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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.

1 comment:

  1. This is a message of Pope Benedict XVI on Zenit which I found relevant for the topic of this post.


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