Consecrated Virginity

The consecrated virgin living in the world embodies a definitive vocation in itself.  She is not a quasi-Religious, nor is she in a vocation that is in the process of becoming a Religious institute or congregation.  Nevertheless, she is a consecrated person, with her bishop as her guide.  By virtue of the Consecration, she is responsible to pray for her diocese and clergy.  At no time is her diocese responsible for her financial support.

The consecrated virgin living in the world, as expressed in Canon 604, is irrevocably “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates [her] according to the approved liturgical rite.”  The consecrated virgin attends Mass daily, prays the Divine Office, and spends much time in private prayer.  She can choose the Church-approved spirituality she prefers to follow.

Supporting herself by earning her own living, the consecrated virgin is not obliged to take on any particular work or apostolate.  Usually, consecrated virgins in the United States volunteer their time to their local parish, diocese, or Church-sponsored association.  Some volunteer their time also in civic responsibilities.

Click Here to see the website for the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.

SACRA VIRGINITAS

The Consecration of a Virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church, and one of the fruits of Vatican II was the restoration of this profound blessing on virgins living in the world.  The promulgation of this restored Rite for laywomen was on 31 May 1970.  Through this sacramental, the virgin, after renewing her promise of perpetual virginity to God, is set aside as a sacred person who belongs only to Christ.

The acting agent in the Consecration is God Himself who accepts the virgin’s promise and spiritually fructifies it through the action of the Holy Spirit.

This sacramental is reserved to the Bishop of the diocese.  The consecrated virgin shares intimately in the nature and mission of the Church – she is a living image of the Church’s love for her Spouse while sharing in His redemptive mission.

The consecrated virgin living in the world embodies a definitive vocation in itself.  She is not a quasi-Religious, nor is she in a vocation that is in the process of becoming a Religious institute or congregation.  She is a consecrated woman, nevertheless, with her bishop as her guide. By virtue of the Consecration, she is responsible to pray for her diocese and clergy.  At no time is her diocese responsible for her financial support.

The consecrated virgin living in the world, as expressed in Canon 604, is irrevocably “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates [her] according to the approved liturgical rite.”  The consecrated virgin attends Mass daily, prays the Divine Office, and spends much time in private prayer.  She can choose the Church-approved spirituality she prefers to follow.

Supporting herself by earning her own living, the consecrated virgin is not obliged to take on any particular work or apostolate.  Usually, consecrated virgins in the United States volunteer their time to their local parish, diocese, or Church-sponsored association.  Some volunteer their time also in civic responsibilities.

Who can be consecrated?
Any Catholic woman living in the world who has never married or lived in open violation of chastity, and who by age, prudence, and good character is deemed suitable for dedicating herself to a life of chastity in the service of the Church and of her neighbor may petition her bishop to receive the Consecration.  She must be admitted to this Consecration by her local Bishop; it is he who determines the conditions under which the candidate is to undertake a life of perpetual virginity lived in the world.  Usually, a woman who aspires to the consecration works with a spiritual director and has lived a private promise of perpetual virginity for some years before seeking the Consecration of a Virgin.

It is understood that a laywoman aspiring to the Consecration of a Virgin is able to support herself by work or pension or independent means and has provided financially for her medical care.

A woman aspiring to the Consecration should be practicing her faith. She accepts the teaching of the Church and Sacred Scripture, with a readiness and capacity for personal growth.  She should be able to give herself totally to God and the Church.

If you would like further information, contact:

Judith M. Stegman
Email: president@consecratedvirgins.org

300 West Ottawa Street
Lansing, MI 48933

Approved by Most Rev. Raymond L. Burke,
Episcopal Moderator of the Consecrated Virgins in the United States

Consecrated virginity is the oldest recognized form of consecrated life in the Catholic Church, predating religious life by centuries. The choice of life-long virginity is praised several places in the New Testament, and one of our earliest references to consecrated virgins as a distinct group within the Church can be found in St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Smyrnaeans, written c. 110 A.D. Later Church Fathers, such as St. Cyprian and St. Ambrose, wrote extensive treatises on this form of consecrated life, and primitive versions of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity appear in our oldest written liturgical records. Well-known consecrated virgins from the early Church include the martyrs St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia, and St. Lucy.

Before it was historically possible for a woman to enter a religious Order and become a nun, she could offer her life to God as a consecrated virgin. But with the rise of monastic religious life beginning in the sixth century A.D., the practice of consecrating women living “in the world,” or outside of monasteries, gradually fell into disuse until it was discontinued in the Middle Ages. However, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity was preserved by certain religious Orders, who continued to use the ritual in conjunction with their contemplative nuns’ solemn profession. Then in the later half of the twentieth century, in accord with the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Rite of Consecration was revised and the vocation of consecrated virginity in the world was restored to the life of the modern Church.

Today, consecrated virginity is one of the only forms of women’s consecrated life which involves a deep spiritual bond with the local Church. Unlike a religious sister, who in some sense must “leave” her diocese in order to join her community, a consecrated virgin continues to be fully a part of the local Church, and she lives out her consecrated life directly under the authority of her bishop. Thus, consecrated virgins are called to dedicate their lives to prayer for, and service to, their home diocese.

Although consecrated virgins and women religious are similar in the sense that the Church regards them both as publicly consecrated persons, receiving the Rite of Consecration is different from professing religious vows. Where religious vows are essentially promises that an individual actively makes to God, consecration to a life of virginity is a solemn blessing a woman passively receives from God through the ministry of the bishop. (This is somewhat similar to the way in which a bishop consecrates a Church building, setting it aside for a sacred purpose.) Because of this, the consecration itself is permanent and can never be dispensed.

As one of a consecrated virgin’s most primary obligations is prayer, consecrated virgins devote a substantial amount of time to worship and to the contemplation of Divine realities. This is fulfilled through attendance at daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and spending time in personal prayer and spiritual reading. Consecrated virgins have a special focus on Divine Office, since during the Rite of Consecration they are presented with a breviary and commissioned to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. In their prayers, consecrated virgins intercede for the whole Church, remembering especially the bishops, priests, and all the people of their diocese.

Consecrated virgins do not follow the spirituality of any one particular saint or founder. However, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity contains a profound spirituality of its own. These ancient and beautiful prayers celebrate the spousal relationship between a consecrated virgin and Christ—a relationship which is described as an image of Christ’s love for His Church. The Church considers a consecrated virgin to be a “bride of Christ” because she freely offers herself, and all the love she would have given to a husband and children, to Christ alone for the glory of God and the salvation of His people.

In living as a spouse of Christ, a consecrated virgin anticipates what will be the reality for all the faithful in Heaven, where they “neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels.” (Matthew 22:30). Consecrated virgins serve as a witness and reminder to the fact that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment, not only of the longings of the human heart, but also of all time and history. Like the Bride in the book of Revelation, consecrated virgins are called to love Christ with such totality that their whole lives constantly echo the cry: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (cf. Revelation 22:17, 20)

This article is directly copied from an article posted in the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh Vocations Website.

Fresh-faced and vivacious, Bernadette Snyder says she grew up in Virginiaassuming Catholic girls like her either became nuns or found a man.  At 29, she is still single, and assuredly not a nun.  “I mean, do you see this in a convent?” Snyder said, glancing at her flowered skirt, peasant blouse and jewelry. “It just doesn’t happen. I mean, really!”  Instead, Snyder chose a little-known third path with a long tradition in Catholicism: She became a consecrated, perpetual virgin – the first in the 188-year history of the Richmond diocese, which includes Hampton Roads.

Wearing a white sundress and big pink earrings, Snyder knelt in May as Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo laid hands on hers in the rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity of Women Living in the World.  He also slipped onto her ring finger a gold band – a symbol of her spousal relationship with Jesus Christ.  “He completes me,” Snyder said. “I don’t even know if marriage is the proper term; I feel like he’s my husband.”

To the Catholic Church, Snyder’s calling is as much a formal vocation as the priesthood or religious orders of nuns.  Christian celibacy extends to the church’s earliest years.  In the New Testament, the apostle Paul spoke approvingly of virginity.  “The unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so they may be holy in body and spirit,” he said.  “The married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband.”

The early church regularly consecrated virgins who didn’t lead monastic lives, but the rite fell into disuse by the eighth or ninth century.  The Vatican restored it in 1970.  In a 1996 treatise, “Consecrated Life,” Pope John Paul II wrote that celibacy manifests the virginal life of Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary.  Constant celibacy, he said, reflected “dedication to God with an undivided heart,” while virginity was a source of “mysterious spiritual fruitfulness.”  The pope called it “a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins.”

The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, which formed in 1996, estimates there are 200 consecrated virgins nationwide.  Most of those consecrations have come in the last 10 years, said Judith Stegman, the group’s president.  She was among 500 consecrated virgins from 52 countries who met in Vatican City in May to discuss how to promote the order, and how virgins should live out their vocation.  Pope Benedict XVI told the gathering their chastity benefited all people, even though the world may consider it “unintelligible and useless.”

That’s certainly true for American pop culture, always ready with a smirk for the seemingly hapless celibate.  Losing virginity has been good for laughs in many films, including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005), “American Pie” (1999) and “The Last American Virgin” (1982).  Meanwhile, the same culture celebrated the sophisticated, bed-hopping heroines of “Sex and the City,” the hit television series and film.  “There are people who assume the only reason you haven’t had sex is because you’re undesirable,” Snyder acknowledged.  “They think it’s a fault that you actually haven’t had intercourse.”  Snyder said men in particular are confounded by her vow of virginity.  “They just don’t grasp the concept of why I don’t feel the need to have a man take care of me,” she said.  “I tell them, ‘I’ve got THE man taking care of me,’ ” meaning Jesus.

Snyder grew up attending public schools in Colonial Heights.  Though she had childhood crushes on boys, “I wasn’t really as interested in one-on-one dating because I enjoyed being with people so much.”  Her first inkling of a religious single life outside the convent came at 18 when a consecrated virgin spoke to Snyder’s Catholic youth group.  The woman spoke of being married to Christ.  “To see the joy in her face – I said, ‘that’s it!  That’s what I’m called to do,’ ” Snyder recalled.  She eventually contacted her parish priest, who said he’d never heard of the rite.  He sent Snyder to the diocese’s vocational director.  ” ‘Wait until you’re 30, in case you meet Mr. Right,’ ” she recalled the priest saying.  “I said, ‘I’ve already met Mr. Right!’ ”

Snyder did wait, however – for 10 years.  During that time, she earned a mathematical sciences degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and became a marketing analyst for a real estate company.  She also met regularly with spiritual directors, read about saints’ lives, prayed the rosary daily and wore a band on her ring finger to repel suitors.  All the while, she maintained the vow of celibacy she made in prayer at 19.  “All of a sudden it was on my heart and I could feel Christ asking me to be his bride and in the order of consecrated virgins. I just said, ‘Yes.’ ”  About 1-1/2 years ago, Snyder finally contacted the bishop and asked for the consecration rite.  In a first for his own career, DiLorenzo performed the ceremony during Sunday Mass on May 25 at St. Michael Catholic Church outside Richmond.

Consecrated virgins aren’t supported financially by the church. Snyder works for the diocese as a geostatistician in the Office of Planning.  Although they are obliged to serve God, consecrated virgins generally decide what form that ministry will take.  “The time that you would have devoted to husband and kids is what you’re actually devoting to prayer and ministry,” Snyder said.  “When you choose to remain celibate, you choose to love God through all people.”  Her service includes sponsoring a prospective Catholic convert and washing the altar cloths of her parish and the chapel at the diocese’s headquarters. She helps serve communion, teaches first-communion classes and does other volunteer work at her church.

Like most consecrated virgins, Snyder recites the morning and evening prayers that are part of the liturgy of the hours, the Catholic Church’s daily set of prayers and readings.  But Snyder said prayer infuses her whole day, whether she’s number-crunching on the job or reading spiritual texts in her apartment.  “How am I going to be at home with my husband, Jesus Christ, and never speak to him?  Prayer is constant,” she said.  It is a joyful lifestyle, she says, with time for friends, quilting and following her favorite NHL hockey team, the Anaheim Ducks.

Her life is not without moments of sacrifice. “When I really feel it is when I get sick, I’m at home laying in bed, and it would be really nice if I had someone to cook my soup,” she said.  She also forgoes sexual gratification.  “Hello! I’m a young woman,” she said, laughing.  “I’m obviously going to still be attracted to guys.  These are things you deal with.  In marriage, it’s the same thing – you’ve made a commitment.”  Unlike a marriage, though, which sometimes can be annulled by a diocesan tribunal, Snyder says there’s no possibility she’ll give up on her consecration.  “It’s a perpetual vow, which means you cannot get out of it,” she said.  “I’d like to meet the tribunal that can grant an annulment to Jesus Christ!”

By Steven G. Vegh
The Virginian-Pilot
steven.vegh@pilotonline.com
(757) 446-2417
© July 27, 2008