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TotusTuusMaria

Consecrated Virgin vs. Consecrated Woman

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TotusTuusMaria

Hoping someone can well articulate for me the differences between a consecrated woman (like those of Miles Christi) and a consecrated virgin. Are not the consecrated women also sometimes consecrated virgins?

 

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Nunsuch

There are consecrated virgins in this phorum who can say more. But, most simplistically, not all consecrated women are virgins. 

In the US alone, for instance, I know of 2 congregations of women religious which were founded by unwed mothers, and at least 4 that were founded by divorcees. MANY women who have been married, as well as those who may not have been entirely celibate prior to entrance into religious life, have become sisters. And, of course, many other forms of dedicated life, including oblates and secular orders, admit married persons. 

To become a consecrated virgin--a separate form of consecrated life from, say, religious congregations--one must be an actual virgin. However, it is my understanding that victims of sexual assault are still considered to be virgins in this context, as assault/rape are not acts of consensual sex but, rather, acts of violence in which the victim is not a willing participant.

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Sponsa-Christi

Technically, "Consecrated women" is an inclusive, umbrella term that includes women in all forms of consecrated life. Nuns, Sisters, female hermits, consecrated virgins, etc. are all consecrated women.

Consecrated virginity is one specific form of consecrated life for women, with one requirement for this vocation being literal virginity. (I much prefer the term "literal virginity" rather than "physical virginity" because, as Nunsuch noted, women who were victims of abuse or violence can still be considered virgins in the eyes of the Church.)

So, all consecrated virgins are consecrated women, but not all consecrated women are consecrated virgins.

There are some women members of lay movements like Miles Christi who take private vows and call themselves "consecrated women." However, strictly speaking they would not be considered "consecrated" according to canon law, since their vows aren't formally recognized by the governing authority of the Church (as would be the case for women religious) and they don't receive the specific Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity from a bishop (as is the case with consecrated virgins).

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Chiquitunga

Consecrated women of for instance Miles Christi (or Regnum Christi) are not technically Consecrated persons then right but part of the Laity, right? (although in JPIIs Vita Consecrata he makes reference at the end generally to such persons right?)

Sponsa-Christi also gives a great explanation of the differences here on her blog, http://sponsa-christi.blogspot.com/2010/12/consecrated-virginity-versus-private.html?m=1

Women in secular institutes on the other hand do take public vows, correct? (& therefore are considered Consecrated persons in the eyes of the Church)

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Sponsa-Christi
2 hours ago, Chiquitunga said:

Consecrated women of for instance Miles Christi (or Regnum Christi) are not technically Consecrated persons then right but part of the Laity, right? (although in JPIIs Vita Consecrata he makes reference at the end generally to such persons right?)

The Church uses the word "laity" in two ways: 1. referring to everyone who is not ordained clergy (i.e., bishops, priests, and deacons), in which sense even consecrated virgins and cloistered nuns would be considered "lay"; and 2. everyone who is not clergy or in a public state of consecrated life. In the second sense, "consecrated women" in Miles Christi would technically be lay, whereas CVs and religious would not. 

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Sponsa-Christi
2 hours ago, Chiquitunga said:

Women in secular institutes on the other hand do take public vows, correct? (& therefore are considered Consecrated persons in the eyes of the Church)

From an academic canonical perspective, this is still an unanswered question! Secular institute members technically make private, not public vows--and this one fact is the "hinge" which distinguishes them from religious. That is, if they were institutes that made public vows, they would be definition be religious and not secular institutes. 

Yet, the private vows of SI members are received in the name of a legitimate Church authority, and this kind of official reception is actually a defining characteristic of what makes a vow public. Because of this discrepancy, some commentators have argued that there should be a third category of "semi-public" vows, but right now this category doesn't actually exist in canon law.

Because of this and similar confusing definitions and elements, the question of whether--or at least precisely in what sense--SI members can be considered "consecrated" is also still open to debate. 

HOWEVER, this information is all very technical, and shouldn't necessarily be the factor that takes first place in someone's discernment. Just because someone might not be considered technically "consecrated" in canon law doesn't mean that they're not living out the evangelical counsels in actual fact. 

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Fr. Scott

Member of secular institutes are fully consecrated.  It isn't simply a technicality nor is there any confusion on this, at least in the mind of the Church.  Every document on consecrated life speaks to this point.  Most recently, in early 2018 the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life issued "Consecration and Secularity: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church regarding Secular Institutes" to explain the vocation.  Canon Law, Vatican II's Perfectae Caritatis, and every pope since Pius XII have stated that members of secular institutes are consecrated.  There are different forms of consecrated life, and unfortunately, consecrated virgins are often compared to members of secular institutes.  These are different vocations, and I can understand why they insist their vocation is unique. (So is mine as a priest in a secular institute.)  But two different consecrated virgins have publicly cast doubt on whether or not members of secular institutes are "really" consecrated, as if the jury is still out.  I'm not sure why it is such an issue for them.  It doesn't reflect the thinking of the Church and creates confusion.

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Sponsa-Christi

@Fr. Scott  Just to clarify, I've always considered secular institute members as "really consecrated" if we're defining "consecrated" as something like: "committed to living a more radical expression of the evangelical counsels in a specific way of life recognized and approved by the Church."

But, some Church documents describe the nature and purpose of "consecrated life" as something along the lines of: "being a public eschatological sign"--in which case, it would be hard to see those secular institutes that strive to be a hidden leaven deeply immersed in the world of temporal affairs as fitting into this category. 

(For me anyway--and I'm saying this to acknowledge my biases out in the open, not to argue with anyone--this is where things become an issue. E.g., people often point to the fact that secular institute members are "consecrated" without always being a visible public witness as "proof" that CVs aren't necessarily called to this, either, which in my opinion is a very problematic way to understand the vocation of a CV.)

Also, as far as I know, the question of: "do secular institute members make public or private vows?" is still unanswered, which can also cause some problems if someone is defining "consecrated life" as being somehow related to making a vow/sacred bond in a way that is technically considered "public." (Though granted, these days it's probably more scholarly commentators who are concerned with that distinction rather than the Church herself.)

So since "consecrated" can have a few different shades of meaning depending on the context, one could still question whether secular institutes fit all of the definitions all of the time. That does get confusing, but it's confusing because of the ambiguity of the term "consecrated," not because people are deliberately misunderstanding the nature of secular institutes. The recent CICSAL conference in Rome was entirely dedicated to discussing the nuances of this term. 

But at the end of the day, secular institutes are officially categorized by the Church as "institutes of consecrated life," so that is the short answer to any questions about whether secular institute members are "consecrated" or not. 

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Fr. Scott

Thank you for your response.  It is those very Church documents you mention that "describe the nature and purpose of 'consecrated life' as something along the lines of: 'being a public eschatological sign'" that also identify members of secular institutes as being consecrated.  (And not simply in a generic way, as the most recent CICLSAL document  "Consecration and Secularity" points out.)   I appreciate very much what you do to clarify the vocation to consecrated virginity, both as a CV and as a canon lawyer.  And one thing CVs and members of secular institutes DO have in common is a need to patiently explain the vocation any time it comes up for discussion, since there is so much misunderstanding and misinformation. 

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Faustina86

@Fr. Scott I came across this thread and as a member of Secular Institute I appreciate you explaining that we are fully Consecrated because this vocation is widely misunderstood. We receive a serious long formation process before vows. So any information that helps others understand this vocation is helpful. 

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Lilllabettt
2 hours ago, Faustina86 said:

@Fr. Scott I came across this thread and as a member of Secular Institute I appreciate you explaining that we are fully Consecrated because this vocation is widely misunderstood. We receive a serious long formation process before vows. So any information that helps others understand this vocation is helpful. 

Can you expand on how the vocation of someone in a secular institute jives with the definition of consecrated life being a "public escatological sign"?

Fr Scott says the document he mentions defines consecrated life that way and explicitly includes secular institutes in that definition.  But, I thought the vocation of secular institutes was that their consecration is hidden?  They are not outwardly set apart?

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Faustina86
2 hours ago, Lilllabettt said:

Can you expand on how the vocation of someone in a secular institute jives with the definition of consecrated life being a "public escatological sign"?

Fr Scott says the document he mentions defines consecrated life that way and explicitly includes secular institutes in that definition.  But, I thought the vocation of secular institutes was that their consecration is hidden?  They are not outwardly set apart?

Hi Lilllibettt,

I probably won’t be able to explain the way Father Scott could  because I’m still new to the vocation, I am in formation. And yes there is a hidden element to our vocation  as in we are meant to fit in with the rest of the world as far as how we dress etc. but as a secular Institute we are not all necessarily hidden Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary come to mind as they live in community and have a habit. So not the clearest example but one that comes to mind. I believe this is the letter that he was referencing to if you would like to read it. 
https://www.cmis-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Ingl_1295_cop-merged.pdf

10 minutes ago, Faustina86 said:

Hi Lilllibettt,

I probably won’t be able to explain the way Father Scott could  because I’m still new to the vocation, I am in formation. And yes there is a hidden element to our vocation  as in we are meant to fit in with the rest of the world as far as how we dress etc. but as a secular Institute we are not all necessarily hidden Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary come to mind as they live in community and have a habit. So not the clearest example but one that comes to mind. I believe this is the letter that he was referencing to if you would like to read it. 
https://www.cmis-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Ingl_1295_cop-merged.pdf

Quite taken from the above letter Consecration and Secularity:

Essentially, Consecrated Life in a Secular Institute is not only an internal consecration to God, but also an external one, coram ecclesia, in an institution approved by the Church. With the profession of the evangelical counsels, lived out daily, the individual members place themselves within history like a seed of new horizons and an anticipation of the communion between God and humanity.
Membership in a Secular Institute, which is approved by a Bishop or the Holy See, entails a choice that involves all the dimensions of hu- man existence, and one which lasts all life (in- dependently from the type of incorporation de- fined in the Constitutions); it is a commitment to follow Christ, embracing the lifestyle which the Institute prescribes.

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gloriana35

Until recently (I'm not sure of the date - perhaps the 1980s), it had been  many years since the actual "Rite for the Consecration of Virgins" was used, aside from within enclosed religious Orders. A widow who entered a monastery certainly had solemn vows, but did not have that specific rite. Again, until the liturgical revisions of the 1970s, there were different classifications for state of life in the observance of saints' feasts - martyr, virgin, confessor, matron, widow, even penitent.  (Someone who had never married, but entered a monastery, was a virgin - it did not mean her hymen was examined.)

There is nothing negative about 'consecrated virgin' - as if it meant women who were not were inferior. Virginity was an eschatological witness. The idea, dating to the ancient letters of Paul, that there could be individuals whose charism was life-long virginity was quite amazing - and understandable only in light of the resurrection, since life and faith went on through one's descendants. The resurrection of Jesus (prefiguring our own) showed there was more to life than what was on this earth.

I'm sorry that the undue emphasis on the 'church as community of communities' added an odd dimension to the idea of consecrated virgins, and others in vowed life who do not live within a religious Institute. I recall reading quite a missive about how consecrated virgins (though they did not need to keep their consecration a secret) were of the parish community, and must not be seen as religious are who are in communities (in which case, the religious congregation is their community.) Catherine of Siena certainly got about beyond her parish boundaries. There was too much stress on 'lay, lay, lay'... where consecrated virgins of the past either were cloistered, or were involved in ministries which were not connected to parishes. 

As an aside... There were religious communities which had many members, which have only a handful of members left, so many Sisters live alone, whether they chose that or not. I've never understood the idea that those who do not live in community have to keep their vows (or their membership in secular institutes, for example) secret. Perhaps that has its roots in situations, such as the French Revolution, where 'hidden' consecrated women hoped that their appearing to be observant Catholics - whom one knew from the marketplace - might lead others back to observance, where those who knew they lived a vowed life might just think 'they have to do so.'

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islandanchoress

Vows are Vows. Period. Immutable regardless of unchosen circumstances .. and surely in communion with their Sisters who have gone on before them . The charism of an Order remains stable in vows. Does not rely on lack of propinquity.  

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Faustina86
7 hours ago, gloriana35 said:

I've never understood the idea that those who do not live in community have to keep their vows (or their membership in secular institutes, for example) secret.

Gloriana35,

I personally never understood this either (having to keep their vows secret). My secular institute was one of those that were very secretive and kept their membership secret. My understanding of not being overly bold about our consecration is to fit in with all Christians And non-Christians to be an example of holiness and how it’s attainable for all. But in recent years as far as I know sharing your vocation a consecrated secular is optional. We are allowed to share if we want to and if we want to keep it secret we can do that as well. In my community in certain countries secular institute members have to have very public consecrations in regards to the culture because they’re neither entering a religious life or getting married. Because of the need to make the vocation more known we are having to step more into light Otherwise some might not know they have a vocation to this particular form of consecrated life. I come across so many priests that are clueless of the vocation. 

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