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.

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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!!!

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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.


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Contest Time!

Attention Everyone!

We are in the middle of planning out the session for our upcoming Vocations Discernment Bootcamp. We have some space that we have leeway for some topics and thought you might have questions or ideas that you would love to see covered in the bootcamp! So, we’re going to make this into a contest. The top three ideas or questions submitted before August 15, 2013 will receive a free copy of one of my ebooks. Winners will get to choose which book they wish to get.

To enter, just follow the forum link! See you there!

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I am Republishing The One Bride: The Church and Consecrated Virginity Sr. Mary Jane Klimisch, OSB

onebrideconsecratedvirginityby Therese Ivers, JCL

Several years ago I was doing research in a seminary library and decided for “down time” I would read a book on consecrated virginity. After climbing dusty stairs and sifting through dustier books, I came across this gem on consecrated virginity in its form prior to 1970. Sr. Klimisch takes you through what it means for the Church to be called Bride. She goes on to speak of how people can be called Brides of Christ. She also discusses religious life, and how that fits into the Church’s relationship with Christ. In one of her final chapters, Klimisch treats of nuns who receive the Consecration of Virgins.

When Sr. Klimisch speaks of religous and consecrated virginity, she does so with the assumption that consecrated virgins were religious and therefore had assumed the bonds of religious vows. In one sense this is great news because she is able to put her finger on what the Consecration of Virgins means to a religious who is already professed. She is not an author who thinks that it is simply redundant. Instead, she laments the fact that consecrated virginity is unknown and unappreciated and then goes on to explain how it has meaning to the Church and to religious who are able to receive it.

It would have been nice had Sr. Mary Jane written a few years later, when the 1970 Rite came out and the lifestyle was not tethered to religious life. However, what she says is valid, and can give those who enter religious Order with the tradition of giving the Consecration of Virgins a nice meditation on their vocation.

As one would expect in a Benedictine, Sr. Klimisch is meticulous in her research. Every chapter is carefully footnoted, and I discovered many new authors and periodicals to look up. Thus far, I have to say that this is one of the best books to get when trying to understand the mystery of the Church as Bride and how we all fit into that reality of being part of the Bride of Christ.

I was able to obtain from Sr. Klimisch’s community a couple of extra copies of her book to lend, and I am going to be republishing her book in paperback form sometime in the very near future. I am not sure if it will be next week or later, but until that time, I will be offering a special pre-publication price. Once it is published, the list price will be higher. It is expensive and time consuming to purchase licenses and get the book ready for publication, and so the book’s cost reflects this. Right now, you can pre-order the book by purchasing via the link below. It will be shipped to you the next business day after I receive the books from the printers.

Update: The book is now available.

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