We speak of religious life as the consecrated life. Anything which is taken from the world and reserved for the use of God is sacred, consecrated. The very word consecrated comes from the same word as sacred. We take a piece of bread and say over it, This is My body, a cup of wine, This is My blood. It then becomes the Body and Blood of the Son of God. It is changed from what it was. It has the appearance of what it was, but it has gone through a change, it is now sacred, it is now consecrated. It is taken from the ordinary things of the world and reserved for Almighty God, for our use, so that we can feed on the Son of God, on the Word of God taken from the world for our salvation. The consecrated life, by definition, is a life of sacrifice. In the Eucharist, the bread must die as bread, the wine must die as wine. As our Lord describes, the seed must fall from the tree into the ground and die if new life is to spring forth. Our Divine Lord Himself did not make possible the salvation of the world through His teaching, through His preaching, but through His sacrifice, His suffering, His death on the Cross.
What happened at the Last Supper? Christ took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to the disciples. What happens at every mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist? During those intimate moments when the priest consecrates the simple, ordinary gifts of bread and wine He takes it, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.
This is what happens to the soul of each religious. Christ takes her - the simple, ordinary woman that she is. Blesses her - that is, consecrates her, makes her sacred for His desire. Breaks her - not in order to incapacitate her, but that it is no longer she who lives, rather truly Christ who lives in her. Then He gives her - to those in the world, in order that she might be the channel by which others might come to know Him. Consecrated and bound to Christ, religious actually become the means through which the salvific action of God Himself flows out into the lives of those she encounters.
This is what it means to be a religious, to do God’s work, not one’s own work, really to allow the Father to actualize her potential. But it means even more, that she takes Jesus with her. Think about it, just as a priest takes a chalice and consecrates it with a special prayer because it’s going to be set aside for a sacred use, for the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, so the religious is set aside for sacred use, to be the bearer of the Christ Child. The religious is His consecrated vessel. She is the chalice on the altar. Without Jesus, she is empty.
— Cardinal O'Connor