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October 25, 2012

Pastoral Dialogue of Consecrated virgins with the Diocesan Bishop


Since Early Christianity, there has been the practice of  Dialogue between  the Bishop  of a  Local Church  with  virgins/ girls  who  loved  Jesus Christ  and  were willing to lay down their lives to Follow Him. Some of these virgins were related to these bishops as their  Sisters, relatives, or spiritually adopted  as Daughters  so that their biological  parents could not force them into human marriage against their will. 

The Introduction to the Rite of Consecration to a life of Virginity says :

2 On a day scheduled close to the day of the rite of consecration, or at least on the day before the consecration, the candidates are presented to the Bishop, so that the father of the diocese may begin a pastoral dialogue with his spiritual daughters. 

 I  think this is somewhat like   the Rite of Election  in the Rite for Christian Initiation  of Adults [RCIA].  Just as a catechumen is enrolled in the book of the Elect and from that moment has a spiritual relationship with the godparents, in a  similar  way, when a  virgin is chosen  [elected]  by the Bishop for  Consecration,  there is a spiritual  relationship between them  as Father –Daughter, Brother-Sister, Son-Mother  as appropriate to their age, culture, local context, etc. We can see this in the history of Christianity through the writings of the numerous Fathers of the Church  who wrote to their  Spiritual daughters, Sisters, or even to women  known as the Mothers of the Church.

Women  during Jesus’ lifetime  followed  Him  even to the foot of the Cross.  Women  I could say  are the  First witnesses  of the  Complete Paschal Mystery of  Christ who  became  God Incarnate,  served the  world  and in service He suffered, died, and  rose again. 

Women have  been gifted by God, privileged  to Experience  Jesus Christ   in a manner  different from the experience of  Men disciples.  In Early Christian times,  men and women were  not seen as equals.  Virginity or  Celibacy for the sake of the KINGDOM  was  seen  as a way for women to  become equal to men. 

26 Now, in Christ Jesus, all of you are sons and daughters of God through faith.
27 All of you who were given to Christ through baptism, have put on Christ.
28 Here there is no longer any difference between Jew or Greek, or between slave or freed, or between man and woman: but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
[Galatians 3]

Hence the significance of  Virginity.

In today’s world  women  in most parts of the world and in the Church  - do not live  in the early Church patriarchal  times or mentality.  It  does not seem  advisable to recover such a mentality. Women have equality of dignity in God’s eyes.  And yet in most cultures  e.g. in Asia,   there is tradition of respect for elders. To respect ones father/ brother - is not seen as a dependence on men or limit to  freedom to live  with dignity as women.  The Family spirit is  the need of the hour in the Church. So the relationship between a consecrated virgin and [the ministry of ] bishop  focuses  more on the informal  Family relationship, irrespective of  whether it is  given the name of  father-daughter, brother-sister,  son-mother. 


In a  previous post  click here to read  I have written  how the  Spiritual relationship  between a  Consecrated virgin and the  Diocesan Bishop  can be  misinterpreted  by both.  How should  a consecrated virgin or bishop   prevent this ? The answer is in the Rite itself which clearly mentions this relationship  as that between a Spiritual Father and Daughter. It is similar to the relationship between  a  baptized  person with  godparents.

During the  rite of consecration, after the Calling of the Candidates, the Bishop says, 

Come, listen to me, my children;
I will teach you fear of  the Lord.”

What is this Fear of the Lord ?   Let me share a personal experience. Since Jesus came in my life, He became my Spouse and my Everything.  As years passed, this spiritual relationship has become more and more intimate and deep. The feelings  have become less and less but the Love has increased more and more.   The more I have deepened in a Spousal relationship with Jesus which involves my entire being,  the less I’ve been able to banal-ize  or humanize or secularize it.   I cannot take the name of this relationship in vain. It is incomprehensible to me how some consecrated / religious women  bluntly say that  the clergy spiritually represent Christ  the Bridegroom to them. How can a married woman  claim to see her husband in his  friends and colleagues ?


During the rite of consecration, the virgin  is   advised to  pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  She does this in the name of the Church  of whom she is called to be an image as a Virgin, Bride of Christ and Mother.   She prays to God by being a Voice of the Church, by expressing the  Praise, the Pain, the struggles  of  the People of God.

If we look at the Rite of consecration to a life of virginity,  the different parts  are a concentration of the events in the  broader picture of her life in Christ.  

   Jesus Christ  is Hers, only Hers, and yet of Everyone through mysterious love. 

By remaining in the world instead of  joining a convent  or monastery,  she  should ideally keep  in contact with the  different categories of the  members of the Church, especially the poor, the out-caste, the marginalized, the voiceless.  When  she  meets the Bishop for a Pastoral Dialogue, although  the Bishop is responsible for the Pastoral care of consecrated virgins in his diocese,  it is also true that  the consecrated virgin dedicated to the service of the  Church  is also a  Pastor. So the dialogue is between two  pastors who  labour in  God’s vineyard.  In most dioceses, the diocesan bishop  is not  very familiar with  the lives of the  people. The consecrated virgin  needs to fulfil  her obligation to love  the Church as a mother, by  voicing   their joys, pains, struggles, needs, etc., and  even offer suggestions for the pastoral care  of the people.  It is her charism to remind the bishop that   the Church is a pilgrim on the journey to the Kingdom of God  where all will be united with God and with each other.  This  dialogue acts as a corrective to the  Institutional mentality prevalent in most dioceses around the world.

Through her prayers and active services,  the consecrated virgin  is also called to be a channel of God’s  grace to the entire Church. In some dioceses  the Pastoral dialogue is delegated to  a Vicar for  consecrated life or another Bishop. But ideally  the Diocesan Bishop should meet the consecrated virgins at least once if not twice a year.   In some dioceses  bishops are able to offer mentorship or  spiritual guidance to the consecrated virgins. There is variation in practice and can be left to the local context, culture,  inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

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