This week the traditional liturgical calendar of the Roman Rite, the Extraordinary Form, brings us feast days of saints of various states of life. We will celebrate, along with a Sunday, Saints Gertrude (virgin), Gregory the Thaumaturgus or “Wonder-worker” (bishop and confessor), Elizabeth (widow), Felix of Valois (confessor) and, after the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 21, Cecilia (virgin and martyr).
Speaking of “confessor”, we use this title in several ways. Most commonly, a confessor is a priest who has the faculties to receive sacramental confessions and validly to give absolution. However, a confessor, in a quite ancient meaning, is also a saint who suffered terrible persecution for the faith but not to the point of death. Yet another meaning is broader. We call a confessor any saint who doesn’t fit into other clear categories such as martyr, apostle, evangelist or virgin. These are saints who may have lived holy but relatively peaceful lives, insofar as they weren’t persecuted for their faith, such as the English King St Edward the Confessor (d 1066).
As for widows and virgins, in the ancient Church there were various states of life that received special recognition and blessings, and had their own designated places in church. There were orders for these states in life, which also had to do with the performance of corporal works of mercy. Hence, there were the ancient orders of virgins and of widows, and even of gravediggers. It could be that deaconesses were much like these: not ordained in the way deacons and priests were, but specially blessed and put to work particularly in helping women. In modern times the order of virgins has been revived. There is talk of reviving the widows as well. Deaconesses, probably not.
Of all the possible universes God could have created, he created this one. From before its creation He knew each and everyone of us. He called us into existence at a particular time and place with our own gifts and aptitudes. He knows, loves and wants every person ever conceived. He calls us to a certain state in life, a vocation, in order to fulfil our part in His “economy of salvation”. If we dedicate ourselves with devotion to our state in life as it truly is here and now, God will shower us with graces, for we are fulfilling our role in His mysterious plan.