Painting of Ste Genevieve in the Church of Ste Genevieve in Ste Genevieve MO

The consecration of Saint Genevieve, 1821 (Ste. Genevieve, Missouri).

In the Catholic Church a consecrated virgin is a woman who has dedicated herself to a life of virginity or perpetual chastity in the service of God and the Church in a form that is recognised by the Church. Men who have dedicated their virginity or perpetual chastity to God in this way tend to be referred to in Christian writings as "ascetics". Consecrated Virgins must not be confused with Consecrated hermits and anchorites, who have a rather different vocation.[1]

Historical development

A life of virginity for the sake of Christ and his Church is an ancient form of Christian religious living already mentioned in the New Testament[2]. It preceded the foundation of religious orders. Hence, traditionally a Christian virgin was not a member of a religious community and this continues to be the norm (as in the case of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha). For a while, after the Middle Ages the rite fell out of practice, but it was restored by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

As a form of Consecrated Life in the Church today

Since the Second Vatican Council, canon 604 of the Code of Canon Law 1983 is normative for those who feel a vocation to consecrate their virginity to God and to do so in a form recognised by the Church but without feeling called to join a religious community.

Canon 604
§1. Similar to these forms of consecrated life is the order of virgins, who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.
§2. In order to observe their commitment more faithfully and to perform by mutual support service to the Church which is in harmony with their state these virgins can form themselves into associations.

The approved liturgical rite whereby the respective diocesan bishop consecrates the candidate by the solemn rite Consecratio Virginium.

Consecrated Virgins are not members of the hierarchy. They are not maintained by the Church but have to provide for their own upkeep.

According to the Associated Press, [1] there are 200 such virgins living in the United States and 2,000 worldwide.

In religious communities today

There are also individual religious sisters, that is to say, members of religious communities, who have taken a vow of virginity in addition to the religious vows they have already taken like all the other sisters of their order. An example is Wendy Beckett, known as "Sister Wendy," of the order of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who became a consecrated virgin in 1970.

Noted Christian Virgins

See also


  1. For the differences between these vocations see the article on Hermits and the definition of the eremitic/anchoritic vocation in canon 603 of The Code of Canon Law 1983, whilst for the canonical definition of the vocation of the Consecrated Virgins see canon 604 of The Code of Canon Law 1983. The two major differences according to church law are that the vocation of the Consecrated Virgins – unlike that of the Consecrated Hermits – is not characterized by the Old Testament Desert Theology, and that the Consecrated Virgins – again unlike the Consecrated Hermits – do not publicly profess the Evangelical Counsels, confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop, which means that the Consecrated Virgins do not bind themselves according to church law to observe evangelical poverty and obedience, and therefore also do not incur the consequences for not observing evangelical poverty and obedience. Formally the difference is that the Consecrated Virgins are consecrated by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, whereas the Consecrated Hermits consecrate themselves through publicly professing the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of their diocesan bishop.
  2. denoted by the Greek terms parthenos ("virgin") and agamos ("unmarried"), e.g. 1 Cor 7:34 hē gunē hē agamos kai hē parthenos … ("the unmarried woman and the virgin [cares for the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit]"), Acts 21:9 thugateres tessares parthenoi prophēteuousai ("four unmarried daughters who prophesied"). Reference is made also to "the unmarried" in the masculine, ho agamos, tois agamois, e.g. 1 Cor 7:8, 1 Cor 7:32

External links

Historical development

Present situation in the Catholic Church

General articles

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