By editor - 24 July, 2016
A new apostolic constitution, Vultum Dei quaerere (Seeking the Face of God), containing new rules for the governance of women’s contemplative religious communities was published by the Vatican on Friday.
The new document will replace the 1999 instruction Verbi sponsa and will regulate the formation, autonomy and seclusion of contemplative communities according to Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
In the introduction to Vultum Dei quaerere, Pope Francis explains that the rapid progress of human history, in the fifty years since the Second Vatican Council, is one of the reasons for the document.
The Pope argues that there is a need “to weave a dialogue” with contemporary society, while preserving the “foundational values” of contemplative life.
These include silence, attentive listening, the call to an interior life, stability.
Through these values contemplative life “can and must challenge the contemporary mindset.”
In the new apostolic constitution, Pope Francis tells contemplative Sisters, “The Church greatly esteems your life of complete self-giving. The Church counts on your prayers and on your self-sacrifice to bring today’s men and women to the good news of the Gospel. The Church needs you!”
The 21 page document consists of 37 articles.
Within the guidelines, Pope Francis suggests that communities “give special attention to ongoing formation.”
To ensure this ongoing formation takes place, federations of religious communities should promote greater co-operation between monasteries “through the exchange of formational materials and the use of digital means of communication”.
However, elsewhere, the Pontiff appeals for “due discretion” in using digital means of communication.
Monasteries, he writes, “are to pay special attention to vocational and spiritual discernment, ensuring that candidates receive personalised guidance,” and must ensure that “ample time” is set aside for the initial formation process.
Presenting the new norms at a press conference at the Vatican on Friday, Archbishop Rodríguez said his office would now be working on drafting a new instruction to specify how communities are to make the changes in their lifestyles.
Vultum Dei quaerere calls on the thousands of women religious living in contemplative communities around the world to implement changes in 12 diverse areas from prayer life to work habits.
The communities have been asked to adapt their various governing constitutions or rules to the new changes and send new versions of their documents to the Vatican for approval.
Praising the contemplatives for their ability to serve as an example of stability in a contemporary world often marked by temporary commitments, Pope Francis calls on them to begin to institute changes particularly in their prayer lives, including the practice of Eucharistic adoration and Lectio divina.
The new rules promulgated in the apostolic constitution include a request that communities should not recruit new members from other countries if their only reason for doing so is to make up for loss of members.
Another norm suggests that all contemplative communities should begin by affiliating with a federation of similar communities, with such federations based on either geographical proximity or similarity in spirit
Another provision requires contemplative communities to prove themselves to be viable and capable of self-governance.
If they are not, the Congregation for Religious will intervene to ensure “the revitalizatino of the monastery, or to effect its closure.”