A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

Table of contents for A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics

  1. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I
  2. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

RP-T-1926-35By Therese Ivers, JCL (JCD cand.)

The Church has a specially honed vocabulary in which words have specific definitions and usages. These definitions may contrast with the normal use of the words by ordinary people in the world. An example of differing vocabulary is the common use of the word “adore” (e.g. “I adore babies!”) and the Catholic use (“I adore God” with latria worship/supreme love). Likewise, Catholics distinguish that there are three levels of “worship”, only one of which denotes “adoration”. That is, we “worship” Mary with hyperdulia veneration but God is the only object of adoration worship/veneration.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find that the Church has special definitions attached to words like chastity, celibacy, continence, virtue, vice, and virginity, which do not necessarily correspond to the meanings normally attached to those words by ordinary people in the world. Some terms the Church uses are better understood by people who are familiar with philosophy, because philosophy can help explain certain concepts like “willed” “formal” and “material”, which are necessary for the understanding of virginity, virtue, vice, etc.

Word: Virgin

Non-Catholic Definition

There are various meanings to the word “virgin” that can be easily accessed through dictionaries. Usually, they focus on the physical state of the woman. Specifically, the colloquial use revolves on vaginal penetration, which will usually stretch or break the hymen. “Recovered virgins” are not a possibility to some people, and others think some kind of surgical reconstruction of that area renders one a virgin again.

Catholic Definitions

Strict theological definition and use:

  • The state of a person who has not consented to venereal pleasure.
  • The state of a person who has not consented to venereal pleasure and who has committed to life-long abstinence from such for the sake of the Kingdom.

A wider sense and informal use of the term:

  • A social reality of an unmarried “single” person, often in reference to a never-married woman.

#1 and #2 are the focus of theological treatises, not #3. #3 is most often used in popular Catholic discourse and not with the intention of referring specifically to the virtue of virginity. Rather, the intention is to mark a particular demographic of unmarried persons. It should be recalled that the normative state of single people is that of virginity because that is what baptized non-married Catholics are called to live by virtue of their baptism. That not all are actually virgins does not affect this fundamental expectation of baptized unmarried persons. Therefore, we will not discuss #3 in this article.

Now let’s go on to #1 and #2 of the strict meaning of the word “virgin” in the Catholic Church.

A virgin is one who has not consented to venereal pleasure (acts). Thus an infant is born a virgin. It is this formal virginity that is a minimal expectation for all baptized unmarried persons.

Let’s unpack this a bit more. A virgin is one who has not consented to venereal pleasure (acts). This means that someone who wants to get married and in marriage enjoy the acts proper to married people but who in the meantime as a single has never consented to venereal pleasure/acts is a virgin. A woman who is raped is a virgin, provided that she did not consent to the act or any incidental pleasure that may have been present with it.

Now let’s go even further. To be a virgin is expected by the Church for baptized unmarried members. So, let’s talk about about “consent to venereal pleasure/acts”. What is forbidden for unmarried people is for them to voluntarily engage in sexual activity. It is forbidden for them to consent to it, both exteriorly and interiorly. This means that a person cannot express consent to fornication/adultery/sodomy/bestiality in order to save their life or that of other people. That would be sinful, because consenting to sexual activity with a person to whom one is not married is a sin.

We are called to refuse consent to solicitation. E.g. Alessandro ASKED St. Maria Goretti to have sex with him. He was trying to obtain her CONSENT to act in a manner contrary to chastity/virginity with him. She properly refused. This is our obligation! To refuse solicitation even if that means death or other negative reprecussions upon ourselves or our loved ones.

We cannot pretend that just because a gun or knife is threatening one’s person, that consent can be articulated or expressed, because we are obliged to refuse consent to sins against chastity. Again, this is a basic duty/obligation because we are obliged to witness to Christ even to the shedding of our blood.

Now, let’s take another example. Let’s say someone is physically overcome and raped. The victim is NOT consenting exteriorly or interiorly to the rape. The victim is still a virgin in the eyes of God and the Church. This is a big deal! It means that the Church doesn’t, like non-Catholic people do, attach undue importance to the hymen, but to formal virginity. This doesn’t mean that the physical sign of virginity in women isn’t normally the hymen, but it does say that our theology and understanding of virginity is more nuanced than for non-Catholics.

That being said, we have to avoid one danger, which is to say that to be a virgin, if one can be raped (or have surgery or exercise) cannot have any physical connection, that it must be only in the mind. The Church does not teach that. Rather, the Church teaches that two things must simultaneously happen for a person to stop being a virgin – consent to venereal pleasure/act (the act of the will) and the physical venereal act itself. So if the act happens but is not consented to (e.g. someone is raped) then that person continues to be a virgin because consent is absent.

What about surgical interventions or exercise affecting the hymen? Does a stretching or breaking of the hymen through these means make someone a non-virgin? The answer to this question is very simple. Surgical intervention does not involve willed sexual pleasure. Neither does exercise (in and of itself). Therefore, a person who has lost the hymenal membrane through surgery or exercise does not cease to be a virgin in the eyes of God or the Church.

Once virginity is lost through full consent to a (corporeal) venereal act, then it is lost forever. God Himself cannot restore it. Why? Because God is a God of truth. A person cannot “un-experience” what has been done. It has factually happened, and historically happened. Even if the physical membrane is surgically (or even miraculously) restored, the moral human act has still factually occurred. Hence, the push for some Evangelical Christians or Muslims to have surgery for their hymens has no bearing on their status as virgins or non-virgins in the eyes of God but can only help to avoid death or perceived disgrace by their future husbands.

Thus far, we’ve only discussed virgins in the first strict sense of the word. Now let’s look to the other sense in the Church’s vocabulary.

A person who #1 is a virgin and #2 decides to maintain lifelong virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in following Christ is either a dedicated virgin or a virgin-person with a consecration. The dedicated virgin is one who does this by private resolution (propositum), vow, intention, promise, or oath. Lay members of Societies of Apostolic Life or Personal Prelatures or other non-consecrated forms of consecrated life are dedicated virgins if they are, in fact, virgins. They are dedicated continent people if they are not virgins.

The consecrated person who is a virgin may be a member of the Order of Virgins or may be a virgin-member of a form of life which gives consecration to its members. Thus, a woman who is a virgin who belongs to a religious institute is a consecrated person who is a virgin. She is, however, not a member of the Order of Virgins even if she is a virgin because religious consecration is not a “consecration of virginity” or “consecrated virginity” in the strict sense, but is a consecration of a person vowed to the observance of the evangelical counsels, separated from the world, and in common life.

An eminent example of a virgin-religious who is not a “consecrated virgin” of the Order of Virgins is St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a virgin. He was a consecrated person by reason of religious consecration in the Dominican Order. But he is not what we are calling Brides of Christ/Consecrated Virgins of the Order of Virgins. It is a specific consecration given only to virgin-women that constitutes women in the Order of Virgins.

Juridic Virginity

This is the kind of virginity required for the consecration of virgins as brides of Christ. Until 1970, juridic virginity (and for a period of time, the absence of having been raped) was all that was required for eligibility for this solemn consecration or anointing. It denoted a woman who had never lost virginity by vaginal-penile sex. Victims of rape, though acknowledged by the Church as continuing to be virgins, were forbidden to receive the consecration for various reasons.

Now, the juridic virginity has been substituted by the 1970 Rite of Consecration of Virgins for the absence of non-public violations against chastity, and even more diluted by the Instruction Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago [ESI] with something amorphous or non-existent. What does this mean concretely?

Dr. Ed Peters, in his Studia Canonica article and brief recent article on ESI, lays out what the previous, present, and future requirements were/are/might be for women desirous of receiving the consecration of virgins. At the very least, juridic virginity meant absence of vaginal-penile intercourse. Some authors held that any act destructive of virginity was sufficient impediment [e.g. masturbation, oral sex, or lesbian sex] to the consecration. But one thing was absolutely clear, whether one held to a strict core minimum of “juridic virginity” as defined by the absence of consented vaginal-penal sex, or whether it was expanded to all consented-to venereal acts, both definitions for juridic virginity (for the purpose of admission to the consecration of virgins) required bodily continence!

What is bodily continence? In a highly restricted sense, continence is the willed absence of consented vaginal-penile intercourse. This is important because rape of a person, married or unmarried, does not constitute an act which deprives the victim of continence. Because, continence depends upon consent +corporeal venereal act! There are three kinds of continence. Virginal continence, widowed continence, and married continence. All three kinds of continence have one thing in common. An act, whether lawful or unlawful, of consented vaginal-penile intercourse, is an act against continence.

Whether one restricts the interpretation of the word continence to its strictest meaning of abstention from voluntary sexual intercourse, or one has a broader understanding of it as meaning the abstention from voluntary sexual acts not limited to but including sexual intercourse, an act against continence destroys both the state of virginity and the virtue of virginity (separate things) forever. The novelty of ESI consists of the fact that it no longer requires the state of juridic virginity (absence of penile-vaginal sex) as a juridic criterion for consecration. Rather, it appears to allow for juridic “chastity” instead. How is this?

If a body kept in perfect continence is rejected without any disclaimers as an “essential” pre requisite for the consecration of virgins, then the whole of the meaning of the term “continence” is rejected. In other words, acts against continence can be read in a restricted sense to mean just acts of voluntary vaginal sexual intercourse. But acts against continence can in some instances be read in a broader sense to mean “all voluntary sexual acts”, including vaginal intercourse. It doesn’t matter which definition is selected because both include vaginal-penile intercourse as part of the definition. If you do not explicitly reject vaginal-penile intercourse as being included in the term “continence”, then logically, you are including in the word and meaning. Thus, for ESI to reject continence as a requirement is for it to reject being a virgin (possessing juridic virginity) as a requirement, because all agree that continence is lost with intercourse (and not all agree that anything besides intercourse canonically breaks continence).

To clarify this, let’s reword the ESI sentence a bit to help illustrate this point. Reworked, there are two essentially plausible renditions:

  • #1 Continence, that is, the absence of voluntary vaginal-penile sexual intercourse, is no longer an essential pre-requisite for admission to the Order of Virgins.
  • #2 Continence, that is, the absence of both voluntary vaginal-penile sexual intercourse plus the absence of any other voluntary acts of venereal pleasure, is no longer an essential pre-requisite for admission to the Order of Virgins.

It should be noted that there is NO caveat or disclaimer or exception mentioned in ESI #88. It doesn’t say “continence, in the sense of acts proper to the married state aside from vaginal-penile intercourse”.   Thus, virginity, not even merely juridic virginity, is not a requirement for admission to the Order of Virgins according to the Instruction.[1]

To wrap up this portion of this article, it should be noted that the Church does not refer to virginity as merely a material or “physical state” of a person. Rather, virginity has to do with the absence of willed venereal pleasure. Thus, to claim that this passage in ESI is an acknowledgement of the ability of rape-victims to receive the consecration is rather baffling as rape does not destroy continence or virginity! More on this later.

To be continued…

[1] Yet, it appears, only specific sins against chastity qualify as impediments to the consecration according to the Instruction. (This is baffling because when there are restrictions, they are to be interpreted strictly and yet the blanket prohibition against external forum acts against chastity is in the Praenotanda – liturgical law of the Rite… which would trump any less restrictive interpretation given in the Instruction…)

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A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I

Table of contents for A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics

  1. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I
  2. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

RP-T-1926-35
By Therese Ivers, JCL (JCD cand.)

With headlines carrying the shocking news that the Vatican “no longer requires virginity for virgins”, there has been a lot of controversy and angst stirred up amongst the Catholic community, particularly within the Order of Virgins. However, a calm look at the Church’s traditional teaching on virginity, and the practice of admitting certain women to the Order of Virgins should help in sifting through to the truth of the matter.

What has happened recently is that the Holy See has released an Instruction called Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago (Image of the Bridal Church). In it are contained explanations, exhortations, and advice concerning the Order of Virgins. An Instruction is considered to be a document which explains how the law of the Church is to be carried out or interpreted. It is not law itself, nor can it be more restrictive of rights than the law itself. For that reason, if there are conflicting parts between the law and the Instruction, such parts are automatically void by virtue of canon 34.[1]

In Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago is a very controversial paragraph. It is controversial because it introduces a novelty for the practice of consecrating women who are virgins into the Order of Virgins (Ordo Virginum), a group that has existed since the beginning of Christian virginity at the Annunciation. The paragraph, in #88, in the document which does not yet exist in Latin, the Church’s legal language, but which is consistently translated among the major languages in the vernacular reads as follows in English:

As a treasure of inestimable value that God pours into clay vessels (cf. 2?Cor 4:7), this vocation is truly an undeserved gift. It encounters the person in her actual humanity, always in need of redemption and yearning for the full meaning of her existence. It finds its origin and dynamic centre in the grace of God, who unceasingly acts with the tenderness and the strength of his merciful love in the often complex and sometimes contradictory events of human life, helping the person to grasp her uniqueness and the unity of her being, enabling her to make a total gift of self. In this context it should be kept in mind that the call to give witness to the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love for Christ is not reducible to the symbol of physical integrity. Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible. [Emphasis added.]

Why is the paragraph problematic? It is because while it is true that the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love cannot “be reducible to the symbol of physical integrity”, it does, as a matter of fact require the signification of virginity to be meaningful. However, this traditional criterion for women who desire to belong to the Ordo Virginum [“OV” or “OCV”] is removed by the last sentence which says that “Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way… are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to the consecration is not possible”. More simply put, after removing the double negative, “The pre-requisite for a body kept in perfect continence is no longer [an] essential [pre-requisite] for admission to the Order of Virgins.  Words have meaning and in this case, the word phrase “kept her body in perfect continence” has specific meaning in the Church.  As Dr. Peters so ably points out in both his short internet post (which cites his lengthy scholarly article in Studia Canonica), it is the denial of lifelong perfect continence as a pre-requisite that is hugely problematic.

The key to understanding the global-wide stir about this passage is extrinsically connected to the Church’s ancient custom of consecrating female virgins as Brides of Christ with a special spiritual anointing. This anointing creates Brides whose own nuptial bond reflects the Church’s own radiant virgin-spousal bond with Christ, the Son of God. Previously, at least “juridic virginity” was required for the reception of this anointing. Now, this document is denying that virginity is an essential requirement for women to receive this special anointing and spousal bond to Christ, which today takes place in a solemn liturgical ritual presided over by a bishop, which is an abrupt departure from 2018 years of tradition in the Catholic Church.

In part II, we shall provide a glossary of words like chastity, virginity, and continence, and explain how they relate to the consecration of virgins. There is too much confusion about virginity and that needs to be cleared up. In this section, however, it is probably a good idea to talk about WHY virginity is valued in the Catholic Church. Virginity is valued because it reflects the virginity of the Most Holy Trinity, the virginity of Christ and the virginity of the Church. [2]

For consecrated virgins, who are “living images” of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and who with the Church share the title “Bride of Christ”, St. Thomas Aquinas has some beautiful passages in his Sententiae:

Every sensible thing the Church uses has a spiritual significance. And since a single corporeal thing fails to represent adequately something spiritual, one spiritual reality may sometimes be represented by several corporeal signs. The spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church is fruitful, for by it the sons of God are given birth; it is pure, for as the Epistle to the Ephesians reads, “Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it,… that He might present to Himself, a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”… For which reason, St. Paul writes (II Cor. II:2): “for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

Now bodily fruitfulness and virginity or integrity of the flesh are incompatible. Therefore two different signs are needed to represent the spiritual marriage of Christ and His Church, one to image its fruitfulness, the other to reflect its perfect purity or integrity.

Since on earth marriage represents the fruitfulness of the spiritual relationship between Christ and His church, another symbol is needed to typify its integrity. The veiling of virgins accomplishes this in all its words and ceremonies. Because of that fact, only bishops, into whose keeping the Church has been committed, can give virgins the veil, acting as the friend and proxy of the bridegroom. Further, the pure integrity of Christ’s union with the Church is symbolized perfectly by virginal continence but only imperfectly by the continence of widows. Therefore, although they too receive the veil, it is not given to them with the same solemnity.

It should be noticed that the spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church is signified by the virginity of the Church, “symbolized perfectly by virginal continence but only imperfectly by the continence of widows”. This is fully consonant with what the Church says in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins:

God himself is its source. It is he, infinitely pure and holy, who gives the grace of virginity. Those to whom he gives it are seen by the Fathers of the Church as images of the eternal and all-holy God.

When the fullness of time had come, the almighty Father showed, in the mystery of the Incarnation, his love for this great virtue. In the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh, in a marriage covenant uniting two natures, human and divine.

Our Lord himself taught us the high calling of such a life, consecrated to God and chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven . By his whole life, and especially by his labors, his preaching, and, above all, by his Paschal Mystery, he brought his Church into being. He desired it to be a virgin, a bride, and a mother: a virgin, to keep the faith whole and entire; a bride, to be one with him forever; and a mother, to raise up the family of the Church.

The dignity of being a sacred virgin is to be anointed as a bride of Christ and symbolizing in her very body, the Church herself because her body has been kept in holy virginal continence. Now, if we re-examine the problematic sentence in Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, we see that according to this document, continence (virginal or widowed) is not essential for admission to the consecration. If that is the case, what possible value does the consecration of virgins have if it is conferred on non-virgins? The physical symbol has been removed and there is now nothing left. This is why this Instruction has produced shockwaves around the globe; the nature of the vocation has been removed, which means that whatever is deemed to be “consecrated virginity” no longer has any theological meaning or purpose if there is no longer an essential pre-requisite to keeping the body in perfect continence. Virginity and continence are inextricably connected with the body when practiced by humans. This shall be seen in Part II.

 

To be continued.

 

 

[1] Can. 34 §1. Instructions clarify the prescripts of laws and elaborate on and determine the methods to be observed in fulfilling them. They are given for the use of those whose duty it is to see that laws are executed and oblige them in the execution of the laws. Those who possess executive power legitimately issue such instructions within the limits of their competence.

  • 2. The ordinances of instructions do not derogate from laws. If these ordinances cannot be reconciled with the prescripts of laws, they lack all force.
  • 3. Instructions cease to have force not only by explicit or implicit revocation of the competent authority who issued them or of the superior of that authority but also by the cessation of the law for whose clarification or execution they were given.

[2] Cf. The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity in the Roman Pontifical, #16; Virginity, by St. Gregory of Nyssa in chapters 1-2.

Therese Ivers is a member of the Order of Virgins, a canon lawyer, and perita on consecrated life by virtue of holding the diploma from the Vatican on the Theology and Law of Consecrated Life.  She is the president of the Society of American Virgins.

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Are Women Religious Being Exploited?

By Therese Ivers, JCL

nunshot

An article recently appeared in the L’Osservatore Romano [Vatican newspaper] by Marie-Lucile Kubacki, about religious sisters in Rome being exploited in providing cooking, laundry, and housekeeping services for male Church officials.  Sisters, some with doctorates or licentiates in theology or other fields were being assigned to serve in menial positions for “random” “modest” or “no pay”.  The phrase “male Church officials”, used in an English report on this issue, in practice, denotes communities of male religious who often have a whole team of sisters dedicated to providing these services, as well as individual priests and prelates.

Not unexpectedly, another article appeared, whose author, Jeff Mirus, claimed to be “bemused and confused” about the claim of exploitation of women religious in Rome.  It was entitled Is It Wrong For Women Religious to Serve Priests and Bishops?  Of course, any person who celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker knows that work is dignified and menial labor is dignified.   However, this is a trick question.  It is only acceptable for women religious to serve male religious and clergy if it is part of their official charism.  Apparently Mirus, who does not have “living in Rome for an extended period of time” in his bio, sees the articles against exploitation of women religious as an exaggerated “feminist” outcry.

Indeed, Mirus sees the services of doing the cooking, laundry, and housekeeping for “clergy” (he doesn’t realize that teams of religious sisters are often assigned to do the same for communities of their peers, non-ordained religious brothers) as opportunities for reducing ministry costs of clergy and for growing in humility!  This is shortsighted thinking.

What Mirus does not appear to appreciate is that the articles speak of many sisters not having proper labor contracts; hence, they are financially vulnerable. They are often not paid even if they or their communities desperately need funds.  This is not Catholic social justice in action; it is exploitation.  Further, it may be true that the salary a cleric receives will not be greatly diminished by free or cheap labor, but the cleric is given a reliable salary, which is supposed to include sufficient funds for decent living.

Housekeeping services are part of the salary equation for many clergymen, particularly if they live in spacious rectories with a lot of shared common space. Little or no pay means that there is true exploitation of women’s labor on the part of the male cleric.  The exploitation is not limited to simply the woman/women religious and their own religious communities.  It extends to the local Church, who, by their donations, are supporting the women religious to do something which is often contrary to their stated charism!  Would rightly thinking lay and ordained faithful be so quick to donate to women religious communities if they knew that a portion of the members were being siphoned off from their stated mission to be underpaid or unpaid servants to religious brothers and clergy?

Unlike Mirus, I have personally witnessed vast numbers of women religious being exploited in Italy.  I have seen religious sisters scrubbing toilets and cooking for male religious communities or individual clergymen.  For the vast majority, it was historically accomplished by a sympathetic superior helping out a busy cleric or a religious community of men despite the fact that the charism did not support this type of work.  A teaching or nursing community has no business scrubbing the toilets of male religious communities!  This isn’t a matter of menial labor being “unsuitable”, but the context is wrong.  It is wrong for a community with a stated charism that does not include menial labor for the personal benefit of male Church officials to assign sisters to do just that.

Furthermore, there must be consideration of jeopardy to the promise/vow of chastity on the part of both male clergy and religious and on the part of the vowed women providing these services. There is no need to expound on this point. Young religious women should not be working in the private quarters of men. Parish priests are not supposed to have live-in housekeepers unless they are of mature age. Barring advanced age or disability, men should take a little time to maintain their own quarters. This is a part of normal living, and the exercise will be good for their health.

This exploitative practice needs to end. It impoverishes communities of religious women. It helps men to entertain an attitude of entitlement.  Yes, I have personally heard or participated in conversations where religious communities of men felt entitled to free housekeeping services from religious women.  This custom also fosters an attitude of superiority, where men can overlook the intellectual abilities of religious women because they only see them engaged in menial tasks. Both major superiors and superiors of individual houses need to stand up for their rights and either demand labor contracts with proper pay if these services are within their declared charism or refuse to delegate sisters to provide this work.

If it is true that, as Mirus states, cooking, doing the personal dirty laundry of the men, and cleaning can engender humility in religious women, why can’t it work the same way for men?  Why can’t men pick up a broom or do their laundry or take a hand in the kitchen?  If doing a spot of manual labor is not deemed part of a healthy balance in life for men, who should not be doing simply white collar intellectual work to keep physically fit, why can’t lay people be hired at just wages?  If “recruits”, as he labels postulants or novices, can be redirected to these “humble” tasks, why not do the same for male “recruits” at seminaries? Oh wait. There’s actually a purpose for the seminary and novitiate! Strange that it does not include providing housekeeping to busy male religious or clerics as an integral part of the formation program.

One possible response to the existing exploitation is for the Vatican to insist that religious strictly follow their charisms.  This may lead to a widespread withdrawal from the downstairs crew comprised of religious sisters.  Another solution would be to amend the constitutions of the religious congregations to reflect “service to male religious and clerics” as part of their charism.  Of course, one wonders why no male religious community of brothers has written “service to female religious communities” as part of their charism.  Or, a devout woman may feel impelled to start a community dedicated solely to providing menial services to religious males and clergy.  To my knowledge, no community has this as its specific and sole charism.  There is a community I have encountered that has as part of its charism helping out diocesan clergy as needed, which may include housekeeping.

Let us pray that an equitable solution be found.

Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

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Gifts For Consecrated Virgins On The Day of Their Consecration To A Life of Virginity

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

guestbook
Guestbook for Guests at Consecration

The summer season is a busy time for a lot of solemn consecrations of virgins as the Brides of Christ. The inevitable question arises: Just what does one get for a newly consecrated sacred virgin? As it turns out, the potential gift list is a lot less restrictive than for a religious monks/nuns, friars/brothers/sisters, because sacred virgins do not make vows of poverty, do not live in common, and are responsible for their own financial upkeep.

The consecration of a virgin is a nuptial celebration of the espousals of Jesus Christ with the virgin(s). Virgins, according to the words of the solemn liturgy presided by the Bishop, “renounce marriage for the sake of which it is the sign”. That is, they renounce human marriage with a male to contract heavenly marriage with Christ since human marriage of a male and female reflects the union of Christ and His Church. This is why only female virgins can be sacred virgins in the order of virgins. Thus, the gift list can include things that would be appropriate for a wedding. Depending on the virgin’s social circumstances, a typical wedding registry would not be amiss. The virgin doesn’t have a second income (her husband’s) to buy the stuff necessary to furnish a home, no established community that provides all the home furnishings, etc. Thus typical wedding presents are completely appropriate. Household goods and gadgets, clocks, vases, paintings, essentially anything that would be appropriate for a wedding gift would likewise be appropriate for the sacred virgin. Naturally, one would not buy basic items for an established couple or virgin, and so prudence should be had in gift giving.

In ordination gifts, men becoming diocesan (secular) priests and deacons tend to get many secular gifts such as checks, gift cards for restaurants, club memberships, car wash cards, etc. This is likewise appropriate for sacred virgins. Again, sacred virgins, like diocesan clergy, do not make a vow or even promise of poverty. Unlike clergy, they are not guaranteed financial support or a job, and have to worry about savings for bad times, paying for health care, saving for old age, etc. Gift certificates, checks, gifts of services for things like lawn mowing or snow shoveling or dry cleaning are especially appropriate for a consecration gift. Many virgins, as well as clergy, have student loans to pay off and cash can be quite welcome. Likewise, a younger virgin may have the expense of renting or a mortgage, an expense that priests and bishops do not usually have to worry about.

Because as a Bride of Christ, the Son of the Living God, the virgin is often given permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in her home, the necessary items for such reservation and Masses said in the private chapel are appropriate gifts. Hence, although she herself is not getting ordained, typical ordination gifts (other than sick call kits or stoles) are appropriate as well: sacred vessels such as a chalice, ciborium, sacred vestments, hosts, sacramental wine, altar linens, etc. Like a bishop and unlike a priest, the virgin can usually have a furnished chapel. Hence a gift such as a tabernacle, a supply of candles, appropriate liturgical books, altar, tabernacle lamp, and other chapel furnishings is very appropriate and much appreciated. Obviously, coordination and consultation of the virgin in question is in order for such gifts to ensure no duplication and that the items are crafted in accordance with the virgin’s personal preferences in style.

Religious presents that are welcome to sacred virgins include things like a gift certificate for a weekend or even week-long retreat (make sure it’s a place she wants to go to!), certificate for a religious book publisher or store, a scholarship to a theological program or course, etc. Statues of sacred virgin saints (the Blessed Virgin Mary, Agnes, Lucy, Cecilia, Agatha, Scholastica, Gertrude the Great, Genevieve of France, Bridgid of Ireland, Margaret of Hungary, Hildegard of Bingin, Bl. Rosalind the Carthusian, etc.) or even paintings of said saints can also be a nice gift. Just be sure that the saint is not simply a virgin but received the consecration of virgins from her bishop (which is different than religious profession; some saints in religious communities also received this solemn consecration in addition to making perpetual vows).

Other lovely gifts virgins appreciate will depend upon them as individuals. If you know a virgin well, you may know that she’d appreciate a gift of nice stationary, journal, membership to a museum or other cultural center, or even just volunteer time for an apostolate she runs. Diocesan clergy often get to lead pilgrimages and thus get a free passage. Perhaps money can be pooled to bring the virgin to the Holy Land, Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, or other famous Shrine on pilgrimage.

Many virgins have shared with me frustration in receiving common devotional items such as rosaries, novena booklets, scapulars, and things that are more appropriate for First Communions or Confirmations rather than for women whose life is centered on Christ and therefore have the things pious laity would already possess. This includes Bibles, the Magnificat, the Catechism, basic lives of the saints, etc.

Again, because the virgin is not bound to a life of poverty, there are plenty of thoughtful gifts that a person can give to a sacred virgin that are appropriate for the occasion of her espousals to Christ and entrance into the order of virgins. Gifts can range from something one would give for a birthday or wedding or ordination because the virgin lives in the world with all of its vicissitudes and is espoused to Christ, dedicated to the service of the people of God.

Lastly, if you know a virgin well, some appropriate gifts may have to do with the ceremony and reception. Donating invitations (if the diocese doesn’t issue them), music fees (or offering to sing if one is a professional singer), photography gift certificates, music for reception, donating for the public/private reception, helping drive guests, assisting with the decorations for the Church, paying for the ring or veil (again, if the diocese/parish or family member or virgin herself doesn’t cover it) are all better gifted by those who may know that such may be a huge financial or logistical burden on the virgin. Many virgins have part of their expenses covered by the diocese (invitations, new set of the Liturgy of the Hours, ring, flowers for Mass, cantor/choir, public reception like for ordinations if that is the custom, etc.) but there is a lot more that goes into a fitting ceremony that is one of the most important liturgical events of the diocese.

(c) 2017 by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

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A Double Standard or Just Plain Lack of Formation and Catechesis?

By Therese Ivers, JCL

For thousands of years, society held men less responsible for the sin of fornication.  Men “sowing their wild oats” was a “given” in society as opposed to the woman who was shamed because she was “damaged goods”.  The Catholic Church has always held that men and women are equally responsible for the sin of consensual fornication and adultery.  Today, we have an interesting societal phenomenon growing, in which women committed to perfect chastity are being held to a lesser standard of chastity than men who are committed to perfect chastity.  Along with this reversed double standard is the fueling of a false sense of scandal when public unchaste acts of women are discussed vs. those of men.

The practice of perfect chastity requires of both men and women from refraining from all unchaste acts, whether by themselves or with others.  Men and women who are formed for the reception of holy orders or profession of the vow of perfect chastity in continence in consecrated life are given years of formation to better understand this commitment.  The practice of perfect chastity is not limited to avoiding the sins of fornication, adultery, and sodomy.  Sins against chastity are multiple and include thoughts, words, and deeds.

When a person who is publicly committed to a life of perfect chastity in the Catholic Church (or who is otherwise a viable candidate for such a public commitment) has publicly acted in an unchaste matter and continues to defend that act, the very fact of doing so is the matter of scandal.  It is the very act against chastity that is the matter of scandal.  Pseudo scandal occurs when people wrongly attack those who discuss a public scandal, as if it were a sin against charity to discuss a public and scandalous matter. It is not a sin to discuss a public scandal.  The sin lies within the person who created the scandal to begin with.  They are the ones who sinned against charity of good example to the world by sinning against, in this case, perfect chastity.

The new double standard comes into play between the difference between the treatment of priest-scandals and those pertaining to consecrated virgins.  Take for instance, the scandals of the priest-pedophiles, priests who have been caught out soliciting for sodomous acts, and even the case of the priest wandering about a closed elementary school in his birthday suit [see here and here].  The news covered these scandals and numerous commentaries by Catholic theologians, laypersons, and others have discussed the public violations against chastity by ordained men.  The men have been disciplined, often laicized or required to do penance.

Then you take the cases of consecrated virgins.  For some reason, bishops and the faithful have been reluctant to require the same perfect chastity of them as they do of the ordained.  Consecrated virgins publicly state their resolve to remain in “perfect chastity” during the Rite of Consecration. They have the same or greater responsibility for exercising perfect chastity, in the sense that being a virgin is to embody all that is taught about virginity in a direct way.  However, the formation for fulfilling their obligation created by their consecration [not vow] is not standardized and often greatly lacking.  This, combined with a general ignorance of the vocation on the part of the hierarchy and laity alike contribute to the non-enforcement of perfect chastity of the consecrated virgins. Take the following as examples of this overlooking by the hierarchy and faithful of violations against the practice of perfect chastity by these women consecrated by God and who are required to be a model of not just chastity but virginity.

Last year, a woman who wrote about the unchaste love she experienced in taking off her top with her photographer [see here; warning: graphic images] was “consecrated” as a virgin [the validity of said consecration is in question due to the violation of the regulation that candidates must not have lived in public violation of chastity].  Giant blown up displays of the photograph of the said woman and others are displayed in galleries in countries around the world, and she is seen sans top with a scarf draping half of a private area [see here– warning: graphic images].  She is in a pornographic “art” collection objectifying the human female body in the name of showing people that women can be sexy despite having mastectomies.  This “art” collection in the galleries and in a book, includes fully nude women, many in provocative stances and some clearly lesbian.  The photographer was right when he said in shock on the news that he couldn’t believe a consecrated virgin would agree to be included in this collection [see this video of the photographer explaining her photo at the art gallery– warning: graphic images].

Another woman, a consecrated virgin, and professor of theology at a Catholic seminary, chose to promote nude photographs of athletes on her Facebook page in the name of artistic appreciation of the body.  Promotion of the dignity of the human bodies requires that they be clothed on this earth except for serious and moral reasons.  Photography and film of naked bodies for the delectation of the viewers is not a proportionate reason to unclothe.

While the violations are clearly scandalous in themselves, it is interesting that while those in holy orders are usually swiftly disciplined, some of those in consecrated virginity have not been [neither of the two highlighted above have been publicly rebuked by Church authorities or publicly retracted their support for their stances].  Both clerics and virgins are in public vocations in the Church and both are subject to discipline and oversight by the Church authorities.

Sometimes it takes public pressure for Church authorities to do the right thing.  We see this highlighted in the numbers of priests who got away with the abuse of minors until the bishops were confronted by lawsuits and public clamor to do what they should have done in protecting the faith and morals of their flock, and holding people committed to perfect chastity accountable for their actions.  The outcry is not forthcoming for consecrated virgins who publicly violate chastity by encouraging unchaste actions or participating in them themselves.

Perhaps a large part of the deafening silence is because many women are taught to “be nice”.  They are imbued with the false sense that to even discuss a scandal is sinful and “scandalous” or a “lack of charity”.  They do not realize that the scandal is in the violation of chastity and that the lack of charity is in the person who committed a public violation of chastity by the very fact that she is supposed to uphold a life of virtue.  When confronted with a public violation, they flee from discussion of it because of the discomfort they feel about condemning the violation because it may hurt the feelings of the violator.  They effectively do what the bishops and fellow priests did with the clerical abuse of minors, namely, they participate in the cover up of objectively sinful [and public] actions.

When will this double standard cease?  Let’s pray that it happens soon and that women be held by the Church to the high standards to which they profess.

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