Consecrated Widows/Widowers Part I

by Therese Ivers, JCL

There is a considerable amount of interest among Catholic widows/widowers in the USA in the vocation of consecrated widowhood.  For this reason, I am dedicating a new series of posts on this vocation.  In this first post, I will examine 5 commonly asked questions.

Question:  Who is eligible to become a consecrated widow/er?

Answer:   An Eastern Rite Catholic who was in a valid marriage dissolved by death of their spouse and whose laws of their ritual Church and eparchy permit this form of consecration.

Explanation:

At this point in time, the Latin (Roman) Catholic Church has not re-established the Order of Widows/Widowers in its Canon Law.  However, the Canons for the Eastern Catholic Churches do allow for the consecration of widows and widowers.  Thus, while Eastern Catholics may become members of the consecrated state (in Eastern Catholic Churches members are religious men/women, canonical hermits, consecrated virgins, and consecrated widows/widowers), Roman Catholics in the USA cannot (since the consecrated state in the Latin Church is comprised of religious men/women, diocesan hermits, and consecrated virgins).

Question:   I am 58.  My marriage was annulled by the Church last year.  Since then, my ex wife has passed away.   Am I eligible to become a consecrated widower?

Answer:  A man must be in a valid marriage and this marriage must dissolve by death for him to be eligible for the consecration.  A declaration of nullity (“annulment”) of a marriage given by the Church indicates that a person was never in a valid marriage to begin with.  For this reason, although you lived in what you thought was a marriage, and she has since died, you are considered by the Church to have been a single person throughout this whole time, and do not meet the definition of widower in the eyes of the Church.

Question:  Who is the consecrated widow/ers superior?

Answer:  The consecrated widow/er has as his/her superior the local hierarch.

Question:  I thought there were consecrated widows in the United States.  Are you saying there aren’t?

Answer:  There may be some Eastern Catholic widows who were consecrated in the United States.  Since there are no provisions in canon law or permission for the consecration to be conferred upon Roman Catholic widow/ers in the USA, there are no consecrated widow/ers in the USA in the Roman Rite.  This may change if the Vatican comes out with a Rite of Consecration to the Order of Widows and Widowers.  Please note that there are groups out there who deem their members to be “consecrated widows/ers” because they make private promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  These persons are actually dedicated widows/ers, not consecrated widows/ers, and they do not belong to the Order of Widows/Widowers as this standing comes from the consecration conferred by their hierarch/bishoop, not vows of any kind.

Question:  Do consecrated widows/widowers make the three vows?

Answer:  While that would be up to the laws of the Rite and the particular laws established by the hierarch, it is improbable that they would.  It is more likely that the consecration of widow/ers by the hierarch would be the way a person would enter the Order.  This would be similar to the way consecrated virgins enter the Order of Virgins- through the consecration conferred upon them by their bishop/hierarch.

This is the first part of a series on this topic.  If you have any specific questions about this vocation, feel free to send us a message by going to the contact us page.

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10 Responses to Consecrated Widows/Widowers Part I

  1. Kathleen777 says:

    I am very interested in first finding any Catholic widows to talk to in the Steubenville, OH area that are contemplating the consecrated life. I would like to start a group. I have experienced Religious Life as a Sister in the last 11 years (I have been a widow since the age of 37, 18 yrs. ago). I am now back out as a secular woman, with my children and grandchildren. More to discuss in future discussions. Why doesn’t the NCCB have any mention of widows in their Family and Laity ministries?

  2. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Dear Kathleen777,

    Are you referring to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by NCCB? If so, in response to your question, I haven’t the faintest idea as to why they don’t specifically mention widows in those ministries.

    Starting a local support group for women wishing to become dedicated widows sounds like it could be very helpful. It isn’t clear to me whether you wanted it to be a support group or whether you want to start a religious community of some kind. As I understand it, support groups would be more in line with the traditional role for widows and a community for those who wish to become religious but can’t because of their age. The Visitation Sisters were founded by St. Frances de Sales and St. Jeanne Chantal (widow) with widows and the infirm in mind, and they don’t have an upper age limit.

    If you are thinking in terms of starting a support group for privately dedicated individual Roman Catholic widows, it might help show the numbers to the Vatican that there are widows out there who would like to join the consecrated state but can’t yet.

  3. Suzanne Yerks says:

    Is there really a chance that the Vatican will come out with a rite such as you mention above? Whom would we contact to express our support of such a rite? I am being strongly called to this consecrated widowhood, but don’t know where to go with that call… Thanks!

  4. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Dear Suzanne,

    You may wish to first contact your local bishop. Bishops have a lot more weight than most of us when they choose to speak to the Vatican, particularly if they have a group of people already living a dedicated lifestyle. They can always ask the Vatican what to do about a group of widows who wish to receive the consecration either in reestablishing the ancient order of widows or in coming up with something else per canon 605.

    You may contact the Vatican directly, but as a courtesy it is good to at least contact your bishop first. Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera is the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It is his branch of the Roman Curia that would issue the Rite for a consecration of widows. His address is:

    Congregation Palazzo delle Congregazioni
    Piazza Pio XII, 10
    00120 CITTÀ DEL VATICANO

  5. Kathleen777 says:

    I have finally been able to return to the computer and this website!
    Thank you for the contact information in Rome!
    Yes, I would like to start a support group, locally and then perhaps with a wider scope. I have just returned to live in Steubenville, OH and we are now awaiting Rome to assign a new Bishop to us. So I wait for a new Bishop to turn to for direction.
    I may be contacted at: Kathleen Marshall, 106 Cunningham Lane, Apt. 1 Rear, Steubenville, OH 43953 Tel 1-740-275-6168 or email at: kathleenmarshall777@yahoo.com.
    Please pray for consecrated widowhood!

  6. mysteriumfidae says:

    One more diocesan contact page for UK consecrated widows: http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/Groups/154848/The_Diocese_of/People_and_Places/Religious_Communities/Religious_Communities.aspx (at the bottom near consecrated virgins)

  7. mysteriumfidai says:

    Not sure why my comment is still not posting:
    The UK and Europe have consecrated widows!

    La Fraternité Notre-Dame de la Résurrection are strictly a ‘private association of lay faithful’. Society of Our Lady of the Trinity also has lay members who are widows.

    The Fraternity has the following documents.

    • The charter, drafted in 1982, defines the charism of the consecrated vocation of widowhood in the fraternity.
    • The ritual of blessing widows, approved in 1984 by the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship and Liturgy.
    • The constitution, approved in 1993 by the Archbishop of Paris, recognizing the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Resurrection as “private association of the faithful.”

    In the UK, from what I understand, they have taken the Rituel, translated it into English, changed the parts of it which are specific to the Fraternity, and gave it to bishops to consecrate individual widows living in the world.

    In the early stages, you can read about it here: http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/5th-july-1996/9/once-again-widows-and-widowers-heed-the-popes-call

    Their website is here: http://consecratedwomen.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/consecrated-women/

    The Order of Widows have retreats every year or so at Ampleforth, United Kingdom: http://www.theway.org.uk/Back/491Morgan.pdf

    A UK Bishop talks about consecrating a widow recently (plus pics) – he used the ‘Rite of the Initial Consecration to the Order of Consecrated Widows’ (search this page for the word ‘widow’ and you can see his post about it. http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/Groups/154613/The_Diocese_of/Our_Bishop/Bishops_Blog/Bishops_Blog.aspx

  8. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Consecrated widows/widowers make a vow of chastity and are consecrated by their hierarch. Latin Rite widows who belong to lay associations of the faithful or who otherwise receive a blessing are still lay by definition and are not in the consecrated state. Therefore, while they do have a special promise, they are neither consecrated nor are they in the consecrated state, and should be referred to as dedicated widows or by some term that makes it clear that they are not yet consecrated. It is to be hoped that the Church will rectify this for Latin Rite widows and either provide them with a solemn blessing and allow them to be in the consecrated state, or give them a true consecration and allow them to be in the consecrated state. Either way, the ceremony would have both a vow/promise and a consecration/blessing for a widow to join the Ordo Viduum. Further, such a Rite would probably be placed in the Roman Ritual, as opposed to the Roman Pontifical (where the Rite of Consecration of Virgins is placed) because according to Church praxis, the veiling of virgins must be done by a bishop whereas the veiling of widows may be done by a priest.

  9. mysteriumfidai says:

    Bishop Campbell (Lancaster Diocese, UK) has now re-consecrated the Consecrated Widow described above, into the Order of Consecrated Widows. It would seem that she made an initial consecration into the Order of Widows last year,and now she is fully consecrated as a Consecrated Widow.

    It is a special consecration not in the Roman Ritual or Pontifical. The insignia are the cross and the ring. Usually it is the Bishop who consecrates the Widow. She is not a nun or a member of any other order of consecrated persons apart from the Order of Consecrated Widows.

    Here is his homily from her consecration: http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=134613

  10. Br. Ryan Carnes, OFS says:

    fraternal corrections, We belong to Eastern Churches not rites, and also in the Christian East, both Catholic and Orthodox, the marriage doesn’t “dissolve by the death of a spouse, you are married for all eternity thus when a spouse dies you cannot have a second sacramental marriage.

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