All Christians are called to live a life of holiness in the world. Thus in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Catholics have increasingly heard an urgent call to bring Christ into the midst of today’s rather messy world through living holy and apostolic lives. One of the many ways to answer this call is to become a member of a secular institute.
Vatican Council II describes this relatively new vocation in this way: "Secular Institutes, although not religious institutes, do at the same time involve true and full profession of the evangelical counsels in the world and are recognized by the Church. This profession confers a consecration on people living in the world, lay men and women, and clerics.
Therefore they should make it their chief aim to give themselves to God totally in perfect charity. The institutes themselves ought to preserve their own special character--their secular character. That is to say, to the end that they may be able to carry on effectively and everywhere the apostolates in the world and, as it were, from the world, for which they were founded.” (Decree on Renewal of Religious Life, par. 11)
Pope Paul VI on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the decree establishing secular institutes (Feb. 2, 1972) noted that if we ask ourselves what has been the soul of every secular institute and has inspired its birth and development, we must answer that it has been a deep love of God and neighbor through the Church as well as a longing to:
A group is not a secular institute merely because it calls itself one or wants to become one. It must be recognized as such by the Church. This kind of life cannot originate either by private authority or by personal choice; the Church must establish a secular institute. It is only through the authority of the Church that Christ's disciples who are members of secular institutes have the hope that their efforts to love God and neighbor are effective as they walk in the footsteps of the Master.
Members of secular institutes are called to be: ". . . the leaven, small in quantity yet ever active, which always and everywhere at work mingles with all levels of society. . .strives in every way to reach them and permeate them until the whole mass is transformed and wholly leavened in Christ." (Decree, Primo Fellciter, preamble).
Secular institutes are one answer to the needs of today's Church. They offer to Catholic laity a vocation in which they may strive for total Dedication to God, to Christ, and to His Church through their normal daily lives.
Definition of Secular Institute from the Code of Canon Law
A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful, living in the world, strive for the perfection of charity and seek to contribute to the sanctification of the world, especially from within. (Can. 710)
St. Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Vita Consecrata (March 25, 1996)
On Secular Institutes:
The Holy Spirit, who wondrously fashions the variety of charisms, has given rise in our time to new expressions of consecrated life, which appear as a providential response to the new needs encountered by the Church today as she carries out her mission in the world.