In response to an uptick in the number of women requesting permission to dedicate themselves to God as consecrated virgins, the Vatican has issued revised guidelines on this ancient and sacred path known as the Ordo virginum (Order of virgins).
According to an article appearing in the Independent, more and more women are opting to live out their lives as “brides of Christ” who remain celibate in the world in order to devote themselves exclusively to Jesus Christ. They do not belong to any religious order and have no role within the Church. Instead, they live out their witness in the midst of the everyday world, working as teachers, nurses, business women, or wherever the Lord calls them.
“Since this form of consecrated life was reintroduced in the church, there has been a real revival of the Ordo virginum [Order of Virgins],” said Archbishop Jose Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
“The phenomenon appears to be very significant, not only for the number of women involved, but also for its diffusion throughout all continents, in many countries and Dioceses and in very diverse geographic areas and cultural contexts.”
According to the guidance, women can only be admitted to consecration by a diocesan bishop and must “follow Christ [and] embrace his chaste, poor and obedient way of life.”
This rare and little-known vocation, which was restored in the Church in 1970, is considered to be one of Christianity’s oldest forms of total devotion to God.
As the document explains, Jesus freely embraced a life without family ties and obligations, so that he could dedicate himself totally to the proclamation of the Kingdom and to the fulfillment of the Father’s plan of love for humanity. This radical freedom from attachments was introduced by Jesus when he asked his followers to leave everything – including family and spouse.
“To his disciples he spoke of eunuchia as an absolutely new condition, understood not as mortification or a contemptuous attitude towards women, but as a particular gift given by God to those who are called to it,” the document explains.
“Women in whom the Spirit inspires the charism of virginity (Mt 19:11-12) receive the grace of a special vocation, with which God the Father draws them to the heart of the nuptial covenant (Rev 19:7-9) which, in his eternal plan of love he wanted to establish with humanity and which is fulfilled in the incarnation and the paschal experience of the Son.”
For this reason, consecrated women are called upon to “dedicate themselves to prayer, penance, the works of mercy and the apostolate.”
The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV) provides support to its members who are living out this sacred vocation. The Blessed Virgin Mary is their primary patroness followed by St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first canonized Native American.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 5,000 women living as consecrated virgins, with approximately 245 of them living in 106 diocese in the United States.
For example, in 2015, a 38 year-old theology teacher named Jessica Hayes from Fort Wayne, Indiana became the first woman in the diocese to become a consecrated virgin. In 2017, Jennifer Lynn Settle, 45, became the fifth woman to consecrate herself to Jesus Christ in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Also in 2017, three women – a college professor, an acquisitions editor for a publishing company, and the principal of a Catholic school – consecrated themselves to Christ in the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.
Judith Stegman, president of the USACV told the Independent that awareness of this ”misunderstood” lifestyle is growing.
“Clearly, as it becomes known more and more, there’s been a continual increase in women who are interested in the vocation, asking about it and becoming consecrated, especially as various bishops become more aware of it and encourage it in their dioceses,” she said.
Let us pray for all of those women who have dedicated their lives to God as consecrated virgins and that those who are being called to this sacred and holy way of life will respond generously to God’s call.
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