in ecclesial filiation as well, one that is regulated by canon law. This sonship is lived out in filial love and obedience to the Church and her pastors that the faithful may become “holy as God is holy” (1 Pt 1:16) answering the call they have received in Baptism.
“I consecrated myself so that you may be consecrated.” Consecrated life, known as the status perfectionis, or state of perfection, has a particular concentration on the call to holiness. “By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one — are made constantly ‘visible’ in the midst of the world and the eyes of the faithful” (Vita Consecrata 1) Now a person does not become “consecrated” by means of a sacrament, and for this reason some have erroneously said that it is not a real state of life. They supposedly interpret the Council’s statement in that way, “From the point of view of the divine and hierarchical structure of the Church, the religious state of life is not an intermediate state between the clerical and lay state.” (LG 33) Yet canon law protects the unique personality of this vocation from being absorbed: “By its very nature, the state of consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay.” (c.588 §1) “The profession of the evangelical counsels indisputably belongs to the life and holiness of the Church. This means that the consecrated life, present in the Church from the beginning, can never fail to be one of her essential and characteristic elements.” (Vita Consecrata 29) Consecrated life is constituted in the Church as a sacramental. “Sacramentals are sacred signs by which effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified in some imitation of the sacraments and are obtained through the intercession of the Church” (CIC c.1166) Sacramentals are intended to dispose a person for the sacraments. Consecrated life is a special gift to dispose a person for the sacraments of Baptism or Holy Orders. We ought not try to understand this gift to the Church unless we look to the Most Holy Trinity. For, just as the Holy Spirit is only the Spirit of the Father and the Son, so consecrated life only exists of Baptism or Holy Orders, yet it is its own unique status vitae, incommunicable and distinct from the others, having its own unique personality in the Church. The uniqueness of this state of life can be seen in light then of the holiness of the Holy Spirit. The holiness of God is present in this state, for “the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels proposed in the Gospel by Our Lord to His disciples.” St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus knew very clearly the distinct personality of her consecration, “In the heart of my mother the Church, I shall be love.” The Holy Spirit is the Person-Love who is the uncreated Gift of the Father and the Son. A consecrated person is to live and act in the Church in persona Spiritus Sanctus, i.e. in persona amoris, in the person of Love. This love is not abstract, but something made visible. This is why consecrated persons make public vows or promises, why they live in a community, why they wear a habit, why they serve those most in need of seeing God, the poor, the anawim, those in greatest apostolic need. So that this form of life be stable and protected by the Church: “It is for the competent authority of the Church to interpret the evangelical counsels, to direct their practice by laws, and by canonical approbation to establish the stable forms of living deriving from them, and also, for its part, to take care that the institutes grow and flourish according to the spirit of the founders and sound traditions” (CIC c.576).
Attribution or Antonomasia
We must also see the way these vocations relate to one another and what reality they hold in common. For we can truly say that the entire Church are all priests, whether ministerial or baptismal; they are all faithful, all sons and daughters of God, all baptized into divine filiation; they are all religious, consecrated, totally gifting themselves to God, called to the perfection of charity, all are called to live the spirit of the evangelical counsels, yet God desires each state in life to embody the particular attribute of the Trinity in order to fully reveal the beauty and harmony that the complementarity and interplay of these elements brings when living in ordered movement. We must look here to St. Thomas Aquinas’ genius for precise articulation. When describing religious life, he tells us that “religion is that virtue whereby a man or woman offers something to the service and worship of God. Therefore, those are called religious by antonomasia, who consecrate themselves totally to the divine service” (STh II-II q 186 a 1, Pope JPII, 10-26-94). Antonomasia, like the word attribution, is a word that denotes an exemplary relationship that reveals the quality of a thing yet not its exclusivity. This is the same thing we do when we call God the Father as Creator, yet the Son and the Holy Spirit create just as fully. When we understand this antonomasia in the Trinity, we can then fully be conscious of it in the Church, but also even in canon law. We are all called to obedience. Yet a priest is called to an exemplary obedience, and obedience is the word that most typifies his vocation (This is developed at length in the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, Congregation of the Clergy), and it is obedience that many think of when they think of “Father” or “Head” to which the priest is configured. The priest however is called to obey the laity and the religious in a special way, yet he does this as a father and head obeys children and members. Similarly the Second Vatican Council “expressly mentions the consecrated chastity before the other two vows” when speaking of religious” (PJII, 11-16-94; Perfecte Caritatis 12, 13, 14, LG43). Likewise the laity have a special antonomastic relationship to poverty, an evangelical counsel which helps to order relationships to temporal goods.
Unity and Diversity
We see the beautiful way in which the Lord, the Most Holy Trinity, endowed his People to exhibit both his oneness and this threeness, his unity and diversity, his being and personality, and that he wills that this image be regulated by law. Whenever there is oneness or personhood, similarity or dissimilarity, unity or diversity, in the Church there is law to protect and order it to the oneness and personhood of the Blessed Trinity. That is why priests, religious, and lay, all must keep their own juridical personality, to reflect the personality of their state, yet this is ultimately guided by the priests whose personality it is to be head. They must always keep their own superiors and hierarchy yet be subject to the hierarchical priesthood. Also, the personality of male and female, single, celibate, married, widowed, and even the presence of children, ought to be regulated by law also, because these are differences willed by God to reflect the Trinitarian communion. We cannot ignore or confuse the sexual differences present in humanity and think that we will be progressing in a new Church movement. This is why mixed congregations of men and women usually had different structures that would more faithfully respect their sexual difference. We also cannot ignore the beautiful complementarity and unity of cultures and nations, willed by God. This is why we have regions, provinces, national hierarchies, and local adaptations.
Although a person canonically becomes a SOLT member by incardination, public profession of the evangelical counsels according to SOLT constitutions, or by signing a covenant contract, there is a much deeper act that determines a person as a SOLT. It is the Solemn Act of Consecration to Our Lady, followed by imitatio Mariae in her way of relating to the Most Holy Trinity. The importance of this foundational act cannot be underestimated. This Marian-Trinitarian Consecration brings each person first to the fullness of Trinitarian life, but also to the fullness of the ecclesial relationships that are modeled after the life of the Trinity lived out in Ecclesial Teams. As the founder, Fr. Jim Flanagan said, “Mary is our foundation. We have to maintain a real relationship with her. Without her, there is no SOLT. We have to keep her in our relationships. If she is not there, the foundation falls apart.” (June 6, 2002, Vignola, Italy). It is only through Mary, with Mary, in Mary, for Mary, and by Mary, that our Trinitarian relationships of priests religious, and lay can become a hymn of praise to the Mosty Holy Trinity.