Societies of Apostolic Life: Blessing, Myths, Misunderstandings?

by Therese Ivers, JCL

St. Catherine Laboure

Think that the woman pictured on the left was a religious sister? Think again. She was a dedicated laywoman, who was a member of what is now a Society of Apostolic Life. This particular lay person came from a simple farming family. She entered a community that was designed by its canonized founder (St. Vincent de Paul) to remain lay, rather than become religious.   Her Society of Apostolic Life (SAL) is known as the Sisters of Charity.   Sr. Catherine was not a religious or a consecrated person.  However, unlike many a religious or consecrated person, she had visions of Our Lady.  After living her call in life to the fullest, she became a saint in Heaven.  This pious laywoman’s body is incorrupt- has been for several centuries.

St. Catherine Laboure, the woman who introduced us to the Miraculous Medal, was not a religious.  She was not a sister, although the members of her community and many other Societies of Apostolic Life for women are often called sister.  She was a member of a kind of institution many Catholics do not really understand.  Worse, as it turns out, some fledging SALs don’t appear to fully understand themselves either.

Let’s get some things straight from the get-go.  Members of SALs are NOT “consecrated persons”.  It is a myth to think they are.  They are either diocesan clerics or they are lay persons.  They do not receive a consecration that transforms their being to sacred persons like members of the consecrated state do.  Instead, their form of consecrated life entails a special dedication through Church approved promises or other sacred bonds for apostolic mission living in community.  They, in a certain sense, “imitate” consecrated life but are not consecrated.  How can you understand this?  Well, one example will be military boarding school.  It is not truly military but it imitates military life to a certain extent with drills and discipline.  But no one would confuse a member of the armed forces with a student in miltary school.  Likewise, SALs imitate many aspects of consecrated religious (or secular institute) life, but are not themselves consecrated or in the consecrated state.

By definition, SALs are not religious with all that religious profession and consecration entail.  A very remarkable difference lies in how the evangelical counsel of poverty is lived out.  A diocesan hermit, a religious, and a member of a secular institute give up certain rights with regard to property by their vows.  They simply give up the right to administer their property which they own, or they give up the right to own and administer property, depending on the rules.  A member of an SAL owns and administers their own property and can acquire property!  (By the way, this is something that a LOT of people misunderstood when commenting on the Corapi case.)  This is what canon law has to say about property of members of SALs:

According to the norm of proper law, members are also capable of acquiring, possessing, administering, and disposing of temporal goods, but whatever comes to them on behalf of the society is acquired by the society. 741.2

SALs are a blessing in the Church.  They allow clerics and laypersons to band together for apostolic purposes and lead lives designed for growth in charity.  There is a lot of flexibility in how they are set up and organized.  This is why they are not part of the consecrated state nor are members considered consecrated persons.  For example, true consecration entails a permanent commitment.  Did you know that St. Catherine Laboure’s commitment was one year at a time?  That she could have walked away a dozen years after entering the Sisters of Charity at the annual expiration of vows?

SALs are not religious life nor are they stepping stones to religious life (or secular institutes for that matter).  Because they are neither religious nor secular institutes, they get a lot of leeway in how they live.   Here is a SAL of Pontifical Right:

Did you notice that these women members of the Regina Virginum SAL are wearing a habit?  They were founded recently, and this is part of their statutes.

From the famous “coronette” (a headdress adapted from French peasant dress) topped habit, the Sisters of Charity have returned to their origins (no habit).  iWhy?  First, because St. Vincent de Paul did not want his daughters to wear a habit.  Second, because they are not religious, there is no obligation for there to be a habit.  Two very good reasons why they went from

to this:


Let us now turn our attention to a well known SAL that has been in the public eye for many reasons, including the media frenzy triggered by the actions of a famous TV personality, Fr. (?) John Corapi.  The Society of Our Lady of the Trinity, or the SOLT, is a SAL of diocesan right.  They want to be of pontifical right.  However, it appears from their public statements that there is a strong possibility that they do not know what it is that they really want to be.  Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The SOLT describes itself as a family embracing its priests, sisters, and lay members.  Unfortunately, they are blurring the lines between consecration and dedication. For example, the sisters are not religious.  But, on their website, they say things that manipulate women into thinking they are religious.  For example, they say that profession of vows makes them “brides of Christ”, and they direct “inquiries of religious life” to their sister contact.  A woman may unwittingly become convinced that these laywomen are consecrated women because of the terminology they employ.   The same goes for their dedicated widows branch.  They call their group of widows “consecrated widows”, again, misleading the good women into believing that they are truly consecrated.

It seems to me that the SOLT needs to do some deep introspection and decide whether the women groups should be religious/secular institute or if they should remain a society of apostolic life.  Given their way of life, I’d guess that it’d be much more appropriate for them to apply to become a religious institute.  Or, on the other hand, because they do have widows who do not live in common, maybe they should be a secular institute that has a common life branch and an in the world branch.

Until then, while it remains a Society of Apostolic Life, they need to drop the religious life terminology (they aren’t religious), the bride of Christ terminology (they aren’t brides of Christ the way consecrated persons are), and the consecration terminology (they aren’t consecrated persons).  Interestingly, if you take this away, they will have nothing substantial left to describe their life on their website because they haven’t tapped into the theology of dedicated life as a Society of Apostolic Life!  Either there is a profound lack of understanding of their own way of life in the Church or there is a deliberate deception for luring women into their way of life under the pretense of them being just as consecrated as consecrated persons!  I prefer to think that it is a lack of knowledge that prompted their fuzzy theology on their website.

Non Religious Laywomen in a Society of Apostolic Life

Very seriously, SOLT needs to rethink its theology!  Here’s another example of erroneous theological categorization.  Under LAITY tab are listed PERMANENT DEACONS!  Since when are DEACONS with HOLY ORDERS lay men?  They are clerics!!!  Their “brothers” are not consecrated any more than their “widows”.  As for consecrated widows, Our Lady was not one.  You can’t be Virgin, Bride, and Mother and simultaneously be a consecrated widow (goes against being a bride!).

While we’re at it, I should also point out in advance that to my knowledge, there is NO such thing as a consecrated widow in the Latin Rite unless you’re referring to a widow who is a member of a religious institute of diocesan/pontifical right, a secular institute of diocesan/pontifical right, or a diocesan hermit.  A widow who is a member of an association of the faithful, or a society of apostolic life is a dedicated widow.  Period.  By definition a member of an association of the faithful or a society of apostolic life is not a consecrated person (even if they make vows or promises).  Therefore, they cannot be consecrated widows!  On the other hand, the Eastern Catholic Churches do have consecrated widows.  They make a vow of chastity (unlike consecrated virgins who make no vows) in the hands of their bishop and receive the consecration of widows, thereby entering the Order of Widows.  It is to be hoped that one day Rome will open the door to this to the Latin Rite widows/widowers as well.


(c) 2013 by Therese Ivers, JCL

All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Canonical Requirements, Catholic Widows, Consecrated Life, Consecrated Widows, lay widow | 2 Comments

What is the consecrated layperson?

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

The phrase “consecrated layperson” can refer to one of two realities.  The first is a generic reference to anyone who has received consecration into any of the four forms of consecrated life that is mediated by the Church:  religious, hermits, sacred virgins, or members of secular institutes.  In other words, generically, a religious monk can be said to be a consecrated layperson.  A hermit can be called a consecrated layperson.  A consecrated virgin can be called a consecrated layperson.  This use of the word “layperson” is used to differentiate from “cleric”.  It is a hierarchical reference to consecrated people who are not also clerics.

The phrase can also be specific.  When it is used specifically, it refers to men and women who have professed the evangelical counsels as members of secular institutes.  Such persons unite in themselves being both lay and consecrated.  This phrase is used to help differentiate the different forms of consecrated life.   It is a description that refers to a very particular kind of consecrated life.  It is this sense that the phrase will be used for the remainder of this post.

At best, only 5% of the faithful know what a consecrated layperson is.  For this reason, it is good to review the essential characteristics of a consecrated layperson:

1) The consecrated layperson professes the evangelical counsels by means of vows or sacred bonds.   Either the bishop or the authorized leadership of the secular institute can admit the person to such a profession.  These vows or sacred bonds are NOT private.  They constitute the person into a public state and vocation in the Church- the status of being a consecrated layperson in a secular institute.

2)  The consecrated layperson professes the counsels according to statutes of the institute of diocesan or pontifical right.  God in His turn, consecrates the layperson as a consecrated layperson.  (For what it’s worth, the consecrated layperson’s counterpart is the consecrated diocesan priest member of the secular institute.  But we are discussing consecrated laypersons.)  This consecration is true.  It is equal to religious consecration, eremitic consecration, and virginal consecration as a consecration.  It is different in its form or kind of consecration.

3)  The consecrated layperson may live in common (often secular institutes have some houses of common life in addition to having members who live by themselves), but this is not a defining characteristic of the vocation unlike the religious vocation.

4)  The consecrated layperson lives IN THE WORLD, and not separated from the world.  Again, this is a huge difference from religious life, which by definition is separated from the world.  It is a matter of Church teaching that the evangelical counsels DO NOT require in themselves, separation from the world.  For this reason, consecrated laypersons live externally like other people.  They do not live separately, nor are their forms of recreation, style of dress, work commitments, or other details of life greatly altered as they would be for religious.  This bears repeating.  Secular consecration DOES NOT require separation from the world.  None of the trappings of religious life that serve to visibly separate them from others are a part of this vocation and are not supposed to be lived in this vocation.

5)  The consecrated layperson remains in the lay state!  This is the extremely unique aspect of secular institutes.  Even though the lay members remain lay, they receive a true consecration from the Church.  This makes them “consecrated + lay” or “consecrated laypersons”.  It is the Church who determines what vocations are in the clerical state, the lay state, and the consecrated state.  In this vocation, the person receives a true consecration equal to the consecrations of other forms of consecrated life, but unlike those other forms, receiving the consecration does NOT put them into the consecrated state.

6) A female virgin member of a secular institute can add the consecration to a life of virginity.  A sacred virgin living in the world can add the consecration of the secular institute, just like secular priests can add the consecration of the secular institute.  The consecrations of holy orders and sacred virginity are not incompatible with the consecration of secular institutes per se.  Religious and eremitic consecrations are by definition incompatible with the consecration of secular institutes.  Both require separation from the world as part of their definition whereas life in the world is part and parcel of the secular institute lifestyle.

In summary, a professed member of a secular institute of pontifical or diocesan right is a consecrated layperson.

For discussion:  Using the six points above, demonstrate why members of Regnum Christi and other lay movements are not consecrated laypersons but are dedicated laypersons.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Overview, Ever Ancient Ever New, Part II

Table of contents for Ever Ancient Ever New

  1. Overview: Ever Ancient Ever New, an Introduction to consecrated Life and the Ordo Virginum by Caroline J. Nolan
  2. Overview, Ever Ancient Ever New, Part II

Part II

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

In Part I of this overview, I gave a general outline of Dr. Nolan’s work on consecrated virginity.  For the second part, I will focus on some of the key concepts presented in this book that are questionable.

The most striking feature of Dr. Nolan’s book on consecrated virginity is that with a few minor exceptions, it could be read as a description of the vocation to secular institutes and not consecrated virginity per se.

In the first place, Nolan states that the vow of chastity is made.  She claims that it is the propositum and the consecration prayer proper that makes the virgin a consecrated virgin.  This is incorrect.  Nolan does not recall that in ancient times, there were often two ceremonies.  One was for the propositum, and the other was for the veiling (consecration). Sacred virgins living in the world and consecrated with the 1970 Rite do not make any vows as the propositum is not a vow but a resolution.  Members of secular institutes, on the other hand do make vows (or sacred bonds).

Second, the description of virginity given in this book could be used to describe chastity, even marital chastity.  Secular Institute members (consecrated lay men and women and consecrated priests and deacons) also are to exercise purity of heart.

Third, it is quite striking that although Nolan once or twice fleeting refers to virginity as being necessary for the consecration in the Ordo Virginum, she has hundreds of references to “celibate chastity”.  Consecrated laymen/laywomen in secular institutes are called to celibate chastity, as well as others in the consecrated state.  The vocation to sacred virginity is not about celibate chastity, it is about consecrated virginity.  All consecrated forms of life call for celibate chastity but only sacred virginity calls for virginal chastity consecrated by God.

Because Nolan does not delve into the theology of virginity, she does not link the concept of virginity with the spousal identity of the sacred virgin.  This spousal identity differs from that of religious, hermits, and consecrated laymen/laywomen of secular institutes  in that the sacred virgin is a bride with eternal marriage bonds with Christ.  A sacred virgin is a virgin bride forever in the Marian Order just as a priest is a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek.

Nolan identifies consecrated virgins as consecrated laypersons.  “It is not a vow, canonically speaking, neither is it a promise, but a unique resolve that changes the canonical status of each of the women from being a layperson to becoming a publicly consecrated layperson.”  This is incorrect, because consecrated laypersons are laymen and women who have received the consecration given to professed members of secular institutes.  These are the people the Church refers to as consecrated laypersons.  Consecrated virgins, on the other hand, are no longer in the lay state.  They join the consecrated state upon being consecrated by the bishop with the prayer of Consecration.

It is not surprising that given the profound lack of insight on the spousal and bridal nature of the vocation to sacred virginity that Nolan’s suggestions reflect a view that is more appropriate for consecrated laywomen (members of secular institutes) than sacred virgins.  For example, she doesn’t think a veil should be given to the sacred virgin because modern religious have dropped its use.  The Church calls for sacred virginity to be understood in light of marriage, not in light of the sequela Christi proper to religious.  The Rite itself calls the veil “bridal insignia”.  This using the religious vocation as the paradigm for understanding the virginal vocation also arises in her treatment of the bridesmaids in the consecration Rite.  She claims that candidates don’t need bridesmaids because “the canonical form that they are entering into is not communal in nature, unlike religious orders and congregations”.  Again, she fails to understand that the origin of the bridesmaids is both biblical and nuptial, and does not come from religious life.

Another intriguing notion that surfaces about two thirds of the way into the book is the idea that the sacred virgin “must be content with the role and function the consecrated virgin plays in the Church, i.e., prayer and service in a spirit of humility and peace.”  The role that the sacred virgin has in the Church is more profound than being a person who merely prays and serves.  The consecrated virgin represents the Church in a visible way.  She shares with the Church the role of virgin, bride, and mother.  Her role is essential to the very nature of the Church, just as the role of the clergy is essential for the Church in time.  It is remarkable that the author calls for an understanding of why only men can be clerics, but she omits to say that only women can be consecrated virgins.

The charism of the sacred virgin is the charism of the Church herself.  Other forms of consecrated life partake in limited expressions of this charism, but the sacred virgin is graced with the entirety of the Church’s own charism gifted by the Holy Spirit. This is not a matter of resignation to being content with some kind of inferior role.  This is a major role, not less essential than the clerical role!  It is specific to consecrated virginity, however, which may be a reason why Nolan may have  missed it, as she concentrated on celibacy rather than on virginity.

Although the biblical section of the book was very good, and many suggestions Dr. Nolan offers are worthy of consideration, there are numerous texts which indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of certain forms of consecrated life.  Nolan almost entirely misses the boat on diocesan hermits.  She does not appear to realize that secular institutes are different from other lay ecclesial movements because they are a form of consecrated life (as opposed to dedicated life).  She does not demonstrate a firm and authentic understanding of the differences between private vows and the vows made by religious, diocesan hermits, and secular institute members.

With regard to specific claims about the vocation made about sacred virginity, there are several major factual errors that appear in the book.  In the first place, Nolan assumes that the Ordo Virginum is comprised of women who have received the Consecration to a Life of Virginity who are living in the world.  In point of fact, the Ordo Virginum also embraces nuns who have received the same consecration to a life of virginity.  This is similar to ordination.  Ordination may be received by men in secular life (diocesan priests), but it can also be received by monks.  Both religious and secular priests belong to the Ordo Presbyterum.

Another erroneous claim made is that virgins make implicit vows of obedience to their bishop “since they are at the service of their bishop and diocese where they reside permanently”.  One cannot make an implicit vow.  A vow is an explicit thing promised to God as a vow.  Just as one is either pregnant or non-pregnant, so too one either makes an explicit vow or does not make a vow at all.

Further, a sacred virgin is not at the service of their bishop.  Sacred virgins are at the service of the Church and of God.  To say that virgins are at the service of their bishop would be like saying religious are at the service of their superior.  Neither is true.  In addition, the service due to the Church is not limited to the diocese of one’s residence.  The Church is speaking of service to both the diocesan Church and the universal Church.  Many virgins have more than one diocese they reside or work in, and quite a few have international apostolates.

While Nolan may be an expert in Sacred Scripture studies, she is not a canon lawyer.  Several things she claims as “canonical” are simply her own opinion.  For example, sacred virgins do not have a canonical obligation to wear a consecration ring daily, despite the assertions made twice to the contrary in the book.

There are a number of really great things about the book, but also serious errors,as has been noted in this overview.  Reading should be done judiciously and one should keep the Church’s teaching and praxis of consecrated virginity over the two millenia in mind when discerning the weight to be given to individual statements made by Nolan.


(c) 2013 by Therese Ivers, JCL

All Rights Reserved.  You do not have permission to republish this in any format including on the internet.

Posted in Consecrated Virgins | Leave a comment

Private Vows Revisited

by Therese Ivers, JCL

It seems that there is always a lot of confusion regarding private vows.  Private vows are any vows that are not public vows or semi-public vows.  What is the difference, you may ask?  It is very simple.  Public and semi-public vows are accepted by the competent Church authority and are necessary for consecration.  Private vows are all other vows.

Who make public and semi-public vows?  Very simple.  If a person makes vows in a religious institute, a secular institute, personal prelature, or as a diocesan hermit in the hands of their bishop, they are in public or semi-public vows and they are considered consecrated persons!

Who makes private vows?  This is also very simple.  Anyone who is not a member of a religious/secular institute, personal prelature, or not a diocesan hermit who decides to make vows of any kind is in private vows!  This includes people who are in associations of the faithful hoping to receive approval as consecrated life institutes, Regnum Christi men and women, and members of all other lay movements and clerical movements.

Let’s review the requirements for public or semi-public vows.  First, a public or semi-public vow must be accepted by the competent authority.  Who is the competent authority?  Bishops- only insofar as they are superiors of diocesan hermits and institutes of consecrated life of diocesan right, religious superiors, secular institute leaders, and personal prelature superiors.  Confessors, bishops who are not admitting a person to diocesan eremitical life or to vows in an institute of diocesan right, and pastors, and all other clergy are NOT competent authorities when it comes to accepting vows!!!  In other words, a competent authority has been described by the Church as:

1)  The diocesan bishop for diocesan/canonical hermits, diocesan right religious communities and diocesan right secular institutes.  Any other ceremony involving vows is done by the bishop as a witness and not as a lawful superior.  Therefore, anything that a diocesan bishop witnesses or blesses outside of these limited circumstances is automatically considered private even if done in the cathedral in front of a million viewers.

2)  The superior of a religious institute, personal prelature, or a secular institute for members of the institute!  They are the competent authority designated by the Church to receive vows in the name of the Church.

3)  No one else!  All others are merely witnesses and cannot receive vows in the name of the Church.  This includes Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Confessors, Spiritual Directors, and others!!!

When a person makes public or semi-public vows that are accepted by the competent authority (persons authorized by the Church to accept vows in Her name and only within certain Church approved structures), they receive a true consecration from God mediated by the Church and they become consecrated persons.

Let’s turn our attention now to private vows.  Private vows can be made for a greater good.  Of course, it is advised that since there is no lawful superior for a person aspiring to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, that the vow of obedience is not made.  Further, because a person who is aspiring to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom who is who is in the lay or clerical state is responsible for self, the vow of poverty is likewise not encouraged.  The vow of poverty is used mainly for members of an institute where property can be communally shared.

What is a private vow?  A private vow is a promise made to God for a greater good and is NOT accepted by a competent authority.  Who are NOT competent authorities?  Spiritual directors, confessors, pastors, and others!!!  Even bishops if they are not admitting someone to an institute of consecrated life (that is, a religious community that is of at least diocesan right or a secular institute that is at least of diocesan right or to consecrated life as an individual as a diocesan hermit!).  Private vows do not constitute someone in the consecrated state! Therefore, it is incorrect to say that a person under private vows is consecrated.  They are dedicated individuals who have promised, resolved, or vowed to live a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom!  Again, private vows do not entail a true consecration.  Consecration is mediated by the Church through the competent authority (see above for who the competent authority is).   Because there is no legitimate authority who can receive a private vow in the name of the Church, consecration, or the setting aside of a person for God’s service that is over and above the consecration of baptism does NOT take place with private vows!!!

Posted in Common Life, Consecrated Life, Hermits, private vow, Religious | Leave a comment

Overview: Ever Ancient Ever New, an Introduction to consecrated Life and the Ordo Virginum by Caroline J. Nolan

Table of contents for Ever Ancient Ever New

  1. Overview: Ever Ancient Ever New, an Introduction to consecrated Life and the Ordo Virginum by Caroline J. Nolan
  2. Overview, Ever Ancient Ever New, Part II

by Therese Ivers, JCL

The vocation to sacred virginity is rapidly growing around the globe. It is in fact the fastest growing vocation in consecrated life for women. Rev. Caroline Nolan, Ph.D., LSS, is a consecrated virgin originally hailing from Ireland who examines the vocation of sacred virginity lived in the world in her book, Ever Ancient Ever New, An Introduction to Consecrated Life and the Ordo Virginum. It is in many senses a groundbreaking work, as it is one of the few works in print in the English language written specifically about virgins consecrated with the Rite of 1970.

Dr. Nolan divides her 134 page work into six chapters. In the first chapter, she examines the concepts of consecration, and the consecrated life. She also gives a brief history and theology of consecrated life and of consecrated virginity. There are many gems in this first chapter. For example, she underscores the change in being that occurs with consecration: “She is now different from her prior state of being because she is now in a new relationship with Christ in the same way as a woman and man, who after their marriage, are in a new relationship as husband and wife…. It is a state of being that is for life and one which encompasses a faith dimension.” On the other hand, there are a few factual errors, including the assertion that the Rite for the Ordo Virginum disappeared from the 7th-19th centuries.

The first chapter also contains a simplified sketch on Christian virginity: in apostolic times CVs “were single women, who at the time were referred to as virgins, that is women who had never married and who dedicated themselves to lives of celibate chastity, prayer, penance and works of charity. However, it was through celibate chastity that they primarily worshiped the Lord.” Elsewhere she defines virginity “The essence of the term implies purity… While physical virginity is assumed in the case of consecrated virgins, the focus of the vocation does not revolve totally around the physical state of virginity. It is, rather, about the spiritual state of a pure heart that is committed to living a perpetual celibate chaste life. A Consecrated virgin is a woman who is called to live alone while at the same time living in the world.”

Unfortunately, what is not made clear is that consecrated virginity’s definition differs from that of the other vocations in the consecrated state precisely because of primary virginity, and the underlying significance of virginity as such. Instead, Nolan barely concedes that “physical virginity is assumed in the case of consecrated virgins”, but emphasizes celibate chastity as the hallmark of the vocation. All forms of consecrated life in the Church involve “celibate chastity” and a pure heart.

Likewise, the idea of women better representing the Church as bride of Christ is a generic one, and it can said of all baptized women. Dr. Nolan briefly explains the title of bride of Christ given to CVs upon their consecration in Apostolic times thus: “A common term used to refer to these women was ‘spouse’ of Christ. This term was suitable in the sense that these women were very much part of the Church and the Church is the spouse of Christ. These women through their commitment to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom bore witness to the Church’s intimate spousal connection to Christ.” Deaconesses and consecrated widows were “very much part of the Church” and Nolan’s definition would make it appear that it would have been suitable to give them this title as well. Historically, though, the title was not given to them by the Fathers because it was reserved for women whose primary virginity had been preserved and consecrated by the Church.  Ideally, this would have been made a little clearer in the book.

The second chapter is a wonderful collection of scriptural models for consecrated men and women. Nolan takes several Old and New Testament personalities and show how they model various integral aspects of consecrated life. It is a useful chapter to bring to meditation. For consecrated virgins, it can be a good source of inspiration for living the life. For aspirants and candidates, it can be very illuminating. The one quibble I would have with this chapter is that while it is true that consecrated persons are told to live “prophetically” by the Church, Nolan appears to downgrade true biblical prophecies of the future that were revealed by God to the prophets to natural foresight: “Contrary to popular belief, prophets do not foretell the future but they do indeed put forward some possibilities as to what is likely to happen should a certain path of life be embarked upon.”

In the third chapter, Nolan explores different ecclesial vocations for men and women. She goes through the priesthood, diaconate, religious, hermits, secular institutes and lay movements, and consecrated virginity as vocational options. While there are many useful observations she makes on the different vocations, there are also some significant errors contained in this section of the book. One such error arises from thinking that sacred virginity is similar to all the other forms of consecrated life in which a person dedicates their life by means of vows or promises and in turn is consecrated by God. She makes this assertion about consecrated virgins: “They take a public vow to live chaste single lives.” This is simply not true. Nowhere in the Rite does a consecrated virgin make a vow of chastity or even virginity. She repeats the idea that sacred virgins take a public vow in the forth chapter. Yet, she contradicts the notion of making a public vow later on in the book when she asserts that the virgin makes an “implicit vow” of obedience:

“Women consecrated to the Ordo Virginum do not make explicit vows of obedience, but they do so implicitly since they are at the service of their bishop and diocese where they reside permanently. The placing of their hands in the bishop’s is also a sign of their solemn propositum to embrace a celibate chaste life. The propositum is specific to the canonical state of the Ordo Virginum. It is not a vow, canonically spekaing, neither is it a promise, but a unique resolve that changes the canonical status of each of the women from being a layperson to becoming a publicly consecrated layperson. From this moment onwards, together with the prayer of consecration that follows, the candidates become formally consecrated women in the eyes of the Church.”

It is surprising that in discussing the different ecclesial vocations, Dr. Nolan did not specifically mention Diocesan hermits. Instead she brings up religious hermits, and private hermits who might make private vows. There is no mention of the diocesan hermit professing the evangelical counsels in the hands of his/her bishop. It doesn’t make sense to discuss religious (who are by definition religious even if they live in hermitages) or lay non-consecrated hermits because neither are ecclesial vocations in their own right as hermits per se. The ecclesial institution of canonical diocesan hermits makes its nature clear. The hermit follows the evangelical counsels individually rather than communally and has the bishop as the legitimate superior. For this reason, the hermit does not take as the explicit object of their vows solitude, prayer, and penance, but poverty, chastity, and obedience. In formation, the diocese generally assigns a formator. The hermit also generally is given a habit, as a sign of their true separation from the world, as with religious.

Secular Institutes are also not given a very useful definition. Lumping secular institutes with ecclesial movements, Dr. Nolan states that “they promise to live a life of chastity with an implicit understanding that they are obedient to the overseer of their institute or movement. They also embrace a simple lifestyle without actually taking an explicit promise of poverty.” This is an incorrect definition of secular institutes. Members of secular institutes are formally consecrated and have either vows or promises (or a sacred bond) of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who are not full members of secular institutes or who merely belong to ecclesial lay movements are not consecrated but are dedicated persons. It is not immediately apparent why ecclesial movements would even be brought up if they do not receive a true consecration through the mediation of the Church. Professed members of secular institutes are truly publicly consecrated laypersons.

Chapter four has some really good suggestions and insights into the discernment process. For example, the author suggests that a virgin be in her thirties before receiving the consecration because it is around the age of 30 that a woman often experiences a very strong pull to physical motherhood. On the other hand, permission for women who had been the victims of sexual violence to receive the consecration is not the primary reason why the requirements were written the way they were, but respect for the internal forum which prohibits the bishop from asking if a woman has committed a sin with another.

Dr. Nolan walks the reader through the different stages of the Rite of Consecration in Chapter Five. She offers a multitude of ways certainl elements of the Rite may be done, such as the wearing of a white alb for attire. There is certainly room for legitimately diverse ways of celebrating the Rite and she offers her perspectives on the matter.

In the final chapter, the author points out some of the difficulties of the vocation to sacred virginity. There can be times of loneliness. People can profoundly misunderstand and mock the vocation. After briefly highlighting these, she provides a good bibliography.

Part II to follow.

(c) 2013 by Therese Ivers, JCL

All rights reserved.

Posted in Canonical Requirements, Consecrated Virgins, Hermits, Propositum, Religious | Leave a comment