Consecrated Virgins

by Therese Ivers, JCL

Some may wonder why it is that I do not participate a lot in the internet discussion on my own vocation to sacred virginity, commonly known as consecrated virginity.   Many people who write about the vocation in English base their reflections on the vocation on the English translation of the Rite, and a small selection of writings available to them online or in a limited number of books or articles.  The problem with this approach is that there is a vast amount of literature written on the vocation or that touches upon key points written over the history of the Church in other languages that is underrepresented, thus leading to otherwise preventable errors on interpretations on the Rite, role, and lifestyle of sacred virgins.  My approach is and will be different.  Let me explain how and why.

To begin, this website is meant to be for people who are discerning their vocations.  It is not meant to be a place for erudite theological discussions on vocations, including sacred virginity.  Nevertheless, everything that is on it is meant to be the fruit of thorough scholarship faithful to the mind of the Church.  Concretely, this means that any statement that is made, is made usually with authoritative sources in hand and/or in mind, even if such sources are never explicitly cited (because this is not a place for erudite scholarship!).  The idea is that people need easily accessible information on vocations.  For example, if I am writing on the priesthood, I will indeed claim that only males can become ordained priests.  I will write about the essential elements of marriage without excessive citations.  I will bring up the fundamental elements of each vocation without citations because anyone can look these essentials up in the catechism or easily accessible Church documents.

While I permit comments and reasonable discussion on this website, it is not the intention for me or others who help run this site to delve in and start “proving” positions with citations.  Why?  Because this website is intentionally written for people who need solid and reliable information that is not littered with citations.  Providing citations for things the Church takes for granted (like male ordinations, the nuptial relationship of sacred virgins, marriage is between a man and a woman, etc.) is unnecessary and inefficient for this purpose.  People who wish to seriously challenge these positions are welcome to do so on their own websites.  I simply have no intention or desire to re-invent the wheel or to prolong discussion on what theologians have settled often centuries ago.

For serious discussions on vocational topics, readers should keep in mind that I have personally invested the equivalent of a house mortgage into my education.  In addition to the financial expenditures with its concurrent loss of opportunity costs for my education, I have spent years of my life researching and studying vocations in depth.  It took two years to get the diploma for the course in the Theology and Law of Consecrated Life that the Vatican hosts for formation directors of religious communities.  Ongoing study requires both a financial and time investment.    In turn, it is only reasonable that this be compensated fairly by people who desire to have greater access to what has taken me years to accumulate.  This means that although I am always open to appropriately assisting people who are in financial straits, I will ordinarily provide the more in-depth scholarly materials to those who purchase them or who exchange services.  These materials and information will be available in different formats, whether they be by paid membership to the Society of American Virgins, books, published articles, lectures, or private one on one consultations.

Another reason my more in-depth treatments about consecrated virginity and other vocational topics of interest do not and will not appear regularly on this website is because many issues require an extensive theological context to properly understand.  What might look like a minor quibble might actually take pages or chapters to truly “get” in context.  For example, it might appear that my insistence that only a bishop is allowed to consecrated a virgin living in the world is a minor detail.  It isn’t.

To truly “get” the picture, the theological context of why only a bishop can consecrated a woman to a life of virginity lived in the world, one must understand how the Church has understood intact virginity (think of the three divisions of women the Fathers repeatedly mention).  Why was primary virginity always a requirement throughout the history of the Church for this Rite up to the present version?  The virgin’s relationship and the bishop’s relationship are also things that must be understood (their roles) to get why only a bishop can veil the virgin.  History must also be investigated.  Why did the earliest Councils and legislative documents of the Church and later ones as well, repeatedly forbid any but the bishop to veil/consecrate virgins?  What was the theological reason the CDF used to absolutely prohibit the publication/promulgation of the new 1970 Rite when the draft allowed for clerics other than bishops to consecrate virgins (yes, the CDF itself forced changes before it allowed the Rite to be promulgated)?  How does the virgin represent the Church and what does this mean for the Rite with respect to episcopal involvement?

This is only a minor sampling of what is involved in the theology of having only a bishop validly impart the consecration to the virgin living in the world.  It’s easy enough for a person to deny it, but it takes true knowledge and ability to adequately demonstrate why such a denial is an error.  And yes, I have actually personally encountered the pseudo “consecrated virgin” who was denied the consecration by her own bishop and went through an invalid Rite with some random priest.  While one could easily point to the Rite and the Ceremonial of Bishops to show that only the bishop-ordinary of the virgin’s (arch)diocese or his (bishop) delegate can impart the consecration, people who have their own agenda will say that any priest can conduct the ceremony.  In doing so, however, they are innocent of a lot of the liturgical, theological, and canonical context for this regulation.

There are so many errors written about the Rite, role, and lifestyle of consecrated virgins, that I have determined that the best way of combating them is not by taking them on, one by one.  Simple blog posts that I have read about my vocation can contain so many errors it is impossible to refute them without writing a mountain of words.  I do not have the time for that.  Why should I defend something that should be straightforward like bishops are the only ministers of the Consecration?  Or that the Rite calls for bridal insignia (which is why nuns like the Benedictines or Carthusians who traditionally separate Final Profession from the Consecration of Virgins give the bridal insignia like the ring in the later ceremony, usually 10 or 25 years after Final Profession respectively).  Yes, more than one person is upset that the Rite itself calls for bridal insignia since they are used to a post-Vatican II paradigm for religious sisters who no longer wear bridal wear that others have over the centuries, including the extremely expensive haute couture wedding gown St. Therese of Lisieux wore and claim that “poverty” somehow requires the absence of bridal wear.

This is why, dear readers, I refuse to citation to death my statements on this website.  I don’t want each thing I say have to be followed by twenty footnotes just because some low information person thinks that they have a strong position based on their private opinions and feelings about the Rite and traditional lifestyle of the sacred virgin on this website.  This website is for straightforward teaching on vocations in line with the Church’s teachings and tradition.

While I will not go in-depth on consecrated virginity on this website because it is outside the scope of the site’s intended purpose, I do intend to write a great deal on the vocation in a holistic manner.  As I have said before, there are so many errors on the internet and in much of the English language material online/offline, that someone has to get some of these issues resolved using a theologically sound approach.  This requires a book or a series of books because of the complexity and depth and beauty of the different vocations, particularly of consecrated virginity.

Also, one reason I’ll be turning to writing books and peer reviewed articles on consecrated virginity is because there is a lot of passion involved.  A sacred virgin shared with me how one prelate who has consecrated a number of virgins commented on how drably the virgins dressed and how he wished they were more cheerfully attired.  Wisely, however, he did not communicate or interfere with their mode of dressing because he knew one thing, which is that women do not take very kindly to being told what to wear!  Interestingly, some of the most contested issues pertaining to both the Rite and lifestyle of consecrated virgins have to do with clothing, and yet, even when some things pertaining to dress can be ascertained by reviewing the Rite and writings of the Fathers and other reliable sources, it is still challenged!  Women have rejected the Rite’s insistence on bridal insignia.  Some deliberately drop the veil, the one consistent element of the Rite in the entire history of the Church!  Others, not content with the ring being the one visible sign of their marriage with Christ, agitate for habits, despite the clear signal from the Church that virgins living in the world are not expected to wear distinctive garb (if the Church intended habits to be worn, She would have retained the blessing of garments that was present over certain centuries in the Ritual).  Again, education here is essential and needs to be thorough in inflammatory matters.

Unfortunately, resources for formation required for thorough treatment on these matters are not readily available in English.  I am blessed to have one of the most extensive personal collections on consecrated virginity written in many languages and from multiple historical periods in my library.  However, having the materials and going through them are not the same thing!  One heavily footnoted modern liturgical commentary devoted to just the Rite is about 1100 + pages in fine print!  I have no idea when I will be able to finish reading it or a number of other studies on the vocation that I turn to when researching a point.

Certainly, my dissertation on diocesan hermits takes precedence!  Hence, my work on vocations must necessarily proceed at a snail’s pace.  I wish there were competent scholars who would like to work on contributing solid materials for English readers to read.  Yes, there is an alluring call beckoning me to open that 16th century (I think) commentary on the Rite of Consecration that looks to be quite informative… but I simply do not have the time for this.  As time goes by, I hope that something can be organized for serious research projects to be initiated by competent scholars.  In the meantime, I will try to get some worthy books published or reprinted in the English language.

The One Bride: The Church and Consecrated Virginity by Sr. M. J. Klimisch, OSB is an example of a reprint project I have undertaken.  It has taken about a year, but this limited edition is now available on Amazon for people who want a Benedictine viewpoint on consecrated virginity for nuns.  I was able to obtain a license for a limited number of copies of this valuable book, and have thus made it possible for English readers to have this fine work available for their own collection on consecrated virginity.  It is rather spendy, but worthwhile.  There is a book I’d like to see translated into English and more readily available to virgins at a significantly discounted rate than its approximate cost of $500 a copy because of its recognized stature in the literature on this vocation.  Projects like these, however, take a lot of time, negotiation, working with translators, and a budget.  It’s hard to tell what the interest is on the part of sacred virgins, however.  The One Bride reprint is an experiment to see if virgins care enough about their ongoing formation in this area to supplement their libraries with good materials.

Whew!  In just one post I have managed to explain why this website is not intended to be chock full of footnotes and citations for my positions on consecrated virginity.  You also now know that I do think it is important enough to warrant a book but that book will have to wait until I have completed my dissertation.  And, if you haven’t guessed it already, these are reasons why I don’t post that often on this site!  What I do provide on this site takes time, expertise, and is quite frankly, a drain on the pocketbook as well because of hosting expenses.  I try to post as often as I am able, because I think it is very important you have access to information that may make a huge difference in your ultimate vocational decision.  Don’t be surprised, though, if it takes another month before I am able to find some time to write up another post.

God bless you!

(c) 2014 by Therese Ivers, JCL

 

 

 

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