This booklet has been compiled for the postulancy. It is not intended to offer material for meetings with ascribed brethren, although some ideas for such meetings may be found in it.
It has also been compiled to maintain uniformity of structure and content for all postulants wishing to become ascribed members.
1. THE NATURE OF ASCRIPTION IN THE INSTITUTE OF CHARITY
Fr. Founder inserted at the beginning of the Constitutions and incorporated into them what he called ‘A Brief Description of the Institute of Charity’. It contains two short chapters: the first concerns the end of the Institute, the second, the persons who comprise it. Among the latter, he numbers four ‘levels’. The fourth level is those who are called ‘Ascribed’. They are understood truly as members of the Institute but in the widest sense. If the other three levels were absent, the Institute would continue to exist in them, although in its most imperfect form. In a letter to Luigi Gentili, in England, he elaborates on this concept of ascription: although it has similarities with third orders of other congregations, it is different, precisely because it is not a third order but an element or level of one and the same Order.
In the Constitutions he devotes a Chapter to the examination of postulants for ascribed membership (cf. C. 129-132). Amongst other things, he writes: ‘First, the postulant is instructed in the nature of this ascription through which he is accepted into a more intimate communion of spirit with the members of the Society, shares with them the merits of all good works, indulgences, prayers, and every other spiritual good, and is enrolled amongst the persons of the Society whose needs the Society cares for in charity with special longing.’ Then, at intervals in the Constitutions, the Ascribed are mentioned indicating the role they can play in the Institute.
We note that membership is ‘a more intimate communion of spirit’. The lay state in its structure, responsibilities and tasks differs greatly from the religious state. Hence the communion between the layperson and the Religious is one ‘of spirit’, not in responsibilities, discipline and tasks. This spirit is above all a communion of charity, both inner and external charity. Each in his or her own state seeks to fulfil the obligations of the Gospel and of their baptismal profession.
We also note that he says that ‘the Society cares for [the needs of these persons] in charity with special longing. Perhaps in the past we have been lacking in this care for our ascribed members. Clearly, professed members do have a responsibility.
The ‘spirit’ of the Institute is fundamentally that we seek first our own salvation, and then by means of this sanctification seek the sanctification of our neighbour, particularly when called by Providence to carry out works of charity in due order. This is precisely the spirit in which the Ascribed member has communion with professed members, and the professed members with the Ascribed. They live this spirit according to their state. From this fundamental spirit and in keeping with it flow all those other elements of a vocation in the Institute of Charity which the Founder notes in the Constitutions and other writings, particularly in the Maxims of Christian Perfection.
In addition to the references in the Constitutions, Fr. Founder himself wrote Constitutions and Rules specifically for Ascribed members, and often supplied information in his letters about ascription and explained its nature.
We have therefore many sources for acquiring knowledge of his understanding and concept of this membership.
Ascription to the Institute intends to aid, strengthen and deepen the Christian vocation of the baptised, without adding any other obligations. Its sole task is to increase the holiness of the ascribed member in his or her state and the duties and tasks accompanying that state. Although in the Province at the moment, we are very much involved with laypeople, we must not reduce our understanding of ascription to laypeople alone and see it as directed solely to them. The charity of the Institute is universal. Hence, membership is open also to bishops, priests and other Religious. In fact, one of the first to be ascribed by the Founder was Bishop Sadagna of Cremona, and there are ascribed diocesan priests in Italy and one in New Zealand. The Founder himself states that once he had penetrated the full concept of the Institute, he could not exclude ascribed membership.
Ascription, as envisaged by him, is a powerful means for drawing our fellow Catholics into closer union with God, helping them to live their baptismal vocation more fully and be a strong witness to the Faith. If lived as envisaged by the Founder, it can implement in a beautiful way the Church’s call for the witness and apostolate of the laity.
Comment. The Founder wished the Society to be hidden, placing the ecclesial society first and central to all our efforts. Hence, by definition, a Catholic has already all the means necessary for fulfilling his Christian vocation. The Institute is accidental to this and is not necessary to the ecclesial society. As a result we have the tradition, stemming from the Founder himself, that we do not advertise the Institute, nor go deliberately seeking vocations, nor have anxiety about our numbers. In the letter mentioned above, to Gentili, the Founder reprimands him for seeking ascribed members, reminding him that the interest and request must come spontaneously from the person. This practice is particular to the Institute and not found in other religious Orders. Many people come to knowledge of the spirit of the Institute through contact with professed members. This interest can grow to the point where it indicates an attraction to the spirit. This attraction can be a sign that they are ready to unite themselves more intimately with that spirit. In this case, if they do not explicitly state their interest in ascription, they can be informed that such a union and bond of spirit exists: the state of ascribed membership.
2. THE POSTULANCY
1. The candidate
The candidate must be a practising Catholic of upright life, in full communion with the Church, loyal to her ordinary magisterium in matters of faith and morals.
This state of the candidate may be known already to the Director or can be known through enquiry.
The postulancy is a period of 1. instruction on the part of the Institute and 2. reflection on the part of the postulant.
Relative to instruction, the postulant is instructed in the nature and spirit of the Institute, in those elements given it by the Founder and founded upon his own response to his baptismal profession and Gospel vocation. They are basically found in the Maxims. In addition to knowledge of the nature and spirit, the postulant is instructed about spiritual exercises and works of charity. The Founder’s own Constitutions of Ascription and Rules for Ascribed Members contain information on these matters.
Relative to reflection, the postulant must be given time to think and pray about what he or she has received in the instructions. They should examine their understanding of the Institute and the response they are called upon to make in becoming an ascribed member.
For these purposes, the postulancy should last at least six months, based on one instruction per month. It can stretch to a year, if circumstances indicate this.
Certain candidates could already be well acquainted with knowledge of the Institute and of the spiritual teaching of the Founder. This could well affect the duration of the postulancy, but even here, the six-month period would seem necessary to allow the postulant to put into practice and test himself in what has been learnt. Furthermore, the candidate must be given time to arrive at a conscientious and serious decision to become an ascribed member. In this way, shallowness of commitment and casualness of membership will be avoided, and the time will contribute more solidly to the spiritual progress of the postulant.
Before reception, the postulant writes a letter to Fr. Provincial formally requesting to be received as an ascribed member.
The postulant(s) should normally be received by the Provincial himself, but he may delegate this to the local Director or other priest.
Reception does not necessarily take place during Mass. It would seem good that it take place during the Eucharist, but this will depend on circumstances. The reception takes place after the homily, and a homily should be given at all receptions.
Reception follows the procedure given in the ‘Formula of Reception’. Only the priest needs a copy.
For the reception a ‘Patent of Ascription’ containing the date of reception and the signature of the Provincial is required. This is consigned to the candidate during reception. At present, a copy of ‘Rosminian Spirituality’ is also consigned with the patent.
Directors are asked to bear in mind the reception of postulants at the national gathering at Grace Dieu, scheduled for the first Sunday of July.
Note: reception is a private ceremony, not public. It should never take place at a parish or public Mass. If possible, other brethren and ascribed members should be present.
3. DOCUMENTS FOR INSTRUCTION
The following documents should be used and are best used in the order given. Where material is repeated, it is left to the discretion of the Director whether to ‘hammer it home’ or omit it.
Maxims of Christian Perfection.
Constitutions of the Ascribed Members of the Institute of Charity
Rules for the Ascribed Members of the Society of Charity (General Congregation, 1992). Copes obtainable from Rosmini House, Durham.
Issues of Witness.
Witness is probably best used in conjunction with the previous documents. It sometimes contains material relevant to them, especially to the Maxims.
Life of the Founder. Some copies of the CTS pamphlet are still available from Rosmini House, Durham. Mary Ingoldsby’s booklet could also be useful. Both documents are short.
A short history of the Institute, giving information of its status in this Province and in the rest of the world.
Further sources that may be of help are:
1. Certain numbers chosen from the First Probation, especially from the Second Probation, and the Common Rules. The principles of the discipleship of Christ are expressed in many of these and, where necessary, can be adapted, with great spiritual profit to the lay state.
2. The Constitutions, especially Part 6.
4. POINTS TO BE UNDERSTOOD FROM THE DOCUMENTS
I. From the Maxims.
Fr. Founder frequently insisted that the Maxims could not be simply read (even with attention and care) and then considered to be sufficiently understood. They had to be ‘savoured’, thoroughly examined in all respects, reflected on. The postulant is to be asked to read them in this way, under the guidance of the Director. Below is given a summary of the salient points which could help the postulant to concentrate his attention.
A). The Perfect Life in General:
ALL Christians are called to perfection. What makes a Christian, and what is perfection?
The Christian vocation is UNIVERSAL CHARITY. What is universal charity?
3. The three vows (of Religion) are a means counselled by Christ to help fulfil our Christian vocation
NOTE: We should not be shy to let postulants know that vows are not excluded within ascription -obedience is not uncommon. We should not underestimate the spiritual potential and desire of lay people for true holiness. And by the very fact of application for ascription, the postulant is expressing a heartfelt desire to penetrate and live more deeply the mysteries of the Faith.
4. The vows of Religion place the Christian in the perfect state but are not a guarantee of any greater perfection or even of any better Christian living (as history has so frequently and so sadly recorded).
5. If necessary, explain the meaning of three maxims as end and three as means. Explain meaning of ‘justice’ i.e. abstaining from sin. The ‘just man’ is one free of all fault and therefore is righteous before God; it is the negative element in our Faith. ‘Perfection’ means an exquisite love of God, the positive element in Faith. The two elements are complementary.
B). First Maxim
1. God is the beginning and end of all things, of all creation.
2. The Christian’s sole wish and desire must be holiness.
3. All other desires to be subordinated to this one desire.
4. Necessity of continual, persistent prayer without discouragement and loss of interest.
5. Detachment from things of earth.
C). Second Maxim
1. The role of JESUS Christ as the God-Man, relative to his Father.
2. The meaning of the Church for the Christian.
3. Church is one society of three parts.
4. Role of Holy See.
5. Role and finality of heaven.
D). Third Maxim
1. All things are through and in JESUS Christ, Lord and Master of creation and time.
2. Church is fully in the power of Jesus and totally in his control.
3. We cannot do anything for this holy Society unless called by the Lord.
4. Remain tranquil even when things seem to be going badly for the Church.
E). Fourth Maxim
1. Value of this maxim.
2. The fruits of the practice of abandonment.
3. Reasons for abandonment.
4. The seven points which the Christian can learn about the Lord’s teaching.
5. The role and importance of indifference; the four states or conditions relative to indifference.
F). Fifth Maxim
1. Humility is an honest recognition of the truth about God, about creation, and about ourselves individually.
2. The humility of the Mother of God.
3. The practical points: seclusion, silence, occupation.
G). Sixth Maxim
1. The meaning of a ‘spirit of intelligence’.
2. Fulfilment of duties of state.
3. Deepening faith by prayer and reading.
4. Response to needs of neighbour; doing good works.
5. Knowing God’s will through external circumstance, and through internal inspirations, and how to test the latter to avoid self-deception.
Discuss the effects of living the Maxims: ‘a peaceful and happy society’ even in this life.
II. From Fr. Founder’s Constitutions for Ascribed Members: some points:
1. Cons. 1: the end of the Institute. In these Constitutions, the Founder gives ‘evangelical charity in all its breadth’ as the end of the Institute. This does not clash with the end stated in the Common Rules, that is, the salvation of the souls of its members. In the Common Rules, he goes on to say that this salvation is obtained by two things: justice and perfection. Justice is obtained by abstaining from sin; perfection, by an exquisite love of God. Here we see the two combined. In fact, in the Constitutions of the Institute (Cons. 5), he says:
The end of this Society, therefore, is to care lovingly for the sanctification of the members who compose it and, by means of their sanctification, to expend whatever longings and strength it has in all works of charity, and especially for the eternal salvation of every one of its neighbours (R. iii) (Explanation).
Explanation: A person’s own sanctification must be at once the end and the means of the sanctification of others. Works of charity are undertaken only in so far as we know that this is pleasing to God: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Th 4. 3). The holier we become, the greater the strength we shall have for helping our neighbours.
2. Cons. 2: here he mentions only three types of members. This is because he has considered the presbyters and coadjutors (those only in the vows of Religion) to be one type, as distinct from those who do not profess the three vows (adopted sons and ascribed).
3. Cons. 4 & 5: indulgences. Which of those granted to the Institute are still valid? Until this point is clarified, it will be sufficient to mention that indulgences were granted by Gregory XVI.
4. Cons. 6: sharing spiritual riches and merits. The meaning of these will need to be explained. Based on the doctrine of the Mystical Body (cf. St. Paul in I Cor. 12, all members of the Church are able to benefit from the merits of others.
5. Cons. 7: the importance of close union among members. Note: all professed brethren are ipso facto ascribed members; the Sisters are also ipso facto ascribed members.
6. Cons. 8: mutual help. This is important and should be driven home.
7. Cons. 9: prayer for each other. ‘Sodality’ will be discussed later.
8. Cons. 10: helping sick members.
9. Cons. 12: works of charity.
10. Cons. 13-36: organisation and structure of ascribed members. This could be omitted; it is something that could be dealt with later among those already ascribed, if need be. Note however the vastness of the concept of the Founder: we should not preclude that Providence may one day bring the Institute to this state.
11. Cons. 37-41: sodalities. See below.
III. From Fr. Founder’s Rules for Ascribed Members
Between these Rules and the Maxims there is a strong link, and obviously some repetition. However, because they are written by the Founder himself and thus express his own mind on ascription, they should be studied seriously. Below are some salient points to be discussed:
1. Respect for legitimate authority (no. 3):
a) Loyalty to the Church, that is, to the Magisterium and also to all directives and regulations (e.g. liturgical) propagated by the Church. Fr. Founder’s own practice is a very good model.
b) Observance of civil law for the good order of society.
2. A particular work of charity is not the end of the Institute. The end is, as has been seen, the salvation of one’s soul, personal holiness (cf. 2 above). It is exactly the same end as for all baptised believers (nos. 5, 6 and 7).
3. The four means to the end (nos. 8-11).
4. Encourage the postulant to put these spiritual exercises into practice (nos. 13-16). Instruction should be given to help the postulant practise mental prayer, e.g. a meditative and, above all, a prayerful reading of Scripture (Lectio divina). Also the spiritual value of making a retreat.
5. Duties in the family (nos. 19-21).
6. Relationship with others (nos. 22-24).
7. Relationship with fellow ascribed (nos. 25-28).
8. Sodalities (no. 29): see below.
IV. From the Rules of the General Congregation 1992
Because these Rules are based on what has gone before, it will be unnecessary to deal with them in detail.
The organisation described differs from that of the Founder but could be accepted as sufficient for the time being and in so far as we can implement it in this Province. It may need to be looked at again, as a result of experience since the re-awakening of ascription in the Province.
Each postulant intending to be received into ascription can be given a copy of these Rules, so that they have something to refer to regarding ascription.
A sodality is a society within the 'society' of ascription. Its basic concept is that certain ascribed members may wish to associate together for a particular purpose, whether spiritual or a work of charity. Two examples existed in the Founder’s time, a Sodality of devotion to the Precious Blood, a Sodality of Diocesan Missionaries. The latter was centred at the Sacra, consisted of both our own priests and diocesan priests who met at intervals to discuss and further their work of preaching Missions within the diocese of Susa.
If God wills that our ascription grows in numbers and piety, it is quite possible that members will emerge who are working together for a particular spiritual or charitable purpose, or manifest a desire to do so. This would be the occasion for forming a Sodality.
Each Sodality has its own structure, government and rules, but always within the sphere of ascription.
Local Directors should therefore be aware of this further development within ascription and respond to any sign that may indicate the formation of a Sodality. In this Province, sodalities for a spiritual rather than a charitable purpose may more easily be indicated, e.g. for devotion to the Blessed Sacrament or to the Precious Blood.
5. PRAYER LIFE
The Maxims, Fr. Founder’s Rules for Ascribed Members and the Rules published by the General Congregation (1992) all give some detail about the life of prayer and spiritual practices of an ascribed member. The Director should discuss each of these without minimising their importance and relevance to the discipleship of Jesus Christ. We must always assume that a candidate for ascription is a Catholic who wishes precisely to advance in the discipleship of Christ and in living more deeply the life of union with him. The spiritual practices recommended by the Founder are means for this purpose.
I. PRACTICES OF PIETY
Daily practices of piety are a great challenge today for any Christian. There are so many distractions which tend to ensnare the spirit and make access to supernatural things difficult. But we should not be deterred by such difficulties from instructing and encouraging the postulant to implement these practices.
The Founder strongly recommends the following:
1. Attendance at daily Mass. This may not always be possible, but the ascribed member should attend weekday Mass whenever possible.
2. Some spiritual reading every day, especially of the New Testament.
A daily meditation (at least 15 minutes). Instruction in what ‘meditation’ means and how to carry it out will probably be necessary. A simple, reflective reading of the Word of God which produces spontaneous aspirations and affections, petitions, praise, etc., would be a good way of starting.
A daily examination of conscience.
Frequent confession - certainly more than twice a year!
An annual retreat.
II. DEVOTION TO THE PRECIOUS BLOOD
This devotion was practised by the Founder himself and expected of the brethren (cf. Cons. ).
The role of the devotion in the thought and life of the Founder (his death on the Feast of Precious Blood, 1st July 1855) should be carefully and sensitively explained. The offering is the supreme sacrifice, the supreme act of love, in union with Christ’s own love and own sacrifice, and therefore most fitting to a member of a society named after charity. Although the Founder insists that the devotion, and the intention included in it, must be sincere, we leave to God the way in which it will be accepted. Apprehension or anxiety about making the offering can be overcome by the knowledge that God never asks of us that which we are not yet able to give.
In the Constitutions (of the Institute) the Founder gives the act of offering of one’s blood in union with the precious Blood of Jesus:
Prostrate before you, my Lord who are worthy of all love, I profoundly adore you and consecrate myself totally to your glory. Do with me as you please, because I desire only to fulfil perfectly your holy will. With trust in your infinite goodness and in the grace of your beloved Son Jesus Christ, I offer myself, ready to receive from your hands any kind of suffering, and to sacrifice my blood and life for your love and for the salvation of souls.
Accept, Lord, this offering in union with the offering made by your divine Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ when he offered you his precious Blood and sacrificed his holy Life on the Cross. Look on the face of your beloved Son and through his gaze, kindly receive the offering of myself, your unworthy servant. I desire nothing more than to consume myself for your love. My God, you clearly see how weak I am. May your grace strengthen my weakness.
Blessed indeed would I be if it were granted to me to shed my blood and sacrifice my life for confessing just one of the teachings taught us by your divine Son and for practising only one of the truths he taught. You hold in your hand the hearts of all: inflame me ever more with the love of this sacrifice and grant that I really become a perfect victim of charity.
And to you, Queen of Martyrs and my sweet mother Mary, I commend myself, begging you to obtain for me the grace that I may worthily share in the Passion and Death of your divine Son. Amen.
III. THE PATERS
The postulant could be encouraged to pray the ‘Paters’ after an explanation of the intentions and their order. Here it may help to discuss the Founder’s treatise On the Order of our Petitions. The intentions could be prayed either through the traditional Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory be, or by using only one of these prayers, or again by using words expressing each intention.
IV. PRAYER FOR JUSTICE (in the Founder’s sense)
Lord, give me justice, and for all else do with me as you please. I know nothing; you alone know how to give me justice. The means that you will choose are fitting for me, and in them I will bless you. You choose them, for I do not know what they are and have no wish concerning them. It is sufficient for me that I attain the end.