Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Final Prayers of Ordinary Time

These last few days of Ordinary time—that is, the week between the feast of Christ the King and the first Sunday of Advent—have special meaning for me as a consecrated virgin. The focus on the “last things” and the end to which all Christians are headed reminds me of my vocation to anticipate the heavenly realities of eternity in my life today. Obviously, this is not something which is easy to do (nor something which I have been particularly successful at doing), though I’m humbled and honored to have been called to such a goal. During this period in the liturgical year, the Church reminds us to be watchful and vigilant for Christ’s second coming at the end of time, like the wise virgins in Matthew’s Gospel.

Although many of the recent readings from Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours might seem kind of ominous (and I think they should scare us a little bit, since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”), ultimately I believe they are a call to all the faithful to continue waiting “in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The readings also help prepare us for the season of Advent, where we remember the marvel of Christ’s first coming in the Incarnation.

Here is the second reading from the Office of Readings for the last day of Ordinary Time (Saturday of the thirty-fourth week). It’s a beautiful sermon from St. Augustine on how we are to “conduct ourselves reverently during our sojourn in a strange land.” Emphases, in bold, are mine.

From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop (Sermo 256, 1. 2. 3: PL 38, 1191-1193)

Let us sing alleluia to the good God who delivers us from evil

Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security. Why do we now live in anxiety? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when I read: Is not man’s life on earth a time of trial? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when the words still ring in my ears: watch and pray that you will not be put to the test? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when there are so many temptations here below that prayer itself reminds us of them, when we say: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us? Every day we make our petitions, every day we sin. Do you want me to feel secure when I am daily asking pardon for my sins, and requesting help in time of trial? Because of my past sins I pray: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and then because of the perils still before me, I immediately go on to add: Lead us not into temptation. How can all be well with people who are crying out with me: Deliver us from evil? And yet, brothers, while we are still in the midst of this evil, let us sing alleluia to the good God who delivers us from evil.

Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let all men, sing alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. So let us sing alleluia, even here on earth. Man is still a debtor, but God is faithful. Scripture does not say that he will not allow you to be tried, but that he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. Whatever the trial, he will see you through it safely, and so enable you to endure. You have entered upon a time of trial but you will come to no harm—God’s help will bring you through it safely. You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. When you are put into the oven therefore, keep your thoughts on the time when you will be taken out again; for God is faithful, and he will guard both your going in and your coming out.

But in the next life, when this body of ours has become immortal and incorruptible, then all trials will be over. Your body is indeed dead, and why? Because of sin. Nevertheless, your spirit lives, because you have been justified. Are we to leave our dead bodies behind then? By no means. Listen to the words of holy Scripture: If the Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells within you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your own mortal bodies. At present your body receives its life from the soul, but then it will receive it from the Spirit.

O the happiness of the heavenly alleluia, sung in security, in fear of no adversity! We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in anxiety, there, in security; here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live for ever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.

So, then, my brothers, let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do—sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going. What do I mean by keep going? Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue; for there are some, the Apostle warns, whose only progress is in vice. If you make progress, youwill be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, but keep going.

RESPONSORY (See Tobit 13:17, 18, 11)

Your streets of gold, Jerusalem, will sing with happy song,
– throughout your length and breadth one great cry from the lips of all:

You will shine in splendor like the sun; all men on earth will pay you homage.
–Throughout your length and breadth one great cry from the lips of all:


Lord, increase our eagerness to do your will
and help us to know the saving power of your love.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

– Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Today is the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a consecrated virgin and philosopher who was martyred in early fourth-century Egypt. She is a patroness of philosophers and the Dominican Order, and I’m sure she could be considered a patroness for modern consecrated virgins as well—especially for those consecrated virgins who have to wade through a lot of philosophy in graduate school. ;-)

In honor of her feast (and because I have too much homework to write a full post!) here is a great video about St. Catherine from “Moniales OP”:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

St. Ambrose, Recalling His Sister’s Consecration

(About the image: this is the statue of St. Ambrose’s sister, St. Marcellina, which situated above her tomb in Milan.)

Continuing my amateur Patristics commentary on St. Ambrose’s De Virginibus, here is the first chapter of book III. De Virginibus, or in English “On Virgins,” is one of St. Ambrose’s several works addressing the value and practice of consecrated virginity. It was written while St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan, in the year 377 AD.

St. Ambrose wrote De Virginibus in the form of a letter to his sister, St. Marcellina, who herself was a consecrated virgin. (For an interesting article on St. Marcellina, see this post from the archives of the blog, “What Does the Prayer Really Say?”)

In this particular chapter, St. Ambrose reflects on his sister’s solemn consecration to a life of virginity, which she received in Rome at the hands of Pope Liberius (who reigned in the years 352-366).

One thing which makes this chapter especially interesting to me is that it gives us clear evidence that a liturgical ritual for the consecration of virgins existed at least as early as the fourth century. This is significant, because our oldest written copies of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity are found in the Leonine and Gelasian Sacramentaries. And even while these are two of our oldest written liturgical sources, they only date back to the sixth and seventh centuries, respectively.

Also, you’ll notice that this section of De Virginibus is focused more on Pope Liberius’ homily for St. Marcellina’s consecration than it is on St. Ambrose’s commentary. This could be considered an example of what is called a “fragment”—i.e., when discussing ancient authors, often those authors’ complete, original works have been lost to us. But, sometimes we can still have an idea of what those lost works contained, based on surviving quotations (the “fragments”) in works by other authors. So here, although we don’t have a treatise written by Pope Liberius on consecrated virginity, we still have a record of some of his thoughts on the matter.

You can read De Virginibus in its entirety here, on For more of this blog’s discussion on De Virginibus, see my previous posts on the writings of St. Ambrose. Emphases, in bold, and commentary, in red, are mine.

St. Ambrose now goes back to the address of Liberius when he gave the veil to Marcellina. Touching on the crowds pressing to the bridal feast of that Spouse Who feeds them all, he passes on to the fitness of her profession on the day on which Christ was born of a Virgin, and concludes with a fervent exhortation to love Him.

1. Inasmuch as I have digressed in what I have said in the two former books, it is now time, holy sister, to reconsider those precepts of Liberius of blessed memory which you used to talk over with me, as the holier the man the more pleasing is his discourse. For he, when on the Nativity of the Savior in the Church of St. Peter you signified your profession of virginity by your change of attire (and what day could be better than that on which the Virgin received her child?) (This, and some other passages in the Church Fathers’ writings, seem to indicate that in at least some places and time periods during the Patristic era, consecrated virgins did wear distinctive clothing. It’s also interesting to me that St. Marcellina was consecrated on Christmas—the modern Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity indicates that it’s appropriate to celebrate a consecration on a feast celebrating the Incarnation, so apparently this reflects a very ancient tradition.) while many virgins were standing round and vying with each other for your companionship. (I’m wondering if this isn’t a reference to the ancient Rite of Consecration’s equivalent of the two women who accompany a virgin to the sanctuary at her consecration.) You, said he, my daughter, have desired a good espousal. You see how great a crowd has come together for the birthday of your Spouse, and none has gone away without food. This is He, Who, when invited to the marriage feast, changed water into wine. (John 2:9) He, too, will confer the pure sacrament of virginity on you who before were subject to the vile elements of material nature. (The consecration of virgins is not a “sacrament” in the same way as the Seven sacraments—which, incidentally, were not numbered in St. Ambrose’s time. The Latin word “sacramentum” here probably refers more generally to the Rite of Consecration as a being a “sign” or sacred “mystery.”) This is He Who fed four thousand in the wilderness with five loaves and two fishes. (Luke 9:13) He could have fed more; if more had been there to be fed, they would have been. And now He has called many to your espousal, but it is not now barley bread, but the Body from heaven which is supplied.

2. Today, indeed, He was born after the manner of men, of a Virgin, but was begotten of the Father before all things, resembling His mother in body, His Father in power. Only-begotten on earth, and Only-begotten in heaven. God of God, born of a Virgin, Righteousness from the Father, Power from the Mighty One, Light of Light, not unequal to His Father; nor separated in power, not confused by extension of the Word or enlargement as though mingled with the Father, but distinguished from the Father by virtue of His generation. He is your Brother, (Song of Songs 5:1) without Whom neither things in heaven, nor things in the sea, nor things on earth consist. The good Word of the Father, Which was, it is said, in the beginning, (John 1:1) here you have His eternity. And, it is said, the Word was with God. (John 1:1) Here you have His power, undivided and inseparable from the Father. And the Word was God. (John 1:1) Here you have His unbegotten Godhead, for your faith is to be drawn from the mutual relationship. (The above discourse seems like a reference to, or a reiteration of, one of the Creeds. It’s not surprising to me that this discussion of Christ’s nature should be included here, since the forth century was “prime time” for Christological heresies, which virtually all of the Church Fathers labored to refute. N.b., Pope Liberius ascended to the papacy at the height of the Arian controversy (which called into question the divinity of Christ), and was one of the few bishops who refused to sign a letter in condemnation of St. Athanasius.)

3. Love him, my daughter, for He is good. For, none is good save God only. (Luke 18:19) For if there is no doubt that the Son is God, and that God is good, there is certainly no doubt that God the Son is good. Love Him I say. He it is Whom the Father begat before the morning star, as being eternal, He brought Him forth from the womb as the Son; He uttered him from His heart, as the Word. He it is in Whom the Father is well pleased; (Matthew 17:5) He is the Arm of the Father, for He is Creator of all, and the Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30) of the Father, for He proceeded from the mouth of God; (Wisdom 24:3) the Power of the Father, because the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily. (Colossians 2:9) And the Father so loved Him, as to bear Him in His bosom, and place Him at His right hand, that you may learn His wisdom, and know His power.

4. If, then, Christ is the Power of God, was God ever without power? Was the Father ever without the Son? If the Father of a certainty always was, of a certainty the Son always was. So He is the perfect Son of a perfect Father. For he who derogates from the power, derogates from Him Whose is the power. The Perfection of the Godhead does not admit of inequality. Love, then, Him Whom the Father loves, honor Him Whom the Father honors, for he that honors not the Son, honors not the Father, (John 5:23) and who so denies the Son, has not the Father. (1 John 2:23) So much as to the faith.

—St. Ambrose, De Virginibus; Book III, chapter 1

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Blog Award

Normally, I don’t really participate in blog awards, but I’ll make an exception for this one since it was awarded to me by my long-time friend (and blogging inspiration) Sr. Mary Blogger, VHM—editor of the Georgetown Visitation Monastery’s community blog “Live + Jesus!

Part of accepting the award includes listing six little-known facts about yourself, and naming six other “Gorgeous blogs.” So here it goes:

1. Before I went to earn my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, I spent three years training to be a professional artist in a fine arts program. (I was a painting major.) Even now, I think if I went back to finish that last year, I could have a B.F.A. It took me two years to earn a Philosophy degree at my new university, only because I was lucky enough to have a lot of my credits transfer—and because I was willing to take four Philosophy courses a semester (on top of a language, which for me was classical Greek).

2. My favorite psalm is psalm 116. Aside from its obvious beauty, I’m not really sure why it has such a particular draw for me, or why it feels like “my” psalm. But I’m always especially moved when it comes up in the Breviary.

3. My patron saint is St. Genevieve of Paris—my real first name is “Jenna,” and my mother chose this as a diminutive form of my grandmother’s name, Genevieve. St. Genevieve was a consecrated virgin who lived during the fifth century, and she is credited with saving Paris from an attack of Attila the Hun through her prayers and fasting. I was consecrated on St. Genevieve’s feast day, January 3.

4. In studying theology, I’m much more of an “Augustinian” than a “Thomist.” I certainly appreciate St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings, but the Summa Theologica just doesn’t make my heart sing the way the writings of the Church Fathers do!

5. I taught myself to say the Liturgy of the Hours by reading the rubrics…for the most part, anyway; I would also button-hole the local parish priests as necessary! I started off when I was eighteen by saying just Lauds, Vespers, and Compline with a copy of “Shorter Christian Prayer.” Then I was able to add one of the daytime hours when Sr. Mary Blogger gave me her old copy of the regular version of “Christian Prayer.” Finally, when I was twenty, I was able to “graduate” to saying the full, four-volume Liturgy of the Hours when our New York Vocation Director gave me the second-hand breviaries of a local religious Sister who had recently entered into eternal life—and these are actually the same books I use today.

6. My petition to receive the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity was approved just ten days before the Pope came to visit New York. And then I was fortunate enough to attend the Mass for Clergy and Religious in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I often think of this timing as akin to a small miracle!

And now for six other “Gorgeous blogs” worth visiting:

1. Emily, a young aspiring consecrated virgin from Louisiana, writes the blog “Witnessing Hope.”

2. The other “Sponsa Christi”—the Passionist nuns of St. Joseph’s monastery in Kentucky write the blog “In the Shadow of His Wings.”

3. Dawn Eden stopped writing her blog “The Dawn Patrol” just this past summer (much to my disappointment!) but you can still read her archives for insightful commentary on issues relating to Catholicism vis-à-vis contemporary culture.

4. The Redemptoristine nuns of Esopus, New York write the blog “Contemplative Horizon.” Their monastery is located in my archdiocese, and for a long time we had the same Vicar for Religious (who is the one who gave me permission to write this blog—under the condition that I didn’t talk about him! I hope this doesn’t count.) This autumn the posted beautiful photos of the foliage by the Hudson River, which I really appreciated since I’m stuck in Florida for the entire season!

5. Sr. Marla Marie, MSCL is founding the first apostolic Maronite-rite Catholic women’s religious community in the United States. (And, coincidentally, though the smallness of the “Catholic world,” someone asked her to pray for me in the days leading up to my consecration!) Her blog is called “Radiate His Light.”

6. I’m sure that the “Gorgeous blog” award button is MUCH too feminine for the administrator of “Roman Catholic Vocations” ever to consider posting. But I think that this is one of the most helpful blogs for people discerning vocations, so I link to it every chance I have.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Consecrated Virgin Saints of the Early Church

In celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints, I thought I would take this opportunity to share this list of consecrated virgin-saints from the first centuries of the Church. Although consecrated virginity might be viewed as a "new" vocation, I admit that I do enjoy pointing out that we have a list of saints that could rival those of some of the Church's greatest religious Orders! But more importantly, I'm always moved to relflect on the courageous lives of so many of my holy "sisters."

This list is based on the one complied by Fr. Francisco Vizmanos, S.J., in his book Las Virgenes Cristianas de la Iglesia Primitiva (published in 1949 in Madrid, Spain). You can also find a version of this list here on the USACV website.

In his introduction to the list, Fr. Vizmanos notes that these names include only those saints who, based on archeological evidence and reliable traditions, can be assumed to have existed as historical people. (I.e., legandary or apocryphal saints are not included here.) So when a question mark [(?)] occurs after a name, this is only to indicate that there is some doubt regarding the exact city or location in which the consecrated virgin saint is thought to have lived.

The dates given indicate the years in which the saints entered into eternal life. Martyrs' names are in red, and I have put into bold type the names of those saints who are most likely to be familiar to my readers.

Please also note that this list isn't yet complete. I plan to continue updating it throughout the day, or over the next few days. There's no really good reason for this--I'm just a busy graduate student who ran out of time!

Consecrated Virgin Saints of the Early Church
Apostolic Era

Palestine and East Africa:

St. Martha of Bethany + the daughters of Philip the deacon, of Caesarea + St. Marcela of Palestine or Dalmatia (?) + St. Iphigenia of Ethiopia (?)

Near East:

The daughters of Nicholas the deacon, of Antioch + St. Pelagia of Antioch + St. Thecla of Iconium + Sts. Cenaida & Philonila of Tesalia + St. Irene of Byzantium

Italy and Spain:

Sts. Euphemia & Dorothea of Aquileia (?) + Sts. Thecla & Erasma of Aquileia (?) + St. Justina of Padua + St. Flavia Domitilla of Rome + St. Petronilla of Rome + St. Felicula of Rome + Sts. Euphrosina & Theodora of Terracina (?) + St. Polixena of Spain (?)

Second Century

Greece and Italy:

St. Parasceve of Tracia (c. 150) + St. Olivia of Brescia (c. 117-138) + St. Serapia of Syria-Vindena/Umbria (c. 119) + St. Theodora of Rome (c. 132) + St. Balbina of Rome (c. 132) + St. Pudenciana of Rome (c. 160) + St. Gilceria of Rome (c. 177) + St. Praxedes of Rome

France and Spain:

St. Veneranda of Gaul (?) (138-161) + St. Blandina of Lyon (178) + St. Marina of Orense (?) (117-138?) + St. Liberata of Galicia (?) (c. 139) + St. Quiteria of Northern Spain (?)

Third Century

Near East:

St. Reparata of Caesarea (251) + St. Amonaria of Alexandria (250) + St. Apollonia of Alexandria (249) + St. Barbara of Heliopolis, Syria (?) (c. 235?) + St. Aquilina of Biblos, Phonecia (293) + St. Margaret of Antioch (c. 273) + St. Paula of Nicomedia (273) + St. Maura of Byzantium (273)


St. Justina of Trieste (289) + St. Eusebia of Bergamo + St. Mesalina of Foligno (c. 236) + St. Anatolia of Tora (250) + St. Mustiola of Chiusi (c. 275) + St. Domnina of Terni, Umbria (272) + St. Agape of Terni, Umbria (273) + St. Sophia of Fermo (249-251) + St. Taciana of Rome (225) + St. Martina of Rome (226) + St. Cecilia of Rome (229) + Sts. Digna & Emerita of Rome (254) + St. Victoria of Rome (256) + St. Anastasia of Rome (257) + St. Basila of Rome (257) + Sts. Rufina & Segunda of Rome (257) + St. Eugenia of Rome-Alexandria (c. 257) + St. Agripina of Rome (c. 262) + St. Benita of Rome (262) + St. Prisca of Rome (c. 270) + St. Restituta of Rome (270) + St. Susanna of Rome (c. 295) + St. Aurea of Ostia (250) + St. Secundina of Anagni (250) + St. Albina of Formio, Campania (249-251) + St. Agatha of Catania (251) + St. Eutalia of Sicily (257)


St. Restiuta of Ponizara (255) + St. Gundenia of Carthage (203) + St. Irene of Carthage (250)


St. Alvera of Luxeuil + St. Protasia of Senlis (c. 282) + St. Regina of Autun (c. 250) + St. Pascasia of Dijon + St. Julia of Troyes (275) + St. Sabina of Troyes (c. 280) + St. Poma of Chalons + St. Macra of Reims (287) + St. Albina of Paris + St. Honorina of Normandy (c. 300) + St. Valeria of Limoges + St. Eustela of Saintes + St. Solina of Aquitaine + St. Faith of Agen (287)


St. Beata (c. 270) + St. Marta of Astorga (c. 250) + Sts. Justa & Rufina of Seville (c. 287) + St. Columba (273)

Fourth Century

Palestine and Egypt:

Meuris and Teca of Gaza (c. 307) + St. Susanna of Eleutheropolis (c. 362) + St. Isidora of Tabennisi (c. 365) + St. Iraida of Memphis + St. Theodora of Alexandria (c. 304) + St. Potamiana of Alexandria (c. 304) + St. Catharine of Alexandria (310) + St. Sincletica of Alexandria (350) + Sts. Theodora, Theodoxia, & Theopista of Canopo (312) + St. Sara of the Egyptian desert (c. 400)
Asia and Greece:
St. Theodosia of Tyre (308) + St. Justina of Antioch (c. 304) + St. Drosis of Antioch (c. 304) + St. Pelagia of Antioch (c. 306) + St. Febronia of Nisibe, Assyria (310?) + St. Christina of Persia (c. 343) + St. Gudelia of Persia (c. 343) + St. Christina of Georgia + St. Macrina of Pontus (c. 380) + St. Dorothy of Cesarea, Cappadocia (c. 304) + St. Eutochium of Tarsus (362) + St. Parasceve of Iconium (c. 304) + St. Basilisa of Nicomedia (c. 303) + St. Dominica of Nicomedia (c. 304) + St. Euphemia of Chalcedon (307?) + Sts. Menodora, Metrodora, & Ninphodora of Bitinia (306) + St. Anysia of Thessalonica (304) + St. Matrona of Thessalonica (304)
Holy Virgins, Pray For Us!