Preparation Process for the Consecration of Virgins Living in the World
Prepared by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins
15 September 2000, Our Lady of Sorrows
The revised Rite of Consecration of Virgins for Women Living in the World was published by the decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship on 31 May 1970, after having been formally decreed by the Second Vatican Council.
The decree of promulgation explains the development of this venerable and ancient rite in this way.
The rite for the consecration of virgins is one of the most treasured in the Roman liturgy. Consecrated virginity is among the most excellent gifts bequeathed by our Lord to his Bride, the Church. From apostolic times women have dedicated their virginity to God, so adding to the beauty of the mystical body of Christ and making it fruitful in grace. Even from earliest times, as the Fathers of the Church bear witness, mother Church in her wisdom set her seal on this high vocation by her practice of consecrating those who followed it by means of a solemn prayer. This prayer, enriched in the course of time by other ritual elements to bring out more clearly the symbolism of virginity in relation to the Church, the bride of Christ, was incorporated into the Roman Pontifical. [Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 62] (1970):
Canon 604 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law provides for the establishment of the Order of Virgins as a form of consecrated life in the Church. The word, order, is used in the sense of a distinct group of persons in the Church, for example, the order of presbyters, the order of deacons, the order of penitents or the order of widows. It is not used in the sense of a congregation of consecrated religious, for example, the Order of Saint Benedict, the Order of Preachers, or the Order of Friars Minor.
As expressed in the Roman Pontifical, the consecrated virgin is to be a 'spouse of Christ,' a sign of Christ's Virgin Bride, the Church. She is freely and joyfully to bear to Christ the same undivided and perpetual love that joins Christ and the Church. The ring she receives during the Rite symbolizes her perpetual fidelity to her Bridegroom. The suggested Homily in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins for Women Living in the World explains the origins of consecrated virginity in this way.
Our Lord himself taught us the high calling of such a life, consecrated to God and chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. By his whole life, and especially by his labors, his preaching, and, above all, by his paschal mystery, he brought his Church into being. He desired it to be a virgin, a bride, and a mother: a virgin, to keep the faith whole and entire; a bride, to be one with him for ever; and a mother, to raise up the family of the Church.
The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, through baptism has already made you temples of God's glory and children of the Father. Today through our ministry he anoints you with a new grace and consecrates you to God by a new title. He gives each one of you the dignity of being a bride of Christ and binds you to the Son of God in a covenant to last for ever.
The Church is the bride of Christ. This title of the Church was given by the fathers and doctors of the church to those like you who speak to us of the world to come, where there is no marrying or giving in marriage. You are a sign of the great mystery of salvation, proclaimed at the beginning of human history and fulfilled in the marriage covenant between Christ and his Church.
You are apostles in the Church and in the world, in the things of the Spirit and in the things of the world...
You have renounced marriage for the sake of Christ. Your motherhood will be a motherhood of the spirit, as you do the will of your Father and work with others in the spirit of charity, so that a great family of children may be born, or reborn, to the life of grace.
Your joy and your crown, even here on earth, will be Christ, the Son of the Virgin and the Bridegroom of virgins. He will lead all of you to his presence and into his kingdom, where you will sing a new song as you follow the Lamb of God wherever he leads you.
[from 'Homily,' #16, Rite of Consecration for Women Living in the World]
Consecrated to God, as a 'spouse of Christ,' the consecrated virgin is at the service of the Church. Her vocation is authenticated by the call of the bishop of her diocese. She lives in the heart of the Church in a definitive state of life. Her consecration does not establish her within a new structure or institute in the particular Church. Rather it establishes her in a true spiritual bond with the Diocesan Bishop and gives her a distinct spiritual identity in the whole Church.
Like the Church herself, her vocation is virginal, spousal, and maternal. Her primary service in the Church is prayer; hence she is given the Liturgy of the Hours as a sign of this spiritual responsibility. Consecrated virginity looks to its foundation in the early Church herself, under the inspiration of the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The consecrated virgin expends her efforts and energy according to her own unique talents, age, profession or occupation, and charisms in service to the Church. Her works of charity flow from her life of prayer as 'spouse of Christ.' She is dedicated to the service of the Church because she is espoused to Christ, her Bridegroom, forever.