What Is The Difference Between A Nun And A Consecrated Virgin? (Are They The Same?)

At theology school, I spent a significant amount of time learning different Christian doctrines, but I was quickly drawn to Catholic doctrines. I was particularly fascinated by the concept of Catholic nuns and the differences between nuns and consecrated virgins. During my research, I visited several convents and Catholic parishes, and I even got a chance to visit the main church in Rome, where I interviewed nuns and priests, among other church leaders. Last week, my theology students asked for clarification regarding the nuns and consecrated virgins and what set them apart. Most of them thought they were the same. Based on my research, I was able to answer them confidently, in detail. So, what is the difference between a nun and a consecrated virgin?

While a nun refers to a woman belonging to a specific religious community or order and chooses to live their life under the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, a consecrated virgin refers to a woman that the church consecrates to lead a life of perpetual virginity as Christ’s bride. However, the consecrated virgins do not belong to specific communities or religious orders. Additionally, physical virginity is not a requirement for a woman to be a consecrated virgin; they only need to have the intention to stay celibate for the sake of God’s kingdom.  

In this article, I’ll delve deeper into the world of nuns and consecrated virgins, sharing more about the differences between them, the requirements for becoming consecrated virgins, vows of chastity, and more. So, keep reading to learn more. 

What are consecrated virgins?

A consecrated virgin refers to a woman who’s undergone consecration by the Catholic Church, meaning that they have chosen to live their life, henceforth, in perpetual virginity as Jesus Christ’s bride. 

A consecrated virgin hasn’t been married before, and by choosing to become consecrated, they decide to become virgins perpetually, giving up their virginity to God (Jesus Christ) and setting it all aside to lead a sacred life that belongs to Jesus Christ.

What are the requirements for becoming a consecrated virgin?

What Is The Difference Between A Nun And A Consecrated Virgin?
Requirements for becoming a consecrated virgin. Image source: Pixabay

To become a consecrated virgin by the Catholic Church, the woman who chooses this life must be consecrated by a diocesan bishop, as per the approved Catholic liturgical rites. 

It’s worth noting that while the consecrated virgins take the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, not all consecrated virgins are actually virgins in the physical sense. This is an important consideration because becoming a consecrated virgin means giving up one’s past life and choosing to serve God as Christ’s bride forever. As a result, several married women with children have given up their lives as they knew them and have followed a different way of life altogether. So, no, one doesn’t have to be a virgin to become a consecrated virgin.

Other than the matter of virginity, the order of virgins was added to become a part of the consecrated individuals through their pledges to follow Jesus Christ closely. 

According to the Catholic church’s teachings, the consecrated virgins have been espoused to Jesus Christ, and they dedicate their lives to the full service of the church.

Other requirements for becoming a consecrated virgin include the following:

  • Consecration to the Lord by the diocesan Bishop who gives the approved rites.
  • Becoming betrothed to Jesus Christ and dedicating one’s life to the church’s service fully. 
  • Give assurance of perseverance in the chastity one dedicates themselves in, in God’s service and to their neighbors. 

Note that there is no age limit for a woman aspiring to be a consecrated virgin, but they should be in a position to support themselves financially. 

Do consecrated virgins need a vow of chastity like nuns do?

Yes, the consecrated virgins also need a vow of chastity, just like the nuns. The consecrated virgins vow to lead a life of complete abstinence from all manner of sexual activities.

By choosing to become consecrated, they commit to maintaining their virginity perpetually, becoming members of the Catholic consecrated state. Note that, unlike nuns who value the vows, the consecrated virgin chooses a life of joyfully living in service of Christ, interceding for the sake of the people of God and the people of the diocese she comes from.

What is the difference in roles between nuns and consecrated virgins?

What Is The Difference Between A Nun And A Consecrated Virgin?
Roles for nuns and consecrated virgins. Image source: Pixabay

The main difference between them is that the consecrated virgins dedicate their lives to prayers, contemplation, and service to the church, while also working or living in the secular world. On the other hand, the nuns lead a prayerful and contemplative life within the church, convent, or monastery.

Unlike nuns who attend theology school and use the knowledge gained to serve in different capacities in the church and the community, consecrated virgins do not attend a specific school but elect to become the virgins of Christ, often leading a different life on the outside. As a result, the consecrated nuns are required to go through a period of discernment as well as preparation before they are consecrated.

Are consecrated virgins higher in rank than nuns?

Yes, the consecrated nuns are ranked higher than the nuns. Under the Precedence of the forms of Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church, the Consecrated virgins belonging to the Individual Consecrated Life Order are ranked higher than the nuns who belong to the Monastic Order under the Institutes of the Consecrated Lives, explicitly belonging to the Religious Institutes category. 

Why are consecrated virgins less in population than nuns?

The consecrated virgins aren’t as famous as nuns because the concept of consecrated virginity isn’t as popular and is less understood. Also, unlike nuns, consecrated nuns don’t have rules or communities to support them, and also, being a consecrated virgin requires that the woman provides for their expenses and needs – nuns lead a life of poverty (per their vows). The church/well-wishers support them through almsgiving. 

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