CV NEWS FEED // “I heard a voice. And a very clear question in my heart. At first, I couldn’t say ‘yes.’ And now – now I can’t say ‘no’ anymore.”
These words from Bernadette Lang, a consecrated virgin serving in Austria, are compelling, and a similar encounter is found in nearly every vocation story. Yet the vocation Lang has chosen is very different from most. Many are unnerved by this unusual calling.
So what is a consecrated virgin? Does the Church sanction these vows? Why don’t these women join one of the many beautiful religious orders that exist in the Church instead?
What is Consecrated Virginity?
The vocation of a consecrated virgin goes back to the first century of Christianity – long before religious orders appeared on the scene. Since the time of the apostles, and bears good fruit for the body of Christ to this day.
“It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times,” notes Pope St. John Paul II in the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata.
Consecrated by the diocesan Bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.
“Come, Follow Me”
CatholicVote recently spoke with Lang, a young consecrated virgin about to celebrate her one year anniversary with the Lord. In the vows ceremony last year, she approached the altar in a white wedding dress and veil. The choir sang, and family and friends gathered to witness as the Bishop consecrated her to the Lord. She received a wedding ring and wears it now as the only visible sign of her commitment to Christ.
Lang lives out her consecration in Austria, teaching young people how to follow Christ more closely through the mission of Home Base in Salzburg.
Lang heard the call of the Lord when she was fourteen years old in Medjugorje, but admits that she was not ready at that time to commit herself to him. His invitation to her heart: “Do you want to belong to me?” echoed in her throughout the rest of her teen years and drew her closer to Him. When she was 21, she made her first step towards total consecration, making a public promise of celibacy for one year.
She continued to make a promise of celibacy annually for ten years. When asked why she did not enter religious life, Lang told CatholicVote that she did not feel called to it, stating that religious profession and community life was “not a frame I wanted to live in.”
Instead, as a consecrated virgin, Lang can “be in the dark places” of the world, encountering those who may never have approached her if she wore a habit. For Lang, it was a “collision” between the deepest desires of her heart and a need she saw in the world that led her to this unique vocation.
It is her own personal goal to especially speak to young people about their sexuality. As the culture of today continues to degrade sexuality to pleasure and whim, Bernadette’s witness re-emphasizes that one’s sexuality is something sacred.
While religious life is necessarily very structured, Lang’s life changes from day to day, with meetings, talks, spiritual mentoring, and more. What is consistent is her prayer and her love of her heavenly spouse.
How is it Different?
As a symbol of the heavenly wedding banquet, these brides of Christ evidence the beauty of every Catholic’s call to be a bride of Christ, but they do it while living in the world.
Many of the first martyrs were consecrated virgins. These young women gave up the good of marriage for the sake of the kingdom, and many remained in their homes, living out their daily lives in intimate union with their heavenly spouse. The consecration rite used for these early virgins is still used today, dating back to the 4th century.
Unlike religious life, these women only make one vow – the vow of virginity, or chastity. They are still responsible for themselves financially, and must remain so throughout their consecrated life. Below is a comparison of the two vocations, provided by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV).
THE CONSECRATION OF VIRGINS
- The virgin is consecrated (dedicated by the bishop to God); passive; is open to and surrenders to God’s action.
- The bishop receives the virgin in the name of Christ for the Church.
- Presupposes the promise (resolve) of Virginity.
- The virgin lives in the world in a lifestyle that does not endanger or hinder her fulfillment of her role and position in the Church.
- She is morally obliged to live in accord with the graces received at Consecration. She is to live in the state of one espoused to Christ; i.e., to make action in union with Christ the substance of her daily living.
- The virgin consecrates (dedicates) herself to God; active; a binding of one to certain actions, a legal contract.
- Vows are received by the superior or bishop in the name of the Church.
- The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are made.
- By vows of obedience and poverty the religious binds herself to live in community.
- She is morally obliged to fulfill the promises of her vows according to their interpretation by her Order or Congregation
Unlike the priesthood, the consecrated virgins do not vow obedience to their bishop. While they do profess their vows to the bishop and the bishop consecrates them, they remain largely independent. This independence gives them a unique freedom to serve the Lord in the world.
To Those Who Seek…
When asked what advice she would give to young women discerning this vocation, Lang said:
- A spiritual director – it can be hard to know your own heart, and finding a good spiritual director can be helpful when discerning.
- Discover your deep desires – We all have many desires every day, from the desire for chocolate to the desire for union with Christ. Learn to listen to your heart and follow the desires that Christ places there.
- Disciplined prayer life – You cannot love what you do not know. It is only through consistent prayer that one can come to truly know the person of Jesus. It is only in these times as well, that you give space for God to speak to you.
- Look at all vocations – Discernment is not only about discovering where you are being called, but often discovering where you are not being called. Bernadette recommended that young people look at all vocations, not just consecrated virginity.
“‘People should cultivate (chastity) in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.’ Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others…. This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church. CCC 2349
Click here learn more about Consecrated Virginity in the United States
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