The Vatican has issued a new instruction on Consecrated Virginity as the vocation experiences increasing interest.
The document, titled Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, comes after requests from bishops across the world for clarity on the role of consecrated virgins, as more women discern the vocation.
A consecrated virgin is a woman who has never married who pledges perpetual virginity and dedicates her life to God. Unlike a nun, she does not live in a community and leads a secular life, providing for her own needs.
“Consecrated persons dedicate themselves to prayer, penance, works of mercy and the apostolate, each according to their own charisms, welcoming the Gospel as a fundamental rule for their life,” Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, Secretary of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, explained.
“The charism of virginity is harmonized with the proper charism of each consecrated person, giving rise to a great variety of responses to the vocation, in a creative freedom that demands a sense of responsibility and the exercise of serious spiritual discernment.”
Women who pursue this vocation are consecrated by their diocesan bishop, and remain connected to their local diocese. This relationship is “a special bond of love and mutual belonging,” Archbishop Carballo wrote.
“The consecrated person recognizes herself as the daughter of a particular Church [diocese], shares its history of holiness, and with her own gifts contributes to its edification and participates in its mission.”
The document says that women who discern a possible vocation to consecrated virginity should undergo one or two years of preparation before beginning their formation. The bishop should oversee this process.
The bishop will also oversee dismissal from the consecrated life under grave circumstances, but this must be confirmed by the Holy See.