Who are The Brides of Christ? New Vatican Ruling Shocks Consecrated Virgins

The Vatican issued new instructions earlier this month, dictating that women who dedicate themselves to being "brides of Christ" do not have to be literal virgins.

The ruling, Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, was released on July 4, surprising consecrated virgins who view devotion of their physical virginity to Christ as an indication of their piety.

The ruling followed requests by bishops to clarify the prerequisites and role of consecrated virgins. It says that consecrated virgins "are dedicated to the Lord Jesus in virginity," but it does not define virginity as physical virginity. Instead, it says "they experience the spiritual fertility of an intimate relationship with him and offer the fruits of this relationship to the Church and to the world."

The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV) strongly disagreed with the Vatican's ruling in an online statement.

"It is shocking to hear from Mother Church that physical virginity may no longer be considered an essential prerequisite for consecration to a life of virginity. The entire tradition of the Church has firmly upheld that a woman must have received the gift of virginity—that is, both material and formal (physical and spiritual)—in order to receive the consecration of virgins," the statement read.

Pope Francis leads the Pallium Mass in front of the new Cardinals for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The United Kingdom-based Catholic Herald reported that consecrated virgins have existed since the founding of the Catholic Church. Unlike nuns, consecrated virgins do not wear religious garb to distinguish themselves or adopt a religious title such as "sister."

Consecrated virgins have not always been integrated into society, according to the New York Post. By 1139, with higher numbers of women entering religious orders, bishops no longer consecrated virgins who were not part of the orders. This changed in 1963, when the Second Vatican Council said women should once again live among the general public.

According to The Guardian, 5,000 consecrated virgins reside in 42 countries around the world. Meanwhile, the U.S. hosts 235, and last year three women were consecrated in a ceremony in Detroit, Michigan.

"I think young women really need to see who they are, and who they are is reflected in God's eyes, not the world's eyes. I witness that to them, and they know that I'm completely captured by God," Karen Ervin, who was consecrated in the 2017 ceremony in Detroit, said. "Making a resolution to live in perfect chastity my whole life, I get to testify that God satisfies. He is enough."