On January 3, 2009, to my great joy I was solemnly consecrated to a life of virginity in the Archdiocese of New York. That is, I as a virgin was wholly dedicated to God as a “spouse of Christ,” through my reception of an ancient rite of consecration by the authority of the local bishop.
Consecrated virginity is actually the oldest form of consecrated life in the Catholic Church, predating religious life by centuries. The choice of life-long virginity is praised several places in the New Testament, and one of our earliest references to consecrated virgins as a distinct group within the Church can be found in St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrnaeans, written c. 110 A.D. Later Church Fathers, such as Sts. Cyprian and Ambrose, wrote extensive treatises on this form of consecrated life, and early versions of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity appear in our oldest written liturgical records. Well-known consecrated virgins from the early Church include the martyrs St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia, and St. Lucy.
Before it was historically possible for a woman to enter a religious Order and become a nun, she could offer her life to God as a consecrated virgin. But with the rise of monastic religious life beginning in the sixth century A.D., the practice of consecrating women living “in the world,” or outside of monasteries, gradually fell into disuse until it was discontinued in the Middle Ages. However, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity was preserved by certain religious Orders, who continued to use the ritual in conjunction with their contemplative nuns’ solemn profession. Then in the later half of the twentieth century, in accord with the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Rite of Consecration was revised and the vocation of consecrated virginity in the world was restored to the life of the modern Church.
In my own life, I was twelve years old when I first felt called to dedicate my life exclusively to Christ. At the time, I assumed that I would eventually enter a convent and become a nun or a religious sister. After I graduated from high school at eighteen, I began to discern my vocation more seriously. But after visiting several thriving and joyful religious communities, I began to sense that God was calling me to something other than religious life specifically. When I had the chance to read the Church’s Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity a few months later, I immediately felt that I had found my vocation. After four more years of careful discernment, and following my college graduation from Seton Hall University, I received solemn consecration at age twenty-three.
One of the main reasons why I first felt attracted to this vocation was the deep spirituality found in the Rite of Consecration itself. The ancient and beautiful prayers contained in this rite focus on the spousal relationship between a consecrated virgin and Christ-a relationship which is described as an image of Christ’s love for His Church. The Church considers a consecrated virgin to be a “bride of Christ,” meaning that she freely offers herself, and all the love she would have given to a husband and children, to Christ alone for the glory of God and the salvation of His people.
And although consecrated virgins and women religious are similar in the sense that the Church regards them both as publicly consecrated persons, receiving the Rite of Consecration is different from professing religious vows. Where religious vows are essentially promises that an individual actively makes to God, consecration to a life of virginity is a solemn blessing a woman passively receives from God through the bishop. (This is somewhat similar to the way in which a bishop consecrates a Church building, setting it aside for a sacred purpose.) Because of this, the consecration itself can never be dispensed.
I was further drawn to my vocation of consecrated virginity because I felt God wanted me to dedicate my life to prayer for, and service to, my home diocese. Consecrated virginity is one of the only forms of women’s consecrated life which involves a deep spiritual bond with the local Church. Unlike a religious sister, who in some sense must “leave” her diocese in order to join her community, a consecrated virgin continues to be fully a part of the local Church, and she lives out her consecrated life directly under the authority of her bishop.
In my new life as a consecrated virgin, I am called to devote a substantial amount of time to prayer. This includes daily Mass, praying the full Divine Office, and spending time in personal prayer and spiritual reading. Consecrated virgins have a special focus on the Liturgy of the Hours, since during the Rite of Consecration they are presented with a breviary and commissioned to pray the Divine Office. In their prayers, consecrated virgins intercede for the whole Church, remembering in particular the bishops, priests, and all the people of their diocese.
Presently, I also study theology as a full-time graduate student. While I would like eventually to earn a doctorate and teach at a university level, I would be open to using my education in other, perhaps non-academic ways, if the needs of the Church suggested this. Because Canon Law calls consecrated virgins to be “dedicated to the service of the Church,” serving my archdiocese is always my first priority.
Yet, consecrated virginity as a vocation is much more about “being” than “doing.” In living as a spouse of Christ, a consecrated virgin anticipates what will be the reality for all the faithful in Heaven, where they “neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels.” (Matthew 22:30). Consecrated virgins serve as a reminder that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment, not only of the longings of the human heart, but also of all time and history. Like the Bride in the book of Revelation, consecrated virgins are called to love Christ with such totality that their whole lives constantly echo the cry: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (cf. Revelation 22:17, 20)
Click here if you would like to read the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World: