Radical Love - The Revival of Consecrated Virginity
Glimpse into the world of this ancient and countercultural Calling
It was a first.
I've covered countless Ordinations, Solemn Vows, First Vows, etc… but never a Mass of Consecration to a life of virginity.
To say that it's unique would be an understatement.
It's an ancient practice.
One that rose as an integral part of the ancient Church and is today experiencing a revival.
Historical records suggest that women began dedicating themselves to a life of virginity for religious reasons as early as the first century.
The earliest instances of Consecrated Virginity are found in the writings of early Church Fathers like St. Ignatius of Antioch and Tertullian.
These early Christian virgins were not part of an organized religious order but lived in their communities, dedicating their lives to prayer, service, and chastity.
The practice gained formal recognition by the Church in the early centuries, particularly through the Rite of Consecration. The first known formal rite of consecration is that of Saint Marcellina in AD 353, as her brother, Saint Ambrose, mentioned in "De Virginibus." Another early consecrated virgin is Saint Genevieve (c. 422 – c. 512)
Throughout history, innumerable saints subscribed to this vocation, including St. Agnes, a martyr of the early Church renowned for her commitment to virginity from a young age. St. Cecilia, who is venerated as the patroness of musicians, consecrated her life to God and remained faithful even unto martyrdom. As well as St. Lucy, a martyr whose dedication to a life of virginity and charity led to her ultimate sacrifice for the faith.
In Catholic theology, Consecrated Virginity is seen as a mystical marriage to Christ, symbolizing the Church's own spousal relationship with Him. This vocation is a profound witness to the belief in the life to come, where, as Scripture says, "they neither marry nor are given in marriage."
However, in the Middle Ages, around the time of St. Francis of Assisi's founding of the Poor Clares. Women's Religious Orders/Communities began to emerge, and the practice declined.
The modern revival of this rite for women living outside of religious communities is associated with Anne Leflaive, who was consecrated in 1924.
The rite was reintroduced in 1970 under Pope Paul VI following the Second Vatican Council. And in 1995, St. John Paul II proclaimed those so consecrated as a "twofold gift of the Lord to His Church."
And most recently, Pope Francis celebrated the 50th Anniversary of "The Rite of Consecrated Virgins promulgated by St. Pope Paul VI and blessed all those consecrated and to be consecrated. "As signs of the Church as Bride, may you always be women of joy, following the example of Mary of Nazareth, woman of the Magnificat, Mother of the living Gospel."
Consecrated Virginity vs. Women's Religious Orders
While both consecrated virgins and women in religious orders dedicate their lives to God, there are key differences.
Consecrated virgins are not part of a specific religious community and do not take the same communal vows as those in religious orders. Instead, they live in the secular world, integrating their spiritual commitments with everyday life.
They are free to live, work, and serve according to their own preference. And often occupations such as lay teachers, nurses, lawyers, or other secular career paths.
The formal Rite of Consecration is structurally similar to the Rites in which women religious make their professions.
And while there are many differences, there are two distinct observable moments that set them apart.
The "velatio virginum" (veiling of virgins) is a specific rite that marks their consecration, distinct from the veiling of women religious.
While both involve a form of veiling and signify a commitment to a life of chastity and dedication to God, the velatio virginum is specific to consecrated virgins living in the world, symbolizing their spiritual marriage to Christ, whereas the veil of nuns or sisters is also part of a religious habit that signifies their belonging to a religious community and adherence to the vows of religious life.
A subtle difference in definition. But a profound one in practice.
The other is at the reception of Communion.
As Communion is about to be distributed, just after the Celebrant receives, the consecrated woman approaches and receives the Body and Blood, before the Deacon.
It's a striking moment.
And a window into the next-level intimacy of her relationship with Christ as a bride to Bridegroom.
Today, there are an estimated 5,500 consecrated virgins around the world. Each is a living witness to the Love of Christ and His Passion for His Church.
And today, in an age collapsing from profound moral decline, the vocation stands strong as a countercultural call to what is True, Good, and Beautiful.
And a compass point to Christ Who is the Fulfillment of all human seeking.
Learn more at the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins
Words & Pictures by Jeffrey Bruno is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber!