Consecrated Virgins Part I

Table of contents for Consecrated Virgins

  1. Consecrated Virgins Part I
  2. Consecrated Virgins Part II
  3. Consecration Vs. Vow

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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

All Rights Reserved

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8 Responses to Consecrated Virgins Part I

  1. a newly consecrated virgin says:

    Hi—I just became a consecrated virgin last January, and I write the blog “Sponsa Christi.” Since you indicated that you were open to comments, I thought I would share my own view regarding the answer to the third question here.

    I do think that adherence to a specific “rule of life” should not be considered a constitutive element in the vocation of consecrated virginity lived in the world, and that in many instances a strict rule would be impractical for a consecrated virgin to follow (though I think some consecrated virgins might find it personally helpful to set down a flexible program in writing with the guidance of a spiritual director).

    But, I respectfully disagree with your description of a consecrated virgin’s relationship to her bishop as being most similar to that of a married woman and the pastor of her parish. Although consecrated virgins do not profess public vows per se, consecrated virginity, even when lived “in the world,” is a still a public state of consecrated life. My thought is that this would necessarily make a consecrated virgin’s relationship to the hierarchy notably different from either a married or single laywoman’s.

    Also, canon 604 describes consecrated virgins as being “dedicated to the service of the Church.” And it would seem that serving the Church in any sort of public capacity requires some real form of ecclesial authorization—and if this does not come as the local bishop’s express commission, then at the very least it should be some kind of episcopal permission or approval (even if, de facto, this permission tended to be only tacit or presumed, or granted through a delegate). Because of this, I think that it would be more appropriate for a consecrated virgin to regard her bishop as being similar, albeit not identical, to a religious superior.

    And while a consecrated virgin does not make a formal vow of obedience, to me it seems that a special obligation to obey the bishop—i.e., over and beyond that of all the baptized—is strongly implied in the Rite of Consecration. I do think that consecrated virgins are called to take more of the initiative in their respective consecrated lives than are nuns or religious sisters, and I understand that pastoral sensitivity might limit a bishop in what he could legitimately request from a consecrated virgin (e.g., it would be unreasonable to require a consecrated virgin to take on a demanding full-time apostolate without provisions for meeting basic needs and living expenses). Still, I think that the most fitting attitude for a consecrated virgin to have vis-à-vis her bishop is one of a sincere willingness to hold the needs of her diocese in higher priority than her own projects and interests, which I think could be considered a type of practical obedience.

  2. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Dear Consecrated Virgin,

    Thank you for your observations.

    You have many good points and some points I would tend to disagree with as a canon lawyer. I hope a good conversation will be sparked by your comments, with other people joining in.

    Anyone willing to join in? Remember, I want at least 5 respectful comments before I continue this series. They need not be earth shattering, but can say something as simple as “I appreciate this information.”

  3. elizabethanne says:

    I just became aware of this vocation through an internet search. Two weeks ago while going to confession the priest stated quite boldly that he thought I needed to explore working for the church full time or explora a vocation and made searching that out part of my pennance !! Feeling kind of sick to my stomach I looked away and thought, “Are you kidding me!” At the same time I knew he was right. I’d been running from a formal committment all my life. When I read about Consecrated Virgins I thought….HELLO ~ that’s me. That’s exactly what I am and how I’ve been living my life forever. There are two Consecrated Virgins in my diocese which I met within three days of receiving the Sacrament of Reconcilliation. Things have begun to fall into place. My priest is not so convinced. He told me, “Who is this guy to be making these assumptions about you. Your work is a vocation.” I am a child therapist. Nevertheless, I intend to obtain a spiritual director and see where it leads.

    I must say in exploring the lives of some Consecrated Virgins on the internet, I do have some concerns about how “concrete” their notion is of being Christ’s bride rather than looking at it as a mystical union. Some of the stuff out there on u-tube and the like of some of these women is concerning and quite frankly a little creepy.

    I very much appreciate the information you provided in Part I of this series and hopefully Part II will soon follow.

  4. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Thank you for your comments! Yes, I also hope that Part II will be written. Anyone want to help this along by posting a comment?

  5. Meg says:

    Yes, please! Does it count as 5 comments if you’re two of them? I hope so, because I’d love to hear what else you have to say.

  6. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Meg, your comment counts as #5. I will put up another post on consecrated virgins very soon. God bless you!

  7. jane doe says:

    Is a woman eligible for this consecration if she was vaginally penetrated by a boy as a young child under 5 or 6 years old?

  8. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Dear Jane Doe,

    A victim this young cannot voluntarily give consent to such an act and would remain a virgin in the eyes of the Church. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that a girl who undergoes such trauma receives adequate care for her situation. Two very common reactions occur in women who have been raped. They usually either become quite promiscuous or extremely frigid and afraid of intercourse. Should a lady be afraid of intercourse and possibly suffer from frigidity, she is not in the right psychological frame of mind to be offering herself to God for the consecration. This would have to be resolved first before she could adequately discern what path God might be calling her to insofar as vocations are concerned.

    Thank you for your question, which is a very good one.

    I might add that on a related note, I have known women who in their teens who were victims of molestation. They too ought to have adequate care prior to making a vocational choice. True victims often believe that they are responsible for their molestation and need to get this resolved before they are in a position to freely choose a vocation.

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