VATICAN CITY – The Vatican recently released “Cor Orans” (“Praying Heart”), a document that addresses Catholic women religious in cloistered communities.
The 34 page long document “intends to make clear the provisions of the law, developing and determining the procedures in the execution” of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution on women’s religious orders which was released in 2016.
The document also reiterates the writings of Pope Pius XII, who published the Apostolic Constitution “Sponsa Christi Ecclesia” on the subject of women’s cloistered orders in 1950.
On May 15, 2018, Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, the Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, presented “Cor Orans”. The presentation was at a press conference held at the Holy See Press Office.
This document impacts the lives of almost 38,000 religious cloistered nuns. The Archbishop stated that “Cor Orans” is meant to “clarify the provisions of the law, developing and determining the procedures for its execution”.
The largest change that “Cor Orans” instructs is an obligation for monasteries to belong to a federation of monasteries. These federations are tied together with a similar charism or shared geographical location.
Monastic federations are not a new concept for cloistered orders. In “Sponsa Christi Ecclesia”, Pope Pius XII heavily encouraged federations so that cloistered orders wouldn’t experience isolation. Pope Pius XII released the Apostolic Constitution on the feast of the Presentation in 1950.
“Federations can effectively help to give new vigor to monasteries, by revitalizing their vocational drive on the basis of the essential points of their spirituality, in the wholly contemplative dimension of their way of life, and by fostering the fervent observance of the rule and the Constitutions,” Pius XII wrote.
Federations also assist in forming community and protecting a charism. The Catholic Church has not required a membership to a federation before “Cor Orans”.
The Vatican granted monasteries who are not currently associated within a federation a one year period for compliance. After the year passes, the Vatican office for religious life will assign monasteries into federations. Monasteries can also request an exception from this new rule from the Vatican.
Archbishop Carballo explained the reason behind the obligatory membership to federations at the press conference. The federations will hopefully assist in healing “the isolation of some monasteries.” The new guidelines also emphasize “the importance of walking, even in monastic life, towards an ecclesiology of communion.”
Leaves of absence
“Cor Orans” also changes how leaves of absence are granted in a cloistered order. Now a monastery’s major superior has the authority to grant a nun permission to leave the cloister for an absence of less than 12 months. Before “Cor Orans”, the Vatican was the only authority to grant permission for such a leave of absence.
“The limitation in the Instruction Verbi Sponsa has been repealed,” the document reads. “For just cause the Major Superior . . . with the consent of her Council, may authorize the absence from the monastery of a nun with solemn vows for not more than a year, after hearing the diocesan Bishop or the competent religious Ordinary.”
“The legislation concerning the means of social communication, in all the variety in which it is presented today, aims at safeguarding recollection and silence: in fact, it is possible to empty contemplative silence when the cloister is filled with noises, news, and words,” the document reads.
“Cor Orans” goes on to emphasize that social media and forms of communication outside of the cloister should be sued with “sobriety and discretion.”
The document placed a large emphasis on time for prayer, silence, and contemplation for women religious in cloistered communities. “The use of the means of communication for reasons of information, formation or work, can be allowed in the monastery, with prudent discernment, for common utility, according to the provisions of the Conventual Chapter contained in the community plan of life.”
What do contemplative women think?
During the press conference, Archbishop Carballo reminded those present that “Cor Orans” was created with the questionnaire responses received from contemplative women religious a few years ago.