Virgins… Consecrated Virgins… yes, Consecrated Virgins

In the ancient Church there were various “orders” of the non-ordained who, among other things, were involved with corporal works of mercy.  Members of these orders could have a special place in church and were well-recognized.  There was even an order of gravediggers, (Lat. fossor singular) which order could include artists who decorated tombs and niches in catacombs.

Among the orders there were for women that of widows and virgins.  Since the Second Vatican Council the order of virgins, true virgins who receive a special consecration to a life of perpetual virginity, has been revived.  These women, who have taken Christ as their Spouse, have a special relationship to their local diocese and their bishop, who is to exercise a spiritual fatherhood in their regard.  In the ceremony of consecration, they receive a ring, like a wedding band, together with book of the Liturgy of the Hours which they are also bound to recite daily.  They are in many respects like women religious, but they do not have a rule or community.  They own their own property and have jobs.  But they do associate with each other.  In the USA there is a fine association under the direction of Bp. Boyea.  A past director for the US bishops was now-Card. Burke, who has still maintained great interest and attention.

There is a lot of history and information out there, which you can look up on your own.

Though consecrated virginity has been around for a long time now, this life is still not well-recognized even in some lofty ecclesiastical circles.

I had a conversation with a consecrated virgin recently who told me an interesting story.  After relocating to a different US diocese, a consecrated virgin contracted the office of the local diocesan bishop to establish a rapport with him, as is fitting for these women in their vocations.  She took away from the meeting – with the vicar general, not the bishop himself -  this great quote:

“We met and we decided that we do hermits, but we do not do virgins.”

A gratifyingly amusing sentiment from a cynical point of view, no matter how stupefyingly tone deaf that vicar general was.

Deplorable from a more serious point of view.

The life of consecrated virginity is something to be fostered.  The women who have the grace to commit to it, should be given places of honor, even in our churches, even as they were in the ancient Church when they were also ready to shed their blood as martyrs.

And because I know there will be some interest, there have been some efforts to revive formally the life of consecrated widows.  Some dioceses have organized something along these lines and I understand that it is under study by the Holy See.  I hope something happens with it.

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59 Responses to Virgins… Consecrated Virgins… yes, Consecrated Virgins

  1. Rellis says:

    Ever since learning about this, I’ve wondered if consecrated virgins have the ability to use the Ex. Form breviary. Must they use the Liturgy of the Hours?

  2. Climacus says:

    The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins:

  3. Climacus says:

    Let’s try this once more. Here’s the official website of the USACV:

    http://consecratedvirgins.org

  4. lampada says:

    @ Rellis,
    The Liturgy of the Hours is presented to the virgin as a symbol of her mission “to pray always”. She is exhorted – but not required – to recite the LOTH, particularly morning and evening prayer. What portion – if any – that the virgin is bound to recite is determined by her own bishop. Most bishops require only Lauds and Vespers of their consecrated virgins. Of course, those virgins who are retired or are otherwise able to often do pray more, just as religious who are only required to do two major hours (such as the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who do the two major hours plus compline) might slip in an extra hour or two if they feel called to this form of prayer in their schedules. Since the LOTH is symbolic, there is no reason why a candidate for the consecration or even one who has been asked to recite the LOTH couldn’t ask her bishop for his approval to use the breviary of the extraordinary form. This is because how the consecrated life is lived is to be mutually determined by the virgin and bishop, and there is no law that states that a virgin must recite the Liturgy of the Hours or any portion thereof. Thus, this is really up to the bishop to make the final determination after discussion with the virgin. The bishop will no doubt take into consideration the linguistic abilities of the virgin, as one just starting out or who has no knowledge of Latin may be advised to stick with something she can understand at first.

    @ Fr. Z.

    Thanks for bringing this up! It is my hope and prayer that a Rite soon be established for consecrated widows. I have personally heard of much interest among my widowed friends.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    Archbishop Chaput has supported this consecrated form of life in the archdiocese of Denver.

  6. Brad says:

    After reading Tobit, I have great respect for anyone who respects the Creator enough to bury one of his creatures, even a small one.

    I believe I know a consecrated virgin in my parish! She always recites the communion antiphon at weekday Masses, which we appreciate. I will say a Hail Mary for her now and hope anyone who reads this will do the same.

  7. benedetta says:

    Here is a little reading material, with the hopes and blessing of an actual lay Catholic woman, for whomever might be curious about whether the diocese ought to add virgins to go with the hermits.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html

    In the dictatorship of relativism it just becomes increasingly crystalized that certain women are persona non grata.

  8. Thank you Father Z for drawing attention to this vocation, and with such a humorous quote.

    If you go to the link below, then click to download to view the PDF online, you will see Section V: The Fathers of the Church on Consecrated Virginity.

    The patristics section is very interesting.

    http://www.consecratedvirgins.org/vocation-resources/info-packet.asp

  9. Denita says:

    In that case, can someone help me? I’m 49, and I’m a virgin. I’m an adult convert who lives alone. I made private vows with my confessor (FSSP), but I’d like to know more about this. Unfortunately, when I visited the website I got the impression I had to have a job, and I’m unable to work. I’m not certain if the diocese does much about this, anyway. Being a virgin isn’t easy, you know. People call you “selfish”, etc. I have a mental disability that keeps me from working.I won’t go into detail. Anyhow. If someone knows what to do for me. I have a hard time expressing myself sometimes.

  10. Denita,

    It’s a matter of being able to provide for your own financial needs and social benefits. Consecrated virgins are not in any way supported in these things.

    Now, if a woman is disabled, for example, and is receiving financial support in this way, or had other provisions, I do not believe they would be turned away.

    Where the problem comes in is when a woman thinks the archdiocese should support her. I would go so far as to say that is behind some bishop’s apprehension. They are afraid of being sued.

    However, if they inform themselves and ensure the candidate is properly formed in all that is required, this should not be a concern.

    The USACV is more than anxious to assist dioceses with these things.

  11. I meant that if she was receiving something like disability payments from the government, or has a retirement income, these may be sufficient.

    The diocese will never be responsible for financially supporting a consecrated virgin, nor will they ever provide social benefits like health care and retirement.

  12. skull kid says:

    What about male consecrated virgins? I often thought it was a bit unfair that there didn’t seem to be anything for men.

  13. @Skull kid,

    It’s called the priesthood, for those called.

    There is also the option to become a religious brother.

    Men also have the option to pursue life as permanent deacons.

    Consecrated virgins

  14. Pardon that last “Consecrated virginity” – problem of comboxing from the iPhone which hides some text and provides no scrolling in the box!!!!

    @Denita – i meant to point out that a mental disability may disqualify a candidate, but I don’t know if there are any exceptions.

  15. Federico says:

    Thanks for bringing this up! It is my hope and prayer that a Rite soon be established for consecrated widows. I have personally heard of much interest among my widowed friends.

    The order of consecrated widows is recognized in the CCEO. Oriental orders are open to Latin Catholics (with some caveats) and in many parts of the world Latin diocesan bishops have care for Oriental Catholics and it has been suggested that this order is open to Latin Widows. So, diocesan bishop permitting, Latin widows may be admitted to the order. Fr. Z. may feel free to refer to me any widows who may be interested in pursuing this (I don’t want to put my email on an open BLOG posting). I will review the particular circumstances and provide canonical advice as may be appropriate.

    Federico.

  16. APX says:

    @
    Skull Kid

    What about male consecrated virgins? I often thought it was a bit unfair that there didn’t seem to be anything for men.

    Ha! Yeah! Where’s Call to Action on this one? How deplorable and exclusivist is the Catholic Church that they don’t permit male consecrated virgins. Religious orders and the priesthood just don’t suffice for our male counterparts who committed their lives to perpetual virginity, given that virginity is not a requirement for either if the two. What a slap in the face to those men who want to commit themselves to Christ as his bride and offer him their virginity.
    *end sarcasm*

  17. Jacob says:

    Diane at Te Deum Laudamus:

    Indeed, all those are most appropriate. But not all are suitable.

  18. tealady24 says:

    The cousin of my cousin is a consecrated virgin. I know when she became this she was very happy with dedicating herself to the Lord. I particularly like this because her grandmother, mother to my uncle, was the most fervent anti-Catholic I have ever known! This women used to bring my mother to tears, so many times over the years. Funny how things go.

  19. Nora says:

    I would like more information about the status of consecrated widows as a recognized vocation.

  20. bookworm says:

    I thought Dr. Ronda Chervin (a great speaker and author, whom I once met in person) was a consecrated widow but according to her website she is in the process of “discerning” whether to become one. I also used to know (slightly) a woman who had once been a Carmelite nun and had left the convent, but still lived and even dressed much like a nun, and would say that she had taken “private vows.” I wonder if perhaps she simply switched from community life to consecrated virginity? This might be a possibility for women who are neither called to marriage nor to community religious life.

  21. Elizabeth D says:

    Canon law says that the Consecrated Virgin “should not have lived in open violation of chastity.” Thus far it has not been defined, at least not publically, by the Holy See exactly what this means, and to some extent bishops have interpreted it in different ways. I have multiple reasons (not all of them described below) to think my own Bishop Robert Morlino, obviously no liberal but extremely strong on sexual morality and bioethics, leans toward spiritual virginity as being what is most relevent. We have two CVs in our diocese, one of them consecrated by a previous Bishop and one of them transferred from the Milwaukee diocese where there are a good number of CVs. Bishop Morlino has not consecrated any Virgins. Bishop Morlino speaks favorably of the belief of Pope John Paul II that, as the Pope wrote as a young priest in “Love and Responsibility”, some women become virgin late, that is, when no longer physically virgin. At a major lecture by Sr Prudence Allen a few years ago, Bishop Morlino cited a statement by JPII addressed to young people in Rome, about “secondary virginity” and God’s mercy. Granted the statement, which I heard him say in person and deeply appreciated hearing him say, and was noteworthy enough that an audio clip is posted on the diocesan website, is not about the CV vocation: http://www.madisondiocese.org/Ministry/BishopsMessages.aspx (it is of course “Bishop Morlino on Secondary Virginity (Audio)”)

    A contrary perspective is expressed by St Jerome in his letter #22 (an exhortation to holiness to a young woman consecrated virgin), in which he says that in his opinion God Himself cannot restore a virgin who has fallen. Other Fathers of the Church clearly had similar assumptions. St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila, whose writings are arguably among the most important for the “espousal” spirituality of the CV vocation, do not talk about virginity and never mention physical virginity as important to the spiritual life (I have read almost all the writings of both and this just never comes up anywhere). John Paul II’s perspective seems part of his desire to affirm that all women have dignity (there is not a “permanently defiled” category that women who are not virgins, married or widowed belong to), as well as an affirmation that God is all powerful and wants to make all things new, even poor sinner women, and an observation of the reality of the lives of actual women.

    It doesn’t surprise me and I don’t think anyone should be suspicious of bishops who are waiting in regards to the Consecrated Virgin vocation, for it to become more clear how this should be interpreted, and how to proceed in keeping with a conviction that all women have dignity. It’s often penitent women who were usually very ill-catechised and confused earlier in life and who have had a profound conversion and now want to consecrate their lives to Jesus, who sometimes experience keen distress or anxiety on encountering the CV vocation. I know 3 CVs, all of whom are women who have never willingly had relations with a man–I phrase it this way because nobody, including the American Assoc of CVs, claims that being sexually assaulted or having a medically needed exam or surgery excludes women from this vocation, and because over-focus on virginity of the CV as a physical state of certain organs is so misplaced as to do a disservice in regards to this vocation which is centered on union with God.

  22. Elizabeth D says:

    Incidentally, to be clear, I am not making an argument in the above post that women who have willingly had relations with a man should be consecrated in the CV vocation. In my opinion that is not a good idea, even if the women in question are now people of profound prayer and heroic virtue. At the same time, again, I urge that there is often a great need today to not forget mercy while virginity is spoken of.

  23. priests wife says:

    bookworm- I know a few sisters whose orders went ‘wacko’ in the 70′s who became ‘simply’ consecrated virgins under the authority of their bishop.

    That being said- it is a very specific vocation and I personally would want my girls to be sisters in a solid community than to be alone without a community if they were caled to remain unmarried

  24. @priests wife:

    Consecrated virginity is a specific vocation. It is not where people go when community life does not work out. People discerning consecrated virginity need to be certain that they are not called to community life just as they need to discern that they are not called to married life.

    Similarly, there are men who do not feel called to the priesthood, but feel called to serve in another way – as a religious brother. While some men do end up in a religious order who first try for the priesthood, they were likely called to religious life.

    Some consecrated virgins I know explored religious life, but it was not what they felt called to. Some may have discerned with different communities. They are called consecrated virgins living in the world because that is what they do.

    In a sense, they do lack the kind of security that a religious sister or nun would have by being in the community, but even that has no guarantees (as noted in some cloisters where only two elderly sisters remain, for example). But here is the kicker: A consecrated virgin must have faith that her Spouse will provide. She is not guaranteed a life of luxury – none of us are. But, she has to abandon herself to His will for her. He will also give her the necessary graces for these things she must do in the world in order to support and care for herself.

    I know many women who get married, have kids, the husband dies, the kids go their own way, and there she is left to fend for herself. There simply are no guarantees in this life for any of us with regards to security.

  25. Seraphic Spouse says:

    The response to Denita makes me wonder if the order of Consecrated Virgins really is a revival of the orders of Antiquity or a 1960s-style innovation. The earliest consecrated virgins did not have to fend for themselves but were holy presences within their family homes. I seem to recall that the Christians of antiquity supported the widows in their midst, too. They were not expected to have jobs. And, indeed, the novelty of women deciding to remain virgins all their lives developed into women’s monastic life. Consecrated Virgins of antiquity were proto-nuns.

    I do not see why Denita and others like her should have to have modern-style jobs if they wish to be 3rd century style proto-nuns. I do not think a 3rd century bishop would get worked up that Denita is supported by her family or the state, not herself.

    Something else that gets lost in the conversation about Consecrated Virgins is that not all of the 20th/21st century ones are virgins. Some are Consecrated Celibates, which is not exactly the same thing, especially if you place an enormous amount of spiritual significance (as did ancient and mediaeval Christians) on real, live, never-consented-to-sexual-intercourse virginity.

    So again I wonder: how much does the order of Consecrated Virgins share in common with the women addressed by Saint Augustine, and how much is it a product of the anti-post-Constantinian archeologism that flourished in the 1960s?

  26. vanrooye says:

    @Seraphic Spouse

    From what I understand, consecrated virgins must be actual virgins (not simply consecrated celibates). Here is from Cardinal Burke: “The consecrated virgin offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to Him.” [Taken from Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, “Vocations to the Consecrated Life,” St. Louis Review Online, August 13, 2004]

    A consecrated virgin makes this point in the following interview from ABC Nightline Beyond Belief. They interviewed some consecrated virgins about their life (people seemed shocked and amazed that someone would give her virginity to Christ) http://abcnews.go.com/US/beyondbelief/consecrated-virgins-brides-christ-controversial-catholic-rite/story?id=14064832

  27. bookworm says:

    Ok, so what options are there for the unmarried woman who would like to live this kind of life but is not literally a virgin, either due to some mistakes/bad choices made in her youth, or due to sexual abuse or assault? The clause about “not having lived in open violation of chastity” makes me think that there may be some wiggle room here for those situations. Is there actually a “consecrated celibate” category for these women?

  28. Christine says:

    My family and I are lay members of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) and in our Society, we have a group of consecrated widows. You can go to the SOLT web site to get more information. http://www.solt.net

  29. irishgirl says:

    Is there any Consecration of a Virgin in the traditional rites of the Church (pre-VC II)?
    Is anything ever said in FSSP or ICKSP circles about it? Or even SSPX, for that matter?

  30. Seraphic Spouse says:

    “Bad choices” do not go in the same category as assault. St. Augustine argued that to lose her virginity, a woman must FULLY CONSENT to sexual relations. Suffering forced sexual relations did not mean she was no longer a virgin. This may sound strange to people who think virginity=hymen, but as a matter of fact not all women are born with hymens and some hymens tear naturally, due to athletic activity. For a Christian, virginity is more a spiritual state that a”physical.” When you talk about men (like St. Thomas Aquinas) being virgins, you’ve moved out of the realm of anatomy and into the realm of the will.

    “Bad choices” seems to be a euphemism for sexual sin here. Being raped is not a sin on the part of the woman. I think this should be made very, very clear for the sake of girls and women who have been raped.

    I am sure there are many, many religious orders who would happily welcome a repentant, ex-virgin sexual sinner. The Trappists took Thomas Merton, who had abandoned his lover and baby (the Franciscans wouldn’t), so there’s hope for everybody. But suggesting that the order of Consecrated Virgins should accept non-virgins, including those whose sexual sins were indiscreet and caused scandal makes the whole concept ridiculous. IS the order, in fact, anything like the movement proto-nuns for whom perpetual virginity actually meant something, OR is it a 1960s-style innovation?

    Speaking as a person who hangs with the FSSP, I’ve never heard anyone talk about it. We talk about traditional or tradition-friendly religious orders, we talk about the priesthood, and we talk about married life. We even talk about people who just live single lives, with or without private vow. But in 3 years I’ve never heard anyone in FSSP circles talk about Consecrated Virgins.

    Of course, privileging virginity over non-virginity opens a huge can of worms. But this is what one can expect when some people re-introduce pre-Benedictine religious ideas and others question how much sense this makes and whether this is an authentic move or mere “We hate everything that happened after Constantine was crowned” romanticism.

  31. Seraphic Spouse says:

    It is interesting that ABC said the rite was “banned.” I wonder if it were “banned,” or whether it simply didn’t (in 1500 years) become dormant with the development of monasticism.

  32. Makemeaspark says:

    Bishop Earl Boyea is my Bishop. There are wonderful consecrated virgins here in our diocese, and i must point out that they are good fruit of sound, Orthodox, Charismatic groups around here (none of us would EVER consider a clown mass! All of us are submitted to the authority of our Bishop, Bp. Boyea and his predecessors are very favorable of our life and Orthodoxy).
    Karen Bussey is an acquaintance of mine, she has really been a pioneer for consecrated virgins here in our diocese. She runs the local Mother Theresa House which has been written up in the local newspaper and the Diocesan FAITH magazine. My son worked on her garden when she was starting up. Her life, like mother Theresa’s is a real witness to the local community of God’s care for the dying. She belongs to a group of Consecrated virgins that are international. We have been visited here by a consecrated virgin from Austria, wonderful lady!

  33. Cathy says:

    The two women closest to Our Lord were his mother, a consecrated virgin, and St. Mary Magdalene, a well-known prostitute whose life was radically changed through conversion. I lived my life more like the latter and find such great comfort in the former. I recall Our Lady telling St. Faustina that God would not have found her virginity pleasing to Him were it not for her humility. God is so awesomely good that we have saints who, from the beginning moment of their lives, radically witness to the holiness of life. We also have great sinners who have become great saints. We are so blessed to have both. I am single, 46 years old, live alone and find great peace in chastity and celibacy. I don’t consider this as being better than anyone else, just a great blessing by the grace of God. Like every blessing in life, how is this to be brought to the Glory of God, who rightly deserves the praise and honor?

  34. lampada says:

    @ Seraphic Spouse

    A couple of thoughts. First, as a person who hangs out with FSSP, you may appreciate the fact that consecrated virginity was never banned. Actually, it has always remained an option for female virgin members of certain Orders to receive over and above their religious vows. For example, the Carthusian nuns receive (if they are virgins) the consecration 25 years after their profession of vows. What was temporarily banned (as in 1950-1970) was the conferral of the consecration upon women not living in a religious institute. The old rite of consecration and blessing upon a virgin was revised in 1970- to have two Rites- one for religious women who qualified and one for virgins living in the world. Thus, it is not a new 1970′s hippiesh movement, but one in which virgins such as Anne Lafaive in the 1920s and earlier received who were not members of religious Orders.

    The other thing to consider is that FSSP Mass attending people generally respect St. Thomas Aquinas. He wrote on consecrated virginity per se (not celibacy or chastity but on the Rite of Consecration and Blessing of Virgins) in works other than the Summa. He is very clear that it must only be conferred upon a virgin (one who has not voluntarily lost her virginity), and its place in our theology on virginity. I don’t have my references in front of me, but you could easily find them by looking up an index of his works with the word stem “virgin”.

  35. Seraphic Spouse says:

    @lampada. That’s very interesting. Thank you! I’m glad to see that there is indeed authentic continuity at play.

    ABC’s statement that it had been “banned” did sound very fishy to me. Personally I do not believe anything odd-sounding a non-Catholic news agency says about Catholicism.

    Meanwhile, I still have never heard consecrated virginity discussed in FSSP circles, which is all I asserted for the FSSP.

  36. bookworm says:

    “But suggesting that the order of Consecrated Virgins should accept non-virgins, including those whose sexual sins were indiscreet and caused scandal makes the whole concept ridiculous.”

    Fair enough; but, could there be, or is there, a “consecrated celibate” or similar option for unmarried women in the latter category? If it’s possible to have consecrated widows who have obviously been married and had kids, why not have consecrated celibacy for those who have never been married, aren’t going into community religious life for whatever reason, but don’t qualify for the title of “consecrated virgin”?

    If this option exists or were created, I know it would likely be merged with or regarded as synonymous with consecrated virginity in the public mind — much the same way that the terms “nun” and “Sister” are commonly regarded as synonymous though they are not (a nun has solemn vows, sometimes including enclosure, while a Sister has simple vows and tends to be in a more active life, IIRC). Still, I personally see no reason not to have it, if demand for it exists.

  37. nameeta says:

    Virgins consecrated according to canon 604 do not live a ‘religious’ community lifestyle because the ‘diocese’ is their primary community . For more info you may read http://ocvnewevangelisation.blogspot.com/2011/07/are-consecrated-virgins-called-to-lead.html

    While no vocation is superior or inferior to another in God’s eyes, every vocation has its distinct Identity and Mission . Physical virginity is required for those who wish to be consecrated to a life of virginity according to canon 604 because of several reasons elaborated in the following links:
    http://ocvnewevangelisation.blogspot.com/p/why-physical-virginity-is-essential-for.html
    and
    http://ocvnewevangelisation.blogspot.com/2011/07/theology-of-body-order-of-consecrated.html

    Hope this helps !

  38. Elizabeth D says:

    The website of Bp. Bourke’s organization the US Assoc of CVs, says “In cases in which the loss of physical virginity was not intended by the woman, for example in case of rape or involuntary incest, she remains eligible for the consecration of virgins.” (here: http://www.consecratedvirgins.org/questions/who.asp )

    There was not a canonical state of being a consecrated virgin, before the Second Vatican Council, and I believe this was probably intiated by the statement in one of the Council documents that we should try to make the state of virginity more esteemed. It is true that the Carthusians have practiced a consecration of virgins continuously since ancient times. Being a Consecrated Virgin has a liturgical dimension in the Carthusian Rite, they wear a stole like a deacon and on certain high feast days a CV may proclaim (sing, probably) the Gospel at Mass.

    There is no canonical form of individual consecration for celibates who are not virgins other than the Diocesan Hermit vocation which has its own distinctive charism and is considered a rare vocation. Being a member of a Secular Institute usually entails living by oneself in the world. There is not a canonical state of being a consecrated widow though there are various groups that have consecrated widowhood of some kind.

  39. Beginning on page 350 (by page number)/360 (PDF page number) – there are a series of FAQ’s that address many questions here.

    Setting aside special cases where a woman loses her virginity through no fault of her own, here is the question, presumably fielded by then Archbishop Burke:

    30. Is physical virginity necessary in order to receive the Consecration of a Virgin?
    Answer: Can someone offer to God what she does not have?

    There are another set of question after the first set, answered by then Archbishop Burke and it addresses one originally asked in this thread by Skull Cap:

    5. How to answer the question about the Consecration of a Virgin for men? We are
    told it is unfair for it to be open to women only.
    Bishop Burke: The Consecration of a Virgin is part of the principle of the supernatural building on the natural order. A bride is a woman; therefore, a “bride of Christ,” so aptly shown in the Rite, is a woman.

    And, here is one I am pulling out for anyone discerning such a vocation. It is a very serious decision and something that a woman should take some time to discern, with a spiritual director.

    9. Can the Consecration be dispensed?
    Bishop Burke: In the case of religious
    profession, the vows are pronounced and received by the Church. In the case of
    consecrated virginity the virgin presents herself to the Church and she is consecrated by
    the Church as a virgin living in the world. The Consecration is a definitive act on the part
    of the Church constituting the individual in a particular state of holiness by the Church.
    Whereas it is fitting to speak of dispensing someone from vows or promises which he or
    she may have made, it does not make sense to speak of dispensing someone from an act
    of consecration made on the part of the Church itself.

    Here is the PDF. If you want to get to the FAQ’s just type 360 into the page number at top.

  40. A lot of people find it hard to understand why we need consecrated virgins when we already have nuns and religious Sisters. But, consecrated virginity really does have its own distinct charism—it’s not simply an alternative vocation for those who feel called to neither marriage nor religious life. Consecrated virginity is also a public state of consecrated life in the Church, which makes it much closer (theologically, historically, and canonically, at least) to religious life than to a private vow.

    I became a consecrated virgin two and a half years ago when I was twenty-three. I first felt called to marry Jesus when I was twelve, and throughout college I was in touch with a number of solid religious communities where I think I could have felt at home. But ultimately, I couldn’t escape the sense that God was calling me to consecrated virginity specifically.

    Among other reasons, I felt very strongly called to devote my life to prayer for, and to the service of, my home Archdiocese. (I pray the full Liturgy of the Hours every day for the intentions of my Archdiocese; and after graduate school I served for a year as a parish DRE. Right now I’m preparing to study Canon Law so that I can serve on the Archdiocese’s Tribunal.) Consecrated virgins “belong” to the local Church in a much stronger and more direct sense than do women religious, and this explicit connection with the local Church is very meaningful to me spiritually.

    I also felt attracted to the clear spousal dimension of consecrated virginity—consecrated virgins are actually the only women directly identified in Canon Law as “brides of Christ.” Additionally, when I was first discerning my vocation, I was very much drawn to and inspired by the example of the early virgin-martyr saints, who are considered consecrated virgins.

    Because consecrated virgins are connected to their diocese, I’ve never seen autonomy or personal independence as an essential part of the charism of consecrated virginity (although for obvious practical reasons, consecrated virgins do need to be able to stand on their own two feet and take care of themselves). And while consecrated virgins aren’t required to live in community, there’s also nothing forbidding consecrated virgins from living together or associating more closely with each other for the sake of mutual moral support. I personally think that, if there were more consecrated virgins around, it would be ideal to have the option of living together in something like a loosely-structured, convent-type residential community.

    Also, as of right now the Church hasn’t given any clear authoritative directives as to exactly what consecrated virgins’ day-to-day lives should look like. The idea that consecrated virgins are normativly called to work in secular careers is just one interpretation. In my own personal understanding of my vocation, I believe that consecrated virgins are called to serve the Church in some full-time, direct capacity whenever this is reasonably possible.

  41. Elizabeth D says:

    Since so much what is proposed to be true in regards to the CV vocation is not contained in any documents of the Holy See, it seems like there would need to eventually be an instruction, an encyclical or something to clarify. I see the US Assoc of CVs, and individual CVs, and others, developing the theology etc of their vocation and making arguments that go well beyond what is contained in canon law, a necessary process and one that also concerns the whole Church.

  42. Elizabeth D,

    I think what you may be looking for would be something similar to a constitution that a religious order or society of apostolic life might have. There is no such thing for consecrated virgins. Membership is not mandatory in the USACV or any other associations of consecrated virgins.

    Can. 604 §1 The order of virgins is also to be added to these forms of consecrated life. Through their pledge to follow Christ more closely, virgins are consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan Bishop consecrates them according to the approved liturgical rite.

    §2 Virgins can be associated together to fulfil their pledge more faithfully, and to assist each other to serve the Church in a way that befits their state.

    Note that it says they may be associated.

    I think there are positive aspects to the association. It was under the care of Cardinal Burke, now Prefect of the Signatura, for many years. In fact, he was deeply involved while still Father Burke.

    Here is more from Vita Consecrata:

    The Order of Virgins:
    7. It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times. Consecrated by the diocesan Bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.

  43. Denita says:

    @ Diane and Seraphic thank you for the information. I do receive a check every month from the government. I’m the only Catholic in my family, my folks are dead, and my 3 siblings have never supported me. I have never had ANY sexual relations. I sometimes feel I’m the last virgin on earth. I wouldn’t ask my diocese for any money, anyway. I do wish I could be consecrated officially, though. That way I could feel a part of something. I left the Church for a few years because I felt ignored because I had no spouse nor religious vocation. I’m glad to be back, but it’s still very hard for me. Thank you again for the info. Any other help is also appreciated.

  44. Emaris says:

    The Catholic Encyclopaedia says that virginity as “may exist in a women even after bodily violation committed upon her against her will. Physically, it implies a bodily integrity, visible evidence of which exists only in women…There are two elements in virginity: the material element, that is to say, the absence, in the past and in the present, of all complete and voluntary delectation, whether from lust or from the lawful use of marriage; and the formal element, that is the firm resolution to abstain forever from sexual pleasure.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15458a.htm, dated 1912)

    It is pretty clear that those who have suffered sexual assault are still virgins (and are eligible for consecrated virginity, while those who have had sexual intercourse (even in their younger, perhaps pre-Christian days, and even if they have repented fully) are not eligible to become consecrated virgins. The “secondary virginity” thing is a modern concept, and one that I think makes a mockery of virginity.

    Virginity is first and foremost a state of the heart, mind and will. The argument about “physical virginity” is secondary because not all virgins have intact hymens, nor is the hymen always completely ruptured after sexual contact (it is after childbirth, however).

  45. Elizabeth D says:

    Diane, I am not referring to something like a religious constitution, or shared beliefs within voluntary associations of consecrated virgins, but a need for statements of the Church that would clarify questions such as who is eligible for this form of consecration (canon law is far less specific about this than the USACV and Cardinal Burke), whether it can ever be dispensed (I don’t consider my own non canonical perpetual vow of celibate chastity revocable or capable of being dispensed, so by mentioning this I am not arguing that theirs should be, on the contrary I think I understand very very well why it is important to them that it is irrevocable), etc. These are questions that currently are not answered by any documents of the Holy See that I have ever seen, and there has been very real confusion.

  46. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Denita, honey, you know you are not the last virgin on earth! But I write for Singles all the time, so why not come over and join the girls at http://seraphicsinglescummings.blogspot.com? (I hope Fr Z won’t mind me mentioning my blog at his blog, as I’m offering fellowship here.) Other Single Catholics do feel sometimes that they are treated as second class next to married people, religious and priests. (And what a shock it would be to say this to another Single woman in the Ladies, if she suddenly turned around and hissed “I’m not SINGLE! I’m the BRIDE of CHRIST!”)

    Just kidding there, C.V.’s! I’m sure you would never alienate all other women around like that.

  47. Canonically Speaking says:

    @ Elizabeth D

    I cannot speak for Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison, WI), nor have I ever heard him express his opinion on eligibility for consecrated virginity. However, I think we can safely presume that he would be obedient to the norms of the rite and the praxis curiae of the Holy See. With that said, you are correct in noting that there has been no “official” statement on physical virginity. However, I would like to direct you to two important places.

    First, the praenotanda of the rite itself state that it is required that women “have never been married or lived in public or flagrant violation of chastity”. Actually the Latin reads “publice seu manifeste in statu castitati contrario vixerunt” (no. 5). This may lead us to think that only those publicly known to be no longer virgins would be ineligible, whereas those who have consented to sexual intercourse but have not lived in a state [statu] of immorality (e.g. cohabitation) would still be eligible. In fact, this was my own opinion at first glance, invoking canon 18, which states that laws which restrict the free exercise of rights are subject to strict interpretation.

    However, I was later made aware of a private correspondence between then-Archbishop Burke of St. Louis and the CDWDS. In a 2005 letter, Burke writes to the congregation regarding physical virginity as a requirement for consecration. He indicates that many bishops have gone on to consecrate virgins under the idea of “secondary virginity” but that this makes no sense to him. In fact, he goes on to say that his understanding of “publice” is not a notorious state of concubinage but that the acts are public, that is to say, committed with another person. In 2007, the CDWDS responded (Prot. n. 231/06/L) concurring with Burke’s interpretation that those who have “knowingly and deliberately engaged in sexual relations should not be received as consecrated virgins, but may be encouraged to make another form of personal consecration.” The CDWDS continues on to say that the phrase “publice seu manifeste” contained in praenotanda no. 5, is meant to avoid the possible inference that a anyone should be required to make a manifestation of conscience in the external forum.

    In a recent conversation with Cardinal Burke, I asked him about this very norm. He reaffirmed that physical virginity is required since the virgin presents herself to the Church and the bishop consecrates that. His Eminence said that the bishop need not pry into the past sexual history of the candidate but should explain what consecrated virginity is to her and allow the candidate to voluntarily withdraw if she is not eligible. This avoids a manifestation of conscience but still respects the norms of the rite.

    In this same letter from the CDWDS, the congregation indicates that they are giving consideration to provisions that might be made for the consecration of widows.

    If you have further questions or would like more information about this private correspondence, you may contact me via my blog: canonicallyspeaking.blogspot.com

  48. Elizabeth D says:

    Canonically Speaking, thank you for very much enriching this discussion. I have seen such a letter spoken of on a blog, but this private correspondence does not seem to be available anywhere for the public to see for themselves and so, if it exists as it probably does, I don’t assume that I know what its significance is. The blog I learned about it from later backtracked acknowledging they hadn’t seen the letter either and thought they should refrain from saying to surely that it was authoritative.

    You say that Cardinal Burke says there are many instances of Bishops conferring this consecration on women who may have willing had relations with a man at some time, like I was saying there is real confusion! Which raises is the question of whether the Consecration of Virgins is invalid in such cases, probably not even if arguably irregular.

    I don’t think the idea of secondary virginity is in any way nonsensical, even if it does not correspond with the eligibility requirements for the CV vocation (and again, there does not seem to be any public document of the Holy See that actually clarifies this, though again I’m not saying I think any bishop should do differently than what Cardinal Burke is recommending).

  49. @ Elizabeth D

    As a consecrated virgin, I totally and completely agree with you when you say that we need more official clarification and instruction on consecrated virginity as a vocation. But I’m not sure that one would be able to be written any time in the near future (as much as I really, really wish it would!)—there are just so many questions to be answered.

    After struggling with this lack of authoritative information for several years, I’m starting to think that maybe what needs to happen is for this vocation to be lived out in a convincing and compelling way for a number of years, so that the Church’s legislative authority can get a better sense of what the Holy Spirit wanted to do in inspiring the restoration of consecrated virginity as a state in life. (Since while the hierarchy has the authority to recognize charisms in consecrated life, it can’t make them up out of whole cloth!)

    @ Seraphic Spouse

    If a consecrated virgin refers to herself as a bride of Christ instead of “single,” she’s not trying to alienate single women any more than you are when you use the title “Mrs.” Instead of “Ms.”

    She is just trying to be open about her vocation, which she is obligated to do, since consecrated virginity is a PUBLIC state of consecrated life in the Church, which in turn calls consecrated virgins to bear a public evangelical witness. (This is one reason why it’s important to understand the difference between consecrated virginity and private vows—a woman who simply makes a private vow of virginity or celibacy can, and in some cases should, be more discreet about her commitment and doesn’t have the same obligations towards the wider Church.)

    A consecrated virgin who was not reasonably open about her spousal commitment to Christ would be akin to a priest who never wears clerical garb and tells all his parishioners: “Just call me Bob!”

    Also, it’s not the individual consecrated virgins who are calling themselves “brides of Christ,” but the Church herself. Canon 604 says, verbatim, that consecrated virgins are “mystically espoused to Christ, the Son of God.” The actual Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity (which can be found in several places online) is bursting with bridal imagery and explicit references to a consecrated virgin’s spousal vocation.

    From a more practical point of view, consecrated virgins really shouldn’t think of themselves as “single” any more than a diocesan priest should think of himself as a bachelor—and for the same reasons.

    This is not because the single lay life is a bad thing, or because single lay people are second-class citizens, or because consecrated virgins want to think of themselves as “better” than single people. It’s only because consecrated life (even the more unusual, less-understood forms of consecrated life) is a different state than the single life, and consecrated people have somewhat different spiritual needs and obligations. (Among other things, you need more prayer, more spiritual direction, more discernment in forming relationships, etc.) If as a consecrated virgin you choose to ignore this reality, you jeopardize your entire spiritual life.

  50. Elizabeth D says:

    a newly consecrated virgin, I agree with you that it is deeply important for CVs themselves to simply live the life, loving Jesus and tending toward holiness. What you have said surely is relevent.

    I think some while ago Pope Benedict announced his intention to write an encyclical on Permanent Deacons and one on Religious Brothers. Have not seen anything more about that so anything on Consecrated Virgins would be way on the Papal backburner or would need to come from the CDF, Congregation for Religious, etc.

    I am not in a canonical form of consecration, and do not (and cannot) think of myself as single; Christ fills that place of a spouse in my heart and life (lived in full Communion with the Church, His one Bride). In one way or another I tend to let everyone who gets to know me a bit know this whether they are Catholic or not. I do not describe myself publically as a a “bride of Christ”, nor do I even normally say that I am “consecrated” (though Vatican II iirc does use this word in relation to a privately vowed state), I live the spirituality while avoiding giving an impression that I am in a canonical consecrated state. Nevertheless, even so some people, especially if they are not Catholic, think when I say I am celibate for life for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven that this means being a “nun” and some will not be dissuaded from that.

    One thing largely absent in the Church today is penitent spirituality. I think the spiritual possibilities of this for celibate women are richer than the more comforting concept of secondary virginity, which in a sense cannot fully substitute for it. The wholesale dismantling of Catholic ascetical practice, starting prior to the Second Vatican Council, makes it challenging today to renew. It also has to be understood in a way that is profoundly (indeed passionately!) oriented toward God’s mercy and love, or else serious spiritual perversions and harm are possible.

  51. Canonically Speaking says:

    @ Elizabeth D

    The juridical authority of a private reply is limited only to the persons to whom it was addressed (can. 16). Thus, this private correspondence carries no universal canonical authority. However, I would argue that it carries the authority of any well-reasoned argument. But, as you note, there is much confusion, which will hopefully be clarified with a revision of the rite (and its praenotanda).

    And, I agree with you (and Bishop Morlino) that the idea of secondary virginity is still a worthwhile concept, especially as it concerns one’s desire to lead a chaste life in the future. So, I hope you do not think that my very canonical response was downplaying that at all.

  52. Elizabeth D says:

    I feel like I should say, somebody who is free from their past sin and absorbed in loving Jesus should not be disturbed to suggest they need to selfconsciously adopt a penitent spirituality. They should have confidence and trust in His Mercy.

  53. Elizabeth D says:

    Dear Canonically Speaking, you are terrific. A revision of the rite would also obviously help clarify.

  54. irishgirl says:

    I’m going to try posting this again….
    Denita, I think I must be the second-to-the-last-virgin on earth. I understand how you feel about wanting ‘to belong’ in the Church. Everything seems to be focussed on the married or the priesthood / religious vocations.
    I go to the EF Mass exclusively, and I don’t know if the priests who say the TLM would understand anything about Consecrated Virginity. I wonder if they would call it ‘an invention of Vatican II’. I know that it isn’t; it’s been around since the earliest ages of the Church.
    It’s sad when you don’t know what your vocation is in life….I have the feeling that I will never know…sorry for the rambling thoughts….

  55. @Denita – you are not alone!

    Keep in mind, individual women discern until they can no longer discern on their own. Then, they put it in the hands of their bishop.

    You mentioned a mental disability and I do not know if all mental disabilities would disqualify a woman (perhaps someone with more background would know). Depending on who your bishop is, you might contact them and find out if they would be willing to help you to discern, while at the same time discerning whether you qualify for consecration.

    Just remember, there are men who wanted to be priests, who were rejected. They never found spouses, or could not give their hearts to another. There are women who wanted to be religous sisters and were rejected, similarly. God permits these things to happen and it is very possible that you could make it to heaven faster than any married or consecrated person, and have a higher position in the heavenly kingdom.

    There are also secular orders. I am a secular Carmelite. There are secular Franciscans and others. Explore these options and see what happens. If they say, “no”- that’s ok – God wants you somewhere else, or in the state that you are in, striving for holiness as any single man or woman could do.

  56. With regards to “open violation of chastity” here is one example that comes to mind:

    Let’s say that a virgin had spent time as a topless waitress for several years after high school and now in her 30′s she wants to be a Consecrated Virgin. Because a CV must live her consecration in a public way, this could create confusion and scandal for those who knew her as a topless waitress. It’s hard to fathom that anyone could do such work and still be a virgin. So, this violation of chastity is public. She may be a virgin, but she has another reputation that is in conflict with that.

  57. Denita says:

    @ irishgirl I fully agree with you. I often feel left out, even now. I have a hard time finding Patron Saints for role models who are virgins but not religious. I mean that my Catholic bookstore in Fort Worth, TX has little info, pictures,etc of certain Saints I follow. I was born on March 20, no saint’s feasts fall on that day. I “adopted St. Dymphna, because she is patron of the mentally ill.
    @Seraphic Thank you for the invite, but when I went to your blog w while back, I got the impression that it was for younger women. I’m 49. That is another problem. I’m too old.

  58. nameeta says:

    Dear Denita ,
    I’m also an adult convert and found that in general converts feel a lack of a sense of belonging because we are different . Converts are sometimes disowned by their own families and not really integrated in the catholic communities which themselves need a new evangelisation. I’ve also met a lot of converts who become mentally ill precisely because of this . I don’t mean to say that cradle-catholics don’t experience loneliness but for converts the feeling of uprootedness from the previous community can be stronger .

    I’m sure you must be chosen to become a saint – that’s why there’s no saint’s feast on your birthday.

    Consecrated virginity is a very difficult vocation to live [ from my personal experience] . You may be further isolated and feel even more left out because in general catholics don’t understand it and there is a lot of confusion. But Joy comes from embracing Suffering. It’s just sensible not to get into this particular vocation if what you are looking for an increased ‘sense of belonging’. Consider getting in touch with support groups for adult converts instead.

    Anyway you are still free to discern .Get in touch with the CVs on the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins website .

    I promise to pray for you in a very special way !