Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Charism of Virginity

One frequently asked question about the vocation of consecrated virginity is whether or not a consecrated virgin must be a “real” virgin.

That is, in order to receive the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, must one be a virgin in the literal sense of the term (i.e., one who has never freely and knowingly engaged in sexual relations), as opposed to simply feeling capable of adopting a “virginal” spirituality? Can a “second-chance virgin” or a “renewed virgin” become consecrated under canon 604? Or is the vocation of consecrated virginity really restricted to those who have never made even a single “bad decision?”

The short answer to this question is “yes,” an aspiring consecrated virgin should truly be virginal. However, since such a short, blunt statement can sometimes raise more problems than it solves, I’ll try to explain it in fuller and more nuanced way.

The Church’s official statement and its implications

The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity—our only authoritative source for this issue—would seem to specify literal virginity as a requirement when it states in its introduction that a woman intending to enter this particular form of consecrated life must “have never been married or lived in public or flagrant violation of chastity” (“ut numquam nuptias celebraverint neque publice seu manifeste in statu castitati contrario vixerint”).*

Thus, the Rite is direct and unambiguous in stating that consecrated virginity is not a possibility for widows, nor for women who have reconciled with the Church after living in a notorious or highly visible state of unchastity (such as premarital cohabitation).

There is also very clear implication that women who have been victims of violence or abuse may still be consecrated as virgins, since in itself victimhood constitutes neither a violation of chastity nor a sin. This is consistent with the Church’s traditional understanding of virginity as an essentially moral and spiritual reality, rather than as a primarily biological one.

Where things can get confusing

Unfortunately, the particularly wording of the Rite on this matter is often experienced as being too vague to provide clear guidelines for other types of situations.

For example, I’ve heard it proposed a number of times that a woman who might have lost her physical virginity through a single, secret “mistake” as a teenage should still be able to receive the Rite of Consecration. The reasoning behind this suggestion is that, since moral indiscretions of this sort may be fairly hidden and unknown by the great majority of people, this does not constitute a “public or flagrant” violation of chastity.

However, at least in the United States, it’s generally understood and accepted that candidates for consecrated virginity should be virgins in actual fact.

But, in the interest of being as fair and accurate as possible, I do have to point out that at present it MIGHT perhaps still be possible to try to articulate an academic argument that the Rite of Consecration may not truly require its candidates to be literal virgins. The only instance of authoritative, formal clarification on this matter of which I am aware is a letter sent by the Congregation for Divine Worship sent to the then-Archbishop Burke confirming Burke’s interpretation of the Rite as requiring literal virginity. However, I only heard about this via a brief reference in a recorded talk from the 2008 International Pilgrimage of consecrated virgins in Rome, and I have never seen a published copy of this letter. Although I hasten to add that I do believe that this letter does exist—I’m just a little uncomfortable citing a source I’ve only heard about second- or third-hand.

If the Church truly were to have refrained from issuing a formal clarification of what is meant by “public or flagrant violation of chastity,” then right now it would still permissible for theologians and canon lawyers to entertain a variety of opinions. (Albeit with all the pastoral concerns attached to this particular question, I think it would be perhaps more advisable for even ivory-tower academic types to err on the side of caution and presume a more strict interpretation of the Rite. My thought is that is would be better not to consecrate a woman who might later find out that should could have received the Rite after all; than it would be to consecrated a woman who might in the future learn that she actually had not been eligible for consecrated virginity in the first place.)

Still, I would like to stress that on a practical level, the requirement of literal virginity is regarded as a more or less settled question among American consecrated virgins and those who work with them.

Justifying a “stricter” interpretation

Even considering the issue of the Rite’s prerequisite of literal virginity as a closed discussion, it can still be helpful to reflect on the reasons for a particular interpretation.

One rationale given for this stricter interpretation of the Rite of Consecration as requiring literal virginity is that the loss of one’s virginity never results from an act which is wholly and entirely secret. I.e., there is always at least one other person who is aware of what occurred and can attest to it. Thus, anyone who is not a literal virgin has been in an “public or flagrant violation of chastity” at some point.**

Another justification for a strict interpretation is plain common-sense with regard to the need for integrity. In other words, it doesn’t seem reasonable that the Church would, as a matter of policy, encourage woman to embrace a way of life ordered around the central charism of virginity, or regularly allow them to present themselves publically as virgins, if she didn’t have the expectation that they would be virgins in spirit and in truth.

If the Church was prepared to do this, it would effectively empty the word “virginity” of its meaning and significance—perhaps in a dynamic reminiscent of the way in which some mainline Protestant theologians have come to argue that the Gospels’ identification of Mary as a virgin simply means that she was something along the lines of “an exceptionally pure young woman.”

Likewise, as far as the candidates themselves are concerned, it’s hard to imagine (or at least it’s hard for me to imagine) how a woman could offer her virginity as a gift to God if her virginity is something which she no longer has.***

This is not to say that a non-virgin can’t offer herself to God in some other way, but only that a non-virgin can’t offer herself to God specifically by means of dedicating her virginity to Him. Trying to argue otherwise would be like saying that a woman could place her marriage under the protection of Our Lady even if she wasn’t married, or that a man could offer up his priestly ministry for the good of the souls in Purgatory even if he didn’t happen to be ordained.

Finally, at times I have seen some people give an explanation for the Rite’s requirement of literal virginity by drawing from the principles of sacramental theology. According to this line of reasoning, literal virginity is necessary to receive the Rite of Consecration validly because a virginal woman is the proper “matter” for the “form” contained in the Rite.****

But while this last explanation does make sense to me on one level, I personally would be hesitant to propose it as the rationale behind the candidate prerequisites listed in the Rite of Consecration. Although there may be some situations where it is appropriate to use sacramental terminology in reference to non-Sacraments, as far as I know the Church herself has never authoritatively described the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity in terms of matter and form. (Additionally, I’m not sure that the Church ever considers individual human persons per se as “matter,” even when discussing the matter and form involved in the actual seven Sacraments.) This application of sacramental theology to the Rite of Consecration is an interesting idea, but at the same time it’s one I wouldn’t feel comfortable endorsing, simply because to me this seems like it would be going a few steps farther then the Church actually does at present.

But, is it appropriate to require literal virginity?

Even if we take it for granted that reception of the Rite does indeed require literal virginity, I’m aware that some would still object to the idea of the Church expecting consecrated virgins to be literal virgins. Often, this is because they feel that this reduces women to their bodies, or that it places an unhelpful emphasis on women’s sexuality, as opposed to valuing them as multi-dimensional, whole persons. (Incidentally, this is often cited as the reason why many Catholics—I think including some consecrated virgins—are uncomfortable using the word “virgin” as part of the name of this vocation, despite the fact that “consecrated virginity” is the technically correct term for this form of consecrated life.)

However, I think it would be incorrect to say that the Church’s esteem for virginity is overly focused on a woman’s body to the exclusion of valuing her heart, mind, and soul.
This is because, as I mentioned above, I believe that the Church sees virginity as a primarily moral and spiritual state of being.

To be a virgin means to have a heart which is “new,” whole, and undivided. A virginal woman who marries is able to give her whole heart to her husband with a certain type of depth that goes beyond what is possible for a non-virgin. On an even more profound level, a woman who is consecrated to God as a virgin is able to offer her entire self to Christ in an especially radical, absolute, and complete way. A consecrated virgin not only gives Christ her love, but she gives Him her whole heart for her whole life. She is His and His alone.

A virginal body is the outward sign of this special kind of interior purity. Physical virginity is not the totality of what it means to be a virgin (at least in the full theological sense of having a vocation to a life of virginity), as a simple absence of experience doesn’t automatically make for an undivided heart.

Yet, this outward sign is still necessary and intrinsic to virginity as a state of being. Even while it could be argued that a non-virgin or a “renewed virgin” might, through a new life of virtue and penance, come to the point of feeling able to embrace a sort of “virginal” spirituality, I have a hard time imagining how this could be quite the same thing as the virginal spirituality of a literal virgin. As the Church has always acknowledged, our bodies and souls are interconnected, and what we do with out bodies can permanently affect our souls.

Some have also voiced concern that maintaining literal virginity as a requirement for receiving the Rite of Consecration undermines belief in the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance (or the Sacrament of Baptism, in the case of those who convert after formerly having lived an unchaste life). That is, if we believe that in the Sacraments of Penance and Baptism we are truly forgiven of our sins, then it would also follow that after confessing and sincerely repenting from sins of unchastity, the lack of virtue in one’s past life would no longer be of any account in either God’s eyes or the eyes of the Church.

But, while the Church does continually emphasize the availability of God’s mercy and pardon to all who seek it, forgiveness from sin is not the same thing as never having sinned in the first place. For example, even while Baptism does truly free us from original sin, being Baptized does not mean that our conception becomes retroactively immaculate.

All actions have consequences, and being forgiven for a sin does not always take away the effects of our wrong choices. In particular, the Church teaches that “the martial act” has a special, tremendous significance always and in every case. Although our culture is somewhat in denial of this fact, losing one’s virginity—even in just a single, perhaps relatively hidden act—is enough to alter the course of one’s life on even a purely natural level. For example, a woman has the potential to become a mother even if she engages in “the marital act” only once in her life. Given this, it’s hardly unreasonable to suppose that the deliberate preservation of one’s literal virginity might enable a woman to live out a uniquely precious spirituality.

Of course, this is absolutely NOT to say that a non-virgin isn’t called to be a saint, or that non-virgins can’t be consecrated to God in another form of consecrated life, or even that a non-virgin couldn’t be called to some kind of spousal relationship with Christ. This is only saying that today’s consecrated virgins—like the virgins described in Revelation 14:3-4, who sing to the Lamb a totally new song, which no one else can sing—are called to offer God their hearts in a particularly unique and special way through the consecration of their virginity.

Notes:

*This line is taken from the general introduction to the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, which unfortunately isn’t included in the pdf copy of the Rite that I usually link here. But if you check in vol. II of the “Rites” book (published in 1991 by The Liturgical Press in Collegeville, MN), you can find it on page 158.
** The then-Archbishop Burke gave this explanation at the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins information conference I attended in August 2008.

*** Cardinal Burke also makes this point in the USACV “information packet.”
**** As background to this one point, the “form” of a Sacrament can be roughly defined as the appropriate prayers and rituals used in that Sacrament’s conferral. “Matter” is the tangible, physical material used. E.g., in the Eucharist, the “form” is the consecratory Eucharistic prayer of the Mass, and the “matter” is the bread and wine that is to become the Body and Blood of Christ. If either the matter or form are not what they should be, then the Sacrament is invalid (which basically means that the Sacrament “didn’t work”). This is why, for example, a priest can’t consecrate cookies and milk at Mass—cookies and milk simply cannot become the body and blood of Christ, because this is the incorrect matter for the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

***

Due to the delicate nature of this topic, the comment box is open, but will be strictly moderated for this post. If you are having personal difficulties in your discernment with this issue, I strongly encourage you NOT to consult the Internet, but instead talk to a good spiritual director, your confessor, or whoever is primarily responsible for working with consecrated virgins in your diocese.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking on a potentially difficult subject! Our society doesn't like to hear, "no" or "you can't do that." But your explanation is very good, and as you say just because someone can't be a consecrated virgin doesn't mean they are not precious in God's eyes and can't serve Him another way.

I just voted in your "why do you read this blog" section and entered Other. I am an unmarried woman who wanted very much to marry and have a large family. I struggle a lot with why God didn't allow this, but take comfort from reading about women who actually chose to remain unmarried so they could be closer to Christ.

Susan

Pachyderm said...

That was a very careful, delicate, and pastorally sensitive discussion of a tricky topic. Good job!

Interestingly, not all orders and religious communities require virginity - some accept widows, and in the case of my own, married and single (but we're not cloistered in any way).

Blessings!
Sr Therese

Hannah said...

That was a really good explanation of why physical virginity is required to become a Consecrated Virgin. I'm not trying to be perverse, but I do have a question: can a "technical virgin" (a woman who has not had intercourse, but has engaged in oral sex) receive the consecration? It's just something I've wondered because there are quite a few women in that boat.

I do think there should be a vocation for women who aren't virgins, but feel called to remain chaste the rest of their lives and follow the Lord more closely. After all,there was a prostitute in Jesus' bloodline, and Mary Magdalene was very close to Jesus. The latter, especially, is an example of how one can become spiritually pure again with God's grace. It is clear that Christ chose to have repentant sexual sinners very close to Him, so I think it would be good if the Church meditated upon options for women who have "lived in an open violation of chastity," but have repented and desire an exclusive relationship with the Lord.

Anonymous said...

Hannah, I belive your question about non virgins being allowed in vocation was answered in the the article - you don't have to be a virgin to be a religious sister, and I am sure that one can make a private vow to live chastely after some earlier mistakes.

In my opinion, a "technical" virgin who has engaged in other inappropriate behaviors would not be a good candidate for consecration, not because of mistake made by the woman, but the potential for scandal and the affect that would have the public understanding of the vocation of consecrated virginity.

Jenna, great job with the article!

Maria said...

You might be interested to know that Mother Benedict Duss, at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut,resurrected the Rite for all the religious (Benedictine nuns) at the Abbey. Mind you, these were wordly women prior to their entrance...

a consecrated virgin said...

Hannah: “Anonymous” beat me to the point I was going to make. Every other form of consecrated life in the Church is open to non-virgins who are willing to live chaste lives from that point forward. Consecrated virginity is the only vocation in the Church in which literal virginity is a requirement.

In my own personal OPINION, a “half-virgin” or a “technical virgin” probably should not receive the Rite of Consecration, since I think this would count as having lived in “public or flagrant violation of chastity.”

But I hesitate to emphasize this point, since it can be really easy for women to become scrupulous about chastity. I don’t believe that comparatively minor sins against chastity would make a woman ineligible to receive the Rite; however, there are a lot of “gray areas” and it’s next to impossible to “draw the line” in the abstract. Practically speaking, I think it would be easier to discern eligible vocations to consecrated virginity in real life with actual candidates, since women tend to know for themselves whether or not they are really virgins (i.e., whether or not they still have their whole heart, so that they can give themselves whole-heartedly to someone).

Susan: Belated thank you for your lovely comment. I’m so happy you have found this blog helpful.

Maria: Yes, I know about Regina Laudis’ use of the Rite of Consecration. Keep in mind that “worldly” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “not a virgin.” Also, I know that in some (or most? if not all?) monasteries that use the Rite, the nuns have the OPTION of whether or not they would like to receive the consecration of virgins. And even if Mother Benedict did allow non-virgins to receive the Rite, this still doesn’t mean that this was the correct course of action to take (even if it was done in good faith).

Maria said...

It is interesting that the Rite of Consectation was first performed in the United States at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. I quote this at length as it sheds great light:

They also wanted to retain the ceremony of the Consecration of a Virgin, something very important to Mother Benedict because of what it meant, that a woman is promising that she will now totally give herself to God, that she will be "sealed for God", but in a "spousal relationship' that will be continually fertile and life-giving, bringing Christ's love to all. In Jouarre, on the day a nun was professed perpetually ( Mother was previously at Jouarre prior to founding the Abbey), the rite of consecration immediately followed. At Regina Laudis, in 1970, Mother Benedict returned to the earlier, long held monastic tradition of separating the two rites, in order to increase appreciation for both as "two stages' in a nun's life. The two rites were seen "to call forth and complete" each other. Following the cermeony of perpetual profession, a nun should have the time to be assured that she can, with a newconsciousness and fruitfulness, live the life of virginity that she has promised in her profession. When the Abbess sees that this promise of spousal fidelity hasbeen stabilized, she may determine a candidate is apt for the blessing of the Church in the Consecration of a Virgin.

In Rome they had a problem with this rite and said it was out of fashion, that not many today are interested in virginity. " But I never ask if they are virgins. That question belongs in the Confessinal", Mother Benedict noted. " The promise being made is to a life of virginity, FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, because the nun is now entering her new life of a 'spousal relationship' with Christ, pledging fidelity to Him forever. I was determined to keep this ceremony in out Constitution".

Maria said...

Mother Benedict goes on:

"...The archaic idea of of religious life was that a monastery was after the inexperienced girl, who had a bodily purity that came from ignorance. But ( I live this) an ignorant life is an untested life, and the would-be nun was often unprepared by life to grow in the intensely difficult path of religious life.

"This sometimes led to immture developmet of the person, resulting in personality, psychological or emotional disorders. Regina Laudis could not settle for immaturity. I readily welcomed professional women who, not finding substance and body-soul nourishment in the world, came here to find what it means to live in a state of purity and innocence, linked to God. The purity they sought was not the kind that comes from ignorance, but choice. After much awareness for what the world held, its sin and pain and ugliness, its false promises and shallow pleasures--and its beauty and love, too, but incomplete--they made a conscious choice for Christ and came to Regina Laudis.

"Strongly attracting them was the enclosure. These women had learned the importance of boundaries. From personal experience or otherwise, they had seen how letting down boundaries could make them vulnerable to the negative and destructive forces of the world. Therefore, without boundaries, there is no freedom, and without freedom the path to Christ is blocked. After all, He was teh one who said, " I have come that you might be free".

Mother Benedict was a very, very wise woman...

a consecrated virgin said...

Maria:

Thanks for the excerpt—it’s lead me to consider actually ordering the book on Mother Benedict.

I think M. Benedict’s take on the Rite of Consecration is interesting, especially her vehemence in maintaining it as part of her Sisters’ Benedictine spiritual patrimony. Still, I think she was wrong to assume that literal virginity isn’t an intrinsic part of being a consecrated virgin. A few points:

1. Mother Benedict may have been a saintly woman and an admirable foundress, but this doesn’t give her a charism of infallibility when it comes to interpreting Church law and liturgical rubrics. (And on this question, it’s basically M. Benedict versus Card. Burke—though of course Card. Burke isn’t infallible, either.)

2. While naturally it’s always good to be discreet, the question of literal virginity is not always just a matter for the confessional. If a woman loses her virginity prior to marriage, there is always at least one other person who is aware of and can attest to this (which is what we mean when we say that a loss of virginity results from a “public or flagrant violation of chastity.”) Therefore, a woman’s identity as a virgin or non-virgin is NOT a strictly private concern—within certain parameters, it is something which can be addressed “outside the seal,” in the external forum.

3. Logically, I think to would be a contradiction in terms to propose that someone could vow to be a virgin “from this day forward.” A non-virgin could vow chastity, or she could promise to live as though she was a virgin, but it is not ontologically possible to promise to remain virginal when one has already ceased to be a virgin.

4. I strongly disagree with M. Benedict’s (apparent) assumption that literal virginity is inherently linked with naïveté and personal immaturity. One common theme in the writings of the Church Fathers is how the very young virgin-martyr saints had an interior strength and wisdom which surpassed that of learned men. And in today’s world, I would almost venture to say that it takes an exceptional degree of maturity and character for a young girl to choose to remain a literal virgin out of love for Christ. (I may write a full-length post on this later.)

Anonymous said...

I recently talked to my bishop/spiritual director (same person) about some kind of 'vows' while still living in the world. He suggested consecrated virginity. I really, REALLY have a hard time with how 'public' it is to talk about virginity. I mean, it's NOBODY'S business is how I feel. Married people don't talk about their intimate marital relations, and I think that gynaecological matters belong between patient and doctor, not something you tell everyone you meet or 'celebrate' in some public ceremony.
I'm just not 'getting' the language of 'the gift of virginity'. I've never though of virginity as anything more than 'not having had sex with someone' (whether you are male or female). I don't know why for a woman it's such a huge deal, why there are no consecrated male virgins. What's the difference?
I've simply never thought about 'my virginity' as some 'gift' I have to 'give' to God or anyone else. I'm a whole person. In marriage to a man, I would give my whole self, not 'my virginity' (which once given is lost, after all). When I was advised by a priest-friend to discuss some kind of vows while living in the world, I was only thinking of how much I want to serve the church. I would love for it to be my full-time work, but also a complete gift. I'm not looking for the Church to pay me; on the contrary, right now, since I have a job, I pay for most of the material needed in my work in my parish from my own pocket, as part of the gift. I was kind of shocked and found the language about 'virginity' indelicate and even a bit offensive. My virginity is my private business (perhaps the most private thing about me). If anyone asked me, 'Are you a virgin?' I would think it terribly rude and intrusive, a deep violation of my privacy. It's nobody's business!

Do you have any comments on this? I just don't see my virginity as some 'thing' that I 'have' to 'give' to anyone. I simply am a virgin because I've never had sexual relations. I don't understand the huge emphasis on virginity. Is a woman who became a nun after her husband died somehow less of a total gift of herself because she already had a husband? Is she less than 100% a bride of Christ? Spoiled goods? Is God less pleased with her gift of self?

I don't get it. It's a real stumbling block and almost a scandal to me, because I find it really kind of well - icky - that I would be in front of a bunch of people in a public place who are all thinking about my gynaecological condition. Really - who wants to know people are thinking about THAT about you? I really, REALLY don't EVER ask myself about other people's sexual 'state' so to speak, and don't want them to talk to me about it. I don't want to know if someone is gay or someone is a virgin or not - none of my business. So why all the publicity about consecrated virgins? Can't we just keep this 'precious gift' like a 'precious gift' - secret, between the soul and God - as the sexuality of a married couple is also secret and intimate?

Elizabeth said...

My experience is of discovering the value and practice of chastity, and experiencing God's call to single-heartedness for Himself in celibate chastity, only after no longer literally a virgin. Even through I grew up Catholic, I was not raised to value chastity or virginity, and even as a young child was not "pure as the driven snow" and fell away from my Catholic faith and belief in God as an adolescent and fell progressively further into sin, with the effect that I am not now a virgin in the literal sense, which I was belatedly surprised to learn is considered important not only by men seeking a "new" rather than "used" woman to marry, but even by the Church in regards to women whom God calls to the opposite, a chaste celibate life of prayer and singleheartedness for Christ, Bridegroom of the Church. When I recently met with a priest to discuss a celibate vocation, he asked me "are you physically a virgin?" Of course, you can guess the reason he was asking this very humiliating question--because of this vocation, which I had not asked him about. Since in heaven there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, in what sense will distinctions between whether women are literally virgins or not matter in heaven? Does virginity not, rather, matter as a sign for pilgrims on earth! In relation to God, is it not singleness of heart rather than the intactness of the body that matters, and is this singleness of heart not His gift? I hope, pray and long to no longer be ashamed, sad and in pain over my past sins, in heaven! Jesus have mercy on me a sinner! Jesus, so incorporate me into your Body the Church, your Bride made holy by the blood and water of your Passion, that when you look on me you will finally see me wholly undefiled!

Anonymous said...

Say for example one receives no formation, is sexually abused as a child and is brought up in a largely non-Catholic country (a society that doesn't place a value on virginity or matrimony so if they protest they are stigmatized with mental illness, etc.), doesn't have access to the Sacraments. This is likely to leave a lasting impression on the body as well, doesn't it? This is obviously different from sinning, where they know what they do is a sin but choose to do it anyway. Say they keep seeking truth and eventually find it. Later in life they come to know Jesus and fall in love with Him (easy to do), but feel plagued by memories of earlier experiences about the bother of which they pray to God and receive Spiritual consolations. Is this person likely to be considered by the Church as a candidate for consecrated virginity or would they be considered to have a disease? Would you say that they were not capable to "only give Christ her love" and "give Him her whole heart for her whole life" and that "She is His and His alone."? To me it seems that the Church has not yet reached a perfection on Earth to claim it touches everyone. What is abuse, then? Are there documents on what the OCV considers abuse. How is this discerned?

a consecrated virgin said...

I’m very sorry to hear about difficult experiences with spiritual directors who might have been more tactful with a delicate topic, but I still don’t think that these kind of pastoral mistakes invalidate the vocation of consecrated virginity, change its requirements, or otherwise make consecrated virginity into a bad thing for the Church.

One point I tried to express in this post, which I now emphasis again, is that the Church considers virginity to be primarily a moral and spiritual state rather than a merely biological one. This is one reason why I prefer to speak of “literal” virginity instead of “physical” virginity.

Virginity pertains to the choices you make about what you do with your body. Because of this, the Church would still consider many rape victims to be literal virgins—even if, medically speaking, biological evidence of virginity is diminished. But since most women are not rape victims, it’s also not incorrect for us to say that virginity is a spiritual reality which is generally signified by a particular physical state. In other words, biological virginity is normally—but not always or absolutely—one component of virginity.

A Catholic woman who has never knowingly and willingly engaged in sexual relations is free to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity, even if she has suffered sexual abuse at some point.

However, just because the Church would consider someone a virgin doesn’t mean that this person is automatically called to the vocation of consecrated virginity. We need to keep in mind that the discernment of one’s vocation is a very individual, personal process; and there are always a number of factors to consider whenever ANYONE makes such a major life decision. (In other words, if a woman does not feel attracted to the spirituality of consecrated virginity, or finds it to be a difficult concept on an emotional level for whatever reason, then she doesn’t have to discern this vocation.)

In first writing this post, I had hoped some things would go without saying—or at least, without saying repeatedly—but I’ll stress it again: even though they aren’t called to the relatively unusual and very specific vocation of consecrated virginity, non-virgin women of course still have the human dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God: they have the baptismal dignity of being redeemed by Christ and incorporated into the Church; they are called to a life of personal holiness just like everyone else; and they may make a private vow of chastity or enter any other form of consecrated life within the Church except for consecrated virginity.

Obviously, I do believe that virginity is a unique and precious spiritual reality that the Church values and cherishes. But at the same time, I am certainly NOT trying to argue that virginity is the sum total of the Christian life!

Agnes said...

Most CVs, even with the stricter interpretation, would consider loss of virginity to be sexual intercourse, or even to include oral sex and mutual masturbation (if they are gay). But the well known CV canon lawyer Therese Ivers OCV JCL says she has spoken to cardinal buke and says loss of virginity under c.604 is as per St Thmas Aquinas definition

"As regards the matter of virginity there is that which may be miraculously restored by God namely the integrity of the organ, which we hold to be accidental to the state of virginity while there is something else which cannot be restored even by miracle or wit, that one who has experienced venereal lust should cease to have had that experience. [FP] Q[25] A[4]"

She includes masterbation, french kissing in that definition. I read this on Catholic answers and was prompted to seek confession with my Bishop. One who as ever even French kissed is not a virgin in the standard explained by St Thomas. The Lord knows even what is in secret. but the bishop only knows that which is in the external forum which does not allow a more detailed explanation to be in the wording than "open or public violation of chastity".

Jacinta Gundrum said...


This article seems to be mostly about the actual loss of virginity, but what about other violations of chastity?

I think I've read interpretations where something like watching pornography and then telling someone about it would count as a public violation of chastity. Or what about having impure conversations?

Sponsa Christi said...

Jacinta,

I'm actually working on a post which addresses the issues in your question. To try to give you a brief answer here, right now the Church doesn't have a clear cutoff line for eligibility for the consecration of virgins, and thus there are still some gray areas.

Personally, I feel that the consecration of virgins does envision a more "robust" life of chastity than simply stopping short of actual intercourse. But with that being said, I think we need to approach these questions with a healthy dose of common sense! While impure conversations, etc. are sinful, I don't think a reasonable person could seriously argue that this counts as an actual loss of virginity.

For what it's worth, I don't have a strong opinion about exactly where to draw the line in terms of gray areas. But my usual advice to women who are SINCERELY unsure of whether they are "virgin enough" for the Ordo Virginum is to discuss their questions openly and honestly with their spiritual director (but NOT with their bishop or anyone acting in the official capacity of formation director), and come to their own decision in conscience.

I hope this helps!