by Mother Therese Ivers, JCD(cand), JCL, OCV, DHS
Sr. Laurel O’Neil of Stillsong Hermitage has brought up a theory of the vocation of sacred virginity in a recent blog post that I thought I would mention briefly. Briefly, because I am engaged in writing my dissertation on the vocation of sacred virginity. Specifically, I am writing on what it means to be a Bride of Christ, and the significance of that for both virgins in the world and virgins who are also nuns who receive the consecration of virgins concurrently or after their perpetual profession of vows.
Sr. Laurel appears to believe that “sacred secularity” is somehow the key to the vocation to sacred virginity. However, this is not the case. The Rite of Consecration of Virgins does not make a distinction between women in the world in its homily, consecration prayer, or anything else, except for a few things specific to mixing (or separating as traditionally done) the rite of religious profession with the rite of consecration of virgins. The intention remains the same: to create a spouse of the Lord Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit by the ministry of the bishop upon the virgin, irrespective as to whether she is a woman who does not belong to an institute of consecrated life or if she belongs to a secular institute or to a religious institute that is cloistered.
The fact that the consecration of virgins may be given to secular virgins, virgins who belong to secular institutes, and virgins who belong to religious institutes should give the attentive reader a clue as to the nature of the consecration of virgins. Whatever it is, it cannot, by its very nature, be “secular”. Nor, can it, by its very nature, be “religious”, or “separated from the world”. The reason is that if the vocation itself is defined as secular or as separated from the world, the consecration cannot be given to virgins who belong to the other group. A secular vocation cannot mix with a religious vocation, and vice versa.
This is elementary logic, and yet it is often ignored because in their delight in seeing women who do not belong to a religious institute being once more permitted to receive the consecration of virgins, authors and bloggers have alike focused a great deal of attention on the fact that virgins “living in the world” can receive the consecration once more after a hiatus of about 900 years. However, they singularly fail to work through the major inconsistencies of their theology of consecrated life when they cannot reconcile their narrative and vision about the vocation of consecrated virginity with the reality of nuns receiving the consecration of virgins as they have done even to this day and stretching back to the very beginning of female monasticism.
If religious nuns are brides of Christ per se (by the nature of their vocation) then what is the point of them receiving the consecration of virgins as perpetually professed nuns? Further, the rite of consecration of virgins itself would be lying as it has always explicitly claimed that the virgin was created a spouse of Christ in that ritual. It should be noted that the Roman Pontifical of 1595, 1962, and 1970 all make this claim, and all were designed to consecrate eligible nuns and in the words of the 1970 Rite (different but still explicit words to that effect made in the 1595 and 1962 rites), the virgin is “elevated to the dignity of Bride of Christ”. Mind you, this is said to the perpetually professed nuns who receive the consecration of virgins today, and its equivalent was said to perpetually professed nuns who received it from 1595 to 1970 (the older versions also mention bridehood, but I am not going to go into a liturgical history lesson here).
A nun cannot belong to a vocation that is secular by nature. This is why a person cannot simultaneously belong to a secular institute and a religious institute because one is secular and the other is “separated from the world”. If a sacred virgin is in a vocation – and she is – then it stands to reason that the same consecration that elevates her as a Bride of Christ, joined by the Holy Spirit in an “indissoluble bond” (again this is explicit in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins), puts her in a unique vocation that is neither secular nor separated from the world by its very nature. In other words, the consecration of virgins does what the Rite says it does: it makes her into a Bride of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As being a Bride of Christ is its own vocation in its own right, then it stands to reason that the religious vocation is radically different than the virginal one by its very nature.
Thus, it stands to reason that religious life, secular institutes, and hermits can belong to the order of virgins and their own vocation simultaneously because the vocation to sacred virginity is essentially different than the vocation to a life primarily centered on the profession of the evangelical counsels, but compatible with it. Interestingly enough, the vocations of holy orders are also compatible to a life primarily centered on the profession of the evangelical counsels, but are essentially different from it.
I strongly cautioned Sr. Laurel to read my upcoming dissertation on consecrated virgins in our Facebook exchange she reported in her blog, and I renew this caution. Sacred virginity as a vocation, cannot be secular by nature, which is essentially what she is claiming. I think she will have to do some more reflection on what the vocation could be (the Rite of Consecration of Virgins in all of its chapters might prove illuminating, particularly in the Latin version), but to give the very simplified answer, the sacred virgin is a Bride of Christ, created a Bride when she received the consecration as a laywoman or as a nun. Not my words or idea, but the Rite itself explicitly states this and makes no exceptions for nuns as if it magically produced something different for them.
Sr. Laurel is a friend. We do not see eye to eye on everything, and that is okay. But, when it comes to my own vocation, I know I have the advantage of having done an enormous amount of research on my vocation. I am even the editor of a liturgical commentary written as a dissertation at San Anselmo on the rite of consecration of virgins, its development, and even contrasts the profession of religious. That commentary is over 1,000 pages long, and is extremely good, and I hope it can be published soon. Sr. Laurel says she respects the vocation of consecrated virginity, but objectively, she does not if she thinks that religious are essentially brides of Christ the same way with the same bond as sacred virgins. I don’t think she’ll really understand this, though, until she reads my dissertation, which is still in draft form as I polish it up for submission.