CV NEWS FEED // “I heard a voice. And a very clear question in my heart. At first, I couldn’t say ‘yes.’ And now – now I can’t say ‘no’ anymore.”
These words from Bernadette Lang, a consecrated virgin serving in Austria, are compelling. A similar encounter is found in nearly every vocation story. Yet the vocation Lang has chosen is very different from most. Many are even unnerved by this unusual calling.
So what is a consecrated virgin? Does the Church sanction these vows? Why don’t these women join one of the many beautiful religious orders that exist in the Church instead?
The vocation of a consecrated virgin goes back to the first century of Christianity – since the time of the apostles — and long before religious orders appeared on the scene. The unique vocation bears good fruit for the body of Christ to this day.
“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,” notes Pope St. John Paul II in the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata.
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.
CatholicVote recently spoke with Lang, a young consecrated virgin about to celebrate her one year anniversary with the Lord. In the vows ceremony last year, she approached the altar in a white wedding dress and veil. The choir sang, and family and friends gathered to witness as the Bishop consecrated her to the Lord. She received a wedding ring and wears it now as the only visible sign of her commitment to Christ.
Lang lives out her consecration in Austria, teaching young people how to follow Christ more closely through the mission of Home Base in Salzburg.
Lang heard the call of the Lord when she was fourteen years old in Medjugorje, but admits that she was not ready at that time to commit herself to him. His invitation to her heart: “Do you want to belong to me?” echoed within her throughout the rest of her teen years and drew her closer to Him. When she was 21, she made her first step towards total consecration, making a public promise of celibacy for one year.
She continued to make a promise of celibacy annually for ten years. When asked why she did not enter religious life, Lang told CatholicVote that she did not feel called to it, stating that religious profession and community life was “not a frame I wanted to live in.”
Instead, as a consecrated virgin, Lang can “be in the dark places” of the world, encountering those who may never have approached her if she wore a habit. For Lang, it was a “collision” between the deepest desires of her heart and a need she saw in the world that led her to this unique vocation.
It is her own personal goal to especially speak to young people about their sexuality. As the culture of today continues to degrade sexuality to pleasure and whim, Bernadette’s witness re-emphasizes that one’s sexuality is something sacred.
While religious life is necessarily very structured, Lang’s life changes from day to day, with meetings, talks, spiritual mentoring, and more. What is consistent is her prayer and her love of her heavenly spouse.
As a symbol of the heavenly wedding banquet, these brides of Christ evidence the beauty of every Catholic’s call to be a bride of Christ, but they do it while living in the world.
Many of the first martyrs were consecrated virgins. These young women gave up the good of marriage for the sake of the kingdom, and many remained in their homes, living out their daily lives in intimate union with their heavenly spouse. The consecration rite used for these early virgins, dating back to the 4th century is still used today.
Unlike religious life, these women only make one vow – the vow of virginity, or chastity. They are still responsible for themselves financially, and must remain so throughout their consecrated life. Below is a comparison of the two vocations, provided by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV).
Unlike the priesthood, the consecrated virgins do not vow obedience to their bishop. While they do profess their vows to the bishop and the bishop consecrates them, they remain largely independent. This independence gives them a unique freedom to serve the Lord in the world.
When asked what advice she would give to young women discerning this vocation, Lang said:
“‘People should cultivate (chastity) in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.’ Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others…. This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.” CCC 2349
Click here learn more about Consecrated Virginity in the United States