Why is Consecrated Virginity Not a Sacrament

Marriage and religious life are two fundamental ways to fulfill the fundamental vocation of every human being to love. Why is marriage a sacrament and consecrated virginity or celibacy is not?

Since Christ certainly could have made consecrated virginity a sacrament, any answer can only be based on arguments of appropriateness. Both marriage and virginity are signs of the union between Christ and the Church. Is there a difference in the way in which they are signs of this union, such that marriage is fittingly a sacrament, and consecrated virginity is not?

Marriage signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the very union of the two humans spouses derives from, participates in, and is a likeness of the perfect union of Christ with the Church. Nevertheless this union of the spouses remains distinct from this spousal union of Christ and the Church. The spouses do not give themselves directly to Christ, but to each other.

Consecrated virginity signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the virgin is devoted, by her own will and by the Church, to the very union that constitutes the Church, to the fulfillment of the union with Christ begun in baptism. Thus it bears less the character of a sign, and more that of the reality itself.

We might tentatively say, then, that it would be less fitting for consecrated virginity or religious life to be a sacrament, a sacred sign that confers grace, because it is above all reality, a deepening of the baptismal grace, the spousal union with Christ the Bridegroom. It is a sign of the future kingdom, but it is a sign of it inasmuch as it already anticipates it in this life.

Another, complementary way to explain this looks at the different ways marriage and religious life relate to time and history. Marriage pertains above all to the working out of God's plan for man in time. Those who rise from the dead “neither marry nor are given in marriage”; human marriage ceases with death, even though some aspects of marriage, e.g., the love between the spouses, endures beyond death. The virgin's spousal union with Christ, however, does not cease with her death, but is consummated—she becomes even more perfectly that which she began to be on earth through baptism and through her vows: the bride of Christ. Since all of the sacraments pertain to the dispensation of God's grace in time and history, it is thus more fitting for marriage to be a sacrament than for consecrated virginity to be one.

6 thoughts on “Why is Consecrated Virginity Not a Sacrament”

  1. Hi,
    I like your attempt to compare the sacrament of marriage with consecrated virginity .However, I have a different perspective which differentiates between the Spousal imagery in the Order of consecrated virgins [only women] and in Religious life [men & women].

    On 31st May 1970 the Holy Congregation for Divine Worship made the following decree:
    "The rite of consecration to a life of virginity is counted among the most precious treasures in the Roman liturgy…Jesus Christ left Holy Virginity as a legacy to His bride, one of his most precious gifts. From the time of the apostles, virgins have dedicated their chastity to God …..the Church from the earliest ages, as the Fathers attest, has kept the practice of putting its seal through a consecratory prayer upon the devout and exacting resolve of virgins".
    This rite was used only for women and was considered as one of the twelve sacraments in the early Church which was later reduced to seven in the 12th century. It is one of the most ancient sacramentals. Hence this consecration is 'permanent' and cannot be undone or dispensed. It is not like the profession of vows by Religious which can be dispensed.

    Every Christian whether male or female is a bride of Christ through the concrete but spiritual bond of the Sacrament of Baptism.

    So also persons in religious life – whether men or women- individually or as community- are bride of Christ through a spiritual bond. They consecrate themselves through the profession of vows. This does not enhance their baptismal spousal bond with Christ. What it does enhance is the Symbolism of the Church’s bridal relationship with Christ . Religious profession as a consecration of the whole person is symbolic of the spousal relationship and involves a full gift of themselves as a sacrifice offered to God but it is not a marriage covenant .

    I think an individual religious man or woman is a bride of Christ to the same degree as any baptized lay person although the symbolic element is greater in the religious woman.

    That’s why some religious women in monasteries receive the consecration of virgins several years after Final profession.

    For details on my perspective to this I invite you to read :

    http://ocvnewevangelisation.blogspot.com/p/why-physical-virginity-is-essential-for.html

    Differences of perspectives are healthy. Thank you for your views. Wish you God's Blessings in your ministry!

    1. Can you provide the source for the statement –
      this rite was used only for women and was considered as one of the twelve sacraments in the early Church which was later reduced to seven in the 12th century.

      1. The prayer of consecration of a virgin is found in the earliest sacramentaries of the Church. The early Church did not understand sacraments as we do today. There were several ceremonies and rites. Peter Lombard began systematizing them. In the councils of the 12th century onwards there was clarity on the theology of sacraments and sacramentals. The consecration of virgins is a sacramental. Jesus Christ is not visible in the ceremony as the bridegroom is visible in the sacrament of matrimony.
        God bless you.

  2. +
    Christian marriage is a Holy Sacrament because it is divine medicine for the weak(of will); for those who will not accept virginity or continence for the sake of the Kingdom (St. Matthew 19:1-12). If the spouses are well disposed, the Sacrament will heal the spouses of this weakness and lead them to desire the holines of perfect continence.

  3. Please read :

    Marriage and Continence Complement Each Other
    by John Paul II

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb77.htm

    You may also be interested in the following post by me.

    http://ocvnewevangelisation.blogspot.com/2011/10/spiritual-wealth-in-prayer-of.html

    It speaks of the sacramental character of the Rite of consecration to a life of virginity [ different from the Rite of Profession of religious ] . Here I emphasize not so much on the rite being a liturgical Sacramental but on its Sacramentality .

  4. I am a consecrated religious nun and I find this blog very much educational to those young people who really want to dedicate their whole life to God and the Church and yet do not find the radical and practical meaning of what is to be a consecrated person or a spouse of Christ. As a vocation director and assistant formator I'd like to say that to be a consecrated person is living an undivided life. It is only with God and His people. It is a radical commitment to the Church and the service to the people.

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