Pope Francis yesterday called on five thousand women in the Order of Virgins to ‘Be forthright, capable of boldness, but avoid the temptation to chatter and gossip.’
What is the Order of Virgins? Before the Church allowed women to be nuns, a Bishop could make them a Consecrated Virgin. This was dropped when monastic life began around the sixth century AD.
Then in 1970, Pope Paul VI had a brainwave. ‘Remember that consecrated virgin thing from thousands of years ago? Let’s bring it back!’
The Archdiocese of Dublin website explains that the Order of Virgins is laid down in Canon Law 604, in which virgin women ‘are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.’
These women are committed not only to perpetual virginity but to leading a life of prayer and service. Unlike nuns, they are not supported financially by their bishop but must provide for their own upkeep.
‘Where religious vows are essentially promises that an individual actively makes to God, consecration to a life of virginity is a solemn blessing which a woman passively receives from God through the ministry of the bishop. (This is somewhat similar to the way in which a bishop consecrates a Church building, setting it aside for a sacred purpose.)’
She uses an amusing double-entendre from the Book of Revelation:
‘Like the Bride in the book of Revelation, consecrated virgins are called to love Christ with such totality that their whole lives constantly echo the cry: Come, Lord Jesus!’
In 2018 the Vatican issued an Instruction titled Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago about the Order of Virgins.
This Instruction says of the Biblical Mary character:
26. ‘The Church has always recognised the Virgo virginum (Virgin of virgins), the unsurpassable prototype of consecrated virginity. Thus Mary is the mother, sister and teacher of consecrated virgins.’
35 ‘They cultivate a devotion to the Virgin Mary that is full of affection and filial trust. She is the teacher of virginity , model and patron of every consecrated life, from whom they daily learn to glorify the Lord.’
115 ‘We praise you, Virgin Mother of God, Woman of the covenant, of expectation and fulfilment. Be the mother and teacher of consecrated virgins, so that imitating you they will receive the Gospel joyfully and every day with humility and wonder discover in it the holy origin of their spousal vocation.’
But the Instruction also says that to join the Order of Virgins:
84 ‘It is also a prerequisite that the person has never been married and has never lived in public or open violation of chastity.’
92 ‘public or open violation of chastity, that is, in a stable situation of cohabitation or in similar situations that would have been publicly known.’
Bizarrely, this means that the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of virgins, who the other virgins are meant to imitate, would not be able to join the Order of Virgins.
Also, you don’t have to actually be a virgin to join the order of Virgins:
88 ‘The call to give witness to the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love for Christ is not reducible to the symbol of physical integrity. Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible.’
So you can be a member of the Order of Virgins if you are not a virgin, but you cannot be a member of the Order of Virgins if you are a virgin but you have been married, even if you are the Virgin Mary who the other virgins are meant to imitate.
Finally, you might not be having sex, but you will be fairly busy:
99 ‘It is important that the candidate be accompanied as she establishes regular, constant pattern of prayer, with participation, daily if possible, at the Eucharist, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least Lauds and Vespers, mediation on the sacred Scriptures and devotion to Mary.’
What an odd Order.
What an odd religion.
And avoid the temptation to chatter and gossip.