New Vatican document explains role of consecrated virgins

'Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago' is the first Vatican document to deal with the life of conscrated virgins who are not associated with religious orders

Three women consecrated as virgins lie prostrate during a June 24 ceremony at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (CNS photo/Joel Breidenbach)

The Vatican has issued a new instruction on Consecrated Virginity as the vocation experiences increasing interest.

The document, titled Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, comes after requests from bishops across the world for clarity on the role of consecrated virgins, as more women discern the vocation.

A consecrated virgin is a woman who has never married who pledges perpetual virginity and dedicates her life to God. Unlike a nun, she does not live in a community and leads a secular life, providing for her own needs.

“Consecrated persons dedicate themselves to prayer, penance, works of mercy and the apostolate, each according to their own charisms, welcoming the Gospel as a fundamental rule for their life,” Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, Secretary of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, explained.

“The charism of virginity is harmonized with the proper charism of each consecrated person, giving rise to a great variety of responses to the vocation, in a creative freedom that demands a sense of responsibility and the exercise of serious spiritual discernment.”

Women who pursue this vocation are consecrated by their diocesan bishop, and remain connected to their local diocese. This relationship is “a special bond of love and mutual belonging,” Archbishop Carballo wrote.

Full story at The Catholic Herald.


  1. Do these women live a life of only charity and prayer? Or could they work as teachers, hospital personnel, or a secular professional person?

  2. Not offered for men? Sexist?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand this “vocation”. Marriage I get. Vowed religious I get. Seems to me that consecrated virginity is a consolation prize for women who didn’t want to be a religious sister, who wanted to get married and be mothers but weren’t successful in landing a man. So they legitimize their singlehood this way. What’s the average age of a woman who vows consecrated virginity? I doubt it’s in the twenties. More like 40, probably, after childbearing years and chances of marriage have passed by.

    • I searched for articles about the consecration in Detroit. The three women consecrated were age 40, 41 ad 42. So your suspicion was on target. Interesting that only secular press reports their ages, not any Catholic source I read. I think other things you wrote about motives and reasons are likely correct. As for the value of this vocation, I think the Church would make a better case if there were attractive twentysomethings making this vow. I guarantee you that almost everyone who looks at their pictures thinks what you wrote. We should be happy for them, but thinking in human terms is hard not to do.

    • If Anonymous doesn’t “get” the vocation, an excellent place to start is with this instruction and the rite of consecration.

      It is far from a consolation prize. They are really married, as they are mystically espoused to Christ, receive a ring and bridal veil, and receive the title given to the Church, “Bride of Christ”. They are really mothers of souls, as is the Church. And they are virgins, as Christ as made the Church to be totally reserved for Him. It should be obvious. Their consecration makes them living images of the Church in a particular, sacramentalized way. This is not merely a cute way to honor singlehood. This vocation, which complements the priesthood (as he images Christ the Bridegroom) and also honors marriage, is…

    • Anon … My widowed aunt got married at 58. When I was the ripe old age of 42 an eligible gentleman took one of my staff aside and asked if I were single or if I were seeing anyone. Love and romance .. end even child bearing aren’t only for the twenty and thirty somethings.

    • Anonymous says:

      The first consecrated virgin was the Blessed Virgin Mary.

  4. Elizabeth T says:

    I think it is similar to Opus Dei?!

    I also seem to remember that this ‘vocation’ existed in the early days of the Catholic Church, but I could be wrong?! If someone knows, please correct me.

    • Maryann M Srbljan says:

      No it is not similar to Opus Dei. I am a consecrated virgin. We are an individually lived diocesian vocation. We are not affilated with any movement or religious community. Our diocesian bishops are our superiors. We are not a fall back vocation. We are the oldest form of consecrated life in the Church. There were consecrated virgins before the founding of religous communities of nuns. We live in the world and are self supporting by way of our work. Some of us work for the church an others of us in the private sector or for governmental entities. Others are retired and support ourselves by way of pensions. There are many ways that we live out this vocation and is very flexable. Some are older and have health issues and pray for the needs…

  5. I don’t see this having much appeal for modern Western women. Maybe it made sense back in the old times.

    • Anne TE says:

      I charitably disagree, Chuck, as if my husband of over fifty years had passed away when I was younger, I very well might have considered this way of life. As I have said before about marriage, at least for myself, “once is enough.” Second marriages are often complicated by children who are thinking about their inheritance. (Much laughter. and it is best to remain single for the sake of familial peace and ones own. A second marriage just complicates it all for some.

    • Anne TE says:

      In other words, celibacy can be very freeing as many priests can tell you. We should go where the Lord leads us.

      • Anne TE says:

        Actually widows were not called consecrated virgins unless their marriages were never consummated.

    • Maryann M Srbljan says:

      Actually it does.

    • Anne TE says:

      I guess I should have said that there are similar consecrations for widows and widowers I am sure. Often widowers become deacons than priests, and sometimes widows enter some female order as a nun.

  6. Anonymous and Debbie are totally ignorant and in need of spritual help.

  7. Weasler says:

    I guess it will only be a matter of time before this leads to an increase in the number of vocations, which have been dropping off since the 60s. What goes around comes around.

  8. Kaeleigh says:

    Can they change their minds?

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