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Why Physical Virginity is Essential for the Vocation of Consecrated Virgins (Edited - Jan 2016)

Sometimes I come across women interested  in receiving the consecration to a life of virginity, according to canon #604, who are disappointed to know that physical virginity is a requirement for this particular vocation. The common question asked is: why can’t a woman who has previously sinned but has  regained  her virginity spiritually  through repentance  also receive the consecration ?

Consecrated virginity not only has its inspiration from Christ the Virgin, but also from His mother Mary. Contemporary theologians and several Protestants, state the possibility that Mary was a virgin physically only until Jesus was born, and He might have had siblings.  The Church has several Marian dogmas which  according to some are not historical realities, but beliefs which enrich our faith and understanding of the Christian vocation, since Mary was the first disciple of Christ. They say that one can  live a fully Christian life and be saved even without believing that Mary was a virgin physically.

Similarly,  it  is commonly believed that  a woman who has regained her virginity spiritually, through repentance after an instance or life of sin, may be a better image of the Church  today.  Christ opened His arms especially for sinners to be converted into His disciples. So a repentant sinner can also be a bride of Christ.  Of course, these persons may be called to  other forms of consecrated life like religious or secular institutes.  They may also take private vows, either individually or through  lay associations, etc.


THE SPOUSAL BOND IN CONSECRATED LIFE CAN BE REAL, SYMBOLIC, OR REAL and SYMBOLIC. IT CAN BE SPIRITUAL OR INVOLVE THE TOTALITY OF THE PERSON, INCLUDING THE PHYSICAL DIMENSION. (I am using the word "symbolic" more in the sense of a sign that points to something, and "real and symbolic" in the sense of fully embodying what is signified.)

Every Christian, whether male or female, is a bride of Christ, through the concrete but  spiritual bond of baptism. So also persons in religious life, whether men or women, individually or as  community, are bride of Christ through a spiritual bond of baptism (according to the Ordo Professionis Religiosae, final profession is a renewal of the baptismal grace). They consecrate themselves through the profession of vows. This does not enhance their baptismal spousal bond  with Christ. What it does  enhance is the signification of the Church’s  bridal relationship with Christ. Religious profession is unlike  the consecration of  eucharistic bread.  In a particular religious community, the various "members consecrate themselves"  at different moments in time, and are in different stages of their profession of vows as individuals. Religious profession  as a consecration of the whole person, signifies the spousal relationship, and involves a full gift of themselves as a sacrifice offered to God, but  it is  not  a marriage covenant.


"In response to God's call many Christians dedicate themselves to his service and to the welfare of humanity through the sacred bonds of religious life and seek to follow Christ more closely through the evangelical counsels. This leads to the "grace of baptism" achieving richer results in them."(From the Ritual of Religious Profession)

There are two versions of the Rite of Religious Profession for women. One uses spousal imagery while the other does not. Spousal imagery is "optional"  for religious. The consecration of religious mainly through the profession of vows, is true, but it is not a marriage covenant in the strict sense.


“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. In the rite of consecration the Church reveals its love of virginity, begs God’s grace on those who are consecrated, and prays with fervor for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” (From the Roman Pontifical)


"The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, through Baptism has already made you temples of God’s glory and children of the Father. Today through our ministry he anoints you with a new grace and consecrates you to God by a new title. He gives each one of you the dignity of being a bride of Christ and binds you to the Son of God in a covenant to last forever."

By nature, marriage  is a covenant between one man and one woman, involving the totality of their beings, which when they become one flesh, results in an indissoluble bond. This is the teaching of the Church, derived from the intention of  Jesus Christ Himself, as confirmed through Scripture (Mt 19). Thus a  Real spousal bond or "marriage" which involves the totality of an individual including the physicality, even in consecrated life, can only be between one man and one woman.

Religious men or women may symbolize the Bride of Christ mainly as a community (which itself is a symbol of the Church community who is the Bride of Christ). The spousal bond is spiritual and communal. I think an individual religious man or woman is a bride of Christ to the same degree as any baptized lay person, although the symbolic element is greater in the religious woman. He or she may "privately" develop this relationship with Christ, as several religious do so.  That’s why some religious women in monasteries  receive the consecration of virgins several years after final profession.


On the other hand, consecrated virginity is only for  a woman who is mystically and legally married  to Christ through a public rite celebrated by the Bishop, 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 exclusively for Jesus Christ in His divinity and humanity as affirmed by the Fathers of the Church. It is a marriage covenant between Christ and the virgin and is essentially indissoluble and ordered to the spiritual growth of the Church  in Christ’s salvific  paschal mystery.

Virginity has several dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social. As in the vocation of marriage, the  spousal relationship of a consecrated virgin with Christ   involves the totality of her being which does not exclude her physicality. She receives the grace of unity between her virginal body and the Risen Body of Christ. Her physical virginity  is a prophetic and counter-cultural sign in today’s world. It bears witness  to the love of Christ, which can fulfill her even in this life, as is expected  at the eschaton or parousia,  when the entire Church at last will fully live her love for her Bridegroom.

CAUTION: When I write about eucharistic union or physical connection between the Risen Christ and the consecrated virgin, it does not imply "sexual" union or sensual pleasure, which is excluded by the very fact that this is a vocation to "virginity" as in the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

For a consecrated virgin , the consecration of her virginal body is a Gift of God.  A repentant sinner, who has regained  virginity spiritually, cannot  offer to Christ what she has physically lost. If a spiritual virgin could receive this special consecration, it would perhaps  be a sign that  repentance and conversion can be delayed, that one can taste every passing  pleasure in life, knowing that finally one will still be received by Christ. Every sin against virginity involves another human person and leaves an impression on social relationships. Suppose a  woman  satisfied her lust with a man or if she raped  him, she may repent and  regain spiritual virginity (the sin can be forgiven and washed away) but the consequences would remain. The counter-witness due to sin would perhaps reduce the fruitfulness of the Church’s mission and  alienate  the victim from  Christ and the Church. Such a reformed sinner would  never be able to signify the Church’s virginity  of faith lived on God’s commandments  in the area of sexuality. But she would be able to signify that conversion through grace is possible. Even this witness is needed today, but in other possible vocations.

The difference between a woman who is a virgin physically, and another woman who has regained virginity spiritually,  does not  indicate superiority or inferiority. Neither is the criterion of physical virginity  related to concepts of ritualistic purity. The difference is just an objective matter of fact.

It is a reminder that the  physical dignity of woman and every member of Christ’s Body,  is  precious to God, and needs to be respected in the Church and the world.

 It is a reminder  of the preciousness  and Gift of the virginity of  nature and the environment, as in the beginning of God’s Creation, that should  have been Consecrated to God. 

The union  between  the Risen Christ and the consecrated virgin who is  espoused to Him, is also a reminder  of Christ’s presence in His eucharistic Body, the Christian community present in the world.

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. "         

The consecrated virgin is called to be a sign of the Church’s virginity  which  keeps the faith whole and entire.  This vocation  has its origin in the Early Christian community when the Church was young (born as Bride from the heart of the crucified Jesus). Her faith was a totally new experience of the Paschal Mystery and love of Jesus Christ, her "treasure."

This  ancient vocation  is called to be  a reminder even today, of the virginal Church’s  new and "first" experience of her only Spouse, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, who loved the  Church and gave Himself for her salvation on the CROSS.

Only a virgin can treasure  her first experience with her spouse. A non-virgin or a reformed sinner,who has regained spiritual virginity, although never second-class in God’s eyes, will  never be able to receive that same gift. This could be the reason why  Physical virginity is  essential for the vocation of Consecrated virgins.

Image result for catacomb of priscilla ap art history


  1. You make a really good point about the multifaceted nature of virginity. Very few people seem to understand that virginity is about more than the physical. And yet, if they were honest, I think very few women would agree that their first sexual experience was not significant. Women are made to give themselves in the sexual act. And when you give yourself completely you can never give yourself in the same way again. We are imprinted by our first love. As you say, there is a difference between reformed righteousness and one who did not stray in the first place.

    1. Patriarchal, mysogynist, elitist crap.

  2. "I know that not every sin against the 6th commandment results in the loss of physical virginity, but does it always necessarily involve the participation of another person?"

    A reader once asked the above question and the following was my preliminary response :

    Part I

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

    2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."139To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

    The following link gives a lot of info on the Sixth commandment from the Catechism.

    As the CCC states, several factors need to be taken into consideration to decide the degree of moral responsibility . I won't go into technical moral theology in this post .

    Since we are discussing this in the context of the criteria of physical virginity as essential for the consecration to a life of virginity , I shall try to keep my response limited to this .Read Part II for the remaining response.

  3. Part II of the response :

    1]Virginity is not lost through physical exercises, athletics , surgery, internal examination by a male gynaecologist etc.

    2] In a state of affective immaturity – as in childhood or puberty – some amount of self-exploration of the sexual organs as they are developing is common and not sinful as long as it is mere curiosity and not for pleasure , besides not becoming habitual.

    3] The requirement of Physical virginity for the consecration to a life of virginity - does not always have to do with the state of the hymen.

    - A woman may have an intact hymen and still not be a virgin physically .e.g. in a lesbian sexual relationship or some form of unnatural sexual encounter with another .

    - On the other hand a woman may not have an intact hymen but is still a virgin physically because she has never voluntarily submitted to or indulged in a sexual act[ abuse ,incest etc.] It has to do with her attitude towards her body which is created in God's image and likeness and for chaste purposes.

    If a virgin ruptures her hymen when she indulges herself in an occasion of masturbation during a situation of severe anxiety etc. and thus loses her physical virginity , if she repents and goes for confession and does not sin anymore , whether she can ask to be a candidate for the consecration of virgins -- I think would depend on how this event will affect her ability to live the vocation in sincerity, to the fullest . It depends on the unique emotional, spiritual makeup of her personality and differs from person to person. In this case there is no issue of scandal since another person is not involved with her.

    Consecrated virginity is not about ritual purity or intact hymen . Like any marriage, it is about being a Virgin for her Spouse . A virgin is a true virgin when she looks at herself through the eyes of her Spouse and is convinced in her heart that He sees her as a virgin.

    If a woman has a doubt let her place her right hand on her heart and look at a picture of Divine Mercy . If she looks at Jesus' face for half an hour , asking Him whether she is still a virgin physically and can live the vocation of a consecrated virgin sincerely without any further guilt [ after confession ] - If her conscience allows her to ask to be enrolled as a candidate for the vocation of consecrated virginity- let her do so and discern with her confessor / spiritual director during the preparation process.

    I think this kind of case leaves more flexibility for someone who is a repentant , spiritual virgin to live the vocation.

    1. I totally agree with your view.Espousal to Jesus is primarily a matter of devotion and intention ,of course satisfying certain reasonable norms of entry , when it comes to entering a vocational organisation.But for the organisation to demand a history of 100% virginity in body and mind is least Christian.Scriptures proclaim a Jesus who instantly canonized a thief on the cross merely on grounds of a contrite heart yearning for acceptance.The jubilant welcome accorded to the converted prodigal also proves the same point.

  4. This vocation is very close to Catholic Tradition with the big T . It has its inspiration from Jesus and from Virgin Mary who is the first disciple of Christ. 100 per cent virginity of body and mind of Mother Mary is very much Christian .It is in the Apostles Creed .Discipleship is not only for repentant sinners. Many of the apostles were ordinary folk , good people but expecting a Messiah.

    If Christianity is only for repentant sinners then all cradle catholics baptised as infants are least Christian. So also people of other religions who encounter Jesus Christ simply falling in love with Him , without a history of sexual sins or grave sins and then being baptized would be least Christian ?

    I doubt anyone can measure virginity of mind. The Ordo Virginum is for women Consecrated to a life of virginity. I doubt whether a woman who has a secondary virginity thru repentance can live the particular charism of this vocation. Absence of any voluntary sexual involvement or pleasure is not an organisational criteria but essential to the specific nature of the vocation.

    As stated in the post :

    physical virginity is a prophetic and counter- cultural sign in today’s world

    For a consecrated virgin , the consecration of her virginal body is a Gift of God . A repentant sinner who has regained virginity spiritually cannot offer to Christ what she has physically lost .

    a reformed sinner would never be able to signify the Church’s virginity of faith lived on God’s commandments in the area of sexuality. But she would be able to signify that conversion through grace is possible. Even this witness is needed today but in other possible vocations.

    The difference between a woman who is a virgin physically and another woman who has regained virginity spiritually does not indicate superiority or inferiority .Neither is the criterion of physical virginity related to concepts of ritualistic purity . The difference is just an objective matter of fact.

    The specific Grace of this Consecration is Union with the Trinity for Fruitfulness like Mother Mary. It is not the Grace of Reconciliation of a sinner with God.

    Regarding the thief you mentioned , I personally think the capital punishment was already too much for the sin of theft. He must have been more a victim in Jesus' eyes than a sinner. He must have stolen to feed his starving family. I really don't know why he was crucified.

    Also Espousal to Jesus in this vocation is primarily God's action and not the devotion or intention of the candidate. In sacrament of marriage the spouses are the ministers of grace to each other. The candidate cannot be minister of grace to Jesus.

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  6. I think the consecration of the virgin in this rite is analogous to the consecration of bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ , the Eucharist .

    Without the bread and wine there would be no Eucharist. Similarly perhaps , without the presence of physical virginity , a woman cannot become a consecrated virgin in the strict sense that this particular ancient rite intends and signifies. Any previous experience of voluntary sexual union with another will leave an imprint on the body , mind and soul of the person.

    One of the arguments is that at the Resurrection of the Body as stated in the Apostles Creed , we will be united with God in all dimensions of our being . It won't be different perhaps for virgins and non virgins. So if consecrated virgins are an eschatological image of the Bride of Christ [ the Church] , then women with a secondary or regained virgin should be allowed to receive this consecration.

    But there are OTHER vocations and rites in the Church that allow this possibility. The consecration of virgins I think should be reserved for those who are physically virgins.

    It is also true that virginity involves all dimensions of a person. It is important to purify the motivation and go through a serious process of preparation to be offered to our Lord Jesus Christ. One may be a virgin physically , but that does not mean one is sinless . We are always in need of repentance and conversion in all dimensions of our lives like any other disciple of Christ.

    In that sense a repentant sinner may be holier than a consecrated virgin .

  7. I have noted some discussions on this post by another blogger on the web which to me seem out of context. Please read my post : Meaning of the virgin Church's first experience of her Spouse.

  8. When you say "perhaps similar to how the consecrated eucharistic bread symbolizes the Christian community –the Body of Christ" you're still including the literal Roman Catholic with we physically receive the flesh and blood of Jesus in the appearance of bread right? Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1413 "By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity"

    1. Dear Kim,

      Please read my comment above [ dtd 8 Nov 2012 ].

      Also read another post on this blog

      1 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. In the rite of consecration the Church reveals its love of virginity, begs God’s grace on those who are consecrated, and prays with fervor for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

      From the Catechism of the Catholic Church :
      CCC 1368 The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.

      In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men.

      The consecrated virgin embodies this church which is the body of Christ similar to how the Eucharistic bread symbolizes the church which is the body of Christ , His presence in the world .

      I am not relating this to transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ . [ which is another aspect of the Eucharistic mystery that we catholics believe ] .She is not the Real Presence of Christ.

      CCC 1396 The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church. Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body.233 The Eucharist fulfills this call: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread:"234

      If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond "Amen" ("yes, it is true!") and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, "the Body of Christ" and respond "Amen." Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true.

      I hope I understood your question .If you wish I'll be glad to elaborate on this in a new post.

    2. I think your views contradict Pope Pius XII's "Sacra Virginitas" 1st part; also the revelations of Jesus to St Margaret of Cortona.

  9. Dear Thea ,
    I have failed to understand what you are trying to say.Please write specifically what views you find to be contradictory to Church teachings--so that I can respond to you. Thank you.

    I do not see any connection between St.Margaret of Cortona and the Canon 604 vocation in the Order of why have to mentioned her ?

    Read :
    There are two kinds of revelations:
    (1) universal revelations, which are contained in the Bible or in the depositum of Apostolic tradition transmitted by the Church. These ended with the preaching of the Apostles and must be believed by all;
    (2) particular or private revelations which are constantly occurring among Christians (see CONTEMPLATION). When the Church approves private revelations, she declares only that there is nothing in them contrary faith or good morals, and that they may be read without danger or even with profit; no obligation is thereby imposed on the faithful to believe them. Speaking of such revelations as (e.g.) those of St. Hildegard (approved in part by Eugenius III), St. Bridget (by Boniface IX), and St. Catherine of Siena (by Gregory XI) Benedict XIV says: "It is not obligatory nor even possible to give them the assent of Catholic faith, but only of human faith, in conformity with the dictates of prudence, which presents them to us as probable and worthy of pius belief)" (De canon., III, liii, xxii, II).

  10. In CHRISTIANITY AND EVOLUTION by Teilhard de Chardin , there is a chapter -
    " Note on the Physical Union between the Humanity of Christ and the Faithful in the course of their sanctification " . I think it describes in a marvelous way the Essence of Consecrated virginity according to the ancient rite. This vocation embodies here and now -the eschatological union of the Church with Christ.

    Here are some extracts :

    "the holiness of the Christian develops and is completed in a sort of contact (physical and permanent) with the actually human reality of Christ the Saviour."

    "the state of beatitude must be understood as a state of permanent eucharistic union in which we will be raised up and maintained as a body and 'in corpore Christi' (in the body
    of Christ). "

    "in the course of his meritorious life the believer is introduced into, and progresses further in, a certain state of physical connection with the humanity of Christ the Saviour. Grace does more than attach us by its spiritual instillation to the divinity of the Word: it brings with it a certain progressive inclusion in a created organism, physically centred on the humanity of Christ."

    1. CAUTION : Wherever I write about Eucharistic union or Physical connection between Christ and the consecrated virgin, it does not imply 'sexual' union or sensual pleasure which is excluded by the very fact that this is a vocation to virginity AS IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN .


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