Fr. Felice Cangelosi OFM Cap continues his discussion about profession in the Secular Franciscan Order.
While maintaining the truth that Profession is by nature an ecclesial fact, an action of Christ and of the Church, the question arises: who are the subjects who concretely perform that action, or rather, how and in whom is the action of Christ and the Church manifested?
By Church the Ritual understands a particular liturgical assembly, made up of the people and the community of brothers and sisters, in other words, of the local fraternity of the Secular Order. The local fraternity makes the presence and action of the Church visible primarily in the Profession. Therefore “Profession, since it is by nature a public and ecclesial fact, must be celebrated in the presence of the fraternity” (Ritual, Preliminary Notes, n. 13).
The ultimate reason for this norm is found in the reality of the local fraternity: it is a visible sign of the Church, which is a community of faith and love (cfr. Rule 22; Ritual II, 29 d). The local fraternity is and must be a genuine ecclesial cenacle. By the same token, “secular Franciscans, gathered in fraternity and in union of spirit with all the People of God, celebrate the mystery of salvation revealed and communicated to us in Christ, with prayers and thanksgiving and renewing their promises to live a new life” (Ritual, Preliminary Notes, n. 3).
For this reason Profession is made in the presence of the assembled fraternity, which accepts the candidates’ request, since Profession is a gift given by the Father to that fraternity by incorporating new members into it. Grateful for the gift, the Fraternity is united to the prayer of those making profession, so that the Holy Spirit may bring to fulfilment the work He has begun.
The Ritual further develops these links with the Fraternity which the Profession or promise to live the gospel life creates. Profession produces «incorporation into the Secular Franciscan Order»; it therefore implies incorporation into a family – the Franciscan family – which is life-giving, with all the consequences that derive from belonging to the same spiritual family.
At the same time, Profession determines reciprocal attitudes, sentiments, relationships, duties and rights, etc. The “Preliminary Notes” (n. 14) of the Ritual, speaking of the nature of Profession in the SFO, say that it involves “the trust of the candidate, who relies on the help of the Rule of the SFO and of the Fraternity. Indeed the candidate will feel that (s)he is guided and helped by the Rule approved by the Church, and will experience the joy of participating in the journey of the gospel life with many brothers and sisters, from whom (s)he can receive but to whom (s)he can also give something. Once incorporated into the local Fraternity, which is a cell of the Church, (s)he will make his/her contribution to the renewal of the entire Church”.
These statements in the Ritual show:
– the liturgical foundation both of the Fraternity, which is essentially made up of reciprocal relationships, precisely as St Francis intended;
– the liturgical foundation of belonging to the SFO. For this reason, in the formula of Profession we find the invocation: “May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and of St Francis and the fraternal communion help me always so that I may attain the perfection of Christian charity” (Ritual II,31). The same need is expressed by the minister who receives the Profession: “Let us give thanks to God in this Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. Your incorporation into it is a reason for hope and joy in the hearts of all the brothers and sisters” (Ritual II, 32).
Two key fraternal values of Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order emerge from the texts we have quoted.
- It entails and produces the entrusting of self to the Fraternity on the part of the candidate. In Profession a covenant is established with the Brothers and Sisters, which can never be disregarded. The sacred bond of Profession, through which a perpetual commitment is established with God, (cfr. Rule 2; Const 42,2), has a number of fraternal sides to it which must be understood and lived precisely in the light of that “sworn pact” one has made with God.
2. With its liturgical foundation, Profession determines incorporation into a local fraternity and through it, into the Order. Thus, we gradually come to see how the reality deriving from the celebration of Profession is not a matter of registration (“one is not enrolled into the SFO”), even though a document of profession is necessary. While it does have juridical implications, the concept and reality of incorporation goes beyond these and indicates that one becomes part of a living body, merged into a single organism, making a single reality. Incorporation entails the transformation of several realities into a single reality, through a process of absorption and assimilation.. It cannot simply be thought of as adding one thing to another (1+1); rather the fact is that the candidate is “extended” into the fraternity and vice versa, and this gives rise to a living being which is much larger and more complete. Rightly therefore does the minister turn to the new members of the Fraternity at the end of the rite of initiation and says to them: “By your presence and communion you enrich our fraternity in numbers and virtue” (Ritual I,16). Therefore the relationships established by Profession are spiritual and ecclesial in nature, since the local fraternity into which the candidate is incorporated is “the basic element of the entire Order and a visible sign of the Church, a community of love” (Rule 22; cfr. Const 47,1).