When discussing vocational paths, individuals like married couples, priests, or nuns typically come to mind. However, less commonly recognized is the vocation of consecrated virginity, despite it being the oldest form of consecrated life acknowledged in the Catholic Church.
A consecrated virgin is a never-married woman who dedicates her perpetual virginity to God and is set aside as a sacred person who belongs to Christ in the Catholic Church.
According to the Code of Canon Law, women who are seeking out this particular vocation must be consecrated to God through the diocesan bishop, according to the rite approved by the Church. Upon consecration, they are betrothed mystically to Christ and are dedicated to the service of the Church, while remaining in a public state of life. Consecrated virgins live individually and receive direction from a Diocesan Bishop. Their consecration and life of perpetual virginity is permanent.
Their call to a secular state of life means that consecrated virgins have jobs and live much like that of the average person. They provide for their own needs and their Diocese is not financially responsible for them.
Unlike most religious orders, consecrated virgins do not have habits or use the title “Sister.” They remain in their own Diocese to serve the local Church community under the authority of the Bishop.
References of consecrated virginity can be found in sections of the New Testament, such as Matthew 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. Early church fathers, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, have also mentioned consecrated virgins as a distinct group within the Catholic Church, dating back to 110 A.D.
Before women were able to enter a religious order, many dedicated themselves as consecrated virgins. St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia and St. Lucy are among the early saints recognized by the Catholic Church as consecrated virgins.
During the sixth century, the practice of consecrated virginity fell by the wayside as the popularity of monastic religious life grew, and became extremely rare the Middle Ages. However, consecrated virginity made a comeback as religious orders began to preserve the “Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.” Vatican II also ensured consecrated virginity’s restoration in the modern world when it revised the “Rite of Consecration.”