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May 26, 2012

OCV – Archetype of Sacrament of matrimony

Since a year I’ve been struggling to rediscover the Identity and Mission of the Order of Virgins in the Catholic Church. All over the world, in different countries and cultures, the vocation to consecrated virginity [ Canon 604] is understood and lived in a variety of ways. However, as I’ve written in a previous post  Here ----this Rite of Consecration is  perhaps being misused for reasons which have no strict relation to its distinct Charism. 

It is true that Charisms are a gift  for the Christian community. But what role does an ancient charism have in today’s world ? Did the Second Vatican Council do the right thing by reviving  the rite ? Has the original charism associated with this vocation also been revived  according to the intention of its  founder who  is Jesus Christ Himself ? Can  OCV become outdated and irrelevant ? These are some questions I’ve been asking  through the previous posts.  [Readers please note that the ideas  expressed in the posts are my own  and based on prayer and searching for the truth. We need to  reflect on them with discernment  and possibly with  sharing  of opinions, healthy debate if necessary. This will help to refine the ideas  and conform them to God’s will in the ongoing  search].

Today I wish to share my reflections on OCV  from the perspective of it being the Archetype of the Sacrament of Matrimony.  In Early Christianity, there was no specific Rite of Sacramental marriage. The local customs were followed. As mentioned in the  writings of St Paul , virginity for the sake of the Kingdom had a strongly  eschatological dimension  and considered a somewhat better choice compared to marriage. The passage of time proved  that the  Second Coming of Christ  did not happen as expected. The Church is  aware of the Presence of Christ  in the  community of the baptised  [ the middle coming]. Yet the Final coming of Christ  is a  mystery. We do not know the dates and time set by the Father in Heaven. We pray for His Kingdom to come  here on Earth   through His Will being done. We are supposed to be pilgrims  on the road less travelled.
Read : History of marriage

Why is it said  that consecrated virgins  are an eschatological image of the heavenly bride and the life to come when the Church will at last be fully united with Christ her bridegroom ?   Doesn’t it sound like mythologizing  the relationship of Christians with Christ ? What is the purpose of such Imagery?  Sometimes I feel really disillusioned, especially in the context  of  the sexual abuse of consecrated/ religious women by clergy  in some parts of the world, the imagery of  consecrated virgin as bride of Christ  is often to be blamed. We need to read the signs of the times, maybe be willing to demythologize  the charism of OCV  while retaining  its truth, while also avoiding the abuse of the rite as a mere ceremony  by women in other vocations  to consecrated living.

This painful search  has often made me go back to the origin of  this charism  - to  the wound on the Sacred Heart of its founder Jesus Christ  on the Cross  where the  Church was born as His bride. It is an ancient tradition of belief. The  Charism  of  consecrated virginity  from this perspective  is the Identity and Charism of the Universal Church herself. It  may be  linked with Tradition with the big ‘T’.  It is not  Religious Life  which is based on  the traditions with a small ‘t’  of the various  founders  with their unique charisms.

As St. Cyprian Bishop of Carthage (Africa), martyr of the 2 nd century stated: "There is no pot of gold or silver as precious as a virginal body. A bride of Christ, is that ancient alliance, all gilded inside and out, in which rests the divine law. "         

What is the relevance of the saying  of the Fathers of the Church about the vocation – for today’s world ? I have struggled with this question. Consecrated virginity embodies the essence of the whole Church . Yet it seems to me that  the ancient Rite of Consecration of virgins  is actually an archetype of the Sacrament of Matrimony. The charisms of the two vocations  overlap each other, enrich each other. This can also be seen in the ‘Prayer of consecration’  in the Rite for virgins.

The Catechism of the catholic church states :
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."  Read Catechism

Ideally it is consecrated virginity that should enrich the vocation of sacramental marriage  since the former  is the marriage of Jesus Christ with His body the Church. But due to lack of understanding of the vocation in today’s world, there is much that   consecrated virgins  can learn from the theology of the sacrament of matrimony.

There  have been various  forms  / rites for the celebration of marriage in the Church since 2000 yrs. According to theology of marriage in the Latin Rite church, the spouses  are the ministers of the sacrament [ grace ] to each other. The proper  intention / consent  is very important for the validity of the marriage. In the  Eastern Rite churches, marriage is not valid without  the nuptial blessing by a  priest. 

 The Church has  no formal definition in this regard for the Rite of consecration to a life of virginity which is actually a marriage with Christ. There are various theologies  about this Rite. However Tradition has been constant  irrespective  of the various cultures  in which this Rite has been celebrated, regarding the importance of the  Propositum  / the ‘Prayer of Consecration’ /  a special  Blessing  at the end of the Eucharist. 

According to the theology of the Sacrament of marriage  in the Latin rite catholic Church, what is important  is the exchange of consent  by the  couple  since they  are the ministers  of the sacramental grace  to each other.  Defect in consent  [ explicit or implicit ]   can create doubts about the validity of the marriage.  However  in the  Rite of consecration of virgins, although it is also a Rite of marriage  between Christ and the  virgin,  it is not a 'sacrament'  of the love between Christ and the Church, but it is a 'Fact.'  The virgin cannot be a minister of  sacramental grace to Christ.  Hence although the Propositum  or Renewal of Intention  is important, it is not the central element of the Rite.  What is truly important is the Prayer of Consecration by a Bishop  who  is aware that this is the central element of the rite  and has the intention to consecrate according to the mind of the Church. 

In the vocation of  marriage, the spouses  co operate with God  for the procreation of children. Similarly in the  consecration of a virgin, the Bishop  plays the role of God the Father  and blesses and consecrates the union between Christ and the virgin  who symbolizes the Church, so that she can be fruitful in service of the Church community.

For any virgin preparing for Consecration  it is important for  her, the bishop and the community present – to understand  what is happening.

  • Some  understand  the Rite  as similar to the profession of Religious . They take private vows to embrace the evangelical counsels  for  some time before   the public ceremony  in which their private vows [ resolution / intention they have formed in their hearts ]  are consecrated by the bishop  through the ministry of the Church.
  • Some  understand the Rite  according to the theology of the Annunciation. The words in the Prayer of Consecration – which is a constitutive sacramental -   bring about an ontological  change in the person of the virgin  perhaps similar to transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ  in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Whatever the approach to the understanding of the Rite, to benefit from its empowerment and grace, it is indeed important  for  each one to  be aware of  their roles  and have the correct intentions  according to the mind of the Church, throughout the rite.  Otherwise,  there can be doubts regarding the validity of the consecrations of  many  CVs around the world  since this vocation is little understood  almost everywhere !

More reflections on this vocation as an archetype of the Sacrament of marriage - in some other posts.

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