On a Sunday in late June, standing before the altar in a Catholic church and cloaked in wedding finery, three Michigan women pledged — in the words of Catholic canon law — to be “mystically betrothed to Christ.” Unlike nuns who take a vow of virginity before joining religious orders and then eschew the routines of normal life, Laurie Malashanko, Theresa Jordan and Karen Ervin, will continue working independently but will be dedicated to serving the Catholic Church as “brides of Christ.”
The practice of consecrating virgins dates to the earliest days of the Catholic Church but died out in the early 12th century when convents, then considered to be safer communities for religious women, rose in popularity. In 1963, the changes put in place during the Vatican II redefined the right of consecrated virginity and in 1970, the ritual was expanded to once again include women “living in the world.” Despite religious precedent, there is no procedure for candidates or bishops to follow, but interest appears to be on the rise. “Clearly, as it becomes known more and more, there’s been a continual increase in women who are interested in the vocation,” said Judith Stegman, president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, “especially as various bishops become more aware of it and encourage it in their dioceses.”
According to Stegman’s research, there are close to 250 consecrated virgins in the U.S. and more than 4,000 worldwide. “For centuries, we only had the other kind of religious life in the church (for women). People aren’t as familiar with it.” While the rite continues to remain somewhat obscure, for Jordan, it was a calling from the Holy Spirit. “It’s not a vocation you can just 1-2-3 get into,” said Jordan in an interview with The Associated Press. “It takes a lot of formation, study and prayer.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Jordan elaborated on the gravity of the commitment the women have entered into. “It’s a promise that we make to be faithful to Christ all of our life, and to make him a promise of our virginity as a gift back to him. So we become brides of Christ,” she explained. “I get to keep all of my regular daily activities,” Jordan said with a smile, “but my heart is belonging to Christ.”
To hear from Malashanko and Ervin and see highlights from the ceremony, watch the video below.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.