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Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago punts on one problem, fixes a second, but greatly worsens a third

Now, according to the plain terms of ESI, the Blessed Virgin Mary would not be eligible for admission to the order of virgins, but Mary Magdalene would be eligible.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit prays over three women consecrated as virgins during a June 24 ceremony at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (CNS photo/Joel Breidenbach)

With papal approval the Roman dicastery in charge of consecrated life has just published an important document on consecrated virginity, Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago. Now, according to the plain terms of ESI, the Blessed Virgin Mary, archetype of virginity consecrated to God, would not be eligible for admission to the order of virgins, but Mary Magdalene, model for women who, Deo gratias, set aside a promiscuous life, would be eligible.

Something, I suggest, is seriously wrong with such norms.

Within the confines of a blog post—so this is not a comprehensive analysis of the document nor of the issues it was trying to address*—I will critique three key points about ESI, namely, that it: fails to correct a mistaken admission criterion currently found in the 1970 Rite of Consecration of Virgins; improves a badly-framed admission criterion that till now has prevented some otherwise eligible woman from entering this order; and, most unfortunately, formalizes a serious eligibility error hitherto only implicit in the current rite.

Preliminarily, note that ESI is an “instruction” and, while Roman dicasteries and arch/diocesan leadership are not consistent in respecting the requirements of this genre, Canon 34 generally limits the impact of instructions to those matters in which they are consistent with prior Church law (usually canon and liturgical). In other words, no binding changes to fundamental Church teaching can be achieved by an instruction. Further, I leave aside some of the practical and administrative questions that are raised by ESI and look forward to others’ evaluations of ESI’s narration of the history, anthropology, and ecclesial meaning of consecrated virginity.

To my three points.

1. Both the 1970 Rite and now ESI 84 expressly prohibit women who were ever married from being consecrated virgins. Thus, Our Lady, Queen of Virgins, would not be admitted to the order of virgins because she had been married. This is not a “gotcha” criticism; rather, it illustrates the problems caused by Rome’s predilection for using circumlocutions and euphemisms in documents that call for definitions and clarity. Let’s back up.

Long story made short, a woman who has not freely engaged in penile-vaginal sexual intercourse is a “virgin” while one who has engaged in that act is not. That most women never married are virgins and most married women are not virgins, is true, of course, but it is plainly wrong to treat marital status itself as dispositive of whether a woman is a virgin and so marital status should not have been cast as such in the 1970 Rite nor repeated in ESI.

That Our Lady is a ‘special case’, of course (though there are other married virgins in Church history), does not excuse a dicastery’s framing or retaining a requirement for admission to the order of virgins that actually excludes the Blessed Virgin from the order. Consider: the marriage of Mary and Joseph was also a ‘special case’, but the Church spent centuries developing and articulating a definition of marriage that embraced—not excluded, embraced!—the marriage of Mary and Joseph. The care spent making clear that Mary and Joseph were genuine spouses (not ‘pretend’ or ‘partial’ spouses) not only preserved the truth about their marriage but it helped the Church identify and defend the truth about all marriage. Similarly, Mary’s first place in the order of feminine virginity demands no less precision from those responsible for shaping Church thinking about virginity than her role as the wife in the Holy Family, shedding light on the order of marriage, received from them. Using a woman’s marital status as a circumlocution for whether she is a virgin obscures what is being consecrated.

2. The 1970 Rite and ESI 84 preclude from consecration as virgins women who have, in some notable way, violated chastity. This and similar phrasing seems to be a euphemism for “had sexual intercourse”, but in speaking so broadly, it confuses the virtue of chastity with the fact of virginity. Simply put, women can violate chastity in many ways, but in only one way do they lose their virginity. An unchaste life might well be an obstacle to living as a consecrated virgin, but, may not the same be said of unchastity prior to holy orders, religious life, or even marriage itself? If so, why is “unchastity” a bar to one way of life but not to these others? Moreover, the great differences in the types and degrees of unchastity militate against using that broad moral notion as a juridic criterion for admission to a way of life.

Fortunately, ESI 93 clarifies how the 1970 Rite and ESI 84 should henceforth be understood in regard to that unchastity which contra-indicates a woman’s suitability for admission to the order of virgins by requiring bishops “to ascertain that she has never lived in public or open violation of chastity, that is, in a stable situation of cohabitation or in similar situations that would have been publicly known” (emphasis added). This language, while still not perfect, suffices, I think, to cover the majority of cases wherein women who acknowledge one or more unchaste acts, yet acts not destructive of their virginity, may still be considered for admission to the order of virgins.

3. Nemo dat quod non habet. / One cannot give what one does not have. A woman who has lost her virginity, as summarized above, has no virginity to consecrate to the Lord. Through the centuries until, I suggest, the appearance of the 1970 Rite, a polite but firm inquiry into the fact of virginity was part of the discernment process undertaken for woman seeking admission to the order of virgins. Only in the last few decades—largely as a result of conscience situations arising in certain religious communities—did circumlocutions begin to appear that seemed to undermine the necessity of virginity for consecration as a virgin. In the 1970 Rite the inquiry about virginity quietly disappeared but the requirement itself was not repudiated.

With the publication of ESI, however, virginity is, formally, no longer required for consecration as a virgin“In this context it should be kept in mind that 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.” ESI 88.

This is a stunning assertion. Simply stunning. Under it, Mary Magdalene, extreme in her sins but outstanding in her repentance, seems eligible for consecration as a virgin. More practically, many, many women, less obvious in sexual sin and likely less perfect in repentance, are now eligible for consecration precisely as virgins.

Let’s see how ESI 88 brings this about.

First, the straw man of “physical integrity” (basically, an intact hymen) is cited as if that were proof of a woman’s virginity (which it obviously is not, though many might not think of that). But then, having rightly warned the reader not to focus on “physical integrity” as if that were virginity, ESI immediately substitutes “perfect continence”—another unfamiliar term but one describing a situation that, if verified, would satisfy as proof of virginity!—and rejects it as being necessary for admission to the order of virgins.

I know of no ecclesiastical document in history, until Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, that directly and effectively denies that virginity is required for one’s consecration as a virgin. Even in the last few decades, where inquiries into the fact of virginity were dangerously diluted, no responsible ecclesiastical official or document that I know of ever denied that what is required in a woman here is virginity—not a wish for virginity, not a hence-forth perpetual resolve for perfect continence, not sorrow over the loss of one’s virginity in a single one-night stand, however laudable all of those sentiments are, but virginity itself.

If a single act of sexual intercourse suffices juridically for consummation of marriage (and it does, see Canon 1061 § 1), then why should not a single act of sexual intercourse suffice juridically for the loss of virginity that prevents consecration as a virgin? St. Jerome, that Father who, perhaps more than any other, laid the foundations for the ecclesiastical recognition of consecrated virginity (but who, curiously, is never mentioned in ESI) declared: “Let me flatly say that not even God, who can do all things, can restore virginity once it is destroyed” (Ep. 22 ad Eustochium, 5, my trans.).

One is left wondering, then, If virginity is not being consecrated in aconsecrated virgin, what is?

My suggestions:

First, with regard to possible petitions from formerly-married women to the order of virgins, and recognizing that it is not marriage per se but sexual intercourse that deprives one of virginity (and suggesting, if appropriate, exploration of an Order of Widows at the local level), should, on rare occasion, an inquiry about whether a marriage was actually consummated seems useful, a process for such an inquiry seems available per 1983 CIC 1681 / Mitis 1678.

Second, women who acknowledge one or more acts, even serious ones, against chastity may nevertheless be considered for admission into the order of virgins provided those acts did not result in the loss of virginity, and, for the very rare close cases still imaginable under ESI 84, Rome may be consulted.

Third, recalling the limited authority of documents issued as “instructions”, the ‘optional virginity’ claim in ESI seems to me so far outside of the canonical and liturgical tradition that I suggest, first, it be immediately derogated from ESI itself, and, in the hopeful meantime, that it not be relied upon by a bishop assessing a woman’s basic eligibility for the order of virgins if he learns that she has freely engaged in even one act of sexual intercourse, conjugal or otherwise.

A last thought: most of these problematic points would be avoided, of course, if virginity, as a quality of the human person that some women choose to preserve and some do not, were, in a Church document carrying juridic directions on consecrated virginity, directly defined and consistently treated without resort to circumlocutions and euphemisms. + + +

* For more background on issues related to the rite of consecration of virgins, see, e.g., Edward Peters, “Toward reform of the first criterion for admission to the order of virgins”, Studia Canonica 48 (2014) 467-491. Canon 604 of the 1983 Code recognizes consecrated virginity as an approved way of life for eligible women. The rite of consecration of virgins itself is available in, e.g., The Rites II (Pueblo, 1980) 132-164.

(This post first appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” site and is republished here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.)

About Edward N. Peters 110 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.

18 Comments

  1. “With the publication of ESI, however, virginity is, formally, no longer required for consecration as a virgin”

    I wonder if it is actually possible to be stupider than whoever wrote the gibberish that follows that sentence is?

    It seems part of the modern (and modernist) trend to say that facts aren’t facts. Non-virgins can consecrate their nonexistent virginity, boys can be girls and vice-versa, Protestants can be firmly convinced of the truth of the Church (though not, apparently, enough to reconcile with Rome) and therefore be given Communion, divorced persons who are living in adulterous liaisons can pretend not to be in a state of mortal sin.

    It’s probably a false compassion, that prefers never ever ever to hurt anybody’s feelings by recognizing a fact. Another example is the insistence, on Mother’s Day when they hand out flowers to mothers, on trying to give me one, even though I am not a mother and tell them so.

  2. Where in Holy Scripture does it say the Magdalene was a prostitute? No one heard of this before Gregory the Great suggested this in a homily

    • Khouri we don’t know and being possessed by seven demons doesn’t necessitate that the person possessed exhibited all seven theoretical types of sin including prostitution. An example is the well known case of a young woman exorcised 1928 Earling Iowa that took several weeks for the first exorcism. The woman according to exorcist Fr Theopholus Reisinger OFM Cap was apparently possessed by several demons [inclusive of humans who were damned] including her father and his mistress. Fr Reisinger believed the young woman was not a sinful person. My friend Msgr Cassano now deceased was asked by Fr Reisinger to be her spiritual director confirmed this. Msgr Cassano said the young woman was quite chaste, a holy practicing Catholic prior to her possession. She was possessed again following the initial exorcism but remained faithful to the end. God acts as he wills and we’ll not have complete answers in this world except that her suffering and fortitude further merited her sanctification, and the events strengthened the faith of others.

  3. I’m guessing that the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments was not consulted in the preparation of this document. In 2008 then Archbishop Raymond Burke and consecrated virgin Judith Stegman addressed an international meeting of consecrated virgins. Below are relevant extracts from both talks. Judith Stegman referred to Archbishop Burke writing to the CDWDS on the interpretation of “open or public violation of chastity”.

    From Judith Stegman’s talk:
    “Wanting clarification of the matter from Rome so that there would not be a continued confusion, Archbishop Raymond Burke, Episcopal Moderator of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, wrote a letter to Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He wrote to confirm his interpretation of the following passage from the Introduction to the Rite of Consecration for a Woman Living in the World: ‘neque publice seu manifeste in statu castitati contrario vixerunt’, translated as ‘has not lived in open or public violation of chastity’.

    “Archbishop Burke’s letter explained, ‘Sometimes the language ‘publicly’ has been interpreted as living in a notorious state of a lack of chastity. I have always understood this to mean simply that the acts are public, namely, committed with another person.’ The Archbishop explained his position on this delicate, and yet important question, saying that in the case of a woman who has engaged in sexual relations with a man and then has thoroughly repented and now desires to consecrate her life to Christ and the Church, he has offered counsel to such women who in fact do not have the gift of virginity to offer to our Lord, that they should make another form of consecration, usually a private vow of chastity. He requested an interpretation of the text in question so that there not be a continued confusion, causing scandal among the faithful and causing hurt to the individuals involved.

    “Archbishop Burke’s letter also explained his understanding in the case of a woman who, as a youngster, was sexually abused by her father or by another man, but without her consent. He said that he has understood that in such cases of rape or incest, in which the loss of physical virginity was not intended by the woman, she could still receive the consecration of virgins living in the world.
    “The response from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated concurrence with Archbishop Burke’s interpretation of the text.” [The text of this response is set out in footnote 15.]

    Footnote 15:
    “Letter to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Raymond Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis, dated April 4, 2007 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, signed by Archbishop Albert Malcom Ranjith, Secretary. “This Dicastery concurs with the propriety of Your Excellency’s interpretation according to which women who have lost the gift of virginity by knowingly and deliberately engaging in sexual relations should not be received as consecrated virgins, but may be encouraged to make another form of personal consecration. It is reasonable to assume that the wording of n.5a of the Praenotanda of the Ordo Consecrationis Virginum, cited in Your Excellency’s letter, contains the phrase publice seu manifeste in order to avoid a possible inference that anyone should be required to make a manifestation of conscience in the external forum, since such a requirement would clearly violate the Church’s ancient praxis regarding all matters of conscience. Still, it seems clear that if a loss of the gift of virginity is ascertained in the external forum during the course of one’s petition for reception as a consecrated virgin, then such a woman should not be so received. If the same is ascertained in the internal forum, however, then the woman should simply be counselled to withdraw voluntarily – even though there would be no way for such a counsel to be enforced as a precept.”

    From Archbishop Burke’s talk:
    “15. The requirement of never living publicly or manifestly in a state contrary to chastity guarantees the integrity of the consecration. In other words, the consecration is for women who has preserved her virginity and offers her virginity to Christ and His Church for consecration. Public or manifest acts are committed with another and, therefore, are clearly known by another, even if by only one individual. An act contrary to chastity in what pertains to the state of virginity is the conscious and deliberate giving of one’s body for sexual union by which the state of virginity is lost. Once the virgin has knowingly and willingly given up her virginity, even by a single act, she no longer has the gift of virginity to offer to Christ and the Church. In the case of rape or involuntary incest, one can rightly say that the woman still has the gift of her virginity to offer for she has not knowingly and willingly given it up.”

    Reference:
    Stegman, J. M., “Virginal, Feminine, Spousal Love for Christ”, Sequela Christi, 2009/01 (Rome: Periodica Congregationis Pro Institutis Vitae Consecratae et Societatibus Vitae Apostolicae, 2009), p. 134-135.

    Burke, R. L., “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Rite of Consecration and the Vocation of Consecrated Virginity Lived in the World”, Sequela Christi, 2009/01 (Rome: Periodica Congregationis Pro Institutis Vitae Consecratae et Societatibus Vitae Apostolicae, 2009), pp. 95-96.
    Also available at : http://diolc.org/files/consecratedlife/Archbishop%20Burke%202008%20Presentation.pdf

  4. I am happy that the Holy See is giving attention to the vocation of consecrated virginity. Dr. Peters, though, does raise some important points. With regard to n. 88 of Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, some people might argue that it’s possible for a woman to have failed to have kept her body in perfect continence or practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way and yet still be a virgin. The issue hinges on how one understands keeping one’s body in perfect continence (perfetta continenza). The word “continence” basically means “self-restraint.” Might it be possible, though, for a woman to have failed to observe perfect self-restraint in regard to chastity and yet still be a virgin? St. John Paul II, in Familiaris consortio, 84 describes “complete continence” as “abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.” This would suggest abstinence from sexual intercourse as well as other acts of mutual affection proper only to spouses. Might it be possible, though, for a woman to have engaged in some acts “proper to married couples” and yet not have lost her virginity in the terms Dr. Peters describes? She would have failed to observe “complete continence” according to Familiaris consortio, 84 and yet not have lost her virginity according to Dr. Peters’ description. Perhaps “perfect continence” in n. 88 of the instruction means “no sexual intercourse.” The matter, though, might need further clarification.

    • Robert we cannot redefine words as Peters suggests to redefine a status. Either virginity means never having engaged in sexual intercourse or it doesn’t. Canons cannot change reality although I don’t believe Peters approves such a redefinition. Chastity is the vow many religious and clerics [and a sine qua non for marital cohesion] have jettisoned believing celibacy is sufficient which of course is duplicitous. It seems similar to the notion that a priest can discern that D&R are actually in a licit union.

  5. Would someone please explain why consecrated virgins since we already have nuns who live independently and outside cloister? Seems a needless duplication of effort and a certain amount of medieval thinking.

  6. So many words…like when the angels had wings!
    How can évangélisation be done in the normal family?
    Yes used to mean yes, no used to mean no.
    Holy Mary have pity on us!

  7. There is quite a bit that needs to be worked out here. However, there are various factors not discussed with regard to physical virginity. Sexual abuse of girls, rapes (if not the same as sexual abuse), destroys physical virginity but should not destroy a woman’s sense of spiritual virginity. Are virginity test, like we see in repressive culture going to rear its ugly head? Could one not argue that virginity/chastity is also when a woman does not/has never professed to herself that she is in love with another?

    What exactly is one professing when becoming a CV? Is this a euphemism for “bride of Christ”? Does our faith believe that as a virgin consecrated to God that there is any sexual relationship in this life or the next with God? I do not believe so. Is this another expression of ones desire to consecrate themselves to God, shunning all others, and choosing Christ above all others? Then one must address that the burden of virginity is solely placed at a woman’s feet as males have no physical sign of theirs.

    I do believe that women need something besides religious life. My personal experience being in an order for a few years indicates a pathological dysfunction in their orders that many, many good and decent women leave because in many cases it contradicts true christian community. Where can a single woman who wants to serve God go when the only options are religious life, or parish life? Both are severely lacking in providing a more fuller God centered life. If Jesus can accept Mary Magdalen with her past, if she actually engaged in sexual activities, why then must today’s women be burdened by not only past abuses or even past mistakes. If the RCC wants to hold to the traditional meaning of virginity, they will be creating an exclusionary group that is antithetical to Christianity and are more akin to Greek mythology’s vestal virgins.

    Can we all agree that there is a want/desire/need for single women to live a consecrated life without the baggage of religious orders. A free agent so to speak where they can live out their faith more fully.

    • I don’t know many details about the subject of consecrated virginity, but the points you raise do seem to be important. Perhaps some options for single women might include some of the “Third Orders” of religious communities, such as the Franciscans. Also, I think Opus Dei has some women (and men) who dedicate their lives to remaining unmarried in order to devote themselves more fully to the work of God. I don’t know many of the details of these, but perhaps it would be something to look into.

    • I completely agree. There seems to be an obsession with this “strict adherence to the law” approach rather than viewing the ECI it relation to the realities of modern society that we as Catholic women are faced with. Is there any wonder why so many have turned away from their Catholic faith?

  8. I think that the author of this essay misses the whole point! I think many Catholics today, have also sadly lost their understanding of virtue and holiness, and the horrible defilement of sin– which must be avoided, at all costs! Our Lady of Fatima warned that more souls go to Hell for sexual sins, than for any other kind of sin! Sexual sins deeply defile, and tragically destroy, poor human beings, made originally in the pure and beautiful Divine Image of God! So sad!
    Our Church must preach and teach the Catholic Faithful– and the whole world!– to carefully safeguard their purity– and to see only Christ in others– no one must be horribly degraded and defiled, as an object of filthy lust! “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!”
    The marriage act is sacred, as God elevates it to a high and holy place, when a Man and a Woman deeply in love, are forever joined together, in Christ, in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony! The marriage act must be respected!– it is made by God, and belongs ONLY in this context– in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony!
    The Consecrated VIRGINS are chosen by God, for a very special religious vocation! This has nothing to do with the Blessed Mother, nor with anyone else! The Blessed Mother was chosen by God, with her own special mission– to co-operate with God’s Plan, to bear the Son of God, Jesus, to save mankind!! The calling of the Consecrated Virgin is entirely different!
    We all should look up to Consecrated Virgins, as very special Catholic Role Models! There are many religious orders (active and contemplative) for women– and lay orders, too!– that a woman might apply to, if she does not fit the criteria of the Consecrated Virgin.

      • Carl canon law scholar Peters offers a definition that presumes resolving the issue of “euphemisms”. The definition that “some women choose to preserve and some do not”. Nonetheless preservation has coherency only if virginity is understood as never having engaged in conjugal relations. Although Peters doesn’t intend this consecrated virginity if defined as “some women choose to preserve and some do not” is subject to women consecrating themselves to virginity who are not virgins. But this is exactly what Ecclesiae Sponsae does because it doesn’t define virginity. So compliance with the traditional definition must hold.

  9. This fixation on physical virginity found in Catholic tradition has always seemed a little weird to me. The ancient Jews seemed to have a much different understanding of what makes a virgin a virgin. An unmarried woman’s chastity was considered presumptive; calling a woman a virgin was less a statement about her sexual experience or even her marital state (the almah/betulah debates over BVM and the Isaiah prophecy illustrate this), but more about her fecundity. Women who had not yet born a child, both married and unmarried, and of course girls not yet sexually mature enough to become pregnant, were all described as virgins in the Old Testament. Jewish wives or widows past childbearing years were even described as experiencing a second virginity in ancient Jewish custom, which explains why Elizabeth’s pregnancy was cited by the angel during the Annunciation as another miraculous conception. The virgins described in scripture, and presumptively during the time of Christ, were not necessarily sexually inexperienced women, but they were definitely childless women. A consecrated virgin, therefore, would be a woman who had consecrated her fruitfulness entirely to God, and would naturally had embraced perpetual chastity in order to do so. Somehow, at some point, we have reversed the sign of physical virginity as the cause of consecrated virginity instead of its effect.

    Furthermore, Jesus had no issue with inviting women of extensive sexual experience into a bridal relationship with him during His ministry. Mary Magdalen (whose sexual experience is frankly not noted in scripture) is the least of it; his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well – who had five husbands and who was living with a sixth man who was not her husband – is within the context of the Jewish tradition, nothing less than a marriage proposal. Frankly, the scriptures describe Israel the Bride as anything but chaste, pure, and virginal, to the point ancient prophets took harlots as wives as a sign of it. If Jesus is willing to invite this quite promiscuous woman to be a sign to all of Israel as his spiritual bride, why on Earth are some Catholics so queasy about allowing women of far better virtue to enter the rite of consecrated virginity? ESI is not some dangerous new repudiation of sacred doctrine, if anything it comes close to restoring the ancient understanding of virginity to the rite of consecrated virginity.

    Finally, and with all due respect to those Church Fathers who made such snide remarks about “you cannot give what you do not have,” we in fact do give what we do not have in every single sacrament or sacramental. Our worthiness is not the point. The Bridegroom brings all of us to the marriage feast. If we are to exclude penitent, chaste women living in the world from living a life of permanent consecration, what is the aim? What possible legitimate purpose does that serve? I don’t believe that is within the actual, ancient Christian tradition of consecrated virginity, but if the Church were to insist that it is, it is very clearly denying itself of the enormous benefits such women could bring to its ministry.

  10. For example, in 2008 the Congregation for the Clergy published “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity,” a document designed to address two of the greatest crises facing the Church today: the priesthood scandals and the decline of vocations. Our two great weapons in this fight are described as reparation for priests through eucharistic adoration and spiritual motherhood, especially when they are combined together. Of course, spiritual motherhood is not limited to only religious or consecrated women, but is a power exercised by all faithful women regardless of their state in life. However, consecrated virgins are women who have given their fruitfulness entirely to God, and therefore have a special calling to this spiritual maternity. Furthermore, consecrated virgins are set apart by their Bishop in service to their diocese, and are therefore in an entirely appropriate position to provide spiritual motherhood for his Diocesan priests in much the same way nuns do for the priests of their particular Orders. During this time of great spiritual crises, Mother Church needs as many spiritual mothers as she can muster, and consecrated women will always form an important, perhaps even essential, corps in the spiritual battle for holiness.

    As far as the Blessed Virgin Mary not “qualifying” for the Order of Virgins: of course she doesn’t. Such a thing would be absurd, on multiple levels. Does a mother marry her son? Is the mother of the bridegroom also his bride? No! The Blessed Virgin Mary is Queen of Heaven and Mother of all the Church. Her spouse is the Holy Spirit, through whom she conceived and with whom she is perfectly united. She is not a mere member of the Order of Virgins, she is the head of the Order of Virgins, our Immaculate, our Mother Most Superior, our Eternal Prioress, Our Great Exemplar, the Type for whom we all strive to emulate as priests strive to emulate their High Priest, the Only Begotten Son of God Jesus Christ. She teaches us how best to love her Son as only she could. We serve her in obedience as a daughter should honor and serve her mother.

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