Consecrated Virgins Part I

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by Therese Ivers, JCL

Eleven votes have been cast in favor of having this month’s theme be consecrated virginity.  As I sat down to begin writing this article, one of the first things that came up vividly to my mind were several women who were incorrectly described to me as consecrated virgins.  Two I met on a trip, and somehow they became locally known as consecrated virgins since they would *like* to be consecrated, but they are in fact, not.  Female members of one of the secular institutes I am familiar with also are known -mistakenly- in their local areas as “consecrated virgins”.  Finally, members of an international group have oftentimes referred to themselves as “consecrated women” or “consecrated virgins” despite a complete lack of canonical status as such.  To help  facilitate a better understanding of what a consecrated virgin is – or is not – I thought it would be helpful to have a mini-series of FAQs on consecrated virgins.

Q.  Can a widow become a consecrated virgin?

A.  No.  It is assumed that a wife who has lived even a night under the same marital roof as her spouse has consummated the marriage, thereby surrendering her physical virginity.  This is why the Church requires that candidates “never have been married or lived in public or open violation of chastity”.

Q.  May a “renewed virgin” receive the consecration?

A.  A female who has voluntarily and completely experienced sexual pleasure is not eligible for the consecration, for she cannot offer God physical virginity.   As St. Jerome put it, in his twenty-second Epistle to St. Eustochium, n. 5 (P.L., XXII, 397), “I tell you without hesitation that though God is almighty, He cannot restore a virginity that has been lost.”  Although generous repentance may restore “spiritual” virginity, physical virginity cannot be restored, and both physical and spiritual virginity are required for a valid consecration.

Q.  Where can I find a sample of a rule of life for consecrated virgins?

A.  Consecrated virgins live “under the direction” of their bishop.  Nevertheless, this direction is more akin to that of married couples being under the care of their pastor than that of religious to their superior.  Consecrated virgins do not profess public vows nor do they live according to a rule of life unless they are also religious, diocesan hermits, or members of secular institutes.  Because consecrated virgins living in the world are not subject by the vow of obedience to their bishop, and are not required to follow a rule of life (any more than married women are required to follow a rule of life), drafting and following a rule of life is completely optional for most consecrated virgins.  Actually, in most instances, it would be imprudent to have a rule of life, for the virgin living in the world lives in the world with all the variables and cares that implies.  The advice of a spiritual director should be followed if a virgin is considering adopting a rule of life.

Q.  Does a female religious have to be a virgin?

A.  No.  Only female religious who desire to receive the consecration of virgins must be virgins.  Some communities such as certain Abbeys in the Benedictine Order have traditionally offered the consecration of virgins to their members in perpetual vows.  In such a case, the individual member desirous of receiving this consecration should be in truth a virgin.

Q.  The Rite of Consecration says that a person must never been married, nor have publicly or openly violated chastity.  I secretly had a one night stand that nobody knows about 20 years ago.  Can I receive the consecration?

A.  While it is true that you weren’t married nor lived in public or open violation of chastity (as in the case of cohabiting), your virginity was lost in the one night stand and thus you are unable to validly receive the consecration.  Perhaps some other vocational options are available for your prayerful discernment and consideration.

Q.  Are all religious women, female  members of secular institutes, and female hermits “consecrated virgins?”

A.  No.  Consecrated virgins are female virgins who have been consecrated by their bishop according to the norms of canon 604 and the Rite itself.  Devout women under a private vow of chastity, women in secular 3rd orders, members of religious orders, and others who have not specifically received the consecration conferred by their bishop are technically  not consecrated virgins.  Given the promiscuous lifestyles of today’s youth and young women, a large percentage of those in consecrated life are probably not virgins, nor are they required to enter as physical virgins.  Only those females who wish to receive the consecration of virgins are required to be virgins and to maintain both physical and spiritual virginity.  Those in other forms of consecrated life are required to exercise “chastity”, which in their case means perpetual continence and celibacy.

To be continued.  But, before this series is continued, I need 5 serious and respectful comments on this post.

Article and photo (c) 2009 by Therese Ivers, JCL

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