Consecrated Single Life
There is much confusion and debate about the “Single Life” in the life of the Church. In some ways, every Christian passes through a time in their journey where they are “single.” This is a normal and inevitable aspect of human life. However, when the Church speaks about the “Single Life” as a “Vocation,” this is not to what she is referring. Each Vocation is modeled upon Christ’s complete gift of himself to the Church. As those “made in God’s image” and even more deeply as Christians, those who share in his life, we are made to “go all in” at some point in our lives like Christ did for us on the cross. The Second Vatican Council put it this way–a person “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes 24). It is in our DNA. We are made by God to “go all in” at some point in our lives out of love for God and love for our neighbor. This is the key to our happiness and our “success” as Christian people–”Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). This is what we mean by “vocation”–God has a plan or “calling” held out for each of us to become mature friends with Jesus Christ one day and share more deeply in his life by “going all in.” God knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He knows what sort of “going all in” will be most fulfilling to each of us as well as the brightest light to others in our midst.
In Priesthood, a man is called to “go all in” by giving himself completely to become united to “Christ the Head” in service of the whole His whole body the Church. In Religious Life, a man or woman is called to “go all in” by making vows directly to God of poverty, chastity and obedience, entering into a marriage with God–giving themselves completely over to God and consequently the needs of his people. In Marriage, a man and a woman are called to “go all in” by giving themselves completely to one another in service to sanctify one another based on the model of Christ giving himself over to the Church. It is in this context we must understand the Single Life. It is better named the “Consecrated Single Life” because it too entails a kind of “going all in.
There are actually many ways God has called and continues to call people to “go all in” that exist outside the bounds of the more well known vocations of Priesthood, Religious Life and Marriage. Some people, God does not necessarily call to be married or to a priest or part of a formal religious community. Rather, God calls them to the Consecrated Single Life–to give their life completely to him in a more hidden way. In a way in which they are called to be a special “light” or “leaven” in the midst of the world. They are called to consecrate themselves directly to God and attend to some special mission in the Church. It may be a special mission in one’s family, neighborhood or parish. It might be a call to be radically available to the needs of those God has put in one’s path as a doctor, lawyer, plumber or carpenter. It might be a call to dedicated oneself completely a formal mission in the Church. In many types of the Consecrated Single Life, one would dress normally and, in a sense, blend into the world around them. However, not without effect. Many times God asks such people to be so close to him…so full of him, that his life, love and friendship is able to spill over into the world around them. It is a real and authentic vocation in the Church still be developed and understood by her people.
Below is a summary of the many types of Consecrated Single Life that have developed in the Church’s tradition. The italicized text comes from a work by renowned American spiritual writer Fr. Thomas Dubay entitled And You Are Christ’s: The Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life. The links and and commentary have been added to help you understand more about each type of Consecrated Single Life and point you in the direction of further reading and prayerful discernment.
“A divinely-originated way of life makes sense. Young people would say that it hangs together.
Because consecrated virginity is a valid vocation, it must possess an inner coherence. As a valid way of living it must present a consuming goal together with a consistent mode of life that leads to that goal. As a matter of fact, in the present-day Church there is not a just one way to live consecrated chastity; there are several. We shall summarize each briefly.”
“In the history of the Catholic Church the first manner in which woman pledge their chastity to Christ was in private consecration. Though they dwelt in their own homes, they lived their exclusive love for him in an individual manner. They did not join religious communities because there were none to join. Still a live option in the contemporary Church, this type of dedication comes about when a person makes a private vow of chastity or virginity. She (he) may add vows of poverty and obedience according to a specified rule and under the guidance of a spiritual director. This consecration is non-canonical because there is no special relationship with the bishop of the locality.”
Several Saints have “gone all in” in this private, hidden way. As Fr. Dubay pointed out, this type of Consecrated Single Life was one of the earliest Vocations in the life of the Church. Here are some saints that have answered the called to “Private Dedication” that you can read more about.
- Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
- St. Giuseppe Moscati
- St. Catherine of Siena
- St. Catherine of Alexandria
- Tradition identifies CATHERINE the daughter of the governor of Egyptian Alexandria during the reign of the emperor Maximian in the third century. A scholarly girl, she converted to Christianity. Later, when persecutions began she was reported to go to the emperor and rebuke him. Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned, and, failing to dissuade her to recant of her faith by torture, he was reported to have offered her marriage. She refused, declaring Jesus Christ as her spouse, to whom she had consecrated her virginity. She was condemned to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but it shattered, and she was finally beheaded.
“Although one may live perfect chastity privately either in complete solitude or in the midst of a busy city, there is also the option of embracing a canonical eremitic life, that is, one recognized in canon law, with the approval and under the direction of a bishop. Canon 603 speaks of this now officially recognized State:
- 1. Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by Which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance.
- 2. A hermit is recognized in the law as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction.
The canonical hermit does well to have a written rule and an immediate abba or superior, approved by the bishop, to whom she (he) has recourse for guidance and for routine permissions. This hermit may find solitude either in a rural area or in the midst of a busy city.”
Order of Virgins
“Hearkening back to the early centuries of the Church history, the new code provides also for unmarried women who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wish, with or without vows, to consecrate their chastity to Christ:
Cannon , §I. Similar to these forms of consecrated life is the order of virgins, who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.
In order to observe their commitment more faithfully and to perform by mutual support service to the Church which is in harmony with their state these virgins can form themselves into association. It should be noted that the Church in accord with our whole tradition sees this consecration in marital terms. The new ritual which has revised the older rite of consecration lays down the following requirements:
These women ‘should always have been unmarried, and never lived in public or open violation of chastity’
‘By their age, prudence, and universally approved character they should giveassurance of perseverance in a life of chastity dedicated to the service of the Church and of their neighbor’
‘They should be admitted to the consecration by the bishop who is ordinary of the place.'”
“This manner of evangelical consecration is a vowed and organized living in the world of the three evangelical counsels of celibacy, obedience, and poverty. Members of these institutes live a professedly secular life in the world, while at the same time they possess a new freedom for prayer. They retain their ordinary employment and they wear no religious garb. They usually live alone or with their families and meet occasionally with fellow members. Neither their witness nor their apostolate is corporate. They bring a gospel spirit into the world through their hidden presence. The norms governing this form of consecration are found in canons 710 to 730.”
Societies of Apostolic Life
“Members of these institutes do not take religious vows but they do perform apostolic work and live in community according to a special way of life expressed in their constitutions. Some of these societies have their members assume the three evangelical counsels by bonds (other than vows) defined in their constitutions (Canon 731)”
1. The translation is that approved in 1983 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States.
2. The Code of Canon Law: A text and Commentary, edited by James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, and Donald E. Heintschel (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 468.