"The custom of consecrating women to a life of virginity flourished even in the early Church. It led to the formation of a solemn rite constituting the candidate a sacred person, a surpassing sign of the Church's love for Christ, and an eschatological image of the world to come and the glory of the heavenly Bride of Christ." (Prenotanda to the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity)
The consecrated virgin is a particularly striking sign of the love of the Church, the Bride, for Christ, her Bridegroom. At the same time, the consecrated virgin is a faithful reminder of the life which is to be ours in the Kingdom of Heaven, life belonging completely to Christ. The form of life of the consecrated virgin living in the world is a most intimate union with Christ, which is reflected in the ancient title given to the consecrated virgin, "bride of Christ." Echoed in the refrain from the Rite of Consecration, the consecrated virgin sings, "I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his glory." (No. 29)
The consecrated virgin offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to Him. Through the Rite of Consecration, the Church receives the gift of the virgin and calls down upon her the grace of the Holy Spirit that she may never fail in her resolve to live in perfect continence for the sake of Christ and His Church.
The consecration of a virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church, and one of the fruits of Vatican II was the restoration of this profound blessing on virgins living in the world. The promulgation of this restored rite for women living in the world was on May 31, 1970. Through this sacramental, the virgin renews her resolve to live in perpetual virginity for God and is set aside as sacred, espoused to Christ and belonging only to Him alone. It is God himself who accepts her resolution and makes it spiritually fruitful by the power of the Holy Spirit. This sacramental is reserved to the bishop of the diocese. The consecrated virgin shares intimately in the nature and mission of the Church: she is a living image of the Church's love for her spouse while sharing in his redemptive mission.
The consecrated virgin lives in full communion with the Church through her spiritual bond with her bishop, the representative of Jesus Christ in her diocese; and she shares in the concerns of her diocese through their on-going communication. The consecrated virgin is responsible to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. She receives the sacraments regularly and is faithful to private prayer. She keeps as a special focus of her prayer the intentions of her bishop and clergy and the needs of her diocese. Consecrated virginity is a distinct form of consecrated life in the Church. Therefore, while it is related to other forms of consecrated life, it is not identical to any of them. The consecrated virgin living in the world, as expressed in Canon 604, is irrevocably "consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates [her] according to the approved liturgical rite."
The consecrated virgin understands the positive value of living for the Lord in the midst of the world. She does not wear a habit or veil, nor does she use the title "Sister." While she may associate with other consecrated virgins for friendship and mutual encouragement, she lives her vocation individually. She provides completely for her own material needs, including medical care and retirement resources, through employment, pension, or other means. At no time is her diocese financially responsible for her. Not restricted to a particular apostolate, she is free to choose her own way of serving the Church according to her natural and spiritual gifts. Consecrated virgins usually offer their free time, as they are able, to their parish, diocese, or Church-sponsored association. Some volunteer their time also in civic responsibilities.
This article is posted at consecratedvirgins.org.