Monday, October 27, 2008

What Is Consecrated Virginity?

(about the image: this is a mosaic of some ancient consecrated virgin-saints found in the Church of St. Apollinaire in Ravenna, Italy)

As I am now beginning to send out invitations for my consecration (and yes, it still seems a little unreal!), I found it necessary to write up a one-page description of consecrated virginity that I can give to those family and friends who have never heard of this vocation. I decided to share it with you here.

I want this to be easy to understand for the average, educated Catholic who goes to Church on Sunday, but who generally doesn't read Canon Law. I would really appreciate comments if you see a way that this could be more clear or more helpful. Also, if any of my readers ever need a convenient description of consecrated virginity lived in the world, feel free to borrow this.
What is consecrated virginity?
Consecrated virginity is the oldest form of consecrated life in the Catholic Church, dating back to the time of the Apostles. Centuries before it was historically possible for a woman to become a nun, she could offer herself entirely to God by becoming a consecrated virgin. Very early in the Church’s history, a special rite was developed to establish a woman in this state in life, setting her apart as a “spouse of Christ.”

Some well-know consecrated virgin saints from the early Church include St. Agnes, St. Cecilia, St. Agatha, and St. Lucy.

Beginning around the fourth century A.D., The formation of religious Orders and the surrounding historical circumstances gradually put an end to the practice of consecrating women living “in the world,” or outside of monasteries. Despite this, the Rite of Consecration was preserved in tradition by a few religious Orders which continued to use the Rite of Consecration in conjunction with a nun’s final profession of vows.

In the 1963 document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the second Vatican Council called for a revision and revival of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World, thereby restoring this ancient vocation to the life of the contemporary Church.

Modern consecrated virgins are solemnly consecrated by the local diocesan bishop (or by a delegated auxiliary bishop) within the context of the revised rite. The bishop is the one who grants permission for women to receive this consecration, as well as the one who determines the concrete circumstances under which they are to live their consecrated lives. Consecrated virgins remain directly under his authority, unlike religious sisters who are ordinarily accountable to the superiors of their religious community.

Besides life-long celibacy, the only formal obligation of a consecrated virgin is prayer, especially for the people, clergy, and bishop of her diocese. During the Rite of Consecration a consecrated virgin is also given the responsibility to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church.

While consecrated virgins are expected to live simply, they do not take vows of poverty and must support themselves financially. Because of this, they are not required to take on any specific ministry. However, they are still called to be “dedicated to the service of God and the Church.”

Consecrated virgins exist in the Church today for the same reason that consecrated people have always existed—to be a living sign and witness of the love Christ has for His people.

No comments: