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October 12, 2011

Charism of Consecrated virginity NOT Sacred Secularity !

Recently, I’ve been reading the views of a Diocesan Hermit on her blog where she strongly insists that the Consecration to a life of Virginity according to canon 604 is a vocation or Consecration to Sacred ‘Secularity.’  She does not quote from primary and authoritative sources such as Sacred Scripture, Fathers of the Church, Magisterium, or Canon law, to support her personal views. Her interpretation of the Rite of consecration itself, is selective and subjective. 

She confuses the accidentals with the essence of the charism of the Ordo Virginum.  Her ideas are analogous to saying that the sacrament of matrimony  is particularly a Call to be consecrated to Sacred ‘Secularity.’

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."

Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom
1618 Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social (emphasis mine). From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming.114 Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model:
"For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."


Although the Ordo Virginum is a diocese based vocation, it has been confused with religious life/ secular institutes/ lay single life, etc. Its own identity and charism is not only blurred but lost  in countries where religious life has the monopoly. The charism of secular institutes, especially the imagery of ‘silent leaven in the world’ seems to have been ‘strategically and artificially’ imposed  on  the Ordo Virginum by some bishop’s conferences.

The vocation of consecrated virgins is ECCLESIAL in one word. She is given to the Church community. It is based on the Paschal mystery which was the treasure at the heart of the Early Church expressed as obedience, self-emptying[kenosis] on the cross, and virginity or espousal with Christ.

When Jesus’ heart was pierced, blood and water flowed out symbolizing the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, the birth of the Bride of Christ-the Church. Consecrated virginity was founded on the Cross. The consecration confers the virgin with a gift of the Holy Spirit  based on the needs of the local church community.

I had written a letter  to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life in Rome some years ago, after reading an article on consecrated virgins, written  by Sr Sharon Holland IHM in INFORMACIONES,1999. Questions about several aspects of the vocation of consecrated virgins according to canon 604 were raised by me. Let me share a few of the questions and the response I received :


·       In ancient Church history we find that sometimes the same person belonged to 2 orders at the same time. Is it possible for a consecrated virgin to also be  a hermit and lead a diocese-based life?

·        According to the Roman Pontifical, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity is used for women living in the world and those in monasteries. Does ‘living in the world’ mean only that it is ‘not in a monastery’ or should it be lived strictly ‘in the world’ like in secular institutes ?

·       The charism of consecrated virgins is to be an eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and the life to come when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom. The charism of Secular Institutes is to transfigure the world from within, acting like  a leaven within the cultural, economic, and political life. Hence it would be improper for a member of a Secular Institute to wear clothing which would identify them as a consecrated person. However, consecrated virgins are called to be an image of the Church’s love for Christ. Would it be proper if the local circumstances demand, to wear clothing which would identify one as a consecrated person or be addressed as ‘Sister’ even though one does not live in a religious community ?

Response from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated life:
Prot.n.SpR 862-4/2003

While an individual can belong to two associations of the faithful, one cannot readily have two vocations which involve the total consecration of their life. Perhaps a consecrated virgin might live a secluded life, more like a hermit. However, they are two distinct approaches to the consecration of life and to life-style. The life of virginity 'lived in the world' gives public witness in everyday life, in some self-supporting work and in her service to the Church. It is not quite the same as the style of a secular institute because the virgin’s consecration is public, yet it is secular in the sense that she is not a religious.

The use of the veil, provided for in the Rite is decided on in the local circumstances with the Diocesan Bishop. The same would be true regarding any other identifying clothing and/or the use of the title Sister.

Pages from the  ROMAN PONTIFICAL


Part IV , Blessing of Persons

The fourth and final part of the book contains the rites for the blessing of persons who are publicly consecrated to God. [Since religious profession itself is ordinarily received on behalf of the Church by the religious superior, the rite is given in the Roman Ritual rather than in this book].

The last of these rites is for the traditional consecration of unmarried women to the life of religious virginity. The revision, which had been formally decreed by the Second Vatican Council, was published by the decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship, May 31,1970, not only for nuns but also for individual consecrated women who do not live in religious communites.[here again it is seen that ‘living in the world’ is not emphasized]

Chapter Sixteeen :



Nature and Value of Consecration to Virginity

The custom of consecrating women to a life of virginity flourished even in the early Church. It led to the formation of the solemn rite constituting the candidate a sacred person, a surpassing sign of the Church’s love for Christ and an eschatological image of the world to come and the glory of the heavenly Bride of Christ. In the rite of consecration the Church reveals its love of virginity, begs God’s grace on those who are consecrated, and prays with fervor for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Principal Duties of Those Consecrated

Those who consecrate their chastity under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit do so for the sake of more fervent love of Christ and of greater freedom in the service of their brothers and sisters.

They are to spend their time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity and in prayer, according to their state of life and spiritual gifts.

To fulfil their duty of prayer they are strongly advised to celebrate the liturgy of the hours each day, especially morning  prayer and evening prayer. In this way, by joining their voices to those of Christ the High Priest and of his Church, they will offer unending praise to the heavenly Father and pray for the salvation of the whole world.

Those Who May Be Consecrated

This consecration may be received by nuns or by women living in the world.

In the case of women living in the world it is required:

a ] that they have never married or lived in public or open violation of chastity;
b] that by their age, prudence, and universally approved character they give assurance of perseverance in the life of chastity dedicated to the service of the Church and of their neighbour;
c ] that they be admitted to this consecration by the bishop who is the Ordinary of the place.

It is for the bishop to decide on the conditions under which women living in the world are to undertake a life of perpetual virginity.

This vocation is the  consecration of one’s virginity to God and to the diocese. I can say with confidence that 'secularity' is  not an essential element or 'charism' of  consecrated virginity. Had this been so, even monastics who received the same consecration  would be obliged to it! As mentioned in the Roman Pontifical, the nature and value of consecrated virginity is the same, whether lived in the monastery or outside the monastery. 

To define the vocation as consecrated virgins "Living in the World"  makes it very different from "Consecrated Virgins" living in the world. I think the number of religious women in the dioceses  around the world may be less than 0.002 per cent and monastics may be less than 0.00002 per cent of all catholics. Even among these monastics, this Rite is being used very rarely by  few Orders and is becoming extinct.  Hence it is 'by  default' that consecrated virgins live in the world.

The beauty of the charism is that it can be lived in a rainbow variety of ways. However, I would advise a woman who sees it her mission to be a leaven to transform the political, temporal aspects of the world, to consider joining a secular institute or lay association/movement, since such vocational options are already available. Consecrated virgins do not need to change their charism just because today's world seems to have the need or because Religious wish to maintain a monopoly regarding public pastoral consecrated life.

Canon 604 clearly states that virgins are dedicated to the service of the ‘Church.’  The suggested homily in the Rite mentions apostle in the Church and the world. The entire rite  and charism is primarily focused on spousal spirituality and dedication to the service of the Church community.

Through this rootedness, it expands its vision and embraces the world in mission too. Since the consecrated virgin is an image of the entire Church as Bride and body of Christ, she can be adorned with many other charisms, to express her central vocation. Sacred secularity would be just one of the many possible ways of living the vocation.

Some people argue that post Vatican council II theology of sacred secularity ought to be embraced by all consecrated virgins to live our vocation truthfully. I will argue that  the Bride of Christ is an image of the entire Church. The Holy Spirit would not be keen to change the charism of the Ordo Virginum or add sacred secularity to it, without at the same time  inspiring the same for diocesan hermits, priests  and even the religious. Unity is very important to the Holy Spirit.

The bride of Christ spiritual relationship through baptism is not the same as the mystical espousal of the consecrated virgin with Christ, of which her charism expects her to be an Image. The interpretation of Vatican Council II and the way some people in the church are trying to impose the charism of secular institutes on consecrated virgins, is a dictatorship according to my interpretation. It would be improper to insist that a married woman is obliged to focus on mission in the world at the cost of her relationship with her husband and children / family. The entire family of the Church [clergy, laity, consecrated persons]should be involved in transforming the world as leaven –not just consecrated virgins.

Much of what is attributed to religious life today actually belongs to the charism of consecrated virgins in the Early Church, and is paradoxically being denied to consecrated virgins themselves in today’s world. This is not in the interest of Truth, justice, human rights, and dignity of virgins  who have given their entire lives to Christ and the service of the Church. Imagine a married woman being told that she should keep her marriage hidden, her spouse cannot live with her, she should not call  herself Mrs, her service to her family is part-time, and her married vocation need not involve her whole self: body, mind, emotions, spirit, and social relationships. It is legitimate that a consecrated virgin should  express with dignity her relationship as bride of Christ.

If  it is justified that the Ordo Virginum should not live its own  charism, so as to give way for Religious life to dominate, by the same logic it would be appropriate for the diocesan clergy to lose their charisms to give way for Religious clergy.

The call to holiness is Universal and there is a fundamental  equality of dignity of all the baptized in the Church. Powerful institutions in the church need to have  individual and collective examination of conscience. We can suppress the Truth for a while but on the third day Truth will Rise again!

If a married woman tries to be dedicated to her spouse and family, it does not mean that she is ignoring or denigrating the world outside her family. It just means that  her family is her life. In today’s world of course there are women for whom their career in the world is more important. To work outside her family is a matter of need for survival or a choice. Every woman is free to choose according to her circumstances. To focus on ones family is not a middle way for her ! 


The Pressing Needs of the World Today: A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.
Certainly all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways. In particular the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is "properly and particularly" theirs. Such a manner is designated with the expression "secular character"(32).
The images taken from the gospel of salt, light and leaven, although indiscriminately applicable to all Jesus' disciples, are specifically applied to the lay faithful. [Post –synodal Apostolic Exhortation: Christifideles Laici ]


October 9, 2011

Spiritual Wealth in the Prayer of Consecration of Virgins

On 31st May 1970  the  Congregation for Divine Worship made the following decree:

The rite of consecration to a life of virginity is counted among the most precious treasures in the Roman liturgy…Jesus Christ left Holy Virginity as a legacy to His bride, one of his most precious gifts. From the time of the apostles, virgins have dedicated their chastity to God …..the Church from the earliest ages, as the Fathers attest, has kept the practice of putting its seal through a consecratory prayer upon the devout and exacting resolve of virgins.

For several centuries the rite of consecration of virgins was rarely used for individual women in the world. Some theologians studied and proposed that it be re-introduced and it was finally revised according to a decision of the Second Vatican Council [ Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.80 ] mandate of Pope Paul VI, promulgated on 31st May,1970. As found in the Roman Pontifical today – it contains a prayer of consecration which dates back to the Leonine Sacramentary   and is attributed to Pope Leo I  [4th Century]. Before the Council it  was considered a ‘constitutive sacramental’ and said to leave an ‘indelible mark’ on the consecrated.

In the rite of consecration of virgins, “the candidate offers to God through the bishop her determination to follow Christ in perfect chastity.” Then the solemn prayer of the bishop consecrates her. This is distinct from the rite of religious profession in which the profession of the evangelical counsels –all other canonical requirements being in place--consecrates the candidate to God (canon 654)……..the Consecration effected through the  Rite of consecration of virgins is permanent. For this reason some Bishops require a period of time with a private vow of chastity during the formation time, before accepting a candidate for the Consecration .[1]

This rite is influenced by the rites of ordination and has to be within the Eucharistic celebration. The  prayer of the consecration of virgins has two parts and seems to have an Anamnesis and Epiklesis formula.

temple of God
a] Anamnesis: it begins with saying that chaste bodies are the temple of God. Then it speaks about the Fall and Redemption of humankind  with particular reference to the account  in Genesis, about the vocation of marriage as well as the vocation to a life of virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.[2]   This prayer recalls the sin of the first couple and how they are redeemed. How  virgins  make  a sacrifice of marriage for the sake of the love of which it is the sign. 

To people who live under the influence of  sin – the witness of the lives of these virgins should become a sign to be internalized and to be imprinted on their hearts and change their life-scripts from  sin to liberation and redemption through the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

b] Epiklesis : The bishop invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit upon her. Grace is granted through the prayer of consecration which is a constitutive ‘sacramental’ and imprints a kind of character upon the soul. The virgin is constituted a sacred person in the Church. ‘She becomes  a strong, living center where the Holy Spirit wants to unfold His gifts.’[3] I would go further to say that in the consecration of the virgin, it is not just the virgin but the whole Church that is blessed.


Consecration has several  effects: belonging to God the Father, a spousal relationship with Christ thus  linking her  to the  Church of which she becomes an image, a deeper insertion into the inner life of the Trinity, and being  empowered  and thus obliged to serve the Church and Humanity.[4]

espousal with Christ

A consecrated virgin is spiritually and legally married  to Christ through the public rite which concentrates the specific grace in the person of the virgin and constitutes her a bride of Christ as an individual. Her bond with Christ is personal and therefore more than symbolic. She is constituted an eschatological image of the Church which she spiritually embodies in a mysterious way as suggested by this tradition [perhaps analogous to how the consecrated eucharistic bread  symbolizes the Christian community –the body of Christ]. The virgin’s body is constituted as sacred /set apart for Jesus Christ in His divinity and humanity as affirmed by the Fathers of the Church.

When the words are recited, they are internalized  by the  celebrant, the candidate, and the community who read or hear them. The Prayer of Consecration and the whole liturgical rite  contain the spirit or God’s Design [ Eph 1: 9,13 ; 5 : 31-32] in which  all the persons present  will be living with relation to this virgin’s  life in the Church and the world. Her commitment and determination of permanence will make the words  sink deeper  in the heart and soul  of the persons involved, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Every  sacramental commitment in the Church has three dimensions: God, the individual, and the community. The imprint of the Holy Trinity’s Design  which is like a 3-D seal, a stamp of approval – which also depends on how prepared the heart is to receive it, how free it is from other designs. Sacraments are not magical but do involve a sincere intention and response from the recipient. [5] The more she lives according to the Design, the more it sinks deep in her unconscious  and influences her actions and personality.

3-D    Trinitarian Seal

The ability to  live and express the image of love of God  depends also on the degree of cooperation of the diocesan bishop and the  community of the local church in which she lives her vocation. If the  ‘intention’ of the bishop or the community is lacking[6],  the stamp / seal of consecration  would only be a blurred mark  neither concentrated nor etched in her being as it would be uni-dimensional and not 3-dimensional.

The ‘sacramental’ character / Design would be made explicit in the life and actions of the virgin, to the degree and duration that she preserves the clarity and focus on this identity of hers. It might happen that she becomes complacent, allowing the seal to be covered and blurred with layers of other designs or with the marks of sin- then she may not be able to appropriate the specific grace of her vocation from the well-springs of the Holy Spirit, still present and active in the seal impressed upon her soul.

[1] Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life , 2003 ,Rome –in reply to queries.

[2] From here originates the nuptial spirituality of the consecrated virgin.

[3] Consecration of virgins, excerpts by Fr. Paschal Botz, O.S.B., November 11, 1954
[4] The ordinary minister of the consecration of virgins is the bishop of the diocese as he asks in the rite “Are you resolved to accept solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God ?” n.17 .-an idea which Canon 604 has taken up.

[5] What is primary in the rite for religious  is the ‘profession of vows’ rather than the ‘prayer of consecration or blessing.’
In the profession of religious, the woman  consecrates herself  through ‘constitutive vows’ according to the constitutions of the religious institute or congregation. The Design she would  internalize is that of the charism of the institute which is expressed in its constitutions.

[6] Often due to lack of information and understanding of this  both ancient and new vocation in the Church.