by Therese Ivers, JCL
The news is replete with stories about Rev. Miss Jessica Hayes, one of the most recent virgins to be elevated to the Order of Virgins through the solemn Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. Of course, I took a great interest because she was consecrated August 15, on the 6th anniversary of my own consecration as a sacred virgin. There was at least one other virgin consecrated on August 15th this year in the USA, but she hasn’t had nearly as much news coverage. The media being what it is, and people not knowing what the vocation is, it is inevitable that people would not know what the vocation of a consecrated virgin is. This is to help correct that situation.
What is the consecration of virgins? First of all, this is a ceremony, where, after the virgin has expressed her willingness to accept becoming espoused to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the bishop prays a solemn consecratory prayer over her. Through the ministry of the bishop and through that prayer, the Holy Spirit overshadows the virgin, and she becomes a sacred person, a Bride of Jesus Christ. As the bishop notes, the sacred virgin “renounces marriage for the sake of which it [marriage] is the sign”. Yes, sacred virgins renounce human marriage to become legally married to Jesus Christ in the Church. This is not a blessing on an already existing bond of marriage with Jesus, it is an overshadowing of the virgin by the Holy Spirit, and He bestows a “spiritual anointing” upon the virgin so that she becomes body and soul a virgin-bride of Christ. Indeed, the Church teaches that the very first consecration of a virgin took place at the Annunciation, where the same Holy Spirit overshadowed a humble virgin in Nazareth. Since then, countless virgins throughout the centuries have received this special anointing of the Holy Spirit and became the Bride of Christ.
Is this the same as being a nun? No, it isn’t. Jessica Hayes has not made a vow of anything in the solemn Rite of Consecration. She proposed to observe perfect chastity, preserving her virginity for the remainder of her life (this Rite presupposes that one is a virgin because only virgins can mirror the Church fully as Virgin-Bride). But the real action came from the Holy Spirit, who made her a Bride of Christ through the consecratory prayer of the Bishop. Nuns make vows. These vows help the nuns to get to Heaven. They are a means to an end, and their usefulness will end at death. Some nuns are able to receive this great grace of consecration of virgins at their solemn profession of final vows or a number of years after (like the Carthusian nuns). This consecration to a life of Virginity is different than religious profession because it establishes an indissoluble legal nuptial bond between the virgin and Christ.
That means, unlike the nun with just solemn vows, the virgin’s nuptial bond cannot be dissolved or dispensed. Historically, this is why St. Margaret of Hungary became a sacred virgin. Her father, the king, wanted to marry her off and had even gotten a dispensation for her vows as a cloistered Dominican nun dispensed by the Pope. She did not agree to the dispensation and to ward off any more marriage match attempts by her father, she asked for the consecration of virgins because it is an indissoluble marriage with Christ that even the Pope can’t dispense and she received it. She and her relatives are the only Dominican nuns who have received this special anointing of the Holy Spirit as Brides of Christ because it is not the Dominican tradition for the nuns to receive the consecration of virgins.
Is the consecration as good as being a nun? Our Lady received this consecration. She did not make religious vows. So did many other women throughout the centuries who were not nuns and are canonized saints. Do you recognize the names of Saints Agnes, Lucy, Cecilia, Agatha from the Mass? They were all consecrated virgins living in the world. They received the same blessing from the Holy Spirit as Miss Hayes. If it was enough for nuns to be known as brides of Christ, then Doctor of the Church St. Hildegaard wouldn’t have received the Consecration of Virgins over and above her Religious profession of vows in the Benedictine Order. Ditto for countless women who were religious and received the Consecration of Virgins over the centuries including St. Gertrude the Great, St. Mechtilde, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Rosaline, etc. Those nuns who don’t receive this consecration are missing out on a great blessing of the Church.
Is this consecration the same as making private vows? No. According to the Popes, this is a new grace that only happens through the ministry of the bishop. It has always happened “in the face of the Church” or in other words, publicly. Why? Because the sacred virgin is the perfect image of the Church in her own virginal bridehood, virginal motherhood. Private vows do not make an indissoluble nuptial bond with Christ- in fact not even religious profession does that with public vows. Private vows do not make someone a sacred person. Private vows do not call down a special spiritual anointing from God on the soul, an ontological change. Private vows do not place someone in the Order of Virgins. Private vows do not cause the graces the Church gives to the virgin in order to equip her to be a spiritual mother of all souls.
This was THE form of consecrated life for women from the very start of the Church beginning with Our Lady. Religious life didn’t even begin until a few centuries after the Order of Virgins began with the Annunciation. Like the diocesan priesthood, it is a vocation complete in itself. Like the priest, a sacred virgin is free to join a religious community and make vows, but making vows is not an integral part of sacred virginity, any more than making religious vows is an integral part of being a priest (diocesan priests do not make vows; they promise obedience to their bishop and celibacy but they do not vow poverty like religious).
Jessica Hayes has chosen to receive this august sacramental. May she persevere in virginity and be numbered amongst the virgin saints in Heaven!
(c) 2015 by Therese Ivers, JCL
All Rights Reserved.