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April 1, 2015

ESSENCE and Accidentals of Consecrated Virginity

Every vocation to consecrated life has its own charism.  And every charism has something called Essence and  accidentals  according to the metaphysics of the philosopher Aristotle which was later adopted by St.Thomas Aquinas.

a gift of the Holy Spirit
given to an individual or group,
for the sake of the community and
is recognized by the Church. 

Charism of OCV:  The Official Catholic Church has clearly explained the charism of our vocation in several places:

1.  The Roman Pontifical that contains the Rite of consecration:

The custom of consecrating women to a life of virginity flourished even in the early Church. It led to the formation of a 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.

2.  Introduction to the homily in the Rite, n.16 as follows: 

The Bishop then gives a short Homily to the candidates and the people on the gift of virginity and its role in the sanctification of those called to virginity and the welfare of the whole Church.  

These words contain all the elements of the theological definition of a charism.  Hence we can say that the homily explains the Charism itself.
3.  In the Prayer of Consecration.

4.  In the New Code of Canon law, 1983 under Canon 604

Can. 604 §1. Similar to these forms of consecrated life is the order of virgins who, expressing the holy resolution of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are mystically betrothed to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.
§2. In order to observe their own resolution more faithfully and to perform by mutual assistance service to the Church in harmony with their proper state, virgins can be associated together.

Let us understand some of the philosophical and theological words in Point 1. more deeply:

Constituting the candidate a sacred person:  Here the term ‘constitute’ could generally mean to give a legal status or spiritual form to the person (sacredness, consecrated state).  It could also refer to the Rite being a ‘constitutive’ sacramental.  It is through the constitutive role of the Holy Spirit in the very words of the epiclesis of the prayer of consecration that the Rite is effective.  The Spirit immerses the person in the salvific paschal mystery of Christ and sanctifies her; so much so that she can now reflect the image of the Church and signify the hope of the Parousia (Presence of Christ with her).

The sacraments of Christian initiation (baptism, confirmation, eucharist) already make a person holy and take on the mission of the Church.   Through the consecration to a life of virginity, she receives an anointing with a new grace and new title and dignity as a bride of Christ.

Surpassing sign of the Church’s love for Christ:  Surpassing sign means a sign that points others ‘beyond time and space’ to the dimension of the Parousia when the marriage of the Church with Christ will be consummated or fulfilled.

The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only "with the eyes of faith" that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.770)

An eschatological image of the world to come:  Eschatology is a very deep and vast theological subject that has been subject to variety of interpretations and misinterpretations in history.  In the context of this vocation the term refers to the ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’ of the Church’s hope for a new creation; waiting for and waiting on Christ.

It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek.  (SC, 2)

Jesus Christ has already inaugurated the Reign of God in history.  The eschaton has already begun with the coming of Christ, the wedding of divine and human nature through the incarnation and the paschal event.  This is manifest through the charism of consecrated virginity.

O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven's beauty has adorned her.  (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cant. Sermo 27:14: PL 183:920D)

The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men. (Catechism, n.780) 

The Church living in this world as a pilgrim is the sacrament of salvation.  She is not of this world.  So also the consecrated virgin.  

In the contemporary world there are some theologians who are promoting the idea of ‘Sacred Secularity.’  This can be greatly misinterpreted.  The world /cosmos (at the  macro, meso, and micro levels) reminds us of our Creator God, making it imperative for us to respect all His creation in which the human person has a unique place.  As mentioned in another post, consecrated virginity is a reminder of the preciousness and Gift of the virginity of nature and the environment, as it was in the beginning of God’s creation which should have been consecrated to God.   

In some eastern religions the world is seen as sacred because it is seen as the body of God.  This began from the human quest for Truth but in some schools it turned to pantheism.  While in Christianity we accept general revelation of God, we stress on historical and Divine revelation based on God’s love and initiative for humanity, through the incarnation.  In the Eastern Churches there is emphasis on the sacredness of the world (creation).  There is also another sense in which the word ‘world’ is understood by many. E.g.
Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. John, is explicit about Jesus’ own teaching:

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.  (Jn 17:15-19; NRSV)

Consecrated virgins are not consecrated (set apart) and constituted as sacred persons, to manifest 'sacredness' of today’s corrupted 'world' or to a life of sacred secularity.  Our charism instead calls us to manifest the sacramentality of the Church, “a virgin to keep the faith whole and entire, a bride to be one with Him forever, and a mother to raise up the family of the Church.” (Homily in the Rite).  This entails being careful of 'worldliness,' giving too much importance to things that will pass away.  The Kingdom we hope for is not one that belongs to the temporal-political-cultural areas of life.  Our lives should point to the eschatological, everlasting union with God and communion of the entire human race, ‘beyond’ the Space-Time continuum, already begun in our lives.

It is true that our hope for the Kingdom / Reign of God, is not a passive waiting for Christ’s second coming, but an active waiting on Him present in our suffering brethren through service of evangelisation in the Church and world.  We are called to give to the world ‘the spirit of Christ.’  We have not been called to proclaim the 'spirit of the Secular.' It is the Laity and members of Secular institutes who are specially called to consecrate the temporal-political-cultural world to God, being salt and  leaven in society.  It is a different calling altogether.

Consecrated virginity is an ancient charism that emerged during the time of persecution in the Church.  The virgin-martyrs / witnesses were an eschatological image of the heavenly bride and the life to come when the Church would at last fully live her love for Christ her Bridegroom.  The vision of a heavenly city on cloud nine although influenced by prevalent cosmology and philosophy, was a source of hope and courage to the martyrs.  It was under such circumstances that the book of Revelations was written for a persecuted Church.  

The age of Constantine in the 4th century dampened zeal and diminished the eschatological tension in the Church by creating a spiritual worldliness.  Now once again the Church is facing persecution and martyrdom everywhere.  The beauty of the charism of consecrated virginity is a gift of the Holy Spirit to and for the Church, to help persecuted Christians to look at the reality ‘beyond’ the suffering in this world and renew hope for the Parousia.


What is described above about the vocation is Essential to our charism.  Other aspects such as wearing a habit or secular dress, living alone or in community, active or contemplative life, living in the world or in a monastery are accidental to the charism.  (For better understanding one could read Aristotle’s categories and how his metaphysics was adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas).

The distinction between essentials and accidentals can be made in many ways.  The Essential is a property a charism MUST have (virginity, spousal relationship with Christ, spiritual motherhood expressed in evangelisation, and service of the Church are necessary and non-negotiable).  

Living in the world is an accidental situation of consecrated virgins who do not live in a monastery because it is possible for a consecrated virgin to not live in the world and still be a 100 per cent consecrated virgin.  Hence we do find this consecration in some monasteries.

Wearing secular clothes is accidental to the life-style of diocesan consecrated virgins because it is possible for diocesan consecrated virgins to wear clothing that signify their consecrated status.  The Vatican has clearly stated that it depends on local circumstances, decided in consultation with the diocesan bishop.  

This logic can be applied to several other aspects of the vocation.  I am not advocating that consecrated virgins should despise the world, renounce the world, or that all consecrated virgins should wear habits, etc.  I’m only showing the distinction between the Essence and accidentals of the charism !

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