August 16, 2008

Consecration to a Life of Virginity of Women Living in the World.

Did you know the Catholic Church has this rite?
Q. Why did you choose to live your life as a consecrated virgin?

A. My love for God consumes me. It is my reason for living. I love serving his people and being a part of the church. It's not that I didn't like the thought of getting married or raising a family -- it was simply that I wanted to give God all of me, that I wanted to devote all my time and energy to prayer, ministry and outreach, and the only way for that to happen was to remain single. With a husband and children, my time and attention would have been divided....

Q. What is the difference between a consecrated virgin and a nun?

A. The consecrated virgin is not bound to a particular community or to follow a designated rule like a specific spirituality. She is able to work in whatever type of career she feels drawn to, and she decides what her prayer life and ministry will look like, usually with the assistance of a spiritual director. She does not take vows of poverty and obedience like the nuns do.

57 comments:

EnigmatiCore said...

I think my wife is trying to be one of those.

chickenlittle said...

When did you stop beating her?

downtownlad said...

I'm not buying that. Katherine Jean Lopez is a virgin becuase she's fat, not because of some "consecration".

Meade said...

Don't beat her. Join her.

catherined31 said...

No, I didn't know, but who cares? Do they not have a similar rite for men besides the priesthood and therefore it's sexist? Is that the point?

Ann Althouse said...

There's no similar rite for men.

And since this rite doesn't require you to do anything in particular, it's hard to see why it exists at all.

My superficial view of it is that there are some women who want a public celebration of their sexual choice, that it's part of the same phenomenon that has women loving weddings. There's no equivalent interest in this sort of thing for men who aren't committing to being monks or priests.

Alternatively, it's just a very old ritual that was designed to protect and dignify women who might otherwise have been burdened in various ways (that didn't happen to single men).

And isn't it still true that single women are treated in a more negative way than single me? Some women might think they'd be better off if others thought of them not as spinsters but as consecrated virgins. I can see thinking it might be cool.

Think about how "bachelor" is a much more positive word than "spinster."

Paddy O. said...

I didn't know they had this rite, but this isn't just a Catholic thing. It goes way, way, way back to pretty much the beginning of Christianity. The idea of virgins being not just a status but a particular life choice can be seen even in the New Testament.

That such should band together in formal communities is a much later concept.

The vow of chastity wasn't just for young women, as many who were older or even married would take this vow--as a reflection of their yearning for holiness and emphasis on Christ. The distinction early on was this wasn't about being separated from the world in some sort of religious, liturgical focus but rather not being married freed up time to truly help others. Such virgins could serve the poor, help the widows, help out in countless ways.

And there were certainly male versions of this.

In a lot of ways this is like the Scriptural teaching on fasting. Don't make a show of it. Don't go around and wear special clothes or do special rites. Let the fasting of sexuality bring a focus on other realities of life, leading to prayer and works, and stillness.

This is, in essence, something that Protestant churches teach and encourage as well. Single women missionaries were very important in a lot of different contexts, such as China.

I think we'll start seeing more of this, to be honest in every tradition, if not so formally as this Catholic rite.

rhhardin said...

It seems like it tries to make virginity an absolute, instead of grading it from 0% to 100%.

Paddy O. said...

"Bachelor" doesn't imply 'male virgin', however. It's more of a player kind of word, isn't it?

I'm thinking of the movie 40 Year Old Virgin. That's not exactly a celebration of a man's positive choice to avoid sexuality.

A male virgin is a nerd, an outcast, a shame for most of the world. It's not a positive role, unless there's a religious component.

Also, I think it's not just for a woman to proclaim her own choice for herself. It's also a way to proclaim to all those forty year old virgin men that she's not wanting to be hit on.

Single guys in churches can be pretty desperate, and act like it.

Except for the ones who have made a point of choosing their situation.

Meade said...

Think about how "bachelor" is a much more positive word than "spinster."

Yes but isn't the feminine form of bachelor is bachelorette? And the masculinized form of spinster is spinstererer.

Ann Althouse said...

Paddy O. said.."In a lot of ways this is like the Scriptural teaching on fasting. Don't make a show of it. Don't go around and wear special clothes or do special rites. Let the fasting of sexuality bring a focus on other realities of life, leading to prayer and works, and stillness."

That seems to contradict having a rite. Why not be privately dedicated to a life of prayer and service without a public profession of it? (The answer could be that you want to make a public promise to keep you bound to your decision.)

""Bachelor" doesn't imply 'male virgin', however. It's more of a player kind of word, isn't it?"

Yes, but spinster doesn't have to mean virgin. My point is that the woman might want to "rebrand" when the man would not. The man is happy with "bachelor" and the man also doesn't want to be known as a virgin.

"A male virgin is a nerd, an outcast, a shame for most of the world. It's not a positive role, unless there's a religious component."

If he's not a priest or a monk, would he want to go about "living in the world" calling himself a "consecrated virgin"? Would people be impressed?

As for not wanting to attract men, I can understand that. A wedding ring serves a function... but you don't go about wearing a consecrated virgin sign, do you? And if you do... I think that would get a lot of unwanted attention.

Paddy O. said...

Here's some source material, which talks about men and women.

1 Corinthians 7:25-37

Now concerning virgins , I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that.

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties.

The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband.

I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well.

So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

Paddy O. said...

Ann, I think you're right about it being more a public vow for one's own discipline.

Honestly, I'm with you thinking it's a contradiction to have the rite. Just become a nun. Maybe that's why it's the first time in 111 years there's been this rite in that parish. There's a lot of 'look at me' about it. But, like with fasting, a lot of people love to tell others how much they're fasting.

"you don't go about wearing a consecrated virgin ring"

People do. It's a big business. They're called purity rings. Though, they're not necessarily for a vow of lifetime celibacy, and no dating. But, rather a symbol of celibacy until married, which might not happen during someone's life.

Here's an article on how popular it is--even for boys!

It's just not the 60s anymore...

Meade said...

Like a consecrated male vir - gin
Bashed for the forty thousand and forty fourth time...

Meade said...

Did St.Paul have anything to say about the wisdom of marrying to gain access to better health care and retirement benefits? I'm just thinking how I could probably serve God better if only I could afford to get this hump on my back removed.

Ann Althouse said...

"Honestly, I'm with you thinking it's a contradiction to have the rite. Just become a nun. Maybe that's why it's the first time in 111 years there's been this rite in that parish. There's a lot of 'look at me' about it. But, like with fasting, a lot of people love to tell others how much they're fasting."

I can see wanting to be a consecrated virgin, but not a nun. The CV gets to structure her own life and has a lot of freedom -- and would probably be the sort of person who would feel more free than if she was married or looking to get married. She's not taking on the responsibilities of a family and she's claiming to be on a higher path (so her family and friends won't be able to push her around or insult her). I like the idea of virgin/celibate pride.

The purity rings (which I've written about before) are not worn by women committing to virginity and sending the message that they never want a man. They are worn by women who mean to say that they are saving their virginity until marriage. They want to send the message that they will make a very good wife.

Nemo Dat said...

"There's no similar rite for men."

"There's no equivalent interest in this sort of thing for men who aren't committing to being monks or priests."

Sorry, Ann, but that's just false.

There are many men not committed to being monks or priests who nevertheless consecrate themselves to celibacy. Most notably, some Opus Dei members. There are other groups that do this as well.

Before you become your own resident expert on Catholicism, why not get your facts straight?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Everyone is called to chastity within their station in life. Married folks have only one partner and their expressions ought to be self-donating and open to life. St. Joseph, step-father to Jesus, is often referred to as Mary's 'most chaste spouse.' Of course, tradition has that Mary was a perpetual virgin, as was Joseph.
~~~
My wife's chaste.

Yep. She chased me around the kitchen table, then she chased me around the bed.

Meade said...

Hmm. My mortgage is with Chase.

off topic article on pity marriage

Ann Althouse said...

Nemo Dat, the equivalent interest I'm talking about is the interest in going through a public ritual of committing to being a virgin, not to just to the personal decision to remain a virgin/celibate. I'm guessing at why there is a ritual only for women, and I'm not purporting to be an expert on the religion. If you have something to explain, why not just explain it, instead of attacking me for being interested in it and trying to understand it?

Ann Althouse said...

If you're actually referring to a rite, then the news article I read has it wrong.

rhhardin said...

Pope, Rape of the Lock, on lady applying makeup before mirror

The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;
Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,

enhancing her virginity.

rhhardin said...

Virginity refers to male desire, rather than to the supposed value of any female modesty.

Female anatomy is all kneecaps without the male wiring that makes woman mysterious and interesting.

So it's far from becoming independent of males. On the contrary it's obsessed with males.

Ann Althouse said...

What?

You don't think a woman finds her own body significant and sexual?

rhhardin said...

Right.

Imagine kneecaps.

What makes anything different from that?

Well, men don't care about your kneecaps.

rhhardin said...

That is, you will find significance, but it will be by way of male desire.

Ann Althouse said...

That's not the way it feels from this side.

rhhardin said...

feels from this side

Right, but that's how it gets to feel that way.

Women are worshipped all their lives and begin to internalize it.

It's all some male that's neuron behind it.

Cicero I think (de senectute?) claimed one of the virtues of old age for men is that that neuron stops firing.

Nietzsche wrote that old women are much more skeptical than the men, in thinking that modesty is just the very desireable covering of a pudendum.

I'd say that they are no longer desired, and the internalization stops working.

While the neuron is still firing, you get truth with no quote marks, in the playing out of the sexual difference.

Simon said...

rhhardin said...
"Female anatomy is all kneecaps without the male wiring that makes woman mysterious and interesting."

Reconcile this with lesbians.

"Imagine kneecaps. What makes anything different from that?"

I'm betting you're a virgin - consecrated or not - if you don't know the answer to that.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

That seems to contradict having a rite. Why not be privately dedicated to a life of prayer and service without a public profession of it? (The answer could be that you want to make a public promise to keep you bound to your decision.)

Kind of like Weight Watchers? If you have to go and be weighed in front of the other dieters and publicize your diet plan, you are much more likely to stick to it. Same thing with exercise. If you join a group of people who committ to walking every morning you are more likely to exercise than if you just decide to do so alone.

There is also the visualize and vocalize your dream/goal theory. If you desire to become a business person with a certain plan...say own a restaurant....you should tell friends and family about your plan, write down your plan, put photos of your goal in prominent places and rinse and repeat until you have accomplished the goal. By making your goal (virginity?) known to others and keeping it always at the forefront of your daily routine, you will have success.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Of course, tradition has that Mary was a perpetual virgin, as was Joseph.

The Immaculate Conception concept applied to Mary, not to Jesus. Mary was born without original sin and was therefore immaculate at conception.

I think the virgin birth theory came about during the middle ages or at least many hundreds of years after the fact. Probably due to the extreme misogyny of the Church at that time.

rhhardin said...

I don't know about lesbians or gay men; you'd need Camille Paglia to intuit it, I think. She can do any orientation.

Is it impossible that lesbians have the male neuron I metaphorically speak of?

Something recognizes the female curve and absense of male package in the crotch, and goes off. ``Here, this is interesting!'' But there's nothing abstractly speaking that's remarkable there.

That the male is also wired to try to make sense of everything is what throws him into confusion, delightful or not.

The woman's side is being valued by this knight in shining armor and his going on quests for her. Female desire probably starts there.

I think that's the outline that drives everything. Various modifications in various cases are possible, but they won't be defining.

I take an evolutionary view of it. How do things have to work so that you get reproduction?

rhhardin said...

Lautreamont:

The priest of religions heads the procession, holding in one hand a white flag, the sign of peace, and in the other a golden device depicting the male and female privy parts, as if to indicate that these carnal members are most of the time, all metaphor apart, very dangerous tools in the hands of those employing them, when manipulated blindly to different and conflicting ends, instead of engendering a timely reaction against that well-known passion which causes nearly all our ills. To the small of his back is attached (artificially, of course) a horse's tail, thick and flowing, which sweeps dust off the ground. It means, beware of debasing ourselves by our behaviour to the level of animals. The coffin knows the way and moves behind the billowing vestment of the comforter. The relatives and friends of the deceased, demonstrating their position, have decided to bring up the rear of the procession. The latter advances majestically like a vessel that cleaves the open sea, and does not fear the phenomenon of sinking; for at this moment tempests and reefs are conspicuous only by their understandable absence.

rhhardin said...

"Imagine kneecaps. What makes anything different from that?"

I'm betting you're a virgin - consecrated or not - if you don't know the answer to that.


What is this unspoken answer? My point is that there isn't one. It's an output in the ``interesting'' channel from a neuron that is set up for exactly this contour, and makes no sense to the male victim.

Not that he isn't happy for his needs.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

DBQ: Virgin birth came about 9 months after the Annunciation. Perpetual virginity is the belief that she and Joseph didn't ever have marital relations, before or after Jesus' birth. Married but consecrated virgins was a Jewish tradition and it explains why Mary asked the angel Gabriel, 'How can this be since I do not know man?' because she was already consecrated and planned never to know man. Tradition has it that she never did.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Ruth. As a lapsed Catholic. I stand corrected. Thanks

Meade said...

Aw man, just say no to being a victim, RH!

Free firing or not firing at all, the true brave knight is always courageously able to keep his neuron in his own neuron codpiece..

It's in her kiss, brother. That's where it is.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

DBQ: As a revert myself, I say, "Don't just lapse there, come on over, the water's fine!"

Trooper York said...

RH, man you freak me out.

Paddy O. said...

Married but consecrated virgins was a Jewish tradition

Really? That's a new one for me. I've heard of nazirite vows, but not a consecrated virgin tradition within Judaism.

Ann, you're absolutely right about those purity rings. That better reflects the attitude. However, I've gotten to know a number of 30+ year old women who got those rings and now consider what if they do not end up marrying. They aren't going to go out and have a fling. They are committed until marriage, and if they don't get married that ring seems to have a changed, though not intended, meaning.

Married to Christ is something I've heard more than once, not as intentional as the article here but a choice that rejects both floozy and spinster as fitting terms.

There should be a word, or understanding, of intentional celibacy that doesn't suggest a mere inability to get laid, and doesn't also insist on being cloistered.

Because really, living a life of celibacy while in the world and doing well in it is a significantly harder calling than being put out of sight and opportunity.

So yeah, I agree a CV seems a more appropriate choice, and dare I say more fitting to what the New Testament suggests.

A lot of the naming issues come from the early church tendency to want to make official titles out of chosen or earned experiences. A virgin became a Virgin so as to garner some respect from people, in a culture where women weren't treated with too much honor.

I think the same tendency comes about today where cultural expectations of women now differs from religious or moral ideals. Giving a title suggests it's not a unfortunate predicament, it's an aesthetic choice.


rhhardin, it sounds to me like you're well thought out but are missing the key aspect of being a woman in your argument. Oddly enough, not sounding too unlike a lot of church teaching on women by celibate monks.

Kev said...

Virgin birth came about 9 months after the Annunciation. Perpetual virginity is the belief that she and Joseph didn't ever have marital relations, before or after Jesus' birth.

But this brings up the issue of Jesus' brothers--mentioned in Scripture, but with lots of differing views on the subject (especially the meaning of the word "brother" in this case).

Re the purity ring: A fraternity brother of mine who's now a Catholic priest (we call him "Father Brother") wears a similar ring on the finger where the wedding band would usually go; he says it's symbolic of his "marriage" to the Church. I always thought that was pretty cool...

blake said...

Rufus: You are the great great great GREAT great grand-niece of Jesus Christ.

Jay: So that would make Bethany... part black?

dr kill said...

It is true that bachelor is a much more positive word than spinster.

Bachelor is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for bartender.

Spinster is from the Middle French word 'spinctaiserre', for asshole.

rhhardin said...


rhhardin, it sounds to me like you're well thought out but are missing the key aspect of being a woman in your argument.


Mood shifts?

catherined31 said...

Ann - thanks for your reply. I didn't think of it that way. Particularly that it is actually relieving the burden and stigma of not being married - whether it is from family (why can't you find a nice boy and settle down?) or from friends and co-workers.

There is still a stigma to being unmarried and it's mostly from other women who are the type that view marriage and motherhood as a validation. I am 40ish and single with no plans for marriage/kids and I am on the receiving end of a lot of slightly hostile remarks from women. I am particularly targeted for being childless, but I am also seen by some neighbors, for example, as a potential homewrecker in their midst(which is a hoot - you should see the poor husbands). Men don't seem to care.

If you make a public pronouncement that you have CHOSEN this way of life, people may actually respect your choices and some people will feel less threatened.

Maggie45 said...

Ruth Anne said: As a revert myself, I say, "Don't just lapse there, come on over, the water's fine!"

Me too, Ruth Anne ! Very recently, and after 40 some years. I am very grateful for the internets, and all the great resources. And for the great compassion of the Church.

rightwingprof said...

"Katherine Jean Lopez is a virgin becuase she's fat"

Come back when you've finished junior high.

As for "no rite for men," Nemo Dat is correct -- and I'm a bit surprised that Althouse would rely on the press for information about Catholicism. That's a bit beyond mere naivete.

Ann Althouse said...

If there is a rite for men, why not say what it is and link to something? Then we'd be able to see if the rites are actually equivalent. It's asinine to come over here just to profess "surprise" that I relied on the article. Jeez. What a waste of time.

rightwingprof said...

Really? A waste of time to think it odd that a well educated woman who usually wears it well would naively rely on the press -- with a near constant record of incorrect religious reporting -- for a story about religion? It's not a waste of time. It's a bit beyond surprising. Do you let your students rely on newspaper articles for your classes, or do you assign them actual law material?

You can use google. Opus Dei. I figure you can locate the link and read it yourself.

Now, as for "Probably due to the extreme misogyny of the Church," I'd suggest the author actually read some church history and theology, rather than resorting to the mindless practice of screeching "misogyny!"

Ann Althouse said...

Again, my point is that you should provide substance, not lame insults. Are you modeling Catholic values with your responses here, rightwinglawprof? Because they suck.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Maggie45: Welcome home!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Althouse: Under point 6, it refers to males and females

Those are Catholic values for ya.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Ruth Anne. I haven't read the whole thing carefully, but there's no reference to a rite in point 6.

I note:

"17. Moreover the Fathers of the Church considered this obligation of perfect chastity as a kind of spiritual marriage, in which the soul is wedded to Christ; so that some go so far as to compare breaking the vow with adultery.[22] Thus, St. Athanasius writes that the Catholic Church has been accustomed to call those who have the virtue of virginity the spouses of Christ.[23] And St. Ambrose, writing succinctly of the consecrated virgin, says, "She is a virgin who is married to God."[24] In fact, as is clear from the writings of the same Doctor of Milan,[25] as early as the fourth century the rite of consecration of a virgin was very like the rite the Church uses in our own day in the marriage blessing.[26]"

Could a male marry Christ like that? Seems to exclude males.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Rites have several meanings, even within the Catholic Church.

A rite can be a simple prayer or action, private or public, and it can be a whole section of the church [The Eastern Rite Churches, The Roman Rite].

This is on the consecration rituals of Bishops, and objects and you can see that consecration uses holy oils, while mere blessings uses holy water.

Males do, indeed, have a mystical union with Christ that is symbolized in marriage. Priests talk of being married to the Church.

This is a new subject for me, but my review of this subject seems to lead to the conclusion that the consecrated virgins are exclusively female; however, the male equivalent is hermits.

This old-timey looking website, authorized by Archbishop Raymond Burke, answers the FAQs for consecrated virgins in the US.

Ann Althouse said...

"This is a new subject for me, but my review of this subject seems to lead to the conclusion that the consecrated virgins are exclusively female; however, the male equivalent is hermits."

Hermits! Seems rather different from the "living in the world" concept these women have.

Is there a rite for someone who wants to openly declare homosexual orientation and to promise to refrain from sex? And is that not what underlies many of these cases?

"This old-timey looking website, authorized by Archbishop Raymond Burke, answers the FAQs for consecrated virgins in the US."

Yeah, I saw that. Funny what counts as "old-time" in the web era.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

The hermits who are consecrated live in the world much like the virgins. They don't have to eat grasshoppers and live in the desert. In fact, that's probably frowned upon.

Is there a rite for someone who wants to openly declare homosexual orientation and to promise to refrain from sex? And is that not what underlies many of these cases?

Because the consecration requires a lifetime of chastity and, dare I say it?, virginity, I would make an educated guess that an open declaration of the sort you mention is not part of it.

The Catholic Church teaches that everyone has a vocation. Roughly, it is that state in life wherein one has the greatest likelihood of attaining holiness. The 3 vocations possible are: married, religious [priest, monk, nun, sister], or single. What this consecration does is declare [as the Church has since at least the 4th century] that one can be unmarried and not-a-priest, not-a-deacon, not-ordained but still be doing the work God has for him. Singleness is not the unholy failure to be a married man or a priest. There are indeed men and women who are called to be single. If you think back on the history of this, especially for women who were often viewed as mere chattel, it's the Church's declaration of dignity for people who are striving for holiness in singleness.

The declaration you mention would best be done in the context of the Confessional, if indeed, one had crossed into sin. If one is homosexually-leaning or hetero-leaning, chastity requires a will to self-mastery. It doesn't matter that the object of one's lust/desire/yearning is male or female. What matters is the self-mastery as a means toward perfection in holiness.

Ann Althouse said...

"There are indeed men and women who are called to be single."

I'm just theorizing that this is a way to characterize homosexual orientation within a system that rejects homosexual behavior: Your sexual feelings should be understood as God "calling" you to remain a virgin for life.

"The declaration you mention would best be done in the context of the Confessional..."

Yes, that what I figured. I didn't really think there was a rite that involved declaring homosexuality and vowing virginity. But it would interest me if there was. I mean, clearly many people feel a homosexual orientation, and the Church's answer to them is that they should never have sex. But there is no open celebration of this situation.