Of course, for consecrated virgins and those discerning this vocation, the most important vocation-specific reading material is the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity itself (I would even say you should meditate in the Rite until you almost have it memorized!), followed by the writings of the Church Fathers on consecrated virginity.
Still, I know it’s always nice to have additional reading material.
In some ways, it’s difficult to come up with a good list, since (aside from a few in-house productions from national or regional consecrated virgins’ associations) there aren’t really any books written about consecrated virginity “in the world” specifically.
However, I have found the following books helpful for gaining a fuller understanding of consecrated virginity as a vocation in the Church.
Currently in print*:
- “And You are Christ’s...”: The Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life, by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
If you think you might be called to consecrated virginity, you should definitely read this book! In my opinion, it’s hands-down the clearest, most accessible, and most comprehensive non-scholarly book on the theology of consecrated virginity which is currently in print.
“And You are Christ’s…” is about consecrated virginity in its broadest sense. That is, it deals with the commitment to a life of perpetual virginity in the context of all forms of consecrated life within the Church, and not just “canonical” consecrated virginity—although happily, it does explicitly mention the vocation of consecrated virginity according to canon 604.
Because of this, I think it would be an equally appropriate book for serious aspirants to consecrated virginity as it would be for women who are just beginning to discern a vocation to consecrated life. And naturally, it’s also a good book for those of us who have already been consecrated for several years to revisit from time to time.
- Virginity: A Postive Approach to Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom, by Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.
This slim volume is very similar to the one by Fr. Dubay, although I would say that it’s somewhat more useful as reflective spiritual reading than as a source of hard facts and objective theological information. But it does a great job in conveying the beauty and joy of a life of virginity from an “outward-looking” evangelical perspective.
- Daughter Zion, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
Another short but rich little book, Daughter Zion discusses the place of Marian theology in the post-Vatican II Church, relying heavily on scriptural references from both the Old and New Testaments.
Even though this work isn’t about consecrated life in an immediate way, it did a lot to help me understand the significance of Mary’s virginity—and therefore, about the vocation of consecrated virginity in general, since this this vocation is, after all, a reflection of Our Lady’s—in the broader picture of the Church’s theology and teachings.
- Priests for the Third Millennium, by Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Although I do have reason to be a bit biased here, I promise I’m not just including this one because Cardinal Dolan is my bishop!
Priests for the Third Millennium was originally written by the then-Monsignor Dolan as a series of conferences for the seminarians at the North American College in Rome when he was the rector. It discusses not only the virtues to which all Christians are called, but also focuses on the spirituality of the diocesan priesthood and on what is practically necessary in order to lead a healthy and well-balanced priestly life.
However, with just a minimal amount of mental editing (e.g., by substituting “priest” or seminarian” with “consecrated virgin” in your head in the appropriate places), probably about ninety percent of what is written here about diocesan priests could also be applicable to consecrated virgins. In particular, I think the chapters that touch on human formation and on forming good habits are especially helpful.
- The Virgin Martyrs: A Hagiographical and Mystagogical Interpretation, by Michael J.K. Fuller
To be honest, this book has kind of an unusual goal and premise—the author was looking for a way to read and interpret traditional hagiography (i.e., lives of the saints) in a way that would be more meaningful and make more sense to modern readers, while still respecting these ancient legends and acknowledging that they have their own historical, literary, and theological integrity. In other words, this book seek to answer the question: What can the often fantastic stories on the lives of the Church’s earliest saints teach us in today’s skeptical world?
Borrowing from the Church Fathers’ categories for Biblical interpretation, the author suggests that we should learn to interpret these legends in an “anagogical sense.” To demonstrate how this kind of reading of the lives of the saints might work, he chooses the ancient virgin-martyr saints categorically as kind of a test case. So technically, this book was actually meant to be more about a new academic methodology, rather than primarily about the virgin-martyr saints themselves.
However, this book still provides one of the best discussions on the early consecrated virgin-saints that I’ve ever seen! It does am excellent job of showing how rich and meaningful the lives of the virgin-martyr saints truly are.
I would recommend this book to any educated reader, especially since you don’t need to understand the author’s “real” thesis in order to benefit from his reflections on the virgin-martyr saints.
- Justice in the Church: Gender and Participation, by Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.
This book is actually about gender roles in the Church. Written from a “searching” yet fully orthodox perspective, it tackles the question of how men and women can be said to be equal in a Church that professes the doctrine of an all-male priesthood. The author’s thesis is that while men and women are of equal dignity in the Church, they have different and complementary roles. In this work, Fr. Ashley identifies consecrated virginity as a vocation that is as unique to women as it is necessary to the life of the Church.
As this book is more scholarly than the other works I’ve listed here, I would probably only recommend Justice in the Church to someone who had at least a basic background in academic theology.
Out of print books:
- Virginity, by Joseph Marie Perrin, O.P.
This book is a lot like the ones written by Fathers Dubay and Cantalamessa, in that it provides a good overview on the nature and spirituality of a vocation to perpetual virginity for the sake of the Kingdom.
One unique benefit of this particular work is that it focuses on what it necessary—both on a spiritual and on a human level—in order to live this life in a healthy way. Fr. Perrin, who was one of the founders of the Caritas Christi secular institute, also spends time discussing the unique challenges of a commitment to virginity lived without the day-to-day support of a religious community.
- Christ in His Consecrated Virgins, by Ludwig Münster (Translated by Basil Stegmann, OSB and Sr. M. Margretta, OSB.
Christ in His Consecrated Virgins was written as a series of conferences for solemnly-professed Benedictine nuns who were preparing to receive the pre-Vatican II Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. Even though this book was not written with consecrated virgins “living in the world” specifically in mind, it’s still very worthwhile as a source of spiritual reading—as a far I know, it may be the only published book of reflections ever written on the Rite.
And as an added bonus, this English edition includes a translation of the older Rite of Consecration. (But if you’re like me, after reading it, you’ll wish the Council Fathers would have kept the solemn anathema in the revised version of the Rite!)
- Las Virgines Cristianas de la Iglesia Primativa, by Fransico Vizmanos, S.J. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1948.)
Although this work has never been translated from the original Spanish, it’s still the “go to” book on consecrated virginity in the writings of the Church Fathers. Fr. Vizmanos includes a bibliography and Spanish translations of the Church Fathers’ writings on consecrated virgins, along with his own extensive commentary.
Readers, if you can think of any other helpful (and preferably English-language) books that I’ve missed, feel free to add your suggestions in the comment box!
*N.b., I’m linking to Amazon because I think this is probably the best way to identify the books I’m talking about. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t actually make any money off of this blog!