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March 10, 2014

Lent and Easter Reflection for Consecrated Virgins

 This is a deep insight on the vocation I received from a Reader by email. My response follows.
I've been reading your blog and I appreciate the candor with which you discuss the issues involved in consecrated virginity. Whenever I read about the lives of people such as St. Maria Goretti, St. Catherine of Siena, and the early virgin-martyrs, I'm always struck with admiration and my faith is increased. Particularly in the case of the early virgin-martyrs, I always meditate on the courage it took for them to defy the Roman Empire in their love for Christ. Personally speaking, I find that a lot of the lives of early Christian women can be better understood by looking at what the actual status of women was under the Roman Empire -- basically sexual, reproductive slaves. The Roman woman, however wealthy or prestigious her ancestry, was basically a slave of Ceasar and destined to the production of more Roman warriors. Men owned her, and she could be forced into any type of situation. She could be forced to marry, forced into concubinage, forced to bear children for her captors and rapists, and if married, her family could force her to leave her husband and basically sell her to somebody with more money and/or power. Into this mess came our precious Lord Jesus Christ, who set women free. He affirmed our equality with men in the sight of God and our rights to dispose of our own persons, property, etc. The Christian woman has no master except Our Lord Jesus Christ. No mortal man can claim a right to touch us. The Christian woman is inherently sui juris, free to choose to marry or remain a virgin, free to choose her own husband if she chooses to marry, and if her husband dies free to choose a life of celibacy or to remarry. The virgin-martyrs stood firm on these principles by the grace of God and were enabled by Christ's grace to face the furious onslaught of what was then the most powerful military state on earth. The Roman state considered them to be enemies of the state, and while it treated any Christians it could lay hands on as public enemy #1, it seemed to reserve a special venom for the consecrated virgins.
Unfortunately, our modern world is in many ways not much better. In every country on earth we see violent assaults on women, and these same basic human rights which our Lord won for us on the Cross, are disregarded everywhere. I don't think there is any country on earth that is free of misogyny. So the visible return of the consecrated virgin to the Christian community since Vatican II strikes me as very timely and apropos. At the same time, I feel it's important to remember, that a woman preserves her physical virginity not by her own strength, but by the grace of God. Any woman enabled to remain a virgin to the age of full womanhood, has been protected by Christ's grace. This is a supernatural vocation, and the protection must come from the Lord. Just like a Catholic priest, military chaplain, e.g. cannot walk across a battlefield unarmed to bring the Holy Eucharist to the combatants without God's protection, so no woman can walk through the perverted violent world in which we live as a virgin without God's protection. So I feel it's important to remember that this vocation is all grace, it's all from Christ's mercy and protection. And I feel this should inspire a great feeling of compassion and sisterhood, especially vis-a-vis those women who may have been victims of gender-based violence or who may have sinned against chastity before they fully understood what stakes were involved and who now are pouring spices on the Lord's feet and crying tears of repentence. 
People might find it interesting to look at the works of Bl. Jean-Joseph Lataste, O.P. (1832 - 1869), a French Dominican priest who was gifted by the Lord with great insights into these questions.
My Response

Your insights are deep and well-meditated upon. I agree with you that the movement of CV in the early Church was very counter-cultural. It called for a radical change in the status of women in the society of that time.This could have been possible only due to a profound experience of the Paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nobody can embrace martyrdom for ones faith and convictions, without ones heart and soul being involved in it. The spiritual marriage of CV with Christ gave this courage.

CV is very much linked with the purity of the  first Faith-experience of the disciples of the Crucified and Risen Christ [the Kerygma ] leading to Baptism,Confirmation,Eucharist.

Physical virginity is also a dying to the natural human desires, to transcend the 'this-worldly' dimension, to be espoused with Christ  [ image of the 'life to come' when the entire Church will be united with Christ her bridegroom ], be able to embrace the entire world in a different form of motherhood and service.
[ Ref : "Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come, when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom." -- Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata of the Holy Father John Paul II (n.7) ]

Consecrated Virginity  is a symbol of the Universal unity, wholeness and entirety of the Faith [and of the One Bride -the Church]. It is exactly what  the Virgin Mary was called to witness in the Church community. She was a principle of unity in the early Church. Even today she embraces all Peoples of the world under her mantle. Perhaps this is what the Veiling of virgins [ as the Consecration was called in ancient days ] could also symbolize today.......not a symbol of subjugation of women but  of tender , loving , care  of a mother. In the Post-Vatican II revised Rite of consecration, the reception of the Veil is accompanied by words of the bishop stating that it indicates her dedication to service.

Regarding Mary Magdalene, there have always been different schools of thought on whether she can be identified with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or the sinner woman. I myself do not identify her with the sinner woman. In today's world and Church -there is enough happening to discredit women. Jealousies and power struggles were common among the disciples of Christ. So I wouldn't be surprised of rumors after her death, to identify her with the sinner woman, not only to discredit her but to suppress women disciples in general.

I agree with you that Conversion from sin to redemption in Christ  is a Powerful witness of what Jesus' love can do to a person . This is also a Charism. We cannot differentiate between  these Gifts. To be able to remain a virgin physically in today's world,is a Gift of Grace. To be able to be converted from sin to Chastity is also a Gift of Grace.  The witness of both vocations [ of the Virgin Mary and of the Sinner Woman ] is needed. CV is not focused on protecting ones physical integrity. It is focused on Loving Christ as His bride, and loving the Church and People of the entire World, as a spiritual mother.

February 7, 2014

Real-Life Scenarios experienced by Consecrated virgins

Scenario 1:

The local church has  a practice of renewal of vows / commitment  by the extra-ordinary ministers of the Eucharist at a special Mass every year. During one such Mass, the lay ministers are asked to occupy reserved seats in the parish church to increase visibility. There are two religious institutes in the parish ... so the religious Sisters are also asked to  occupy reserved seats for the same reason [although they would not renew any commitment since EM is supposed to be part of their calling ]. The entire parish congregation prays for them.


Where do you think  a CV should sit .....among the parish congregation, or the lay ministers or among the religious sisters ?

[ This is a real life situation ]

I guess such a situation as described above -is uncommon in the West due to declining numbers of religious. The local circumstances differ from one diocese to another and that's the reason the Church has clearly defined the essentials of the charism and allowed pastoral flexibility regarding externals according to local circumstances.

This is how I would like to respond to Scenario 1

1. Supposing that the CV was consecrated by the bishop in the same parish church a few months ago, the parishioners are aware from the Rite of consecration that she is now living some kind of  new vocation ....that she is a bride of Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church. The Rite clearly mentioned that. The Rite was the ONLY SOURCE for the lay people to get any idea what CV is about.

2. Since CV is a rare vocation, the Church uses the older terminology to define categories -----clergy, religious, laity.
According to Early Church history, CV were a Socio-liturgical category in the Church. They had reserved seats in the church to avoid distraction and help to focus on prayer.  If the consecration of virgins had not been restricted to nuns in monasteries, over the centuries, the tradition would definitely have continued in parishes today, with religious sisters also accompanying consecrated virgins.  So it is clear that the CV should not sit among the parish congregation in this particular Scenario.

3. Since she is a CV and dedicated to serve the Church with motherly love, she is also an EM. She does not have to annually renew any commitment to serve the Lay ministers have to do. Also, she is no more a Lay person. So it is clear that she should not sit among the Lay Ministers in this particular Scenario.

The CV has only two options --either to be absent from the ceremony ----or occupy the pews reserved for religious (all consecrated women are called 'religious' in several countries) who will not renew any commitment ...but will still be prayed over by the parishioners.

Questions to consider:
1. What would best express the identity and vocation of the CV ?
2. What will avoid causing misunderstanding about the Nature [ essence ] of the vocation of CV?

I think if she occupies the pews reserved for religious (consecrated persons according to the mind of the Church, she is giving public witness to her consecrated status and dedication to the service of the Church. If she does not sit among them, she will cause confusion and misunderstanding about the Nature [ essence ] of the vocation of CV to be virgin, bride, and mother.

What does Church tradition say about the witness of CV in the world ?
a. there were CV in early Church whose consecrated status was known only to the Christian community, but they observed discretion among the pagans.
b. there were CV who gave clearly visible public witness to their vocation in the early Church, even embracing martyrdom for doing so among the pagans.

To me it seems the CV in today's world is allowed to live her vocation in discretion in the secular world. But in the church community her vocation needs to be clearly, visibly public. This does not mean that every CV should wear a habit or identifying clothing, or use a title Sister. How she will give public witness, will depend on local circumstances and decided in consultation with the Diocesan bishop.

A CV in today's world is called to publicly give witness to her identity and vocation as virgin, bride, mother. However, she is NOT called to publicly give stress on  her  living or working in the world, to transform the world as a member of a Secular Institute  is called to do.

Her vocation as virgin, bride, and mother is explicit .... she is called to give public witness to this identity.  To do so is the very essence of her vocation and charism.

Her 'living in the world' is in the sense that she does not live in a monastery or convent.....she is not called to explicitly stress or focus her attention on the world in which she lives... in the sense of focusing on transforming the political economic, temporal aspects. It is not a 'necessary' aspect of her vocation.....but as a citizen with civil rights and duties she has to respond to her existential situation in the world as an evangeliser. There cannot be universal rules imposed on CV to be obligated to do so like a member of a Secular Institute would be obligated to do so.

In the Scenario described above, the CV can give publicly visible witness to her vocation simply by occupying the pews reserved for religious (consecrated persons in the mind of the Church).

She also gives public witness to the fact that she is a consecrated person but not a religious, by sitting among them but NOT wearing a habit.

Should Ex-Religious receive the Consecration of Virgins

While both OCV [ Ordo Consecrationis Virginis ] and OPR [Ordo Professionis Religiosae ] have a profession and a prayer of blessing or consecration,

[1] In the OCV what is specific is the charismatic dimension  in the Prayer of Consecration [ ancient Church theology gives greater weight to the element of Consecration rather than the element of Blessing in the solemn prayer said by the bishop ].

She is consecrated mainly by the Church .

[2] In the OPR what is specific is the ascetic dimension in the Profession of vows [ the post Vatican II rite gives greater weight to the element of Blessing rather than on the element of Consecration in the prayer that can be said by a simple priest ].

The consecration happens mainly when he / she professes vows according to the constitution of the Institute.

Some theologians argue that in both OCV and OPR the consecration happens due to the Prayer of consecration/ blessing. [ref. Stillsong hermitage blogsite]

Argument : If this is true, then ex-religious do not need to receive the consecration of virgins because the grace of consecration they had 'supposedly received' during the ceremony of their religious profession [ Post Vatican II rite] would remain in spite of the dispensation from their vows.

So for an Ex-religious who already has the grace she needs to continue living  the evangelical counsels of religious life as an individual, it would be sufficient to renew her vows privately. Or maybe the Church can allow the public profession of vows for Ex-religious by creating another Rite without the Prayer of Blessing or Consecration.

January 6, 2014

The Holy Spirit in the Consecration of Virgins

In the Catholic Church there are two kinds of blessings for consecrated life: Constitutive and Invocative .     [Read  This  and  This]

1] In the Consecration of  virgins- according to the intention of the Church, once the virgin has made her propositum or resolution, it is by the very words of the Prayer of consecration prayed by the bishop, that the virgin’s body is constituted as sacred [for God] and set apart for the Service of the Church. 

This is according to the theology of liturgy in the early Church.

2] Religious men and women are consecrated by the act of ‘professing’ vows at the hands of the legitimate religious superior with all other canonical requirements like formation, etc., being in place. The prayer of blessing or consecration in a religious profession which can be prayed by a priest- is intended by the Church to be an  Invocative blessing. 

This is according to the theology of St Thomas Aquinas around the 13th century.

The Epiklesis of the prayer  in the rite of Profession of religious mentions:
Send the fire of your Holy Spirit into the heart of this, your daughter, to keep alive within her the holy desire He has given her……………….

 The Epiklesis of the prayer  in the rite of Consecration of virgins  mentions  the Gift of the Holy Spirit [as in the sacrament of Confirmation ]

 Through the gift of your Spirit, Lord,
  give them modesty with right judgment,
 kindness with true wisdom,
  gentleness with strength of character,  
freedom with the grace of chastity.
 Give them the warmth of love,
 to love you above all others.
  Make their lives deserve our praise,
 without seeking to be praised.
 May they give you glory  by holiness of action and purity of heart.
  May they love you and fear you;
 may they love you and serve you.  

I  liked the explanation given  in this link regarding the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit :

 St. Thomas Aquinas says that four of these gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel) direct the intellect, while the other three gifts (fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) direct the will toward God.

In some respects, the gifts are similar to the virtues, but a key distinction is that the virtues operate under the impetus of human reason (prompted by grace), whereas the gifts operate under the impetus of the Holy Spirit; the former can be used when one wishes, but the latter operate only when the Holy Spirit wishes. In the case of Fortitude, the gift has, in Latin and English, the same name as a virtue, which it is related to but from which it must be distinguished.

In Summa Theologica II.II, Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Capital Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:[11]

        The gift of wisdom corresponds to the virtue of charity.
        The gifts of understanding and knowledge correspond to the virtue of faith.
        The gift of counsel (right judgment) corresponds to the virtue of prudence.
        The gift of fortitude corresponds to the virtue of courage.
        The gift of fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of hope.
        The gift of Reverence corresponds to the virtue of justice.

To the virtue of temperance, no Gift is directly assigned; but the gift of fear can be taken as such, since fear drives somebody to restrict himself from forbidden pleasures.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church :

1302 It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
1303 From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

- it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, "Abba! Father!";117 [According to Canon law 604 --this is parallel to the consecration of the virgin to God ]
- it unites us more firmly to Christ; [ this is parallel to the mystical espousal of the virgin to Jesus Christ ].
- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; [this is parallel to the dedication of the virgin to the service of the Church ].
- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;118
- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:119

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.120


The parallels between the Sacraments of initiation, especially the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Consecration of virgins which is a Constitutive Sacramental, indicate that the vocation is  rooted in the sacraments of Initiation and deepens Sacramental grace. Thus the consecrated virgin becomes an eschatological  image of the Church’s Love for Christ, inspiring and animating the vocation to holiness, of every baptized person in the Church.