ECMR -  Episcopal Commission on Mutual Relations (between Bishops and Religious)


ECMR - Episcopal Commission on Mutual Relations (between Bishops and Religious)

Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere on women's contemplative life, 22.07.2016

We provide below the full text of the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere, "Seeking the face of God", on women's contemplative life, signed by Pope Francis on 29 June 2016, solemnity of the Apostles Sts Peter and Paul. The document consists of a prologue and five chapters: "Esteem, praise and thanksgiving for consecrated life and cloistered contemplative life; The Church's accompaniment and guidance; Essential elements of the contemplative life; Matters calling for discernment and renewed norms; and The witness offered by nuns, and finally a normative conclusion.

The following is the full document:

1. Seeking the face of God has always been a part of our human history. From the beginning, men and women have been called to a dialogue of love with the Creator. Indeed, mankind is distinguished by an irrepressible religious dimension that leads human hearts to feel the need – albeit not always consciously – to seek God, the Absolute. This quest unites all men and women of good will. Even many who claim to be non-believers acknowledge this heartfelt longing, present in every man and woman who, drawn by a passionate desire for happiness and fulfilment, never remains fully satisfied.

St. Augustine eloquently expressed this yearning in the Confessions: “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You”. This restlessness of heart is born of the profound intuition that it is God Himself Who takes the initiative; He seeks out men and women and mysteriously draws them to Himself.

In seeking God, we quickly realise that no one is self-sufficient. Rather, we are called, in the light of faith, to move beyond self-centredness, drawn by God’s Holy Face and by the “sacred ground of the other”, to an ever more profound experience of communion.

Through Baptism, every Christian and every consecrated person is called to undertake this pilgrimage of seeking the true God. By the working of the Holy Spirit, it becomes a sequela pressius Christi – a path of ever greater configuration to Christ the Lord. This path finds notable expression in religious consecration, and, in a particular way, by the monastic life, which, from its origins, was seen as a specific way of living out one’s baptism.

2. Consecrated persons, by virtue of their consecration, “follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way”. They are called to recognise the signs of God’s presence in daily life and wisely to discern the questions posed to us by God and the men and women of our time. The great challenge faced by consecrated persons to persevere in seeking God “with the eyes of faith in a world which ignores His presence”, and to continue to offer that world Christ’s life of chastity, poverty and obedience life as a credible and trustworthy sign, thus becoming “a living ‘exegesis’ of God’s word”.

From the origins of the life of special consecration in the Church, men and women called by God and in love with Him have devoted their lives exclusively to seeking His face, longing to find and contemplate God in the heart of the world. The presence of communities set like cities on a hill or lamps on a stand, despite their simplicity of life, visibly represent the goal towards which the entire ecclesial community journeys. For the Church “advances down the paths of time with her eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ”, thus announcing in advance the glory of heaven.

3. Peter’s words, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”, have a special meaning for all consecrated persons. This is particularly the case for contemplatives. In profound communion with every other vocation of the Christian life – all of which are “like so many rays of the one light of Christ, Whose radiance brightens the countenance of the Church” – contemplatives “devote a great part of their day imitating the Mother of God, who diligently pondered the words and deeds of her Son, and Mary of Bethany, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened attentively to His words”. Their lives, “hidden with Christ in God”, become an image of the unconditional love of the Lord, Himself the first contemplative. They are so centred on Christ that they can say with the Apostle. “For to me, to live is Christ!”. In this way, they express the all-encompassing character at the heart of a vocation to the contemplative life.

Contemplatives, as men and women immersed in human history and drawn to the splendour of Christ, “the fairest of the sons of men”, are set in the heart of the Church and the world. In their unending search for God, they discover the principal sign and criterion of the authenticity of their consecrated life. St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, emphasised that a monk is one whose entire life is devoted to seeking God. He insisted that it be determined of one aspiring to the monastic life “si revera Deum quaerit”, whether he truly seeks God.

In a particular way, down the centuries countless consecrated women have devoted, and continue to devote “the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God”, as a sign and prophecy of the Church, virgin, spouse and mother. Their lives are a living sign and witness of the fidelity with which God, amid the events of history, continues to sustain his people.

4. The monastic life, as an element of unity with the other christian confessions, takes on a specific form that is prophecy and sign, one that “can and ought to attract all the members of the church to an effective and prompt fulfilment of the duties of their christian vocation”. Communities of prayer, especially contemplative communities, which “by virtue of their separation from the world are all the more closely united to Christ, the heart of the world”, do not propose a more perfect fulfilment of the Gospel. Rather, by living out the demands of Baptism, they constitute an instance of discernment and a summons to the service of the whole Church. Indeed, they are a signpost pointing to a journey and quest, a reminder to the entire People of God of the primary and ultimate meaning of the Christian life.

Esteem, praise and thanksgiving for consecrated life and cloistered contemplative life

5. From the earliest centuries the Church has shown great esteem and sincere love for those men and women who, in docility to the Father’s call and the promptings of the Spirit, have chosen to follow Christ “more closely”, dedicating themselves to Him with an undivided heart. Moved by unconditional love for Christ and all humanity, particularly the poor and the suffering, they are called to reproduce in a variety of forms – as consecrated virgins, widows, hermits, monks and religious – the earthly life of Jesus in chastity, poverty and obedience.

The contemplative monastic life, made up mainly of women, is rooted in the silence of the cloister; it produces a rich harvest of grace and mercy. Women’s contemplative life has always represented in the Church, and for the Church, her praying heart, a storehouse of grace and apostolic fruitfulness, and a visible witness to the mystery and rich variety of holiness.Originating in the individual experience of virgins consecrated to Christ, the natural fruit of a need to respond with love to the love of Christ the Bridegroom, this life soon took form as a definite state and an order recognised by the Church, which began to receive public professions of virginity. With the passage of time, most consecrated virgins united in forms of common life that the Church was concerned to protect and preserve with a suitable discipline. The cloister was meant to preserve the spirit and the strictly contemplative aim of these houses. The gradual interplay between the working of the Spirit, present in the heart of believers and inspiring new forms of discipleship, and the maternal solicitude of the Church, gave rise to the forms of contemplative and wholly contemplative life that we know today. In the West, the contemplative spirit found expression in a multiplicity of charisms, whereas in the East it maintained great unity, but always as a testimony to the richness and beauty of a life devoted completely to God.

Over the centuries, the experience of these sisters, centred on the Lord as their first and only love, has brought forth abundant fruits of holiness and mission. How much has the apostolate been enriched by the prayers and sacrifices radiating from monasteries! And how great is the joy and prophecy proclaimed to the world by the silence of the cloister!

For the fruits of holiness and grace that the Lord has always bestowed through women’s monastic life, let us sing to “the Most High, the Almighty and good Lord” the hymn of thanksgiving “Laudato si’!”

6. Dear contemplative sisters, without you what would the Church be like, or those living on the fringes of humanity and ministering in the outposts of evangelisation? 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!It is not easy for the world, or at least that large part of it dominated by the mindset of power, wealth and consumerism, to understand your particular vocation and your hidden mission; and yet it needs them immensely. The world needs you every bit as much as a sailor on the high seas needs a beacon to guide him to a safe haven. Be beacons to those near to you and, above all, to those far away. Be torches to guide men and women along their journey through the dark night of time. Be sentinels of the morning, heralding the dawn. By your transfigured life, and with simple words pondered in silence, shows us the One Who is the way, and the truth and the life, the Lord Who alone brings us fulfilment and bestows life in abundance. Cry out to us, as Andrew did to Simon: “We have found the Lord”. Like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, announce to us: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18). Cherish the prophetic value of your lives of self-sacrifice. Do not be afraid to live fully the joy of evangelical life, in accordance with your charism.

The church’s accompaniment and guidance

7. The Magisterium of the Councils and the Popes has always shown a particular concern for all forms of consecrated life through the promulgation of important documents. Among these, special attention needs to be given to two great documents of Vatican Council II: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium and the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life Perfectae Caritatis.

The first of these sets the consecrated life within the ecclesiology of the People of God by virtue of the common call to holiness rooted in the consecration of Baptism. The second summons all consecrated persons to a fitting renewal in accordance with the changed conditions of the times. To guide such a renewal, the document proposes the following indispensable criteria: fidelity to Christ, to the Gospel, to one’s own charism, to the Church, and to the men and women of our time.

Nor can we pass over the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata of my predecessor, St. John Paul II. This document, which reaped the rich harvest of the Synod of Bishops on Consecrated Life, contains elements that remain important for the continued renewal of consecrated life and its clear witness to the Gospel in our day.

We can also add the following documents as evidence of the constant and helpful guidance provided to the contemplative life:

- The Directives of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) Potissimum Institutioni (2 February 1990), focused extensively upon the specifically contemplative form of consecrated life (Chapter IV, 78-85);

- The Inter-Dicasterial Document Sviluppi (6 January 1992) dealt with the issue of diminishing vocations to the consecrated life in general and, to a lesser extent, the contemplative life (No. 81);

-The Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (11 October 1992), is very helpful for enabling the faithful to understand your form of life; this is particularly the case with Nos. 915-933, which treats all its forms. No. 1672 deals with your non-sacramental consecration and with the blessing of Abbots and Abbesses. Nos. 1974 and 2102 link the Ten Commandments to the profession of the evangelical counsels. No. 2518 presents the close bond between the purity of heart spoken of in the Beatitudes as promising the vision of God, and love of the truths of the faith. Nos. 1691 and 268 praise the persevering intercession made to God by contemplative monasteries – unique places where personal prayer and prayer in community are harmoniously joined, while No. 2715 notes that the prerogative of contemplatives is to keep their gaze fixed on Jesus and the mysteries of his life and ministry;

- The CICLSAL Instruction Congregavit Nos (2 February1994) at Nos. 10 and 34 linked silence and solitude with the profound demands of a community of fraternal life, and stressed that separation from the world is consistent with a daily atmosphere of prayer;

- The CICLSAL Instruction Verbi SponsaEcclesia (13 May 1999) in Articles 1-8 offered an impressive historical-systematic synthesis of previous teachings of the magisterium on the eschatological and missionary significance of the cloistered life of contemplative nuns;

- Finally, the CICLSAL Instruction Starting Afresh from Christ (19 May 2002) urged all consecrated persons to contemplate unceasingly the face of Christ. It presents cloistered monks and nuns as the summit of Church’s choral praise and silent prayer, and at the same time praises them for having always kept the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharistic celebration at the centre of their daily life

8. Fifty years after Vatican Council II, after due consultation and careful discernment, I have considered it necessary to offer the Church, with special reference to monasteries of the Latin rite, the present Apostolic Constitution. It takes into account both the intense and fruitful journey taken by the Church in recent decades in the light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and a changed social and cultural situation. In these past decades, we have seen rapid historical changes that call for dialogue. At the same time, the foundational values of contemplative life need to be maintained. Through these values – silence, attentive listening, the call to an interior life, stability – contemplative life can and must challenge the contemporary mindset.

With this document I wish to reaffirm my personal esteem, together with the gratitude of the entire Church, for the unique form of sequela Christi practised by nuns of contemplative life; for many, it is an entirely contemplative life, a priceless and indispensable gift which the Holy Spirit continues to raise up in the Church.

Wherever necessary or fitting, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will deal with particular questions and reach agreements with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Essential elements of the contemplative life

9. From the first centuries, contemplative life has always been present in the Church, alternating periods of great vigour and others of decline. This has been due to the constant presence of the Lord, together with the Church’s own capacity to renew and adapt herself to changes in society. The contemplative life has always continued to seek the face of God and to preserve unconditional love for Christ as its hallmark.

The consecrated life is a history of passionate love for the Lord and for humanity. In the contemplative life, this history unfolds day after day in a passionate quest to see the face of God in intimate relationship with him. As contemplative women, you respond to Christ the Lord, “Who first loved us” and “gave Himself up for us”, by offering your entire life, living in Him and for Him, “for the praise of His glory”. Through this life of contemplation, you are the voice of the Church as she ceaselessly praises, thanks, implores and intercedes for all mankind. Through your prayer, you are co-workers of God, helping the fallen members of His glorious body to rise again.

In your personal and communitarian prayer, you discover the Lord as the treasure of your life, your good, “utter goodness, the supreme good”, your “wealth and sufficiency”. You come to see, with steadfast faith, that “God alone suffices”, and that you have chosen the better part. You have surrendered your life and fixed your gaze upon the Lord, retreating into the cell of your heart in the inhabited solitude of the cloister and fraternal life in community. In this way, you have become an image of Christ who seeks to encounter the Father on the heights.

10. Over the centuries, the Church has always looked to Mary as the summa contemplatrix. From the annunciation to the resurrection, through the pilgrimage of faith that reached its climax at the foot of the cross, Mary persevered in contemplation of the mystery dwelling within her. In Mary, we glimpse the mystical journey of the consecrated person, grounded in a humble wisdom that savours the mystery of the ultimate fulfilment.

Following Mary’s example, the contemplative is a person centred in God and for whom God is the unum necessarium, in comparison with which all else is seen from a different perspective, because seen through new eyes. Contemplatives appreciate the value of material things, yet these do not steal their heart or cloud their mind; on the contrary, they serve as a ladder to ascend to God. For the contemplative, everything “speaks” of the Most High! Those who immerse themselves in the mystery of contemplation see things with spiritual eyes. This enables them to see the world and other persons as God does, whereas others “have eyes but do not see”, for they see with carnal eyes.

11. Contemplation thus involves having, in Christ Jesus whose face is constantly turned to the Father, a gaze transfigured by the working of the Holy Spirit, a gaze full of awe at God and His wonders. Contemplation involves having a pure mind, in which the echoes of the Word and the voice of the Spirit are felt as a soft wind. It is not by chance that contemplation is born of faith; indeed, faith is both the door and the fruit of contemplation. It is only by saying with utter trust, “Here I am!”, that one can enter into the mystery.

This silent and recollected peace of mind and heart can meet with subtle temptations. Your contemplation can become a spiritual combat to be fought courageously in the name of, and for the good of, the entire Church, which looks to you as faithful sentinels, strong and unyielding in battle. Among the most perilous temptations faced by contemplatives is that which the Desert Fathers called “the midday devil”; it is the temptation to listlessness, mere routine, lack of enthusiasm and paralysing lethargy. As I noted in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, little by little this leads to “a tomb psychology… [that] develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like ‘the most precious of the devil’s potions’.”

Matters calling for discernment and renewed norms

12. As a means of assisting contemplative women to attain the goal of their specific vocation as described above, I would invite reflection and discernment on twelve aspects of consecrated life in general and the monastic tradition in particular. These are formation, prayer, the word of God, the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, fraternal life in community, autonomy, federations, the cloister, work, silence, the communications media and asceticism. The results of this reflection and discernment will have to be implemented in ways respectful of the specific charismatic traditions of the various monastic families. At the same time, they must respect the regulations found at the end of the present Constitution, as well as the practical guidelines soon to be issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.


13. The formation of consecrated persons is a process aimed at configuration to the Lord Jesus and the assimilation of His mind and heart in the complete gift of self to the Father. This process is never-ending and is meant to imbue the entire person, with the result that, in their way of thinking and acting, consecrated persons show that they belong fully and joyful to Christ; it thus demands a constant conversion to God. It aims at shaping the heart, the mind and all of life by facilitating an integration of the human, cultural, spiritual and pastoral dimensions.

In a particular way, the formation of contemplatives is directed to a harmonious communion with God and one’s Sisters within an atmosphere of silence protected by the daily life of the cloister.

14. God the Father is the formator par excellence, but in this work of craftsmanship He employs human instruments. Men and women formators are elder brothers and sisters whose principal mission is that of disclosing “the beauty of following Christ and the value of the charism by which this is accomplished”.

Formation, especially continuing formation, is “an intrinsic requirement of religious consecration”, and is grounded in the daily life of the community. Consequently, sisters should keep in mind that the ordinary place where the process of formation takes place is the monastery itself, and that fraternal life in community, in all its expressions, should contribute to this process.

15. In today’s social, cultural and religious context, monasteries need to pay great attention to vocational and spiritual discernment, without yielding to the temptation to think in terms of numbers and efficiency. They should ensure that candidates receive personalised guidance and adequate programmes of formation, always keeping in mind that for initial formation and that following temporary profession, to the extent possible, “ample time must be reserved”, no less than nine years and not more than twelve.


16. Liturgical and personal prayer are fundamental to, and necessary for, nourishing your contemplation. If “prayer is the ‘core’ of consecrated life”, it is even more so for the contemplative life. Today many persons do not know how to pray. Many simply feel no need to pray, or limit their relationship with God to a plea for help at times of difficulty when there is no one else to turn to. For others, prayer is merely praise in moments of happiness. In reciting and singing the praises of the Lord with the Liturgy of the Hours, you also pray for these persons and, like the prophets, you intercede for the salvation of all. Personal prayer will help keep you united to the Lord like branches on the vine, and thus your life will bear abundant fruit. But never forget that your life of prayer and contemplation must not be lived as a form of self-absorption; it must enlarge your heart to embrace all humanity, especially those who suffer.

Through intercessory prayer, you play a fundamental role in the life of the Church. You pray and intercede for our many brothers and sisters who are prisoners, migrants, refugees and victims of persecution. Your prayers of intercession embrace the many families experiencing difficulties, the unemployed, the poor, the sick, and those struggling with addiction, to mention just a few of the more urgent situations. You are like those who brought the paralytic to the Lord for healing. Through your prayer, night and day, you bring before God the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters who for various reasons cannot come to Him to experience His healing mercy, even as He patiently waits for them. By your prayers, you can heal the wounds of many.

The Virgin Mary is our supreme model in the contemplation of Christ. Her Son’s face belongs uniquely to her. She is the Mother and Teacher of perfect conformation to her Son; by her example and her maternal presence she sustains you, her special children, in your daily fidelity to prayer.

17. In the book of Exodus, we read that Moses decided the fate of his people by prayer; he ensured victory over the enemy as long as he kept his arms raised to ask for the Lord's help. It strikes me that this is a most eloquent image of the power and efficacy of your own prayer on behalf of all humanity and the Church, especially of the vulnerable and those in need. Now, as then, we can conclude that the fate of humanity is decided by the prayerful hearts and uplifted hands of contemplative women. That is why I urge you to remain faithful, in accordance with your constitutions, to liturgical and personal prayer; the latter is in fact a preparation for, and a prolongation of, the former. I urge you to “prefer nothing to the opus Dei”, lest anything obstruct, divert or interrupt your ministry of prayer. In this way, through contemplation you will become ever more fully an image of Christ and your communities will become true schools of prayer.

18. All this demands a spirituality grounded in the word of God, the power of the sacramental life, the teachings of the Church’s Magisterium and the writings of your founders and foundresses, a spirituality that enables you to become daughters of heaven and daughters of the earth, disciples and missionaries, according to your proper way of life. It also calls for gradual training in the life of personal and liturgical prayer, and contemplation itself, in the constant realisation that these are chiefly nourished by the “scandalous beauty” of the cross.

The centrality of the word of God

19. One of the most significant elements of monastic life in general is the centrality of the word of God for personal and community life. St. Benedict stressed this when he asked his monks to listen willingly to sacred readings: “lectiones sanctas libenter audire”. Over the centuries, monasticism has been the guardian of lectio divina. Nowadays this is commended to the entire People of God and demanded of all consecrated religious. You yourselves are called to make it the nourishment of your contemplation and daily life, so that you can then share this transforming experience of God’s word with priests, deacons, other consecrated persons and the laity. Look upon this sharing as a true ecclesial mission.

Prayer and contemplation are certainly the most fitting place to welcome the word of God, yet they themselves have their source in hearing that word. The entire Church, and especially communities completely devoted to contemplation, need to rediscover the centrality of the word of God, which, as my predecessor St. John Paul II stated, is the “first source of all spirituality”. The word of God needs to nourish your life, your prayer, your contemplation and your daily journey, and to become the principle of communion for your communities and fraternities. For they are called to welcome that word, to meditate upon it, to contemplate it and to join in putting it into practice, communicating and sharing the fruits born of this experience. In this way, you will grow in an authentic spirituality of communion. Here I urge you to “avoid the risk of an individualistic approach, and remember that God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God... Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church”.

20. Lectio divina, the prayerful reading of God’s word, is an art that helps us pass from the biblical text to life. It is an existential interpretation of sacred Scripture, whereby we can bridge the gap between spirituality and daily life, between faith and life. The process initiated by lectio divina is meant to guide us from hearing to knowledge, and from knowledge to love.

Today, thanks to the biblical renewal that received fresh impetus especially in the wake of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum of Vatican Council II, everyone is invited to familiarity with the Scriptures. Through prayerful and assiduous reading of the biblical text, dialogue with God becomes a daily reality for His People. Lectio divina should help you to cultivate a docile, wise and discerning heart, capable of knowing what is of God and what, on the other hand, can lead away from Him. Lectio divina should allow you to acquire that kind of supernatural intuition which enabled your founders and foundresses to avoid being conformed to the mentality of this world, but renewed in their own minds, “to discern what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will”.

21. Your entire day, both personal and in community, ought to be organised around the word of God. Thus your communities and fraternities will become schools where the word is carefully listened to, put into practice and proclaimed to all those who encounter you.

Lastly, never forget that “the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity” . In this way, it will produce abundant fruits along the path of conformation to Christ, the goal of our entire life.

The sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation

22. The Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence of encounter with the person of Jesus; it “contains the entire spiritual wealth of the Church, that is, Christ Himself”. The Eucharist is the heart of the life of every baptised person and of consecrated life itself; hence it is at the very core of the contemplative life. Indeed, the offering of your lives gives you a particular share in the paschal mystery of death and resurrection present in the Eucharist. Our common breaking of bread repeats and makes present Jesus’ own offering of Himself: the Lord “broke Himself, breaks Himself, for our sake” and asks us “to give ourselves, to break ourselves for the sake of others”. So that this profound mystery can take place and shine forth in all its richness, each celebration of the Eucharist should be prepared with care, dignity and sobriety, and all should take part in it fully, faithfully and consciously.

In the Eucharist, the eyes of the heart recognise Jesus. St. John Paul II tells us that “to contemplate Christ involves being able to recognise Him wherever He manifests Himself, in His many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of His body and His blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; she is fed by Him and by Him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a ‘mystery of light’. Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus: ‘Their eyes were opened and they recognised Him’”. The Eucharist draws you daily into the mystery of love, nuptial love, “the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride”.

Consequently, the tradition of prolonging the celebration of Mass with Eucharistic adoration is praiseworthy; it is a privileged moment to digest spiritually the bread of the word broken during the celebration, and to persevere in thanksgiving.

23. The Eucharist inspires a commitment to continuous conversion that finds sacramental expression in Reconciliation. May frequent personal or communal celebration of the sacrament of Penance become a privileged means for you to contemplate Jesus Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy, to be renewed in heart and to purify your relationship with God in contemplation.

The joyful experience of God’s forgiveness received in this sacrament grants you the grace to become prophets and ministers of his mercy, and instruments of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. Our world greatly needs such prophets and ministers.

Fraternal life in community

24. Fraternal life in community is an essential element of religious life in general, and of monastic life in particular, albeit in the variety of different charisms.

The relationship of communion is the manifestation of that love which wells up in the heart of the Father and is poured into our hearts by the Spirit whom Jesus has bestowed on us. Simply by making this reality visible, the Church, God’s family, is the sign of profound union with Him and appears as the home in which this life-giving experience is possible for all. By calling some men and women to share in His life, Christ the Lord formed a community that makes visible “the capacity for the communion of goods, for fraternal love, for shared projects and activities; and this capacity comes from having accepted the invitation to follow Him more freely and more closely”. The fraternal life, in virtue of which consecrated men and women seek to become “one heart and one soul” on the model of the earliest Christian communities, “aims to be an eloquent witness to the Trinity”.

25. Fraternal communion is a reflection of God’s own way of being and bestowing himself; it testifies to the fact that “God is love”. The consecrated life professes to believe in, and live by, the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The community of brothers and sisters thus becomes a graced reflection of the God who is a Trinity of Love.

Unlike the life of hermits, who live “in silence and solitude” and are likewise esteemed by the Church, the monastic life entails a growing community life meant to create an authentic fraternal communion, a koinonia. This means that all the members must see themselves as builders of community and not simply recipients of its eventual benefits. A community exists inasmuch as it comes about and is built up by the contribution of all, each according to his or her gifts, through the development of a strong spirituality of communion whereby all experience a sense of belonging. Only in this way can life in community provide its members with the mutual assistance needed to live their vocation to the full.

26. You who have embraced the monastic life must never forget that today’s men and women expect you to bear witness to an authentic fraternal communion that, in a society marked by divisions and inequality, clearly demonstrates that life in common is both possible and fulfilling, despite differences of age, education and even culture. Your communities ought to be credible signs that these differences, far from being an obstacle to fraternal life, actually enrich it. Remember that unity and communion are not the same as uniformity, and are nourished by dialogue, sharing, mutual assistance and profound compassion, especially towards the most frail and needy.

27. Lastly, remember that fraternal life in community is also the primary form of evangelisation: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. For this reason, I urge you not to neglect the means suggested and provided by the Church to consolidate community life and to be ever vigilant with regard to this sensitive but fundamental aspect of monastic life. Together with sharing the word and the experience of God, and communal discernment, “we should recall fraternal correction, review of life and other forms typical of the tradition. These are concrete ways of putting at the service of others and of pouring into the community the gifts which the Spirit gives so abundantly for its upbuilding and for its mission in the world”.

As I urged during my recent meeting with consecrated persons in Rome for the conclusion of the Year of Consecrated Life, try to remain close to your sisters, whom the Lord has given you as a precious gift. Then too, as St. Benedict reminds us, in community life it is essential both to “honour the elderly and to show affection to the young”. The fruitfulness of fraternal life in community is also rooted in this effort to reconcile the remembrance of the past with the promise of the future.

The autonomy of monasteries

28. Autonomy favours the stability of life and internal unity of each community, ensuring the best conditions for contemplation. But autonomy ought not to mean independence or isolation, especially from the other monasteries of the same Order or the same charismatic family.

29. “No one contributes to the future in isolation, by his or her efforts alone, but by seeing himself or herself as part of a true communion which is constantly open to encounter, dialogue, attentive listening and mutual assistance”. For this reason, take care to avoid “the disease of self-absorption” and to preserve the value of communion between different monasteries as a path of openness towards the future and a means of updating and giving expression to the enduring and codified values of your autonomy.


30. Federation is an important structure of communion between monasteries sharing the same charism, lest they remain isolated.

The principal aim of a Federation is to promote the contemplative life in the member monasteries, in accordance with the demands of their proper charism, and to ensure assistance in initial and continuous formation as well as in practical needs, through the exchange of nuns and the sharing of material goods. In view of these aims, federations ought to be encouraged and increase in number.

The cloister

31. Separation from the world, necessary for all those who follow Christ in the religious life, is especially evident in your own case, as contemplative sisters, by the cloister, which is the inner sanctum of the Church as spouse: “a sign of the exclusive union of the Church as Bride with her Lord, whom she loves above all things”.

The cloister has taken canonical shape in four diverse forms and degrees. In addition to that common to all religious institutes, there are three others typical of contemplative communities, namely papal, constitutional and monastic. The papal cloister “conforms to the norms given by the Apostolic See” and “excludes any external ministry”. The constitutional cloister is defined by the rules of individual constitutions, while the monastic cloister, though maintaining the character of “a more rigorous discipline” with respect to the common cloister, may, in addition to their primary function of the divine worship, allow for a wider range of hospitality and reception, always in accordance with the individual constitutions. The common cloister is the least restrictive of the four.

The variety of ways in which the cloister is observed within the same Order should be seen as an enrichment and not an obstacle to communion; it is a matter of reconciling different approaches in a higher unity. This communion can take concrete shape in various forms of encounter and cooperation, above all in initial and ongoing formation.


32. Through your labour too, you share in the work that God the Creator carries out in the world. This activity puts you in close relationship with all those who labour responsibly to live by the fruit of their toil and thus to contribute to the work of creation and the service of humanity. In a particular way, it shows your solidarity with the poor who cannot live without work, and who, even though they may work, still frequently need the providential help of their brothers and sisters.

As the great contemplative saints have warned, work must never stifle the spirit of contemplation. Your life is meant to “poor in fact and spent in hard-working moderation” – as your solemnly professed vow of evangelical poverty requires. For this reason, your work should be done carefully and faithfully, without yielding to the present-day culture and its mindset of efficiency and constant activity. The “ora et labora” of the Benedictine tradition should always be your inspiration and help you to find the right balance between seeking the Absolute and commitment to your daily chores, between the peace of contemplation and the effort expended in work.


33. In the contemplative life, and especially in the wholly contemplative life, I consider it important to heed the silence filled by God’s presence as the necessary “space” for hearing and pondering (ruminatio) his word. Silence is a prerequisite to that gaze of faith that enables us to welcome God’s presence into our own life, that of the brothers and sisters given us by the Lord, and the events of today’s world. Silence entails self-emptying in order to grow in receptivity; interior noise makes it impossible to welcome anyone or anything. Your wholly contemplative life calls for “time and the ability to be silent and listen” to God and the plea of humanity. Moved by the love each one of you has for the Lord, let your bodily tongue fall silent and allow that of the Spirit to speak.

In this, Mary Most Holy can serve as your example. She was able to receive the Word because she was a woman of silence – no barren or empty silence, but rather one rich and overflowing. The silence of the Virgin Mother was also full of love, for love always prepares us to welcome the Other and others.

The communications media

34. In our society, the digital culture has a decisive influence in shaping our thoughts and the way we relate to the world and, in particular, to other people. Contemplative communities are not immune from this cultural climate. Clearly, these media can prove helpful for formation and communication. At the same time, I urge a prudent discernment aimed at ensuring that they remain truly at the service of formation to contemplative life and necessary communication, and do not become occasions for wasting time or escaping from the demands of fraternal life in community. Nor should they prove harmful for your vocation or become an obstacle to your life wholly dedicated to contemplation.


35. The practice of asceticism, by drawing upon all those means that the Church proposes for self-control and the purification of the heart, is also a path to liberation from “worldliness”. Asceticism fosters a life in accordance with the interior logic of the Gospel, which is that of gift, especially the gift of self as the natural response to the first and only love of your life. In this way, you will be able to respond not only to the expectations of your brothers and sisters, but also to the moral and spiritual demands inherent in the three evangelical counsels that you professed with a solemn vow.

Your life of complete self-giving thus takes on a powerful prophetic meaning. Your moderation, your detachment from material things, your self-surrender in obedience, your transparent relationships – these become all the more radical and demanding as a result of your free renunciation “of ‘space’, of contacts, of so many benefits of creation… [as a] particular way of offering up [your] ‘body’”. Your choice of a life of stability becomes an eloquent sign of fidelity for our globalised world, accustomed to increasingly rapid and easy relocations, with the risk that many persons never sink roots in any one place.

In the life of the cloister, fraternal relationships become even more demanding, since interaction in such communities is constant and close. By remaining close to your brothers and sisters despite disagreements needing to be settled, tensions and conflicts to be resolved, and weaknesses to be accepted, you set a helpful example to the People of God and to today’s world, so often rent by conflict and division. The path of asceticism is also a means of acknowledging your own weakness and entrusting it to the tender mercy of God and the community.

Finally, the commitment to asceticism is necessary for carrying out with love and fidelity our daily responsibilities, for seeing them as opportunities to share in the lot of our many brothers and sisters throughout the world, and as a silent and fruitful offering for their needs.

The witness offered by nuns

36. Dear sisters, everything that I have written in this Apostolic Constitution is meant to be, for you who have embraced the contemplative vocation, an effective contribution to the renewal of your life and your mission in the Church and the world. May the Lord be ever present and active in your heart and transform you entirely in Him, the ultimate aim of the contemplative life, and may your communities or fraternities become true schools of contemplation and prayer.

The world and the Church need you to be beacons of light for the journey of the men and women of our time. This should be your prophetic witness. You have chosen not to flee the world out of fear, as some might think, but to remain in the world, while not being of the world. Although you live apart from the world, through the signs of your belonging to Christ, you tirelessly intercede for mankind, presenting to the Lord its fears and hopes, its joys and sufferings.

Do not deprive us of your participation in building an ever more humane and thus evangelical world. In union with the Lord, hear the cry of your brothers and sisters, who are victims of the “throw away culture”, or simply in need of the light brought by the Gospel. Practice the art of listening “which is more than simply hearing”, and the “spirituality of hospitality”, by taking to heart and bringing to prayer all that concerns our brothers and sisters made in the image and likeness of God. As I noted in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others”.

In this way, your testimony will be, as it were, a necessary complement to the witness of those who, as contemplatives in the heart of the world, bear witness to the Gospel while remaining fully immersed in the work of building the earthly city.

37. Dear contemplative sisters, you are well aware that your form of consecrated life, like all other forms, “is a gift to the Church, arises and grows within the Church, and is completely directed to the good of the Church”. Persevere, then, in profound communion with the Church so that in her midst you may become a living continuation of the mystery of Mary, Virgin, Bride and Mother, who welcomes and treasures the Word in order to give it back to the world. Thus you will help to bring Christ to birth and increase in the hearts of men and women who, often unconsciously, are thirsting for the One who is the “way, the truth, and the life. Like Mary, you too strive to be a “stairway” by which God descends to encounter humanity, and humanity ascends to encounter God and to contemplate His face in the face of Christ.

Conclusion and regulations

In the light of the above, I order and establish the following.

Art. 1. With reference to canon 20 of the Code of Canon Law, and after a careful study of the above 37 articles, with the promulgation and the publication of this Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere, the following are derogated:

1. Those canons of the Code of Canon Law that, in part, directly contradict any article of the present Constitution;

2. and, more specifically, the articles containing norms and dispositions found in:

- the Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi of Pius XII (21 November 1950): Statuta Generalia Monialium;

- the Instruction Inter Praeclara of the Sacred Congregation for Religious (23 November 1950);

- the Instruction Verbi Sponsa of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (13 May 1999) on the contemplative life and enclosure of nuns.

Art. 2 §1. This Constitution is addressed to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and to individual cloistered monasteries of nuns, whether wholly contemplative or not, and whether part of a federation or not.

§2. The matters regulated by this Apostolic Constitution are those listed above in No. 12 and further developed in Nos. 13-35.

§3. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life – if need be, in agreement with the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples – will regulate the different modalities of implementing these constitutive norms, in accordance with the different monastic traditions and taking into account the various charismatic families.

Art. 3 §1. Through suitable structures identified during the elaboration of a plan of community life, individual monasteries are to give special attention to ongoing formation, which is the foundation for every stage of formation, beginning with initial formation.

§2. In order to ensure adequate ongoing formation, federations are to promote cooperation between monasteries through the exchange of formational materials and the use of digital means of communication, always exercising due discretion.

§3. Together with the careful selection of sisters to serve as formators and to guide candidates in the development of personal maturity, individual monasteries and federations are to make every effort to ensure a sound preparation of formators and their assistants.

§4. Sisters charged with the sensitive task of formation may also attend, servatis de iure servandis, specific courses on formation outside their monastery, always conducting themselves in a way fitting and consistent with their own charism. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are to issue particular norms in this regard.

§5. Monasteries are to pay special attention to vocational and spiritual discernment, ensuring that candidates receive personalised guidance, and to provide adequate programmes of formation, always keeping in mind that ample time is to be set apart for initial formation.

§6. Even though the establishment of international and multicultural communities is a sign of the universality of the charism, the recruitment of candidates from other countries solely for the sake of ensuring the survival of a monastery is to be absolutely avoided. To ensure that this is the case, certain criteria are to be determined.

§7. To ensure a high quality of formation, monasteries should, as circumstances dictate, promote common houses for initial formation.

Art. 4 §1. Recognising that prayer is the heart of contemplative life, each monastery is to review its daily horarium to see if it is centred on the Lord.

§2. Community celebrations should be reviewed to see if they constitute an authentic and vital encounter with the Lord.

Art. 5 §1. Given the importance of lectio divina, each monastery is to establish fitting times and means for respecting this requirement of reading and listening, ruminatio, prayer, contemplation and sharing of the sacred Scriptures.

§2. Since sharing the transforming experience of God’s word with priests, deacons, other consecrated persons and the laity is an expression of genuine ecclesial communion, each monastery is to determine how this spiritual outreach can be accomplished.

Art. 6 §1. Each monastery, in elaborating its plan of community and fraternal life, in addition to carefully preparing its Eucharistic celebrations, is to set aside appropriate times for Eucharistic adoration, also inviting the faithful of the local Church to take part.

§2. Particular attention is to be given to the selection of chaplains, confessors and spiritual directors, taking into account the specific charism and the demands of fraternal life in community.

Art. 7 §1. Those called to carry out the ministry of authority, besides being attentive to their own formation, are to be guided by a true spirit of fraternity and service so as to foster a joy-filled environment of freedom and responsibility, thus promoting personal and community discernment and truthful communication of what each member does, thinks and feels.

§2. The plan of community life should readily welcome and encourage the sharing of each sister’s human and spiritual gifts for mutual enrichment and growth in fraternity.

Art. 8 §1. Juridical autonomy needs to be matched by a genuine autonomy of life. This entails a certain, even minimal, number of sisters, provided that the majority are not elderly, the vitality needed to practice and spread the charism, a real capacity to provide for formation and governance, dignity and quality of liturgical, fraternal and spiritual life, sign value and participation in life of the local Church, self-sufficiency and a suitably appointed monastery building. These criteria ought to be considered comprehensively and in an overall perspective.

§2. Whenever the requirements for a monastery’s genuine autonomy are lacking, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will study the possibility of establishing an ad hoc commission made up of the ordinary, the president of the federation, a representative of the federation and the abbess or prioress of the monastery. In every case, the purpose of this intervention is to initiate a process of guidance for the revitalisation of the monastery, or to effect its closure.

§3. This process may also envisage affiliation to another monastery or entrustment, if the monastery belongs to a federation, to the federation president and her council. In every case, the ultimate decision always rests with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Art. 9 §1. Initially, all monasteries are to be part of a federation. If, for some special reason, a monastery cannot join a federation, after the vote of the chapter, permission to allow the monastery to remain outside a federation is to be sought from the Holy See, which is competent to study and decide the question.

§2. Federations can be established not only on a geographical basis but also on an affinity of spirit and traditions. Norms in this regard will be issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

§3. Assistance in formation and in meeting concrete needs through the exchange of nuns and the sharing of material goods is also to be ensured, in accordance with the provisions of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Congregation will also determine the competencies of the federation president and council.

§4. The association, even juridical, of monasteries to the corresponding Order of men is to be encouraged. Confederations and the establishment of international commissions made up of different Orders, with statutes approved by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, are likewise to be encouraged.

Art. 10 §1. Each monastery, following serious discernment and respecting its proper tradition and the demands of its constitutions, is to ask the Holy See what form of cloister it wishes to embrace, whenever a different form of cloister from the present one is called for.

§2. Once one of the possible forms of cloister is chosen and approved, each monastery will take care to comply with, and live in accordance with, its demands.

Art. 11 §1. Even if certain monastic communities, in accordance with their proper law, may enjoy some income, this does not mean that the members are exempted from the obligation of labour.

§2. In communities devoted to contemplation, the income received from labour should not be used exclusively to ensure a decent sustenance, but also, if possible, to assist the poor and monasteries in need.

Art. 12. The daily horarium is to include suitable moments of silence, in order to foster a climate of prayer and contemplation.

Art. 13. In its plan of community life, each monastery is to provide for some fitting means for expressing the ascetic discipline of monastic life, in order to make it more prophetic and credible.

Final Provision

Art. 14 §1. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will issue, in accordance with the spirit and the norms of the present Apostolic Constitution, a new Instruction concerning the matters dealt with in No. 12.

§2. Once they have been adapted to the new regulations, the articles of the constitutions or rules of individual institutes are to be submitted for approval by the Holy See.

Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on 29 June, the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, in the year 2016, the fourth of my Pontificate.



I. Mutual relations among the various members of the People of God have attracted particular attention today. In fact, the conciliar doctrine on the mystery of the Church and continuing cultural changes have brought present conditions to such a point of development that completely new problems have arisen. A good number of these, though delicate and complex, are without doubt positive. It is precisely within the context of these problems that the mutual relations between bishops and religious, which cause special concern, are situated. One cannot but be impressed if one considers the fact -- the importance of which deserves to be studied more deeply -- there are over one million women religious in the world -- one sister, that is, for every 250 Catholic women -- and that there are about 270,000 men religious, of whom the priests make up 35.6% of all the priests in the Church. In some areas they account for more than half of the total as, for example, in Africa and in some parts of Latin America.
II. The Sacred Congregation for Bishops and the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes held a mixed Plenary Assembly (October 16-18, 1975) on the tenth anniversary of the promulgation of the Decrees Christus Dominus and Perfectae Caritatis (October 28, 1965). The National Conferences of Bishops and of Religious, as also the International Unions of Superiors General, Men and Women, were consulted and collaborated. The following questions, principally, were dealt with by the Plenary Assembly:
a) what bishops expect from religious;
b) what religious expect from bishops;
c) what means are to be used to arrive at orderly and fruitful cooperation between bishops and religious, both on diocesan and on national and international levels.
Subsequently, when the general criteria were established and various additions were made in the text of the proposals presented to the Fathers, the Plenary Assembly decided that a document giving pastoral guidelines should be drawn up.
The contributions of the Sacred Congregations for Oriental Churches and for the Evangelization of Peoples are also contained in this document.
III. The matter treated is circumscribed by well defined limits. It deals with the relations between bishops and religious of all rites and territories throughout the Church and aims at making a practical contribution to the smooth functioning of the same. The direct subject of discussion are the relations which should exist between the local Ordinary, on the one hand, and Religious Institutes and Societies of Common Life on the other. Secular Institutes are not dealt with directly, except where general principles of the consecrated life (cf. PC 4) and the place of these Institutes within the particular Church (cf. CD 33) are involved.
The text is divided into two parts: one doctrinal, the other normative. The intention is to give some guidelines for an ever better and more efficient application of the principles of renewal set forth by the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council.
Before giving pastoral norms for some of the problems which have arisen in the relations between bishops and religious, it seems advisable that a brief doctrinal synthesis be presented to make it possible to recognize the principles on which these relationships are based. Moreover, the exposition of such principles, though concise, presupposes an ample doctrinal development of the Council documents.
Not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit (LG 9)
1. The Council has emphasized the singular constitutive nature of the Church, presenting her as Mystery (cf. LG ch. 1). Indeed, from Pentecost on (cf. LG 4), there exists in the world a newPeople, which, vivified by the Holy Spirit, assembles in Christ in order to have access  to the Father (cf. Eph 2:18). The members of this People are gathered from all nations and are merged into such an intimate unity (cf. LG 9) that its reality cannot be explained by recourse to any mere sociological formula; for real newness, transcending the human order, is inherent in it. Only in this transcendent perspective can we rightly interpret the relationships among various members of the Church. The element on which the uniqueness of this nature is based is the very presence of the Holy Spirit. He, in fact, is the life and vitality of the People of God and the principle of unity in its communion. He is the vigor of its mission, the source of its multiple gifts, the bond of its marvelous unity, the light and beauty of its creative power, the flame of its love (cf. LG 4; 7; 8; 9; 12; 18; 21).
In fact, the spiritual and pastoral awakening apparent in these recent years reveals, by virtue of the presence of the Holy Spirit -- on which some insidious abuses, though disquieting, give no evidence of having cast the slightest shadow -- a special privileged moment (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 75) for a flourishing spousal newness of the Church as she tends towards the day of her Lord (cf. Rev 22:17).
"One body and, as parts of it, we belong to each other"
(Rm 12:5; cf. l Cor 12:13)
2. In the mystery of the Church, unity in Christ involves a mutual communion of life among her members. God, in fact, "willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people" (LG 9). The very life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit (cf. LG 7) builds up organic cohesion in Christ: indeed, He unifies the Church "in communion and in the works of ministry, He bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and He adorns her with His fruits" (LG 4; cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22).
The elements, then, which differentiate the various members among themselves, the gifts, that is, the offices and the various duties, constitute substantially a kind of mutual complement and are actually ordered to the one communion and mission of the self-same Body (cf. LG 7; AA3). Consequently, the fact that in the Church there are pastors, laymen or religious does not indicate inequality in regard to the common dignity of the members; rather it expresses the articulation of the joints and the functions of a living organism.
Called together to make up a "visible Sacrament"
3. The newness of the People of God in its two-fold aspect, of a visible social organism and an invisible divine presence intimately united, is similar to the very mystery of Christ. In fact, "as the assumed nature, inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body" (LG 8; cf. Eph 4:16). The intimate reciprocal connection of the two elements, therefore, confers upon the Church her special sacramental nature, by virtue of which she completely transcends the limits of any simply sociological perspective. The Council, in fact, was able to assert that the People of God is for all men "the visible sacrament of this saving unity" (LG 9; cf. LG 1; 8; 48; GS 42; AG 1; 5).
The present social evolutions and cultural changes, which we ourselves are witnessing, even though they evoke in the Church the need to renew not a few perhaps of her human aspects, are nevertheless unable to deface in the least her specific structure as universal sacrament of salvation. On the contrary, these very changes, which are to be promoted, will serve at the same time to place her nature in ever greater evidence.
Destined to witness and announce the Gospel
4. All members -- pastors, laymen and religious -- each in his own manner, participate in the sacramental nature of the Church. Likewise, each one, according to his proper role, must be a sign and instrument both of union with God and of the salvation of the world. All, in fact, have this two-fold aspect in their calling:
a) to holiness: "all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness" (LG 39).
b) to the apostolate: the entire Church "is driven by the Holy Spirit to do her part for the full realization of the plan of God" (LG 17; cf. AA 2; AG 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Therefore, before considering the diversity of gifts, offices and duties, we must recognize as fundamental the common vocation of all to union with God for the salvation of the world. This vocation requires in all, as a criterion for participating in ecclesial communion, the primacy of life in the Spirit: this is the basis for the privilege of hearing the Word, of interior prayer, of the realization of living as a member of the entire Body and of concern for its unity, of the faithful fulfillment of one's own mission, of the gift of self in service and of the humility of repentance.
From this common baptismal vocation to life in the Spirit flow clarifying exigencies and productive influences with respect to the relations which must exist between bishops and religious.
The communion proper to the People of God and its excellence
5. Organic communion among the members of the Church is the fruit of the Holy Spirit Himself, in such a way that it necessarily presupposes the historical initiative of Jesus Christ and His paschal exodus. The Holy Spirit is, in fact, the Spirit of the Lord: Jesus Christ, "now raised to the heights by God's right hand" (Acts 2:3), "poured out on His disciples the Spirit promised by the Father" (LG 5). Now, if the Spirit is like the soul of the Body (cf. LG 7), Christ is objectively its Head (cf. LG 7); both therefore are the source of the organic cohesion of its members (cf. 1 Cor 12-13; Col 2:19). Consequently they can have no true docility to the Spirit without fidelity to the Lord, who sends Him; Christ, in fact, "is the head that adds strength and holds the whole body together, with all its joints and sinews" -- and this is the only way in which it can reach its full growth in God (Col 2:19).
The organic communion of the Church, therefore, is not exclusively spiritual, born, that is, in whatever manner it may be, of the Holy Spirit, and of itself preceding the ecclesial function and creative of them, but is simultaneously hierarchic inasmuch as by a vital impulse it is derived from Christ, the Head. The very gifts given by the Spirit are willed precisely by Christ and are of their nature directed to the contexture of the Body in order to vivify its functions and activities. "Now the Church is His body, He is its head. As He is the Beginning, He was first to be born from the dead, so that He should be first in every way" (Col 1:18; cf. LG 7). In this manner the organic communion of the church, both as to its spiritual aspect and its hierarchical nature, has its origin and vitality simultaneously in Christ and in His Spirit. Rightly and appropriately, therefore, the Apostle Paul has used the formulas "in Christ" and "in the Spirit" a number of times, making them converge in an intimate and vital way (cf. Eph2:21-22; and  in various places in the Epistles).
Christ the Head is present in the Episcopal ministry
6. The Lord Himself "set up in His Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole Body" (LG 18). Among these ministries, that of the episcopate is fundamental to all the others. The bishops, in hierarchic communion with the Roman Pontiff, make up the College of Bishops in such a way that jointly they manifest and carry out in the Church-Sacrament the function of Christ, the Head: "In the person of the bishops, then, to whom the priests render assistance, the Lord Jesus Christ, supreme High Priest, is present in the midst of the faithful.... [Bishops] in a resplendent and visible manner, take the place of Christ Himself, teacher, shepherd and priest, and act as His representatives" (LG 21; cf. 27, 28; PO 1, 2; CD 2). No one in the Church other than a bishop carries out an organic function of fecundity (cf. LG 18, 19), unity (cf. LG 23), and spiritual authority (cf. LG 22) which is so basic that it influences all ecclesial activity. Even though the exercise of manifold other tasks and initiatives is distributed diversely among the People of God, nevertheless, the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops have the ministry of discernment and harmony (cf. LG 21) which involves an abundance of special gifts of the Holy Spirit and the distinctive charism of ordering the various roles in intimate docility of mind to the one and only vivifying Spirit (cf. LG 12, 24, etc.).
The indivisibility of the ministry of Bishops
7. The bishop with the collaboration of his priests renders a three-fold service to the community of the faithful, namely that of teaching, sanctifying and ruling (cf. LG 25-27; CD 12-20; PO 4-6). There is no question, however, of three separate ministries. Since, in the New Law, Christ has essentially fused the three functions of Teacher, Priest and Pastor into one, there is only one ministry unique in its origin. Consequently the bishop's ministry is exercised in its different functions in an indivisible way.
If circumstances at times require that one of these three aspects be given greater prominence, the other two are never to be separated or disregarded, lest the inner unity of the entire ministry be weakened in any way. The bishop, then, not only governs, not only sanctifies, not only teaches, but, with the help of his priests, he feeds his flock by teaching, by sanctifying, by governing, as a unique and indivisible action. Hence the bishop, by virtue of his very ministry, is responsible, in a special way for the growth in holiness of all his faithful inasmuch as he is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God and the sanctifier of his flock according to the vocation proper to each one (cf. CD 15) -- likewise, therefore, and above all according to the vocation of religious.
The duty of the sacred hierarchy with respect to religious life
8. Careful reflection on the functions and duties of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in regard to the practical life of religious leads one to discover with particular concreteness and clarity its ecclesial dimension, namely the unquestionable bond of religious life with the life and holiness of the Church (cf. LG 44). Through the action of the sacred hierarchy, God consecrates religious for a more generous service of Him within the People of God (cf. LG44). Likewise the Church, through the ministry of her Pastors,  besides giving legal sanction to the religious form of life and thus raising it to the dignity of a canonical state... sets it forth liturgically also as a state of consecration to God" (LG 45; cf. SC 80, 2).
Bishops, furthermore, as members of the Episcopal College, in harmony with the will of the Supreme Pontiff, are united in this: namely, in wisely regulating the practice of the evangelical counsels (cf. LG 45); in authentically approving Rules proposed to them (cf. LG 45) in such a way that a mission recognized as typically theirs is conferred on Institutes; that a commitment to found new churches is fostered in them, and that specific duties and mandates are entrusted to them; in seeing to it, by their concern, that Institutes "upheld by their supervisory and protective authority... may develop and flourish in accordance with the spirit of their founders"(LG 45); in determining the exemption of some institutes "from the jurisdiction of local ordinaries for the sake of the general good" (LG 45) of the universal Church and to better "ensure that everything is suitably and harmoniously arranged within them, and the perfection of the religious life promoted" (CD 35, 3).
Some consequences
9. These brief considerations on "hierarchic communion" in the Church shed much light on the relations that should be fostered between bishops and religious.
a) Christ is the Head of the ecclesial Body, the eternal Pastor, who has given precedence to Peter and the Apostles and their successors, namely the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, constituting them sacramentally his Vicars (cf. LG 18, 22, 27) and granting them appropriate charisms. No one else has the power to exercise any function, whether of teaching, sanctifying or governing, except by participation and in communion with them.
b) The Holy Spirit is called the soul of the ecclesial body. No member of the People of God, no matter what ministry he may exercise, possesses personally in himself, in their totality, gifts, offices and duties, but must enter into communion with the others. Differences in the People of God, whether of gifts or functions, converge and mutually complement one another, for the unique communion and mission.
c) Bishops, in union with the Roman Pontiff, receive from Christ the Head the duty (cf. LG 21) of discerning gifts and competencies, of coordinating multiple energies, and of guiding the entire People in living in the world as a sign and instrument of salvation. They, therefore, are also entrusted with the duty of caring for religious charisms, all the more so because the very indivisibility of their pastoral ministry makes them responsible for perfecting the entire flock. In this way, by fostering religious life and protecting it in conformity with its own definite characteristics, bishops fulfill a real pastoral duty.
d) All pastors, mindful of the apostolic admonition never to be a "dictator over any group that is put in [their] charge, but [to] be an example that the whole flock can follow" (1 Pt 5:3), will rightly be aware of the primacy of life in the Spirit. This demands that they be at the same time leaders and members; truly fathers, but also brothers; teachers of the faith, but especially fellow disciples of Christ; those indeed, responsible for the perfection of the faithful, but also true witnesses of their personal sanctification.
The "ecclesial" nature of Religious Institutes
10. The religious state is not a kind of intermediate way between the clerical and lay condition of life, but comes from both as a special gift for the entire Church (cf. LG 43).
It consists in the following of Christ, by publicly professing the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, and by assuming the commitment of removing all obstacles which could detract from the fervor of charity and from the perfection of divine worship. A religious, in fact, "dedicates himself wholly to God, his supreme love. In a new and special way he makes himself over to God, to serve and honor Him;" this unites the religious "to the Church and her mystery in a special way" and urges such a one to work with undivided dedication for the good of the entire Body (cf. LG 44).
This clearly indicates that religious life is a special way of participating in the sacramentalnature of the People of God. Indeed, the consecration  of those professing religious vows is especially ordained to this purpose, namely of offering to the world visible proof of the unfathomable mystery of Christ, inasmuch as in themselves they really present "Christ in contemplation on the mountain, or proclaiming the kingdom of God to the multitudes, or healing the sick and maimed and converting sinners to a good life, or blessing children and doing good to all men, always in obedience to the will of the Father who sent Him" (LG 46).
The distinctive character of every Institute
11. There are many Religious Institutes in the Church, each differing one from the other according to its proper character (cf. PC 7, 8, 9, 10). Each, however, contributes its own vocation as a gift raised up by the Spirit through the work of outstanding men and women (cf. LG 45; PC 1; 2), and authentically approved by the sacred hierarchy.
The very charism of the Founders (Evang. nunt. 11) appears as an "experience of the Spirit," transmitted to their disciples to be lived, safeguarded, deepened and constantly developed by them, in harmony with the Body of Christ continually in the process of growth. "It is for this reason that the distinctive character of various religious institutes is preserved and fostered by the Church" (LG 44; cf. CD 33; 35, 1; 35, 2; etc.). This distinctive character also involves a particular style of sanctification and of apostolate, which creates its particular tradition, with the result that one can readily perceive its objective elements.
In this hour of cultural evolution and ecclesial renewal, therefore, it is necessary to preserve the identity of each institute so securely, that the danger of an ill-defined situation be avoided, lest religious, failing to give due consideration to the particular mode of action proper to their character, become part of the life of the Church in a vague and ambiguous way.
Some signs of a genuine "charism"
12. Every authentic charism implies a certain element of genuine originality and of special initiative for the spiritual life of the Church. In its surroundings it may appear troublesome and may even cause difficulties, since it is not always and immediately easy to recognize it as coming from the Spirit.
The specific charismatic note of any institute demands, both of the Founder and of his disciples, a continual examination regarding fidelity to the Lord; docility to His Spirit; intelligent attention to circumstances and an outlook cautiously directed to the signs of the times; the will to be part of the Church; the awareness of subordination to the sacred hierarchy; boldness of initiatives; constancy in the giving of self; humility in bearing with adversities. The true relation between genuine charism, with its perspectives of newness, and interior suffering, carries with it an unvarying history of the connection between charism and cross, which, above every motive that may justify misunderstandings, is supremely helpful in discerning the authenticity of a vocation.
Individual religious, too, certainly possess personal gifts, which without doubt usually come from the Spirit. They are intended for the enrichment, development and rejuvenation of the life of the institute, in the unity of the community and in giving proof of renewal. Discernment of such gifts, however, and their correct use will be measured according to the consistency they show both with the community commitment of the Institute and with the needs of the Church as judged by legitimate authority.
Service characteristic of religious authority
13. Superiors fulfill their duty of service and leadership within the religious institute in conformity with its distinctive character. Their authority proceeds from the Spirit of the Lord through the sacred hierarchy, which has granted canonical erection to the institute and authentically approved its specific mission.
Considering then the fact that the prophetic, priestly and royal condition is common to all the People of God (cf. LG 9, 10, 34, 35, 36), it seems useful to outline the competency of religious authority, paralleling it by analogy to the three-fold function of pastoral ministry, namely, of teaching, sanctifying and governing without, however, confusing one authority with the other or equating them.
a) Regarding the office of teaching, religious superiors have the competency and authority of spiritual directors in relation to the evangelical purpose of their institute. In this context, therefore, they must carry on a veritable spiritual direction of the entire Congregation and of its individual communities. They should accomplish this in sincere harmony with the authentic magisterium of the hierarchy, realizing that they must carry out a mandate of grave responsibility in the evangelical plan of the Founder.
b) As to the office of sanctifying, the superiors have also a special competency and responsibility, albeit with differentiated duties. They must foster perfection in what concerns the increase of the life of charity according to the end of the institute, both as to formation, initial and ongoing, of the members and as to communal and personal fidelity in the practice of the evangelical counsels according to the Rule. This duty, if it is rightly accomplished, is considered by the Roman Pontiff and the bishops a valuable help in the fulfillment of their fundamental ministry of sanctification.
c) As to the office of governing, superiors must render the service of ordering the life of the community, of organizing the members of the institute, of caring for and developing its particular mission and of seeing to it that it be efficiently inserted into ecclesial activity under the leadership of the bishops.
Institutes then have an internal organization all their own (cf. CD 35, 3) which has its proper field of competency and a right to autonomy, even though in the Church this autonomy can never become independence (cf. CD 35, 3 and 4). The correct degree of such autonomy and the concrete determination of competency are contained in common law and in the Rules or Constitutions of each institute.
Some conclusions as guidelines
14. From the above reflections on religious life, we can deduce some specific conclusions:
a) Religious and their communities are called to give clear testimony in the Church of total dedication to God. This is the fundamental option of their Christian existence and their primary duty in their distinctive way of life. Whatever the specific character of their institute may be, religious are, in fact, consecrated in order to show forth publicly in the Church-Sacrament "that the world can not be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes" (LG 31).
b) Every institute exists for the Church and must enrich her with its distinctive characteristics, according to a particular spirit and a specific mission. Religious, therefore, should cultivate a renewed ecclesial awareness, by offering their services for the building up of the Body of Christ, by persevering in fidelity to their Rule, and by obeying their superiors (cf. PC 14; CD 35, 2).
c) Religious superiors have a grave duty, their foremost responsibility in fact, to assure the fidelity of the members to the charism of the Founder, by fostering the renewal prescribed by the Council and required by the times.
They should strive zealously, therefore, to direct and continually animate their members to pursue this goal. They should, moreover, consider it their privileged duty to bring about fitting and updated formation (PC 2d; 14; 18).
Finally, aware of the fact that religious life of its very nature requires a special participation on the part of the members, superiors should strive to encourage it, since "effective renewal and right adaptation cannot be achieved save with the cooperation of all the members of an institute" (PC 4).
Ecclesial mission flows from the "fountain of love" (AG 2)
15. The mission of the People of God is one. In a certain sense it constitutes the heart of the entire ecclesial mystery. The Father, in fact, "has consecrated the Son and sent [Him] into the world" (Jn 10:36), "Mediator between God and men" (AG 3). On Pentecost "Christ sent the Holy Spirit from the Father to exercise inwardly His saving influence, and to promote the spread of the Church" (AG 4). Thus the Church, throughout her history, "is by her very nature missionary" (AG 2; cf. LG 17), in Christ and in virtue of the Spirit. All -- pastors, laymen and religious -- each according to his specific vocation, are called to be apostolically committed (cf. n. 4). This commitment arises from the love of the Father; the Holy Spirit, then, nourishes it, "giving life to ecclesiastical structures, being as it were their soul, and inspiring in the hearts of the faithful that same spirit of mission which impelled Christ Himself" (AG 4). Consequently the mission of the People of God can never consist solely in the activity of the exterior life, since apostolic commitment cannot in the absolute be reduced to mere human promotion, however efficacious it be, because every pastoral and missionary initiative is rooted in participation in the mystery of the Church. And, in fact, the Church's mission is by its very nature nothing else than the mission of Christ continued in the history of the world. It consists principally in the co-participation in the obedience of Him (cf. Heb 5:8) who offered Himself to the Father for the life of the world.
The absolute necessity of union with God
16. Mission, which begins with the Father, requires that those who are sent exercise their awareness of love in the dialog of prayer. Therefore, in these times of apostolic renewal, as always in every form of missionary engagement, a privileged place is given to the contemplation of God, to meditation on His plan of salvation, and to reflection on the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel so that prayer may be nourished and grow in quality and frequency.
It is urgently necessary that everyone appreciate prayer and have recourse to it. Bishops and their priest-collaborators (cf. LG 25; 27; 28; 41), "dispensers of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor4:1) "should aim to make of  one mind in prayer all who are entrusted to their care, and to ensure their advancement in grace through the reception of the sacraments, and that they become faithful witnesses to the Lord" (CD 15). Religious, in turn, inasmuch as they are called to be, as it were, specialists in prayer (Paul VI, Oct. 28, 1966), "should seek and love above all else God..." and "in all circumstances they should take care to foster a life hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3) which is the source and stimulus of love of neighbor" (PC 6).
By disposition of divine Providence, today many of the faithful are led by an inner impulse to gather in groups to hear the Gospel, to meditate and give themselves up to contemplation. Consequently for the very efficacy of mission, it is indispensable to make certain that all, especially pastors, give themselves up to prayer, and likewise that religious institutes preserve in their form of dedication to God, both by fostering the eminent role that communities of contemplative life hold in this field (cf. PC 7 and AG 18), and by providing that religious, dedicated to apostolic work nourish their intimate union with Christ and give clear witness of it (cf. PC 8).
Different forms of apostolic commitment
17. Cultural situations in which apostolic activity is carried out vary; differences, therefore, can be noticed in the unity of mission. These, however, "do not flow from the inner nature of the mission itself, but from the circumstances in which it is exercised. These circumstances depend either on the Church itself or on the peoples, classes, or men to whom its mission is directed" (AG 6).
These assuredly real differences, although contingent, affect notably not only the exercise of the pastoral ministry of bishops and priests, but also the particular life-style and duties of religious. They exact difficult adaptations, especially on the part of institutes dedicated to apostolic activity on an international level.
Regarding the relations between bishops and religious, therefore, in addition to the differences in functions (cf. AA 1) and charisms (cf. LG 2) the concrete difference existing within nations must likewise be carefully considered.
Reciprocal influence between universal and particular Churches
18. The problem of the mutual influence between universal and particular values of the People of God arises from the need to insert the mystery of the Church into the setting distinctive of each region.
Vatican Council II dealt not only with the universal Church but also with particular and local Churches, which it presented as one of the aspects of renewal in ecclesial life (cf. LG 13; 23; 26; CD 3; 11; 15; AG 22; PC 20). In this light, a certain process of decentralization, which necessarily has its consequences in the relations between bishops and religious (cf. Evang. nunt. 61-64), can have a positive significance.
Every particular Church becomes enriched by sound human elements, characteristic of the genius and nature of each nation. Such elements, nevertheless, are not to be regarded as indications of division, of partìcularism or of nationalism, but as expressions of variety within the same unity and of the fullness of that incarnation which enriches the entire Mystical Body (cf. UR 14-17). The Church universal, in fact, is not the sum total of particular Churches, nor is it a federation of them (cf. Evang. nunt. 62), but it is the total and enlarged presence of the unique universal sacrament of salvation (cf. Evang. nunt. 54). This multiform unity, however, carries with it various concrete exigencies for bishops and religious in the fulfillment of their duties.
a) Bishops and their priest-collaborators are responsible before all others both for the correct discernment of the local cultural values in the life of their Church, and of the clear perspective of universality, by reason of their missionary role of successors to the Apostles, who were sent out into the whole world (cf. CD 6; LG 20; 23; 24; AG 5; 38).
b) Religious, then, even if they belong to an institute of pontifical right, should feel themselves truly a part of the "diocesan family" (cf. CD 34) and accept the duty of necessary adaptation. They should foster local vocations both for the diocesan clergy and for religious life. Furthermore, they should form candidates for their congregation in such a way that these really live according to the actual local culture. At the same time, however they should be watchful that there be no deviation from the missionary call inherent in the religious vocation, or from the unity and distinctive character of each institute.
Missionary duty and the spirit of initiative
19. A clear missionary obligation, rooted in their very ministry and charism, emerges for bishops and religious. This obligation becomes more pressing each day as present cultural conditions evolve in the form of two principal trends, namely materialism, which is invading the masses even in regions Christian by tradition, and the increase in international communications, whereby all peoples including non-Christians can readily be united one with the other. Moreover, the deep upheavals of situations, the growth of human values, and the manifold needs of the world today (cf. GS 43-44), press ever more insistently on the one hand for the renewal of many traditional pastoral forms of activity, and on the other for the search for new forms of apostolic presence. In such a situation a certain apostolic diligence is urgently necessary in order to devise new, ingenious, and courageous ecclesial experiments under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is by His very nature Creator. A responsiveness rich in creative initiative (cf. n. 12) is eminently compatible with the charismatic nature of the religious life. In fact, the Holy Father Pope Paul VI himself affirmed this: "thanks to their religious consecration, [religious] are above all free and can spontaneously leave everything and go to announce the Gospel even to the ends of the earth. They are prompt in acting; and their apostolate frequently excels because of the ingeniousness of their projects and undertakings, which evoke admiration in all who observe them" (Evang. nunt. 69).
Coordinating pastoral activity
20. The Church was not established to be an organization for activity, but rather to give witness as the living Body of Christ. Nevertheless the Church necessarily carries on the concrete work of planning and of coordinating the manifold offices and services, so that together they may merge into one unified pastoral action in which the choices to be made and the apostolic engagements to be given preference are decided (cf. CD 11; 30; 35, 5; AG 22; 29). Today, in fact, it is necessary to set in motion on the various levels of ecclesial life a fitting system of research and action, so that the mission of evangelizing may be carried out in the way most consonant with the different situations.
There are three principal operative centers for such desirable coordination: the Holy See, the diocese (cf. CD 11) and successively, in its own proper sphere, the Episcopal Conference (cf. CD 38). In addition to these centers, then, other organs of cooperation are set up according to ecclesial and regional needs.
Mutual collaboration among religious
21. Within the setting of religious life the Holy See establishes Conferences of Major Superiors and of Superiors General, both on the local and on the universal level (cf. PC 23; REU 73, 5). Obviously, these differ from Episcopal Conferences in nature and authority. Their primary purpose is the promotion of religious life as it is inserted into the contexture of ecclesial mission, and their activity consists in offering common services, suggesting fraternal initiatives and proposals for collaboration, respecting, of course, the distinctive nature of each institute. This will undoubtedly contribute also to offering valuable assistance for pastoral coordination especially if a suitable examination of the operative statutes is made at fixed times, and if, above all, the mutual relationships between Bishops' Conferences and Conferences of Major Superiors are carried out according to the directives issued by the Holy See.
The pastoral meaning of exemption
22. The Supreme Pontiff, in view of the good of the Church itself (cf. LG 45; CD 35, 3), grants exemption to a number of religious families, so that institutes can express their identity more adequately and devote themselves to the common good with special generosity and on a wider scale (cf. n. 8).
Actually, exemption does not of itself create any obstacle either to pastoral coordination or to reciprocal good relations among the People of God. In fact, it relates to the internal organization of their institutes. Its purpose is to ensure that everything is suitably and harmoniously arranged within them, and the perfection of the religious life promoted. The privilege ensures also that the Supreme Pontiff may employ these religious for the good of the universal Church or that some other competent authority may do so for the good of the churches under its jurisdiction" (CD 35, 3; cf. CD 35, 4; Eccl. Sanctae I, 25-40; Evang. nunt. 69).
Consequently exempt religious institutes, faithful to "their own proper characters and functions" (PC 2b), should cultivate above all special attachment to the Roman Pontiff and to the bishops, placing their liberty and apostolic availability at their disposal effectively and generously in conformity with religious obedience. Similarly, they should devote themselves with full awareness and zeal to the task of incarnating and manifesting in the diocese the specific witness and the genuine mission of their institute. Finally they should always reanimate that apostolic sensitivity and initiative, which are characteristic of their consecration.
Bishops certainly recognize and appreciate greatly the specific contribution with which these religious come to the assistance of the particular Churches and find in their exemption a certain expression of that pastoral concern which unites them intimately with the Roman Pontiff for the universal care of all people (cf. n. 8).
This renewed awareness of exemption, if it is really shared by the various collaborators in pastoral endeavor, will promote greatly increased apostolic initiative and missionary zeal in every particular Church.
Some criteria for a just ordering of pastoral activity
23. The above considerations on ecclesial mission suggest the following directives:
a) First of all, the very nature of apostolic action requires that bishops give precedence to interior recollection and to the life of prayer (cf. LG 26; 27; 41); it requires, moreover, that religious, in conformity with their distinctive nature, renew themselves in depth and be assiduous in prayer.
b) Special care should be taken to foster "the various undertakings aimed at establishing the contemplative life" (AG 18), since it holds a very honored place in the mission of the Church, "no matter how pressing may be the needs of the active ministry" (PC 7). Especially today as the danger of materialism grows more serious, the vocation of all to the perfection of love (cf. LG 40) is made radically evident by institutes entirely dedicated to contemplation, in which it is more clearly apparent that, as St. Bernard says, "the motive for loving God is God; the limit is to love Him without limit" (De diligendo Deo c. 1; PL 182, n. 548).
c) The activity of the People of God in the world is by its nature universal and missionary, both by the very character of the Church (LG 17) and by Christ's mandate, which conferred a universality without boundaries on the apostolate (Evang. nunt. 49). Bishops and superiors must, therefore, give attention to this dimension of apostolic awareness and foster concrete initiatives to promote it.
d) The particular Church is the historic space in which a vocation is exercised in the concrete and realizes its apostolic commitment. Here, in fact, within the confines of a determined culture, the Gospel is preached and received (cf. Evang. nunt. 19; 20; 32; 35; 40; 62; 63). It is necessary, therefore, that this reality of great importance in pastoral renewal be also kept duly present in the work of formation.
e) The mutual influence between the two poles, namely between the active co-participation of a particular culture and the perspective of universality, must be founded on unalterable esteem and constant protection of those values of unity, which under no circumstance may be renounced, whether the unity in question is that of the Catholic Church -- for all the faithful -- or that of each religious institute -- for all its members. The local community which would break away from this unity would be exposed to a two-fold danger: "on the one hand the danger of segregation, which produces sterility...; on the other, the danger of losing one's own liberty when, separated from the head..., isolated it becomes subject in many ways to the forces of those who attempt to subdue and exploit it" (Evang. nunt. 64).
f) Especially in our times that same charismatic genuineness, vivacious and ingenious in its inventiveness, is expected of religious, as stood out so eminently in their Founders, so that they may the better and with zeal engage in the apostolic work of the Church among those, who today constitute, in fact, the majority of humanity and are the specially beloved of the Lord: the little ones and the poor (cf. Mt 18:1-6; Lk 6:20).
The experience of recent years has, in the light of the above principles, led to the formulation of some directives and norms dealing especially with the practical aspects of life. From this it will undoubtedly follow that the mutual relations between bishops and religious will be further facilitated to the advantage of the building up of the Body of Christ.
We shall present these directives, which are mutually complementary, under three distinct headings, namely:
a) the formative aspect,
b) the operative aspects,
c) the organizational aspect.
The text presupposes the juridical prescriptions already in force, and at times makes reference to these; it does not therefore derogate from any of the prescriptions of preceding documents of the Holy See still in force in this matter.
The Roman Pontiff and the bishops carry out in the Church the supreme role of authentic Teachers and Sanctifiers of the entire flock (cf. Part I, ch. II). Religious superiors, in turn, are vested with special authority for the direction of their own institute and carry the heavy burden of the formation of the members (cf. PC 14; 18; Part I, ch. III).
Consequently bishops and superiors, each according to his specific role, but in harmony and united effort, should give precedence to their responsibilities regarding formation.
24. Bishops, in accord also with religious superiors, should promote, especially among diocesan priests, zealous laity and local religious, a clear awareness and experience of the mystery and structure of the Church and of the vivifying indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by jointly organizing special seminars and encounters on spirituality. They should, moreover, insist without ceasing that both public and personal prayer be appreciated and intensified, even by means of appropriate initiatives, carefully prepared.
25. On their part, religious communities, especially of contemplative life, maintaining, of course, fidelity to their distinctive spirit (cf. PC 7; AG 40), should offer people appropriate aids for prayer and for their personal spiritual life, so that they can respond to the pressing need, today more deeply felt than ever, for meditation and the deepening of faith. They should also offer them the opportunity and facility to participate suitably in their liturgical functions, always respecting the requirements of the enclosure and the rules laid down in this regard.
26. Superiors should see to it with all solicitude that their religious remain faithful to their vocation. They should foster opportune adaptations to cultural, social and economic conditions, according to the needs of the times, being vigilant however, lest these adaptations go beyond just limits in the direction of customs contrary to religious life. Cultural updating and specialized studies taken up by religious should deal with subjects pertinent to the distinctive nature of the institute. Such studies should not be programmed with a view to achieving personal goals as if they were a means of wrongly understood self-fulfillment, but with a view to responding to the requirements of the apostolic commitments of the religious family itself, in harmony with the needs of the Church.
27. In promoting ongoing formation of religious, it is necessary to insist on the renewal of the witness of poverty and of service to the most needy and to bring about, furthermore, that through a renewed spirit of obedience and chastity communities become signs of brotherly love and unity.
In institutes of active life, for which the apostolate constitutes an essential element of their religious life (cf. CD 12; 15; 35, 2; LG 25; 45), as both initial and ongoing formation progress, the apostolate itself should be duly emphasized.
28. It is the duty of bishops as authentic teachers and guides of perfection for all the members of the diocese (cf. CD 12; 15; 35, 2; LG 25; 45) to be the guardians likewise of fidelity to the religious vocation in the spirit of each institute. In carrying out this pastoral obligation, bishops in open communion of doctrine and intent with the Supreme Pontiff and the offices of the Holy See, and with the other bishops and local Ordinaries, should strive to promote relations with superiors, to whom the religious are subject in the spirit of faith (cf. PC 14).
Bishops, along with their clergy, should be convinced advocates of the consecrated life, defenders of religious communities, promotors of vocations, firm guardians of the specific character of each religious family both in the spiritual and in the apostolic field.
29. Bishops and religious superiors, each according to his specific competency, should zealously foster knowledge of the doctrine of the Council and of the pontifical pronouncements on the episcopacy, on religious life and on the local Church, and also on the mutual relationships existing among them. To this end the following initiatives are desirable:
a) meetings of bishops and religious superiors to study these topics together;
b) special courses for diocesan priests, for religious and for the laity engaged in the active apostolate, in order to arrive at new and more appropriate adaptations;
c) studies and experiments especially appropriate for the formation of lay religious men and religious women;
d) the preparation of suitable pastoral documents for the diocese, the region or the nation, that present these subjects in a challenging way for the reflection of the faithful.
Care must be taken, however, lest this formation remain limited to only a few. All should have the possibility to benefit by it, and it should become a common effort of all the members.
It seems opportune, moreover, that this doctrinal study be also given sufficient publicity through the press, other means of social communication, conferences, exhortations, etc.
30. Right from the initial stages of both ecclesiastical and religious formation, the systematic study of the mystery of Christ, of the sacramental nature of the Church, of the ministry of bishops and of religious life in the Church should be programmed. Therefore:
a) religious from the novitiate on should be brought to a fuller awareness and concern for the local church, while at the same time growing in fidelity to their own vocation;
b) bishops should see to it that the diocesan clergy understand well the current problems of religious life and the urgent missionary needs, and that certain chosen priests be prepared to be able to help religious in their spiritual progress (cf. OT 10; AG 39), though generally it is preferable that this task be entrusted to prudently chosen religious priests (cf. n. 36).
31. Greater maturity of the priestly and religious vocation depends also, and to a decisive degree, on the doctrinal formation given usually in centers of study on the university level or in institutes of higher studies or in other institutes specially adapted to this purpose.
Bishops and religious superiors involved in this work should offer effective collaboration for the upkeep of these centers of study and their proper functioning, especially when such centers are at the service of one or more dioceses and religious congregations, and guarantee both the excellence of the teaching and the presence of teachers and of all others who, duly prepared, are able to meet the requirements of formation. They should, moreover, assure the most effective use of personnel and facilities.
In preparing, reforming and implementing the statutes of these study centers, the rights and duties of each participant, the obligations which by virtue of his very ministry belong to the bishop or bishops, ways of operating and the measure of responsibility of religious superiors who have a shared interest, should be clearly defined. In this way an objective and complete presentation of doctrine, structured in harmony with the Church's Magisterium, can be fostered. On the basis, then, of the general criteria of competency and responsibility and according to the statutes, the activity and initiatives of these centers should be diligently followed up. And in all this delicate and important discipline, the norms and directives of the Holy See should always be observed.
32. An adequate renewal of pastoral methods in the diocese requires a deeper knowledge of whatever concretely affects the local human and religious life, so that from this source can flow objective and appropriate theological reflection, priorities in the field of action can be established, a plan of pastoral action can be formed and, finally, what has been realized can be examined periodically. This work may require that bishops, with the help of competent persons, chosen also from among religious, create and maintain study commissions and research centers. Such undertakings appear more and more necessary not only to offer people a more updated formation but also to give pastoral activities a rational structure.
33. Religious have the special and delicate obligation of being attentive and docile to the Magisterium of the Hierarchy and of facilitating for the bishops the exercise of the ministry of authentic teachers and witnesses of the divine and catholic truth (cf. LG 25), in the fulfillment of their responsibility for the doctrinal teaching of faith both in the centers where its study is promoted and in the use of means to transmit it.
a) As to the publication of books and documents, edited by publishing houses of religious or by organizations under their care, the norms given by the S. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (March 19, 1975) regarding the competent authority for the approval of texts of Sacred Scripture and their translation, liturgical books, prayer books and catechisms or any other type of work containing topics which are connected in a special way with religion and morals are to be observed. Disregard of these norms, at times speciously and cleverly contrived, can cause serious harm to the faithful. This must be avoided at all costs and with sincerity, especially by religious.
b) The necessary understanding with the competent Ordinaries is always to be safeguarded, even in the case of documents and editorial initiatives of religious institutes, local or national, which, although not destined for public consumption, can nevertheless exert a certain influence in the pastoral sphere of activity, as, for example, texts dealing with the new and serious problems on social, economic and political questions connected in one way or another with faith and the religious life.
c) Bishops, taking into careful consideration the special mission of some institutes, should encourage and support religious who are engaged in the important apostolic field of the written word and social communications. In this regard, they should foster wider apostolic collaboration, especially on the national level; likewise they should be concerned about the formation of specialized personnel for this activity, not only as regards their technical competency but also and especially as regards their sense of ecclesial responsibility.
34. It would be a serious mistake to make the two realities -- religious life and ecclesial structures -- independent one of the other, or to oppose one to the other as if they could subsist as two distant entities, one charismatic, the other institutional. Both elements, namely the spiritual gifts and the ecclesial structures form one, even though complex reality (cf. LG 8).
Wherefore religious, even while showing a particular spirit of enterprise and foresight for the future (cf. Part I, ch. III), should be intensely loyal to the intention and spirit of their institute, in full obedience and adherence to the authority of the hierarchy (cf. PC 2; LG 12).
35. The bishop, as Shepherd of the diocese, and religious superiors inasmuch as they are responsible for their institute, should promote the participation of men and women religious in the life of the local Church and in their knowledge of the directives and ecclesiastical rules. Likewise, they (especially the superiors) should strive to increase supra-national unity within their own institute and docility to their superiors general (cf. Part I, ch. IV).
The Church lives in the Spirit and rests on the foundation of Peter and the Apostles and their successors, so that the episcopal ministry is in fact the guiding principle of the pastoral dynamism of the entire People of God. Consequently the Church works in harmony both with the Holy Spirit who is her soul and with the Head operative in the Body (cf. Part I, ch. II). This evidently has well determined consequences for bishops and religious in the carrying out of their initiatives and activities, even though they are vested with a specific competency, each according to his own role.
The practical directives set forth here refer to two kinds of needs in the field of action: namely, the pastoral and the religious.
Requirements of pastoral mission
36. The Council affirms that "members, too, of religious institutes, both men and women, also belong in a special sense to the diocesan family and render valuable help to the sacred hierarchy, and in view of the growing needs of the apostolate they can and should constantly increase the aid they give" (CD
In places where there are more than one rite, religious, when carrying out activities on behalf of the faithful of rites different from their own, should follow the norms regulating the relationships between themselves and bishops of other rites (cf. Eccl. Sanctae I, 23).
It is important that such criteria be applied, not only in the final stages but also in determining and elaborating a plan of action, without prejudice, however, to the role proper to the bishop of making the decisions.
Religious priests, by virtue of the very unity of the priesthood (cf. LG 28; CD 28; 11) and inasrnuch as they share in the care of souls, "may be said, in a certain sense, to belong to the diocesan clergy" (CD 34); therefore, in the field of activity, they can and should serve to unite and coordinate religious men and women with the local clergy and bishop.
37. Efforts should be made to renew the bonds of fraternity and cooperation between the diocesan clergy and communities of religious (cf. CD 35, 5). Great importance should therefore be placed on all those means, even though simple and informal, which serve to increase mutual trust, apostolic solidarity and fraternal harmony (cf. ES I, 28). This will indeed serve not only to strengthen genuine awareness of the local Church, but also to encourage each one to render and request help joyfully, to foster the desire for cooperation, and also to love the human and ecclesial community, in whose life each one finds himself a part, almost as if it were the fatherland of his own vocation.
38. Major superiors will take great care not only to have a knowledge of the talents and possibilities of their religious but also of the apostolic needs of the dioceses where their institute is called to work. Wherefore it is desirable that a concrete and global dialog be carried on between the bishop and the superiors of the various institutes present in the diocese, so that, especially in view of certain precarious situations and the persistent vocational crisis, religious personnel can be more evenly and fruitfully distributed.
39. Pastoral commitment for vocational recruitment is to be considered a privileged area for cooperation between bishops and religious (cf. PO 11; PC 24; OT 2). Such pastoral commitment consists in a united effort on the part of the Christian community for all vocations, in such a way that the Church is built up according to the fullness of Christ and according to the variety of charisms of His Spirit.
Regarding vocations, this above all else must be kept in mind, namely that the Holy Spirit, who "breathes where He wills" (Jn 3:8) calls the faithful to various offices and states for the greater good of the Church. It is evident that no obstacles should be placed in the way of such divine action; on the contrary, each one should be enabled to respond to his calling with the greatest freedom. For that matter, history itself can testify to the fact that the diversity of vocations, and particularly the coexistence and collaboration of secular and religious clergy are not detrimental to dioceses but rather enrich them with new spiritual treasures and increase notably their apostolic vitality.
Wherefore, it is fitting that the various initiatives be wisely coordinated under the bishops --according, that is, to the duties proper to parents and educators, to men and women religious, to diocesan priests and to all others who work in the pastoral field. This commitment will have to be carried out harmoniously and with the full dedication of each one. And the bishop himself should direct the efforts of all, causing them to converge toward the self-same purpose, always mindful that such efforts are basically inspired by the Holy Spirit. In consideration of this fact, therefore, the promotion of frequent prayer initiatives is also urgently necessary.
40. In renewing pastoral methods and updating apostolic works, the profound upheavals which have taken place in our modern world (cf. GS 43; 44) are to be taken seriously into consideration. Wherefore at times it is necessary to confront situations which are quite difficult, especially, "to help in the ministry in its various forms in the dioceses or regions where the urgent needs of the Church or shortage of clergy require it" (Eccl. Sanctae I, 36).
Bishops, in dialog with religious superiors and with all who work in the pastoral sector of the diocese, should try to discern what the Spirit wills and should study ways to provide new apostolic presences, so as to be able to deal with the difficulties which have arisen within the diocese. The search, however, for this renewal must not in the least lead to a depreciation of the still actually valid forms of apostolate, which are properly traditional, such as that of the school (cf. S. Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, March 19, 1977), of the missions, of effective presence in hospitals, social services, etc. All these traditional forms, moreover, must be, without delay, suitably updated according to the norms and guidelines of the Council and the needs of the times.
41. Apostolic innovations, which are later to be undertaken, should be planned with careful study. On the one hand, it is the duty of the bishops through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thes 5:12 and 19-21; LG 12), in such a way however, "that the spontaneous zeal of those who engage in this work may be safeguarded and fostered" (AG 30); religious superiors, on their part, should cooperate actively and dialog with the bishops in seeking solutions, in arranging the programming of choices made, in launching experiments, even completely new ones, always acting in view of the most urgent needs of the Church and in conformity with the norms and directives of the Magisterium and according to the nature of their institute.
42. The commitment to a mutual exchange of help between bishops and superiors in appraising objectively and judging with equity experiments already undertaken should never be disregarded. In this way, not only evasions and frustrations but also the dangers of crises and deviations will be avoided.
Periodically, therefore, such undertakings should be reviewed; and if the endeavor has not been successful (cf. Evang. nunt. 58), humility and at the same time the necessary firmness should be exercised to correct, suspend or direct more adequately the experiment examined.
43. Great harm is done to the faithful by the fact that too much tolerance is granted to certain unsound initiatives or to certain accomplished facts which are ambiguous. Consequently bishops and superiors, in a spirit of mutual trust, in fulfillment of the obligations incumbent upon each and in keeping with the exercise of each one's responsibility, should see to it with the greatest concern that such errors are forestalled and corrected with evident decisiveness and clear dispositions, always in the spirit of charity but also with due resoluteness.
Especially in the field of liturgy there is urgent need to remedy not a few abuses introduced under pretexts at variance one with another. Bishops as the authentic liturgists of the local Church (cf SC 22; 41; LG 26;CD 15; cf. Part I, ch. II), and religious superiors in what concerns their members should be vigilant and see that adequate renewal of worship is brought about, and they should intervene early in order to correct or remove any deviations and abuses in this sector, which is so important and central (cf. SC 10). Religious, too, should remember that they are obliged to abide by the laws and directives of the Holy See, as well as the decrees of the local Ordinary, in what concerns the exercise of public worship (cf. Eccl. Sanctae I, 26; 37; 38).
Requirements of Religious Life
44. With regard to the pastoral activities of religious, the Council expressly declares: "All religious, whether exempt or non-exempt, are subject to the authority of the local ordinary in the following matters: public worship, without prejudice, however, to the diversity of rites; the care of souls; preaching to the people; the religious and moral education, catechetical instruction and liturgical formation of the faithful, especially of children. They are also subject to diocesan rules regarding the comportment proper to the clerical state and also the various activities relating to the exercise of their sacred apostolate. Catholic schools conducted by religious are also subject to the local ordinaries as regards their general policy and supervision without prejudice, however, to the right of the religious to manage them. Likewise, religious are obliged to observe all those prescriptions which episcopal councils or conferences legitimately decree as binding on all" (CD 35, 4; Eccl. Sanctae I, 39).
45. In order that the relations between bishops and superiors produce increasingly more fruitful results, they must be developed in cordial respect for persons and institutes, in the conviction that religious must give witness of docility towards the Magisterium and of obedience to their superiors, and with the mutual understanding to act in such a way that neither transgresses the limits of competency of the other.
46. As to religious who engage in apostolic activities beyond the works of their own institute, their participation in the life of the community and their fidelity to their rule and constitutions must be safeguarded -- "bishops should not fail for their part to insist on this obligation" (CD35, 2). No apostolic commitment should be an occasion to deviate from one's vocation.
Regarding the situation of certain religious who would like to withdraw from the authority of their superior and have recourse to that of the bishop, each case should be studied objectively. It is necessary, however, that after suitable exchange of views and a sincere search for solutions, the bishop support the provision made by the competent superior, unless it is evident to him that some injustice is involved.
47. Bishops and their immediate collaborators should see to it not only that they have an exact idea of the distinctive nature of each institute but that they keep abreast of their actual situation and of their criteria for renewal. Religious superiors, in turn, in addition to acquiring a more updated doctrinal vision of the particular Church, should also strive to keep themselves factually informed with respect to the current situation of pastoral activity and the apostolic program adopted in the diocese in which they are to offer their services.
In case an institute finds itself in the situation of being unable to carry on a given undertaking, its superiors should in good time and with confidence make known the factors hindering its continuance, at least in its actual form, especially if this is due to a lack of personnel. For his part, the local Ordinary should consider sympathetically the request to withdraw from the undertaking (cf. Eccl. Sanctae I, 34, 3) and in common accord with the superiors seek a suitable solution.
48. A deeply felt need, rich in promises also for the activities and apostolic dynamism of the local Church, is that of fostering, with concerned commitment, exchanges of information and better understanding among the various religious institutes working in a given diocese. To this end, superiors should do their part to bring about this dialog in suitable ways and at regular times. This will certainly serve to increase trust, esteem, mutual exchange of aids, in-depth study of problems and the mutual communication of experiences, so that as a consequence, the common profession of the evangelical counsels may be more clearly expressed.
49. In the vast pastoral field of the Church, a new and very important place has been accorded to women. Once zealous helpers of the Apostles (cf. Acts 18:26; Rom 16:1 ff.), women should contribute their apostolic activity today in the ecclesial community realizing faithfully the mystery of their created and revealed identity (cf. Gen 2; Eph 5; 1 Tim 3 etc.) and taking notice of their growing influence in civil society.
Religious women therefore, faithful to their vocation and in harmony with their distinctive character as women, should seek out and propose new apostolic forms of service in response to the concrete needs of the Church and of the world.
After the example of Mary who in the Church holds the highest place of charity among believers, and animated by that incomparably human trait of sensitivity and concern which is so characteristic of them (cf. Paul VI,Discourse to the National Congress of the Centro Italiano femminile, Oss. Rom., December 6-7, 1976), in the light of a long history offering outstanding witness to their undertakings in the development of apostolic activity, women religious will be able more and more to be and to be seen as a radiant sign of the Church, faithful, zealous and fruitful in her preaching of the kingdom (cf. Declaration Inter Insigniores, S. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 15, 1976).
50. Bishops, together with their collaborators in the pastoral field, and superiors, both men and women, should see to it that the apostolic service of women religious be better known, intensified and increased. They should, therefore, in view not only of the number of religious women, but especially of their importance in the life of the Church, do their utmost to see that the principle of their greater ecclesial promotion be put into effect, lest the People of God remain deprived of that special assistance, which they alone, by virtue of the gifts conferred on them by God in their quality of woman, can offer. Always, however, special attention is to be given to this that religious women be held in high esteem and be justly and deservedly appreciated primarily for the witness given by them as consecrated women, and then for the useful and generous services they offer.
51. In some regions there is noticeable a certain overabundance of initiatives to found new religious institutes. Those who are responsible for discerning the authenticity of each foundation should weigh with humility, of course, but also objectively, constantly, and seeking to foresee clearly the future possibilities -- every indication of a credible presence of the Holy Spirit, both to receive His gifts "with thanksgiving and consolation" (LG 12) and also to avoid that "institutes may be imprudently brought into being which are useless or lacking in sufficient resources" (PC 19). In fact, when judgment regarding the establishment of an institute is formulated only in view of its usefulness and suitability in the field of action, or simply on the basis of the comportment of some person who experiences devotional phenomena, in themselves ambiguous, then indeed it becomes evident that the genuine concept of religious life in the Church is in a certain manner distorted (cf. Part I, ch. III).
To pronounce judgment on the authenticity of a charism, the following characteristics are required:
a) its special origin from the Spirit, distinct, even though not separate, from special personal talents, which become apparent in the sphere of activity and organization;
b) a profound ardor of love to be conformed to Christ in order to give witness to some aspect of His mystery;
c) a constructive love of the Church, which absolutely shrinks from causing any discord in Her.
Moreover the genuine figure of the Founders entails men and women whose proven virtue (cf. LG 45) demonstrates a real docility both to the sacred hierarchy and to the following of that inspiration, which exists in them as a gift of the Spirit.
When there is question, therefore, of new foundations, all who have a role to play in passing judgment must express their opinions with great prudence, patient appraisal and just demands. Above all, the bishops, successors of the Apostles, "to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms" (LG 7), and who, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, have the duty "to give a right interpretation of the counsels, to regulate their practice, and also to set up stable forms of living embodying them" (LG 43), should feel themselves responsible for this.
The varied and fruitful vitality of the Churches necessitates a real commitment to coordinating action in order to renew, create and perfect the manifold pastoral means of service and animation. We shall consider some of these according to their different levels: diocesan, national, universal.
On the diocesan level
52. In each diocese the bishop should strive to understand what the Spirit wants to manifest, even through his flock and especially through the individuals and religious families present in the diocese. This is why it is necessary for him to cultivate sincere and familiar relations with superiors, in order the better to fulfill his ministry of Shepherd towards men and women religious (cf. CD 15; 16). In fact, it is his specific office to defend consecrated life, to foster and animate the fidelity and authenticity of religious and to help them become part of the communion and of the evangelizing action of his Church, according to their distinctive nature.
All this, of course, the bishop will have to realize in close collaboration with the episcopal conference and in harmony with the voice of the Head of the Apostolic College.
Religious, on the other hand, should consider the bishop not only as Shepherd of the entire diocesan community, but also as the one who guarantees fidelity to their vocation as they carry out their service for the good of the local Church. Indeed they "should comply promptly and faithfully with the requests or desires of the bishops when they are asked to undertake a greater share in the ministry of salvation," due consideration being given "to the character of the particular institute and to its constitutions (CD 35, 1).
53. The following dispositions of the Apostolic Letter Ecclesiae Sanctae, issued motu proprio, should always be kept in mind:
"1. All religious, even exempt, are bound by the laws, decrees and ordinances laid down by the local ordinary affecting various works, in those matters which concern the exercise of the sacred apostolate as well as the pastoral and social activity prescribed or recommended by the local ordinary.
"2. They are also bound by the laws, decrees and ordinances of the local ordinary or the episcopal conference" -- or, according to the locality, the patriarchal synod (cf. CD 35, 5) -- laws, that is, regarding various elements referred to in them (ES I, 25, 1-2, a, b, c, d).
54. It is advisable that the office of episcopal vicar for religious be set up in the diocese to render a service of collaboration, in this field, with the pastoral ministry of the bishop. This office, however, does not assume any role proper to the authority of superiors. It is up to each residential bishop to determine clearly the specific competencies of such an office and, after careful examination, entrust it to a competent person, well acquainted with the religious life, who knows how to appreciate it and desires to see it prosper.
As regards the discharge of such an office, it is strongly recommended that the various categories of religious: namely priests, brothers and women religious possessing the necessary qualities, have a part in it in a suitable way (for example, as consultors or under some other similar title).
The mandate, then, of episcopal vicar for religious congregations consists in helping accomplish a task which of its nature pertains exclusively to the bishop, that is, watching over religious life in the diocese and integrating it into its complex of pastoral activities. Wherefore, it would likewise seem desirable that bishops prudently consult religious on the choice of the candidate.
55. In order that the diocesan presbyterium express due unity and that the various ministries be better fostered, the bishop should with all solicitude exhort the diocesan priests to recognize gratefully the fruitful contribution made by religious to their Church and to approve willingly their nomination to positions of greater responsibility, which are consonant with their vocation and competency.
56. Provisions should be made for religious priests to be part, in due proportion, of the Priests' Council; similarly religious priests, brothers and sisters should be fairly represented on pastoral councils (cf. PR 7; CD 27; ES I, 15 and 16). To define justly the suitability and proportions of representation, the local ordinary should set the criteria and necessary modalities.
57. In order to foster a certain stability in pastoral cooperation,
a) the difference existing between the distinctive works of an institute and works entrusted to an institute should be kept in mind by the local ordinary. In fact, the former depend on the religious superiors according to their constitutions, even though in pastoral practice they are subject to the jurisdiction of the local ordinary according to law (cf. ES 1, 29).
b) "Whenever a work of the apostolate is entrusted to any religious institute by a local ordinary in accordance with the prescriptions of law, a written agreement shall be made between the local ordinary and the competent superior of the institute which will, among other things, set down precisely all that concerns the work to be done, the members of the institute assigned to it and the finances" (ES I, 30 §2).
c) "For works of this nature members of the religious institute who are really suitable should be selected by the religious superior after discussion with the local ordinary and, where an ecclesiastical office is to be conferred on a member of the institute, the religious should be nominated by the local ordinary himself for a definite time decided upon by mutual agreement, his own superior presenting the candidate or at least assenting to the nomination" (ES I, 30 §2).
58. Without infringing on the right of arranging situations differently or of changing them in a way which is more in accord with the urgent needs of renewal of institutes, it seems opportune to determine in advance and in detail what works and especially what offices are to be entrusted to individual religious, for whom a written convention may be deemed necessary, as, for example, for pastors (cf. ES I, 33), deans, episcopal vicars, assistants for catholic action groups, secretaries of pastoral action, diocesan directors, Catholic university teachers, professional catechists, directors of Catholic colleges, etc. in view both of the stability of those in office and of the devolution of goods in case the undertaking should be suppressed.
If a religious is to be removed from an office entrusted to him, the following dispositions should be recalled: "Any religious member of an institute may for a grave cause be removed from an office entrusted to him either at the wish of the authority who entrusted him with the office, who should inform the religious superior, or by the superior, who should inform the authority who entrusted the office; this by equal right, the consent of the other party being required in neither case. Neither party is required to reveal to the other the reasons for his action, much less to justify them. There remains the right to appeal in devolutivo to the Apostolic See" (ES I, 92).
59. Associations of religious on the diocesan level have proved to be very useful; therefore, with due consideration for their distinctive character and goals, they should be encouraged,
a) both as organisms of mutual liaison and of promotion and renewal of religious life in fidelity to the directives of the Magisterium and with respect to the distinctive character of each institute;
b) and as organisms for the discussion of mixed problems between bishops and superiors, as well as for coordinating the activities of religious families with the pastoral action of the diocese under the direction of the bishop, without prejudice to the relationship and negotiations, which will be carried on directly by the bishop himself with each individual institute.
On the national, regional and ritual level
60. In episcopal conferences of a country or region (cf. CD 37) the bishops themselves "exercise their pastoral office jointly in order to enhance the Church's beneficial influence on all men" (CD 38). In the same way patriarchal synods exercise their ministry for their own rite (cf. DE 9) and inter-ritual Assemblies of Ordinaries for relations among various rites, within the sphere of their particular situation (CD 38).
61. In many countries or regions, through the medium of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes -- and in regions dependent on the Sacred Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and for Oriental Churches, with the consent of the respective Congregations -- the Holy See has set up Councils or Conferences of Major Superiors (both of men and women or mixed). Such Councils must be deeply sensitive to the diversity of institutes, work to enhance common consecration and to channel the energies of all dedicated to apostolic work toward the pastoral coordination of the bishops (cf. n. 21).
Wherefore, in order that Councils of Major Superiors fulfill their purpose with necessary effectiveness, it is highly useful that an opportune review of their activity be made periodically and that, in harmony with the different missions of institutes an equitable division of commissions or rather similar groups, duly united with the Council of Major Superiors itself, be organized.
62. Relations between the council of major superiors and the patriarchal synod, and similarly, relations between the same councils of major superiors and the episcopal conferences as well as inter-ritual assemblies, should be regulated according to criteria which determine the rapport between the individual institute and the local ordinary (cf. ES I, 23-25; 40); therefore indicative guidelines should also be set up according to the different needs of regions.
63. Since it is of utmost importance that the council of major superiors collaborate diligently and in a spirit of trust with episcopal conferences (cf. CD 35, 5; AG 33), "it is desirable that questions having reference to both bishops and religious should be dealt with by mixed commissions consisting of bishops and major religious superiors, men or women" (ES II, 43).
Such a mixed commission should be structured in such a way that even if the right of ultimate decision making is to be always left to the councils or conferences, according to the respective competencies, it can, as an organism of mutual counsel, liaison, communication, study, and reflection, achieve its purpose efficiently.
It is the competency, then, of the Shepherds to foster the coordination of all apostolic undertakings and activities, each in his own diocese; the same holds for the patriarchal synod and episcopal conferences for their respective regions (cf. CD 36, 5).
In questions regarding religious, bishops, if the need or utility require it -- as in fact it has in many places -- should create a special commission within the episcopal conference. Nevertheless, the presence of such a commission not only does not hamper the operation of the mixed commission, but rather postulates it.
64. Participation of major superiors, or, according to the statutes, of their delegates, also in other various commissions of the episcopal conferences or inter-ritual assemblies of local ordinaries (as, for example, in the commission on education, health, justice and peace, social communications, etc.), can be of great utility for the purposes of pastoral action.
65. The mutual presence by means of delegates both of episcopal conferences and of the conferences or councils of major superiors in each of the unions or assemblies of one and the other is recommended. Evidently, the necessary norms must be established in advance whereby each conference would treat by itself alone the matters of its exclusive competency.
On the supra-national and universal level
66. Regarding the international, continental or infra-continental sphere, among various countries united together, some form of coordination, both for bishops as well as for major religious superiors, can be created with the approval of the Holy See. A suitable liaison on this level of the individual centers of service helps a great deal towards achieving an ordered and harmonious action on the part of bishops and religious. In those areas where such forms of organization on the continental level already exist, this task of cooperation can be profitably accomplished by the permanent committees or councils themselves.
67. On the universal level, the successor of Peter exercises a ministry specifically his own on behalf of the entire Church; however "in exercising his supreme, full and immediate authority over the universal Church the Roman Pontiff employs the various departments of the Roman Curia" (CD 9).
The Roman Pontiff himself has promoted some forms of cooperation of religious with the Holy See, by approving the council of the union of both men and women superiors general at the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes (cf. ES II, 42) and by allowing the introduction of representatives of religious at the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (cf. ES II, 16) .
Dialog and collaboration are already a reality on various levels. There is no doubt, however, that they have to be developed further, so that they produce more abundant fruit. The need therefore is evident to remember that in the work of collaboration, a real efficacious thrust will be had only when the leaders are convinced that such a thrust originates first of all in their own persuasion and formation. Indeed, everything will progress better if they are deeply convinced of the necessity and of the nature and importance of such cooperation, of mutual trust, of respect for the role of each individual, of mutual consultation in determining and organizing undertakings on every level. Then indeed the mutual relations between bishops and religious, carried on sincerely and readily, will be of great value in achieving in the most suitable and adequate way the dynamic vitality of the Church-Sacrament in its admirable mission of salvation.
The Apostle Paul, "prisoner in the Lord," writing to the Ephesians from Rome, thus counseled them: "I... exhort you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3).
The foregoing was submitted for the examination of the Holy Father, who, on April 23, 1978, benevolently approved it and mandated its publication.
Rome, Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, May 14, 1978, Solemnity of Pentecost.

Prefect of the Sacred 
Congregation for Bishops

Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for
Religious and for Secular Institutes