By Ann Schneible
ROME, JULY 6, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Since the early 1800s, the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception (CRIC), a congregation under the order of Saint Augustine, have served the Church by renewing the diocesan priesthood through community, and by bringing the liturgy to the people of the Parish.
Father Pasquale Vuoso from San Pedro, California, who is the Territorial Animator of the CRICS in the Republic of California, spoke with ZENIT about the history and mission of the congregation.
The CRICs were founded in the mid 1800s by Don Adrien Gréa, the vicar general for the diocese of St. Claude in southeast France. As vicar general, he was responsible for the management and welfare of the priests. At a time when the post-revolutionary persecution of the Church in France was underway, Don Gréa sought renewal, particularly for diocesan clergy.
It was through his studies of Church history that he encountered the canonical life, an ancient tradition leading back to Saint Augustine. “Up until year 800 or 900,” Vuoso explained, “there were really only two forms of life: if you were a lay person and you lived in community, you were either a Benedictine or something like that. If you were a priest and you lived in community, then you were a canon regular. The canonical life goes all the way back to Saint Augustine.”
With other members of clergy, and young men who had been members of a boys’ choir he had directed, Don Gréa formed the canons regular according to what he had learned from his studies. He petitioned Rome for recognition as an official congregation in the 1800s. With the dogma of the Immaculate Conception having been defined shortly before in 1854, the Holy Father bestowed the name Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception upon the congregation as a means of propagating the newly defined dogma to the world.
There is a two-fold mission of the CRICS, explained Vuoso. “One would be the renewal of the parish life of priests: therefore, a renewal of the clergy. Then the other charism would be an emphasis on the liturgy to the parish. Anyone who’s ordained deacon or priest promise to say the Divine Office: it was Don Gréa’s intention to make that available to all the Baptized.”
A central charism of the CRICs is to encourage the faithful in praying the Divine Office. “The Divine Office,” Vuoso said, “is the prayer of the Church, for everyone. It doesn’t just belong to the priests: it belongs to the Church.” Don Gréa, he continued, “had a real sense of what the Church was in its hierarchy, and how it was constituted: the Church in its Divine constitution. He wanted to integrate people into assuming the role that is rightfully theirs, because the Divine Office isn’t just for the priests: it’s for everyone.”
Community life for the priests
Another charism of the CRICs is the community life of its diocesan priests. “We emphasize community as a way to strengthen and renew priestly life, and we look to the liturgy, in particular to the Divine Office, as a way of integrating the people of God into this priestly mission.
“An isolated priestly life is just difficult to maintain. As the psalm goes: ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!’ [Psalm 133:1]. Saint Augustine said: if you want to be a priest, then you have to live with me. That’s the essence of the charism, that fraternal charity.”
“For me,” Vuoso concluded, “I think of Saint Augustine. He wanted to live in fraternity; that was his family. And I think as CRICs, that is really our charism: to promote family life, togetherness, community, love, charity. How do you communicate this sense of family? You just live it.”