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In the Catholic Church, a consecrated virgin is a woman who has been consecrated by the church to a life of perpetual virginity in the service of God. Consecrated virgins are to spend their time in works of penance and mercy, in apostolic activity and in prayer, according to their state of life and spiritual gifts. Consecrated virgins should not be confused with consecrated hermits and anchorites, who have a different vocation.
According to Christian thought, the first sacred virgin was Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was consecrated by the Holy Spirit during the Annunciation. Tradition also has it that the Apostle Matthew consecrated virgins. Apostolic era virgins either continued to live with their own family or lived in a private house, because this form of life predated the foundation of religious orders. A number of early Christian martyrs were women or girls who had given themselves to Christ in perpetual virginity, such as Saint Agnes and Saint Lucy.
During the Middle Ages, the Rite of Consecration of a virgin who lived in the world gradually fell into disuse although individual bishops continued to bestow the consecration to some virgins. At the same time, the rite of consecration was maintained by nuns in monastic orders, such as the Benedictines and Carthusians. This consecration could be done either concurrently with or some time after the profession of solemn vows. Among Carthusian nuns, there is the unique practice of these virgins being entitled to wear a stole, a vestment otherwise reserved to clergy, which gives them certain liturgical privileges, mostly used during their reading of the Gospel at Matins. It has been speculated by scholars that this is a vestige of the Order of deacon.
In 1963 the Second Vatican Council requested a revision of the rite of the consecration of virgins that was found in the Roman Pontifical. The revised Rite was approved by Pope Paul VI and published in 1970. This consecration could be bestowed either on women in monastic orders or on women living in the world, which revived the form of life that had been found in the early Church.
As in the consecrations of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders, the consecration of virgins is bestowed upon virgins and this form of consecration alone in consecrated life is not tied to the profession of vows. Indeed, no vows are made or received in the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World. The bishop who confers the consecration, by his ministry makes the virgin a "sacred person". The virgin who receives the consecration is elevated to the consecrated state, which she shares with religious and diocesan hermits. She becomes a member of the Order of Virgins, just as deacons belong to the Order of Deacons. The consecration of virgins living in the world is reserved to bishops alone because bishops represent Christ the Bridegroom and it is to their care virgins are entrusted, who are the images of the Church. The consecration of virgins is one of the most important rites a diocese can celebrate, and the attendance of the priests and the faithful is expected as in the case of ordinations and the Chrism Masses.
In 1972 Elizabeth Bailey became the first virgin to be consecrated in England since the 3rd century. 
As a form of Consecrated Life in the Church today
This consecration is a sacramental which may be bestowed on nuns or women living in the world. Nuns who have received this consecration are still referred to as nuns and not as consecrated virgins, and so consecrated virgin almost always describes a consecrated woman living in the world.The 1970 Prænotanda to the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity states the following requirements for women living in the world to receive the consecration:
that they have never married or lived in open violation of chastity; that, by their prudence and universally approved character, they give assurance of perseverance in a life of chastity dedicated to the service of the church and of their neighbor; that they be admitted to this Consecration by the Bishop who is the local Ordinary.
The approved liturgical rite whereby the bishop consecrates the candidate is by the solemn rite of Consecratio Virginium (Consecration of Virgins). The usual minister of the rite of consecration is the bishop who is the local ordinary. Henceforth, the woman is committed, not only to perpetual virginity, but to leading a life of prayer and service, and is "strongly advised" to observe the Liturgy of the Hours.The legislation outlining this was provided in the most recent Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church:
§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.
Consecrated virgins belong to consecrated life. They are not supported financially by their bishop, but must provide for their own upkeep. These women work in professions ranging from teachers and attorneys to that of firefighter. Some lead lives of contemplation as hermits. One notable example of the latter is Wendy Beckett, known as "Sister Wendy", a former member of the religious congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who became a consecrated virgin in 1970, and who, though living as a recluse, has supported herself through her work as a world-famous art critic.
According to the Associated Press, as of 2009, there are about 215 such women living in the United States and 3,000 worldwide. In 2014, the estimated numbers include about 300 in the USA, and about 6,000 or 7,000 worldwide.
Noted Christian Consecrated Virgins
- Agnes of Rome 3rd-century martyr and a consecrated virgin.
- Agatha of Sicily 3rd-century martyr and a consecrated virgin.
- Lucy of Syracuse 3rd-century martyr and a consecrated virgin.
- Euphemia of Chalcedon 3rd-century martyr and a consecrated virgin.
- Marcellina 4th-century consecrated virgin, who was consecrated by Pope Liberius at St. Peter's Basilica and a sister of St.Ambrose.
- Genevieve of Paris, 5th-century consecrated virgin.
- Margaret of Hungary, 13th-century consecrated virgin and religious.
- Anne Leflaive, 20th-century consecrated virgin. Consecrated in the early 1900s, she was instrumental in helping to bring about the renewal of the Rite for women living in the world.
- Joan Frances Gormley, (died 2007), a consecrated virgin and an American scholar in the fields of classical literature and of biblical studies. She was a professor in the Department of Sacred Scripture at Mount St. Mary's Seminary. She translated and produced a number of works by leading Catholic mystics, such as Saints Edith Stein and John of Avila.
- Wendy Beckett, known as "Sister Wendy", a former member of the religious congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, became a consecrated virgin in 1970, and, though living as a recluse, has supported herself through her work as a world-famous art critic.
- Consecration to a life of virginity, Praenotanda, Introduction
- 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. A major difference according to church law is that consecrated virgins do not publicly profess the Evangelical Counsels. Consecrated virgins are consecrated by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, whereas the consecrated hermits dedicate themselves through publicly professing the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond.
- 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
- Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 80
- Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Decree promulgating the new rite for the consecration of a virgin, 31 May 1970, AAS 62 (1970) p. 650.
- It is a source of joy and hope to witness in our time a new flowering of the ancient Order of Virgins, known in Christian communities ever since apostolic times. Consecrated by the diocesan bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serve while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom. (cf. "Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata of the Holy Father John Paul II on the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World", Rome, 25 March 1996.)
- Consecration to a life of virginity, praenotanda Nr. 4. Those who may be consecrated, Nr. 6 The minister of the rite
- United States Association of consecrated virgins
- Consecration to a life of virginity, praenotanda Nr. 2.
Present situation in the Catholic Church
- Text of canon 604 of The Code of Canon Law (1983, Latin edition) re: Virgins as members of the Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church
- Text of canon 604 of The Code of Canon Law (1983, English translation) re: Virgins as members of the Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church
- Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) §922 "Consecrated Virgins and Widows"
- Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) §2337-2359 "The Vocation to Chastity"
- Pope John Paul II, "Vita Consecrata" (1996), §7 re: Virgins
- Pope Benedict XVI, "Consecrated virginity: new life for an ancient charism" (15 May 2008)
- MSNBC Woman joins small club of consecrated virgins
- JSONLINE Not a nun, but wed to Christ virgins
- Click2Houston story: Local Catholic Diocese Performs Consecrated Virgin Ritual: 150 Consecrated Virgins Live In U.S.and about 100 live in the UK