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.