Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day that honors the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin. In 1854, with the Bull Ineffabilis, Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: “…We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful” (DS 2803).
Although not a solemn pronouncement like that of the Immaculate Conception, I joyously share with my TOB family that on Thursday, February 2, 2017 (the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord), in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput will consecrate me to the Order of Virgins, as a Consecrated Virgin living in the world! I have been discerning the call to this vocation for the last six years and in a formation program with the Archdiocese for the last two. Y
You may be wondering, “What is Consecrated Virginity?”
The Consecration of a Virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church, and one of the fruits of Vatican II was the restoration of this profound blessing on virgins living in the world. The promulgation of this restored Rite for women living in the world was on 31 May 1970. Through this sacramental, the virgin renews her resolve to live in perpetual virginity for God and is set aside as sacred, espoused to Christ and belonging only to Him alone. It is God Himself who accepts her resolution and makes it spiritually fruitful by the power of the Holy Spirit. This sacramental is reserved to the Bishop of the diocese. The consecrated virgin shares intimately in the nature and mission of the Church: she is a living image of the Church’s love for her Spouse while sharing in His redemptive mission.
The consecrated virgin lives in full communion with the Church through her spiritual bond with her Bishop, the representative of Jesus Christ in her diocese. The consecrated virgin is responsible to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. She receives the sacraments regularly and is faithful to private prayer. She keeps as a special focus of her prayer the intentions of her Bishop and clergy and the needs of her diocese. Consecrated virginity is a distinct form of consecrated life in the Church. Therefore, while it is related to other forms of consecrated life, it is not identical to any of them. The consecrated virgin living in the world, as expressed in Canon 604, is irrevocably “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan bishop consecrates [her] according to the approved liturgical rite.”
As an image of the Church and of Our Lady, the Consecrated Virgin lives her life as virgin, spouse, and mother.
She is, first, virgin. She offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to Him.
She is, second, spouse. At her consecration, she becomes a “bride of Christ.” She forms a life of a most intimate union with Christ and she is a sign of the love of the Church, the Bride, for Christ, her Bridegroom.
- As a fruit of her life of virginal espousal to Christ, she is, finally, mother. She lives her feminine call to motherhood through spiritual motherhood, as modeled by Our Lady. As St. John Paul II wrote, “Mary’s divine motherhood is also in some way a superabundant revelation of that fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit to which man submits his spirit when he freely chooses… continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven’” (TOB 75:3).
As I journeyed in my discernment from a life of desiring earthly marriage and physical motherhood to one of Consecrated Virginity, St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was critical to my understanding of celibacy and that a life of celibacy, espoused to Christ could be one of JOY. TOB helped me to have an understanding of a spousal relationship with Christ (something we are ALL called to) and encouraged me in my desire to be a witness in the world of the marriage to which we are all called. “Christian celibacy involves no rejection of the body and sexuality, but expresses the ultimate purpose and meaning of the body and sexuality by pointing so profoundly to the marriage of the Lamb. The celibate man or woman expresses the spousal meaning of the body by becoming a sincere gift to others. This leads, in turn, to a spiritual fruitfulness.”(West, Theology of the Body for Beginners, glossary.)
TOB helped me to understand that we are all called to spiritual fruitfulness as spiritual mothers and fathers. Christian celibacy “must lead in its normal development to ‘fatherhood’ or ‘motherhood’ in the spiritual sense… in a way analogous to conjugal love…. On its part, physical generation also fully corresponds to its meaning only if it is completed by fatherhood and motherhood in the spirit, whose expression and fruit is the whole educational work of the parents in regard to the children born of their… union” (TOB 78:5). The desire to be a wife and a mother, planted within the theology of my feminine body, was necessary for me to live a life of celibacy. That seems like a contradiction, right? It isn’t. As a celibate, Consecrated Virgin, I will be a “bride of Christ” AND a spiritual mother to many more of God’s children than I could ever be as a biological mother. “For more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.” (Galatians 4:27)
I am so very grateful for the formation that my heart and mind received through the work of the Theology of the Body Institute. I know that, without the gift of TOB and the Institute, I would not have an understanding of a life of celibacy, nor an openness to it. This vocation is an eternal gift from the Lord (for me and for the Church) and one that came through the mission of TOBI. From my eight years of working for TOBI, I know that mine is not the only vocation that has been formed and renewed through its mission. The mission that the Lord has for TOBI is so needed in the world and in the Church.
Although I won’t be able to equal the fruitfulness of TOBI, I’m very thankful that I will be able to share the fruit of my vocation with TOBI, as I continue to be its Managing Director. Would you please join me in giving thanks to the Lord for the mission of TOBI and join me in helping TOBI reach so many others, in a personal and profound way, to bring life to vocations and the Church? Please prayerfully consider giving of your prayer and financial resources to help TOBI bring the transforming message of TOB to the hearts and minds of all who need it. Because you gave, I discovered my vocation.
The consecration Mass on Thursday, February 2, 2017 at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, in Philadelphia is open to all! Please come to celebrate this beautiful day with me! There will be a Eucharistic Holy Hour from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Basilica chapel and then the Mass at 5 p.m. I humbly ask for your prayers as I prepare my heart, mind, body, and soul to live this vocation to consecrated life as a virgin, spouse, and mother.
Sincerely in Christ,
JEN SETTLE is currently serving as Managing Director of the Theology of the Body Institute. She has been part of TOBI since 2008 in various capacities, including Certification Course Manager and Director of Programs for the Internship, Certification, and Clergy Enrichment Programs. She has Bachelor and Master degrees in Theology and Parish Ministry from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Jen worked in religious education and adult faith formation for 15 years before joining the TOBI staff, teaching Theology of the Body throughout the country.
For more information on the vocation to Consecrated Virginity, please visit the website of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.