Holy mat­ri­mony

Three women con­se­crated, cer­e­mo­ni­ally mar­ried to Christ

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - ANN ZANIEWSKI

It was any bride’s dream wed­ding — a packed church, a beau­ti­ful white dress and a pal­pa­ble feel­ing of ex­cite­ment and love. But what made this re­cent cer­e­mony at the Cathe­dral of the Most Blessed Sacra­ment re­ally spe­cial was the groom:

Je­sus.

Three women from the Detroit area were the first to be­come con­se­crated vir­gins in the Arch­dio­cese of Detroit. The lit­tle-known vo­ca­tion in­volves a com­mit­ment to life­long chastity.

Laurie Malashanko of Ply­mouth, Mich., Karen Ervin of Northville, Mich., and Theresa Jor­dan of Dear­born Heights, Mich., are now, in the words of Catholic canon law, “mys­ti­cally be­trothed to Christ.”

Un­like nuns, they are not part of a reli­gious or­der. They will con­tinue to work reg­u­lar jobs and fi­nan­cially sup­port them­selves, while be­ing stead­fastly ded­i­cated to serv­ing the church.

“The fo­cus is on how to be in the world, but not be of it, and [hav­ing] this un­der­stand­ing of your role as a bride of Christ, and re­flect­ing your love of Je­sus to the world,” said Ervin, 42, the prin­ci­pal of St. Cather­ine of Siena Academy in Wixom, Mich.

The con­se­cra­tion cer­e­mony fol­lowed years of prayer and dis­cern­ment — and in­volved a bit of a learn­ing curve for the arch­dio­cese.

There are about 250 con­se­crated vir­gins in the United States and 4,000 world­wide, said Ju­dith Stegman, pres­i­dent of the United States As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­se­crated Vir­gins.

The prac­tice dates to the church’s ear­li­est cen­turies, when there were no con­vents.

But by the year 1139, as more women were join­ing reli­gious or­ders, bish­ops stopped con­se­crat­ing vir­gins who weren’t part of those or­ders. The bish­ops be­lieved that women would be bet­ter pro­tected if they lived to­gether in reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties, Stegman said.

In 1963, the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil de­creed that the rite of con­se­crated vir­gin­ity should be re­vised. The re­vi­sion took place again in 1970 to in­clude women who were “liv­ing in the world,” rather than just those in reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties.

“That’s why it’s so mis­un­der­stood,” Stegman said. “For cen­turies, we only had the other kind of reli­gious life in the church [for women]. Peo­ple aren’t as fa­mil­iar with it.”

Dioce­san bish­ops over­see and ad­min­is­ter the rite. A woman who has never had sex has to ask for per­mis­sion and as­sis­tance to be con­se­crated.

There is no univer­sal blue­print for bish­ops or can­di­dates to fol­low.

The dio­cese of Lans­ing has con­se­crated seven vir­gins. In Detroit, Malashanko, Ervin and Jor­dan broke new ground.

“It was a lit­tle bit scat­tered at first, be­cause it was the first time we were prac­tic­ing this vo­ca­tion in the Arch­dio­cese of Detroit,” Jor­dan said. “There was no set pro­ce­dure or pro­to­col.”

A LIFE­LONG PROM­ISE

Jor­dan, 40, learned about con­se­crated vir­gins through a 2013 ar­ti­cle in the Michi­gan Catholic news­pa­per.

“I felt like it was an op­por­tu­nity to take my re­la­tion­ship with Christ one step fur­ther,” she said.

The Arch­dio­cese of Detroit tapped Su­san Cum­mins, who was

con­se­crated in 2002 in Lans­ing and now works for the arch­dio­cese, to men­tor Jor­dan and the other women.

For the past few years, they’ve been meet­ing once ev­ery six weeks or so to pray and talk about the vo­ca­tion. They had din­ner sev­eral times with Aux­il­iary Bishop Don­ald Han­chon. Priests served as their spir­i­tual di­rec­tors.

The women sub­mit­ted char­ac­ter ref­er­ences, a bi­og­ra­phy and a state­ment of in­tent to Arch­bishop Allen Vigneron.

Ervin said she first felt called to reli­gious life as a child, but was in­tim­i­dated by it. She was open to mar­riage and dated through­out

her 20s. She also vis­ited dif­fer­ent reli­gious or­ders.

Noth­ing seemed like the right fit.

Then one day, just be­fore she turned 35, Ervin was talk­ing to a pro­fes­sor at Sa­cred Heart Ma­jor Sem­i­nary who men­tioned con­se­crated vir­gins. Ervin had never heard about the vo­ca­tion.

Malashanko, 41, who works for a pub­lish­ing com­pany, also had a call­ing. But she didn’t feel as if she needed the struc­ture of a reli­gious com­mu­nity.

“There were reli­gious or­ders I loved, and there were guys I dated who were great, but noth­ing clicked un­til I heard about this,” she said.

GIV­ING 100 PER­CENT

The idea be­hind life­long vir­gin­ity is giv­ing 100 per­cent of one­self to Christ. Many con­se­crated vir­gins

at­tend Mass daily.

Stegman said 106 dio­ce­ses out of more than 190 in the United States have con­se­crated vir­gins — and many of those have only one or two.

Some dio­ce­ses don’t even know about the vo­ca­tion and are per­plexed at first when a woman asks about it. But that’s chang­ing. “Clearly, as it be­comes known more and more, there’s been a con­tin­ual in­crease in women who are in­ter­ested in the vo­ca­tion, ask­ing about it and be­com­ing con­se­crated, es­pe­cially as var­i­ous bish­ops be­come more aware of it and en­cour­age it in their dio­ce­ses,” Stegman said.

One other woman in the Arch­dio­cese of Detroit is in for­ma­tion.

The idea of life­long vir­gin­ity may make some peo­ple snicker, Jor­dan said. But

she views it as a sa­cred gift from the Holy Spirit.

“In to­day’s so­ci­ety, vir­gin­ity is of­ten crit­i­cized, it’s made fun of,” said Jor­dan, who works as a French teacher and in the reg­is­trar’s of­fice at Mary­grove Col­lege.

In Septem­ber, Malashanko, Ervin and Jor­dan had one-on-one in­ter­views with Vigneron.

“There were no prom­ises at the end of that in­ter­view,” Malashanko said. “He could have said, ‘I don’t think any­one is ready yet.’ But that af­ter­noon, all three of us were ac­cepted. We set a date.”

Wed­ding prepa­ra­tions be­gan.

THE BIG DAY

The women sent out in­vi­ta­tions that listed Vigneron, rather than their par­ents, as the in­viter.

Malashanko bought her

wed­ding dress on­line. She was drawn to its boat neck, cinched waist and chif­fon bot­tom, de­tails that re­minded her of Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly.

Ev­ery­one picked out rings. Ervin de­signed hers, with a crown of thorns in­side a white gold band con­nected to a rose gold fleurde-lis cross.

Most im­por­tantly, the women spent ex­tra time in prayer and re­flec­tion.

On that Satur­day morn­ing, the Cathe­dral was packed with sev­eral hun­dred guests and close to two dozen priests.

Each bride clutched an oil lamp as she walked down the aisle.

Like any tra­di­tional Catholic Mass, there were two read­ings and the Gospel. The con­se­cra­tion rite fol­lowed.

In an es­pe­cially pow­er­ful part, the women lay pros­trate as Vigneron and ev­ery­one in the church re­cited the Litany of the Saints.

Then, Vigneron gave each woman a ring and placed a veil on her head. He pre­sented her with a Liturgy of the Hours prayer book.

Stand­ing be­fore Vigneron, Jor­dan, Malashanko and Ervin sang, “I am a spouse to him, whom the an­gels serve; sun and moon stand in won­der at his glory.”

Ap­plause filled the church.

“I was very happy, very elated to be wed­ded to Christ,” Jor­dan said. “I felt aligned with his vir­gin­ity, his pu­rity and all of his suf­fer­ings.

“To be mys­ti­cally es­poused to him, it was very joy­ful.”

Detroit Free Press (TNS)/KIRTHMON F. DOZIER

Laurie Malashanko (left), Theresa Jor­dan and Karen Ervin sing dur­ing a por­tion of the Con­se­cra­tion of Vir­gins Liv­ing in the World cer­e­mony at the Cathe­dral of the Most Blessed Sacra­ment in June. The three women be­came the first con­se­crated vir­gins in the Arch­dio­cese of Detroit.

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