On the fourth of July 2018, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life released an Instruction titled Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, regarding the Order of Virgins. Like practically every other document that exits the Vatican this days, it is rather lengthy with some 115 sections, plus additional notes.
The Instruction is supposed to be a re-invigoration of the Order of Virgins, an ancient order of consecrated virgins who are called to remain virgin, celibate and chaste for Christ. They will never marry, nor have conjugal relations, nor bare children. Rather, like the clerics of the Church, they will embrace White Martyrdom - celibacy.
The Order of Virgins goes back to Apostolic times, and the Church Fathers themselves often wrote about this venerable Order. Over the centuries the Order of Virgins evolved into the established Order that we have today. The consecration of the virgins is done so in a ceremony by their local Ordinary (diocesan bishop). They wear, as the image above shows, wedding dresses because, quite literally, they are marrying Christ the Bridegroom, and are visible images of the Bride of Christ Herself, the Church. They will forsake an earthly marry for a heavenly one, and Christ Himself shall be their Spouse, and no greater Spouse could a woman ask for. For those women looking for Mr. Right, these women actually have Him! The consecrated virgins themselves are not in community, but rather live ordinary lives in the world, praying for the Church and being the chaste, virginal spouses of Christ.
So, for an Instruction to be issued regarding the Order of Virgins one would expect the great extolling virtues of virginity, chastity, celibacy, purity and the like. And whilst there is that in the Instruction, it seems the extolling of virtue is then abrogated by a rather odious statement, that undermines the holy Order of Virgins.
In section 88, this is what we are told:
In vocational guidance and when there is need to describe the characteristics of this vocation and the requirements for admission to consecration, the condition of virginity will be presented starting with the rich symbolism of its biblical foundations, within the framework of an anthropological vision solidly based on Christian revelation. On this basis the different dimensions, physical, psychological and spiritual, are integrated and considered in their dynamic connection to the lived history of the person and in openness to the unceasing action of divine grace that directs, guides and invigorates her on the path of holiness.
Did you catch it? Did you catch the sentence that has caused the ire of faithful Catholics, and of the US Association of Consecrated Virgins? Let me extract the offending sentence:
Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible. [Emphasis mine]
The Instruction states that a virgin need not actually be a virgin! That is equivalent to saying that a Catholic need not be a Catholic in order to be a Catholic! The idea is absurd. And what is more, section 88 contradicts section 84, which states:
It is also a prerequisite that the person has never been married and has never lived in public or open violation of chastity.
So we are told that a prerequisite for admission to the Order is virginity, but then are told that it isn't really a prerequisite. Once again, the Franciscan Pontificate confuses us as to what is being said here. And since the Pope rarely, if ever, clarifies himself or any other Vatican official, I dare say that it is a confusion that will endure until some future Pontificate makes some definitive statements. Although, I wouldn't hold my breath.
This attack on the consecrated life is nothing new. In July of 2016, the Vatican published an Apostolic Constitution, Vultum Dei quaerere, on women's contemplative life, which, as Dr. Marian T Horvat wrote at Tradition In Action (TIA), "calls for women religious living in contemplative orders around the world to re-regulate their lifestyles and re-write their constitutions to better conform to the Vatican II guidelines and the changing modern times". With this, the Vatican issued another document implementing the said changes, in an Instruction titled Cor Orans. What the two documents call for is, essentially, the abolition of the contemplative life for women because for Pope Francis such a life is somewhat lazy, and thus they need to be out there and doing stuff for the People of God. Contemplative orders, like that most venerable Carmelite Order, will be brought into federations, ruled over by presidents hand picked by the Vatican, and who will bring the Orders into line with Vatican II. You see, many of these Orders still celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, and still follow pre-Vatican II norms, which the Pope finds outdated and against the "Spirit" of Vatican II.
Whenever I ask whether there is something that this current Pontificate will not try to "reform", the answer is always the same: no. With due respect to the Holy Father, his reforms are not rejuvenating the Church but are rather undermining Her and collapsing Her even faster. The Pope seems to be completely blind to the fact that the areas of the Church that are growing in any meaningful way are those who embrace the Tradition that the Pope seems adamant on stamping out. And it doesn't help that the clerical sex abuse, of which I have written about and no doubt will do so again, is damaging the Church.
Alas, after must frustration, there is only one thing that I can concretely do: pray for the Church. That is why I have recently decided to offer my Rosary for the Church and for the return of Her former faith, worship and glory and for Her liberation and exultation.
If it so pleases Almighty God, may I bear witness to this same. For now, I pray that God may grant me true peace of soul as I bear witness to the Church's seemingly endless descent into oblivion.