Overview of the Rite and Vocation of Consecrated Virginity
The following is from an article written for the consecration of a virgin living in the world, in the diocese of Christchurch in 2011. Much of the contents have been taken from the website of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.
Overview of the Rite and Vocation
The rare and ancient rite is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Catholic Church; its roots go back to the time of Saint Matthew who consecrated a virgin to God. (Among consecrated virgin-saints are St Agnes, St Cecilia and St Agatha.) The rite is an elaborate liturgy reserved to the diocesan bishop and celebrated within Mass, in which the virgin offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to him. By the Prayer of Consecration (the one in current use was composed by Pope Saint Leo the Great), God sets the virgin apart, and makes her a sacred person. She is given the title of the Church, Bride of Christ, and the bridal insignia of veil and ring, plus the book of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Upon consecration, the virgin receives a new and powerful grace that enables her to be more and more a striking sign of the love of the Church, the Bride, for Christ, her Bridegroom. Her consecration is conferred once, is irreversible, and cannot be dispensed. There is no trial period, so the virgin must be well prepared before presenting herself for consecration.
After consecration, the virgin does not withdraw from the world, but remains in it in the secular state, providing for her own living, and witnessing to God by her virginal life given exclusively to Jesus Christ, whose bride she is. She wears her consecration ring but does not normally wear other insignia, or veil or special attire. She lives her vocation in her own way according to her discernment as guided by her spiritual director and diocesan bishop. She is not organised under a constitution or rule, yet the vocation of consecrated virginity lived in the world is a definitive vocation in itself. The consecrated virgin is not a religious sister, nor is she in the process of becoming a religious sister.
To nourish her vocation, she makes it her priority to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours each day, especially Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. She also frequents the sacraments, attending Holy Mass and spending time before the Blessed Sacrament daily whenever possible, and makes time for spiritual reading and study of Scripture. She spends her free time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity and in prayer, according to her state of life and spiritual gifts.
Neither her diocese nor her parish is responsible for her financial needs, so she must support herself by work, pension, savings or other means, and provide enough for her own sustenance, medical and retirement benefits and charitable works. She may take on any kind of work that is not inappropriate to her vocation and dignity. There are consecrated virgins in various occupations: teachers, doctors, nurses, cooks, electronic engineers, caregivers, lawyers, accountants, businesswomen, etc. There are about 3,000 consecrated virgins worldwide, most of whom are in Europe and South America.
The Virginal, Feminine, Spousal and Maternal Love of the Consecrated Virgin
These four dimensions of the consecrated virgin are actually a unity, because in the context of consecrated virginity, it’s impossible to live out one dimension without also living out the others.
Virginal refers to the original integrity of body and soul which was ruptured by the sin of Adam and Eve, and which will be restored in the bodily resurrection at the end of time. Thus Our Lady’s perpetual virginity testifies to her immaculate conception, i.e., her integrity of body and soul was never ruptured. So the physical virginity of the consecrated virgin points to the final resurrection when we will all be virginal.
Feminine refers to the particular genius of women — receptivity. This is not a passive doormat type of receptivity, but the active awesome receptivity of Our Lady at the Annunciation when she gave her unconditional “yes” to God.
Spousal refers to the free, total, unconditional and faithful gift of the consecrated virgin to her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and in turn to others. Blessed John Paul II said that “one cannot correctly understand a woman’s consecration to virginity without referring to spousal love. It is through this kind of love that a person becomes a gift for the other.”
Maternal — the consecrated virgin’s virginal, feminine and spousal love is of no avail if it is not fruitful; she must bear many spiritual children.
But what do consecrated virgins do?
Consecrated virgins are often asked: “but what do you do?” Well, a consecrated virgin is first and foremost a bride. What does a bride do? She is loved by the bridegroom, and responds by loving him in return.
So the consecrated virgin responds to Christ’s love for her, and allows herself to be more closely united to God and to be dedicated to the service of the Church and of mankind. Her consecration is a call to greater fervour in spreading the kingdom of God and in giving to the world the spirit of Christ. And of course, as bride of the Crucified Lord, her vocation is also necessarily the way of the cross.
Deeply rooted in the diocese to which she belongs, she has as the bride of Christ a particular spiritual bond with her diocesan bishop as well as priests of her diocese, who image the love of Jesus Christ for His Bride, the Church.
The consecrated virgin and the priest, therefore, spiritually complement each other as they live their respective vocations fully and authentically. Their celibate vocations highlight the married vocation, and vice versa, as the husband in the family represents Christ, and the wife the Church. And so the three vocations vivify each other.
Only by God’s grace can the consecrated virgin live her vocation fully and authentically. And she has a teacher and mother in Our Lady, the first consecrated virgin living in the world.