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The Order of Malta has been a religious Order since 1113, the year it was recognised by Pope Paschal II. As a religious Order, it is linked to the Holy See, but at the same time it is independent as a sovereign subject of international law. In this respect the religious character of the Order coexists with its full sovereignty. The Grand Master is at the same time head of a sovereign State and head of a religious Order. In this second capacity the Holy Roman Church gives him the rank of Cardinal. The Order of Malta is a lay religious Order according to Canon Law, where some of its members are religious - they have professed the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience - and others have taken a special vow of obedience, while the great majority of the knights and dames are lay members. The Grand Master of the Order is elected from among the Professed Knights of Perpetual Vows. The eight-pointed Cross which symbolises the Order represents the eight Beatitudes and is thus a visual memento of its spirituality. According to the Constitutional Charter, members of the Order are required to maintain exemplary Christian behaviour in their private and public life, contributing to the maintenance of the Order's traditions.
According to Constitutional Charter rules, the Pope appoints a Cardinal as his representative to the Order, the Cardinalis Patronus, whose duty it is to promote the spiritual interests of the Order and of its members and to maintain relations with the Holy See. The Pope also appoints the Prelate of the Order from the three candidates proposed by the Grand Master. The Prelate is the ecclesiastic superior of the Order's clergy.
The Order remains true to its inspiring principles: defence of the Faith and service to the suffering. Its members share the same vocation and strive together for solidarity, justice and peace, based on the teaching of the Gospels and in the closest communion with the Holy See. They are involved in active and dynamic charity supported by prayer. No Knight or Dame is such by privilege of birth or merits acquired, but for having answered to the call to be where there is a material or moral need, where there is suffering. Wherever they settled, the Knights Hospitallers always established first a Hospital and Hospice and then, if they needed to, built defence fortifications. What does being a Hospitaller mean in the Third Millennium? It means dedicating oneself to easing suffering and to bringing the balm of Christian charity to the sick, anywhere in the world, not only in hospitals but also in private homes and nursing homes in the shantytowns of destitute populations. The Order does not only dedicate itself to the sick, but to the socially isolated, the victims of persecution and the refugees of any race and religious faith as well.
(excerpt from the Homily, 13 October 2009)
The modern notion of knighthood, both fictional and political is a world away from what we represent here this evening. That is but one reason why it is salutary for us to be reminded of its genuine religious origins during this ceremony.
Many of us here who have known Fra Duncan for some years have seen him extend and expand his capacity for service to the Order. He is a lynch-pin of much of its activities here in the UK and is also now taking on extensive duties on the Sovereign Council. All this he has done initially without vows, but more recently he has been moving towards Solemn Profession. During these years of probation and preparation he will have been helped by his novice-master to evaluate the natural gifts and talents that render him a worthy candidate for this honour. But more importantly, he will have been guided spiritually to understand and appreciate both the greatness and the challenge of the vocation he is assuming. If it is difficult enough for a religious in a community and a priest in a parish or institution to guard himself against temptation and the slide into mediocrity, how much harder is it for one who must live his vows within a more secular context. I say this not to discourage but to delineate the demands that Solemn Profession place upon a Knight and the readiness with which he must be prepared to manfully shoulder that burden.
The metallic armour of the past that helped to protect the knight in battle was only the visible and material form of his defence. He also had his daily routine of prayers and devotions by which he dedicated himself to God and relied solely on Him for his security and his salvation. Many times while engaged in the work of the Order and defending our holy faith against the enemies of religion, Fra Duncan, you will have to rely on the armour of your faith and your regular and devout prayer life and closeness to Christ Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Allied to that will be your devotion to the Saints in heaven, especially to Mary, the Mother of God and to our Holy Patrons St John the Baptist and Blessed Gerard, our Founder. Because you are a part of a fraternity united by a common vision of evangelical hope and charity, founded on mutual support as well as the care of the vulnerable in our society, you may also count on the prayers of all of us here who know and value you as a friend.
The ceremony of your Profession is the public expression and witness of your dedication to service and the deepest desires of your heart to be more closely identified with the virtues that your state requires. May God and His Blessed Mother keep you in that firmness of purpose and intent that you manifest this evening and grant you many years to serve him as a true knight and servant of our Lords the poor and the sick.
Conventual Chaplain “ad honorem”, and Principal Chaplain to the Grand Priory of England