Monday, October 26, 2009

What Kind of Rings Do Consecrated Virgins Wear?

Here is an enjoyable question I received from a reader recently:

“I have a question about consecrated virgins, if you do not mind. I know that nuns have to wear a ‘wedding’ ring to signify their spiritual marriage, and normally it is a ring that signifies the Order they belong to. What about consecrated virgins? I know they wear rings but are they plain bands? What do you wear? I hope this is not a silly question, I’m just genuinely curious!” —Vesper

Thanks for your question, Vesper!

Actually, not all nuns (and I’m assuming that you mean women in all forms religious life, and not just those Sisters who are considered “nuns” in a strict technical sense—i.e., cloistered Sisters who make solemn vows.) are required to wear “wedding” rings. Like many of the more minor elements of religious life, there is a great deal of diversity among the various Orders and congregations in their traditions surrounding this. And sometimes even in different monasteries of the same Order, the nuns do not always have identical practices regarding rings.

And, the specific details about which communities do and don’t wear rings might surprise you. Some of the more “traditional” women’s communities do not wear wedding rings, even if they otherwise have a strong emphasis on “Bride of Christ” imagery. E.g., I don’t think that the Nashville or Ann Arbor Dominicans wear rings—readers who may know more than I do about these two communities are welcome to correct me on this if I’m wrong. But at the same time, many non-habited religious communities still attach a lot of significance to the rings they wear and to their customs in presenting or receiving rings. (There’s an interesting discussing about this here on the blog “A Nun’s Life.”)

I believe there are a few communities which used to wear rings but stopped after Vatican II, even while retaining a fairly conservative habit. On the other hand, I know of one congregation of Sisters (who are and have always been habited) who only just began to wear rings as a result of their community’s response to the second Vatican council.

However, all consecrated virgins wear rings as a sign of their spousal relationship with Christ. Just as in an earthly marriage, the ring is a sign that she has made a permanent commitment to another Person. In the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, immediately following the consecratory prayer itself, the presiding bishop places a ring on the newly-consecrated virgin’s hand with the words:

Receive the ring that marks you as a bride of Christ.
Keep unstained your fidelity to your Bridegroom,
that you may one day be admitted to the wedding feast of everlasting joy.

The ceremony for the giving of the ring is a non-negotiable part of the Rite of Consecration. A similar ritual can be, but is not necessarily, included in the rite for religious profession, since the Church gives individual religious communities a great deal of freedom to follow their own customs and traditions regarding things like vow formulae, special blessings, and the presentation (or non-presentation) of insignia such as rings.

From a historical perspective, I believe the custom of women religious receiving a profession ring actually originated from the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. Since the earliest nuns were also consecrated virgins, they probably would have received their rings at their consecration. And it seems that the custom of receiving a ring endured in many monasteries, even as the Rite of Consecration fell widely out of use. Religious Orders and congregations which developed in later periods—such as the mendicant Orders of nuns like the Poor Clares, Reformation-era Orders like the Discalced Carmelites, and the modern congregations of active Sisters like the Daughters of Charity—may have kept the custom of a profession ring as an imitation of the Rite of Consecration, or perhaps as a intuitive reflection of the rite. (I think the same process might have been at play regarding the tradition of consecrated women wearing veils, since consecrated virgins were invested with veils long before religious life existed. But that’s a topic for another post!)

If a nun or religious sister does wear a ring, she often receives it during her final or solemn profession, as this represents the point at which she has definitively chosen to follow our Lord in the consecrated life. I think that within most communities, all of the Sisters’ rings are probably of the same style and design. But I’m not sure that this is intended as a way to identify the community to which she belongs—although this sort of “easy identification” is part of the purpose of a religious habit. Instead, I think a shared ring design is probably meant to represent the Sisters’ unity in their common life and vocation, ect.

As far as consecrated virgins are concerned, for the most part we choose and obtain our own rings, which are later presented to us during the Rite of Consecration. (Although I personally think that it might be a nice gesture if, eventually, the diocese actually supplied consecrated virgins’ rings, or if they “recycled” the rings of consecrated virgins who had already entered into eternal life. But I haven’t heard of these things happening anywhere as of yet.)

So basically, each consecrated virgin can decide what kind of ring she will have. But although presently there aren’t any official guidelines about this, I do think that consecrated virgins’ rings should be kept simple, for a few reasons:

First, although consecrated virgins do not make an explicit vow of poverty, it seems to me that entering into any public state of consecrated life obliges one to live very simply. And this “spirit of evangelical poverty” should truly affect every aspect of your life—right down to what kind of ring you wear.

Likewise, we should keep in mind that consecrated virgins are marrying the same Jesus who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave” (Philippians 2:7); who was “a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity” (Isaiah 53:3); and who had “nowhere to rest His head” (Luke 9:58) during his earthly ministry. And my thought is that something like a humongous diamond, rare gemstones, or anything similarly “over the top” would probably not be the best reflection or reminder of this!

Also, while naturally I believe it is totally and completely appropriate to refer to a consecrated virgin as a “Bride of Christ;” I think it’s also good to keep in mind that consecration to a life of virginity is ultimately more similar to a betrothal than it is to a honeymoon. In a very important sense, the REAL wedding feast is the moment when a consecrated virgin finally meets her Spouse face-to-face. So in order to resist confusing the “already” with the “not yet,” I feel that it’s best for consecrated virgins to avoid extravagance in all things pertaining to their consecration, including their rings.

As for me, my ring is a plain silver band. But around the outside, it has an inscription from the Song of Songs: “Ego dilecto meo et dilectus meus.” (Song of Song 2:16) Usually, this translated into English as: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

One funny story about my ring: At the reception right after my consecration, everyone of course wanted to see my ring and to know what the inscription said. One priest—who can read in Latin probably as well as I can read in English—for some reason just couldn’t figure it out! He kept reading and re-reading the inscription and muttering things like, “Umm…is that in the ablative case?” But, it seemed like every single consecrated woman there, whether they were a consecrated virgin or a religious Sister, knew exactly what it meant as soon as they saw it!

This is a photo of me holding a (hatched!) lizard egg in the palm of my hand. But it’s also the best close-up picture I have of my consecration ring.

16 comments:

Pachyderm said...

This is a really interesting post. I note that you're wearing your ring on your left hand, like a traditional wedding ring exchanged between couples. Some communities I know wear their ring on their right hand.

Braut des Lammes said...

Thank you for this interesting post – I'm always highly interested to see other consecrated virgins' rings :). As it is custom in Germany to wear the wedding ring on the right hand I do too, but I know that the sisters of some orders who are sent from one country to another switch their ring from right to left or vice versa when they leave.

My ring looks like a thorn crown and I just love it.

Marie said...

Wonderful post. Thank you!

drewienko said...

well, am I the only one to wear an _engagement_ ring? :)

...still waiting...

Therese Ivers, JCL said...

This brings up a whole dimension of the preparation process that I won't forget too soon. As the ring is the only insignia that is worn by consecrated virgins (in the world) on a daily basis, I felt that it could be personalized and express something meaningful to me. (Several virgins have unique rings with unique designs.) I wanted a ring that had the lily of the valley in it. After getting a lovely design from a wonderful gemologist, I discovered that I had forgotten that designs can be pointy and scratchy, not a good thing when wearing a ring 24/7. So, I opted to get a plain white gold wedding band.

When I was purchasing my ring, I had had my heart set on having it engraved "I to my Beloved, and my Beloved to me". I was told that they could engrave only up to 22 characters and was devastated. A lot of other quotes came to mind, but they didn't resonate with me quite the same way. Thankfully, when I did settle on my order, the company was able to engrave this beautiful quotation on the inside of the band. I wear it on the left hand.

Alice Claire said...

I also wear a "crown of thorns" ring, made by James Avery, which you can view on the Web at http://secure.jamesavery.com/view_jewelry/search/viewProduct.jsp?itemCode=WB-77. Interesting to note that this particular ring is included with wedding bands and not with religious rings! I had my ring inscribed with the date of my consecration and the words "My Beloved." I wear my ring on my left hand, a beautiful reminder to me of my Beloved Spouse.

Alice Claire Mansfield
Consecrated Virgin
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Moniales said...

Our Dominican monastery began to wear a profession ring only after Vatican II and in fact not until 1987. The ceremony for the blessing and receiving of the ring was in the old ceremoniale, however.
Dominican Nuns historically have a very early basis in the Cistercian Order and Cistercian nuns don't wear rings. They make profession but not consecration of Virgins.
However, I am very happy that we wear a profession ring. Most sisters wear it on the right hand and most have an inscription inside. Sisters may choose not to have a ring at Solemn Profession so the ring is still optional.

a newly consecrated virgin said...

Thank you all for your comments--I had no idea this post would be such a crowd pleaser!

Pachyderm: Yes, I wear my ring on my left hand, because in the United States that’s where married women typically wear their rings. In Europe, the custom is to wear a wedding ring on your right hand, which is why I think so many American nuns and Sisters (and I guess also religious in New Zealand) wear theirs this way.

I have noticed that most bishops wear their ring on the right hand. For a while, this made me wonder whether or not I should switch hands, since wearing your ring on the right seemed like the more “Church-y” thing to do. But I have decided, since my ring was placed on my left hand during my actual Consecration, that this is where my ring is going to stay!

Braut des Lammes: Your ring sounds lovely!

Marie: Welcome! Glad you liked the post.

Drewienko: I hope things are going well.

Therese: Well, I suppose a pointy, scratchy ring would be great if you’re into corporal mortification. (I'm totally joking here!) After reading your blog entry on your consecration, for a while I thought we had the same ring. But, my inscription is on the outside, in Latin, and yours sounds like it’s on the inside in English.

Alice: I think my ring was also originally intended as a “normal” wedding ring. (Believe it or not, I found my ring “as is” in a secular mail-order gift catalogue.) But I thought it was even more perfect for a consecration ring.

Moniales: Thanks so much for sharing this fascinating information! (I didn’t even know you read this blog!) I always love hearing about the history behind the Profession ceremonies of the various Orders.

Suzywoozy said...

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

I love that verse. I guess that symbolizes the life you have been called to. For every Christian it is the same I guess.

Pachyderm said...

Hi Sponsa Christi!

I just caught up on the comments on this post. In NZ we follow the English custom and wedding rings are worn on the left hand. I'm professed in the Community of Solitude which is also open to married women, so I have my wedding ring on my left hand and my profession ring on my right. Both plain bands, and my profession ring is a "found" ring (you can read the story of it in my blog: http://pachydermnz.blogspot.com/2010/08/found-things.html)

I love the sound of those "crown of thorns" rings!

Pachyderm, aka Sr Therese

habitudo said...

God bless you!
I like your blog very much, and could not tear myself from it till late at night. I admire the clarity of your style and argumentation, and have found plenty of new information to think of, though not comment on - due to my lack of competence.
Yet in the "ring story" I too have two cents to throw in: "ego dilecto meo et dilectus meus" could indeed be confusing for the Latin reader, since the last word of the phrase, "mihi" (to me) seems to be omitted. In full, the quote is: "ego dilecto meo et dilectus meus mihi - I to/for my beloved and my beloved to/for me", Dative.
As the quote now appears, it says "I to my beloved and my beloved"

Anonymous said...

Is there any other reason for a single person to wear a band on their ring finger? For example, studying for brotherhood, discerning a religious vocation, etc. Thanks

Bughini said...

I am approaching my consecration and trying to find out about other CV's rings (as I need to buy one).

Some questions:
1) Like therese ivers pointed out, several CVs have personalised, custom made rings, and i also thought they were normally personalised in some way. a well known USA CV has a special lamp shaped ring. are you saying this is inappropriate?

2) im sure i read in some historical commentary that CV rings were originally gold rings. anyone else heard this?

3) re your point about evangelical poverty and expensive rings. surely we could extend that to the whole CV consecration ceremony - perhaps they should wear poor garb and just a normal winter scarf instead of a bridal veil? Why are they haveing a reception afterward with a wedding cake? Perhaps we should extend the idea of poverty in the rings not just to CV rings, but also Papal rings, Bishop rings, and indeed wedding rings for the married should only be in plain stainless steel? What about priestly vestments for Mass? Should they be poor garb too? Should tabernacles not be gold, but of wood, since Our Lord was born in a manger?

I think this idea misunderstands evangelical poverty. Consider the wedding at Cana, rather than admonishing the wine and extravagance of celebration there, He actually made more fine wine, not to sell for the poor, but to be drunk. He allowed expensive nard to be poured on His feet. And if you look at CV ceremonies in older Pontificals back to the 8th C, many were given not just bridal veils, but also actual *crowns*. Tertullian talks about how CV veils used to be edged with gold! St Clare and St Therese wore very expensive, lavish wedding gowns at their professions of vows!

My point is, there is a time and place for evangelical poverty - it should not extend to scrimping on things which give glory to God. So Papal rings, priestly vestments, Bishop rings, CV rings, CV 'wedding dresses/veils' SHOULD be beautiful. Not out of vanity, but to exhalt God. YOU are a bride of Christ. You are personifying the heavenly marriage between Christ and His Church. Is the Church in heaven shabby and poor, and even ugly? we cannot see how that looks like, but if we can make it beautiful, we can show others the great beauty of God, we can use outr possessions to exhalt God.

So I think all aspects including the visual, of the liturgy and insignia should be beautiful. But I think it is most important (especially for young CVs) not to become focussed on what it IS but rather what it REPRESENTS, to avoid vanity and pride, but indeed to love what those items signify. They should be well taught regarding evangelical poverty so indeed they should apply it to their everyday life.

I come from a country where the bridal and spousal aspects are avoided, our CVs wear everyday clothes and have a quick consecration in a side chapel followed by a coffee and piece of cake. they often just re-use their private vows rings, and are discouraged from recieving the veil. So too in many areas has our liturgy descended into the everyday, mundane and simple.

Yet beautiful things used to exhalt God can indeed life our minds and hearts to the Lord. This is a long comment but read Pope Benedict here. God bless you!http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/cardinal-ratzinger-on-the-contemplation-of-beauty

a consecrated virgin said...

To respond to your comment briefly…I do believe that one’s consecration day should be beautiful, solemn, and dignified. But personally, I also still think that it’s more becoming for consecrated virgins to err on the side of simplicity in their rings, dresses, etc. In any case, I think evangelical poverty does demand that we avoid any kind of lavishness or luxury.

However, it’s important to note that:

1. Simplicity is NOT the same as ugliness, and avoiding lavishness is NOT the same thing as neglecting to celebrate a consecration with a fitting solemnity.

2. Simplicity is not an absolute category, and “simplicity vs. luxury” is not a black-and-white dichotomy. There’s no line etched in stone to tell when a ring or dress becomes too much or too elaborate. So even if an aspiring consecrated virgin is committed to simplicity, there is a lot of room for personal discretion in this regard.

3. Likewise, a conversation about simplicity and consecrated virginity doesn’t have to be a strictly “either/or” discussion where we talk in terms of radical polar opposites. That is, we don’t need to consider the question in terms like: “EITHER a consecrated virgin be encouraged wear gold, jewels, and an elaborate wedding gown, OR ELSE her consecration will be a brief fifteen-minute affair where she dresses in blue jeans and housecleaning clothes.”

I think it’s much better to look at this question in terms of finding a happy medium where BOTH our call to evangelical poverty AND the dignity of our vocation are reflected.

4. While it’s a good thing to have a beautiful consecration DAY, what’s more important is that aspiring consecrated virgins consider what is necessary in order to live a beautiful consecrated LIFE.

Bughini said...

Thanks for the clarification. Here in Canada, things definitely err on the side of simplicity.

However regarding your last point, I would like to say, having a beautiful consecration DAY and having a beautiful consecrated LIFE are not mutually exclusive. There seems to be an idea that a downplayed, 'just came back from softball' kind of consecration is somehow holier. And that the more luxurious consecrations are somewhat frivolous and shallow.
Think both ideas are wrong.

One should ideally have both a beautiful consecration day and a beautiful consecrated life!

Thanks for reading.

Paige Kohlman said...

My purity ring is simple too! It is a simple silver band that says purity love and trust that I wear on my wedding finger, where people constantly ask me if I am married or engaged . 🌻 I like what you're bringing says.