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The Second Vatican Council restored the Order of Virgins, which dates from the early Church. We are consecrated publicly by the Bishop or his representative to live an independent life within the local Church community. Each woman is autonomous, and her pattern if life is planned by her and approved by the Bishop. She is responsible for her own finances. Other women are consecrated as widows. This form of life combines freedom with commitment.


The following guidelines have been drawn up by a representative group of consecrated women in Britain who are already consecrated, with the approval of our first liaison Bishop, Christopher Budd.

Canon 604

1. The Order of Virgins is also to be added to these forms of consecrated life. Through their pledge to follow Christ more closely, Virgins are consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates them according to the approved liturgical rite.

2. Virgins can be associated together to fulfil their pledge more faithfully, and to assist each other to serve the Church in a way that befits their state.

ImageHow does this vocation differ from that of all the baptized?

a) We are a sign of the Church as the bride of Christ.

b) Our all-consuming relationship with God impels us to a life of celibacy, freeing us from the cares and ties of marriage and family life.

How does this vocation differ from that of other sisters in Institutes of Consecrated Life?

a) Before there were any religious congregations, the Order of Virgins existed alongside the Orders of bishops, priests, deacons and widows. Our rule is to follow the gospel in a simple, evangelical life.

b) The authority to which we are responsible is the diocesan bishop and, through him, the universal Church.

What is the value of our public witness?

a) Ours is an ecclesial vocation handed down from the early Church.

b) Through our consecration, we have been formally dedicated to a life of prayer and service in the Church. This service will be lived out through a diversity of ministries.

c) In today’s self-centred, materialistic culture, solemnly consecrated virginity is a counter-cultural sign, and a witness to the power of God.

d) We are part of the Church’s public witness through the liturgical rite in which the bishop and the local Church together affirm the validity of our consecration. For our part, we publicly acknowledge that we need the prayerful support of all the people of God, so that we may persevere.

e) The visible signs of our consecration, which the bishop gives to us during the rite, are a ring to symbolise our commitment, and the Prayer of the Church to symbolise our calling to a life of prayer. During the rite, the bishop may also clothe us with a veil, but each of us decides on her own form of dress.

ImageWhat are the criteria for discerning a woman’s readiness for a life of consecration?

a) The candidate must be a single woman who has never married or had children.

b) She must be a woman with a living faith, committed to a life of prayer and service.

c) She must be prepared to take financial responsibility for her life.

d) She must be a woman of emotional and psychological stability and maturity. Physical disability is not in itself a barrier to consecration.

What formation should a woman receive in preparation for consecration?

a) She should be in dialogue with a spiritual director or guide.

b) She should be accompanied by a consecrated woman who has already lived the life for some time, or by another person acceptable to the bishop and the candidate.

c) She should be formed through living a life of apostolic service and solitary prayer, together with ongoing study, especially of the scriptures.

d) After an appropriate period of time, the bishop (or his representative) and the candidate will decide when she is ready to be consecrated.

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Participants in the International Congress-Pilgrimage of the Ordo Virginum

For further information, contact Sr Elizabeth Rees OCV, email:


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