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Archives A convocation of consecrated virgins

July 26, 2023

By Mary Beth Bracy, consecrated virgin
Contributing writer

From June 23 to 27, I was blessed to attend the annual gathering of consecrated virgins living in the world. This year the convocation took place in Flagstaff, Arizona at Northeastern Arizona University. It was like a honeymoon experience for me, as it provided me with some time to go to a “deserted place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31) following my consecration on April 16. The theme of the convocation was “The Voice of the Bridegroom” (Jeremiah 33:11), reminiscent of the dialogue between the bridegroom and bride in the Song of Songs.

It was wonderful to chant Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer) with other consecrated virgins, and attend daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration together. There was a deep sense of joy and communion as we shared our vocations stories, ministries and much laughter over meals. We delighted in venturing to the Chapel of the Holy Cross built into the red rocks of Sedona, and the historic Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel in Flagstaff. Many of us also gazed in awe as we hiked around the Grand Canyon, and a smaller group of us visited the Lowell Observatory one night, breaking into “Salve Regina” before we left. One evening we also had a talent show highlighting gifts from music and art to poetry, a humorous skit, and dancing.

Our episcopal moderator, Bishop Earl A. Boyea, offered the opening Mass and later presented talks on “The Eucharist: Mystical Body, Mystical Voice,” which he developed on the meaning of the parts of the Mass for his diocese in Lansing, Michigan, to help celebrate the National Eucharistic Revival.

I was inspired by his reminders that we need to train our hearts and minds to truly listen and mean what we say. Whether it is in the Creed or Amen, we are called to remember what the gift of our Lord’s Presence in the Holy Eucharist cost. At Holy Communion, Bishop Boyea shared, we recall the marriage aspect – we become one with Jesus and receive “with joy this gift of Christ’s entire self.”

Such love requires reciprocity. This is why we worship Jesus at Mass and spend time before His Eucharistic Presence outside of Mass. I was also fortunate to sit at Bishop Boyea’s table at lunch, and he shared beautifully about how the call to consecrated virginity is unique in that it is primarily about being the spouse of Christ.

Bishop Emeritus of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted’s talk “Listen First to the Voice of the Bridegroom” also fortified my faith. He reflected on the examples of Our Lady and the saints and our call to be witnesses: “signs of God’s tender love.”

Mary showed us the image of the bride from the beginning to the end of Scripture: “The wedding feast of the lamb has come and the bride is prepared to welcome him.” (Revelation 19:7) Speaking of the examples of Saints Damien of Molokai and Thomas More, he stressed the importance of beginning each day in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord. When Saint Damien arrived at the leper colony, he first restored the chapel and placed the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

“The lepers heard the voice of the bridegroom through the fatherly love of St. Damien,” shared Bishop Olmsted. Our faith must be “something for which I am willing to die.”

Like Saint Thomas More, our lives will be a “paradox for the sake of our divine spouse… We point to the Kingdom as consecrated virgins when we live with hope and joy.”

Although most attendants were from the U.S., a consecrated virgin from Germany also presented on “The Spousal Dimension of the Voice of the Bridegroom in Sacred Scripture and in the Rite of the Consecration of Virgins.”

María Luisa Öfele, who was celebrating 20 years as a consecrated virgin, worked with Pope Benedict XVI when he was in the Diocese of Regensburg. She highlighted God’s personal relationship with His people from the Old Testament covenants to the Voice of the Beloved in St. John’s Gospel, stressing our need to spend time in silence to hear God’s voice.

Her talk also included a meditation on the spousal dimension of the Voice of the Bridegroom in the Rite of the Consecration of Virgins, from the Calling of the Candidates and the Homily to the Resolutions, Prayer of Consecration and Presentation of the Ring. Additionally, she explained that when the candidate prostrates herself, it shows her total dependence on God, and when she places her hands in the hands of the Bishop, it testifies that the virgin is to be a sign of the covenant and mystical union with Christ now and in heaven.

Judith Stegman, JCD, President of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, who was celebrating 30 years as a consecrated virgin, spoke of the importance of true obedience in the Church in light of canon law, Scripture and tradition.

Clair Halbur, consecrated virgin, choir director, and organizer of the convocation, also gave an interactive talk about chanting.

Several other consecrated virgins spoke on various themes. Magalis Aguilera related consecrated virgins’ call to show our exclusive love for Jesus; Jenna Chang spoke about the call to be a spiritual mother; Karen Bussey on how our prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours is “truly the voice of the Bride herself addressing the Bridegroom”; Marianne Cano on our call to intercessory prayer with the saints; Madeleine Troppe on how we are loved and worthy by God’s grace and choosing; and Francesca Riddick on how the consecrated virgin is mystically espoused to Christ.

At the Grand Canyon, I noticed a group of big horned sheep down below, climbing the rocks, then more about 20 feet away from me. I thought of the passage from the Song of Songs 2:8, “The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.”

The Voice of the Bridegroom blessed me with many graces and renewed energy to proclaim His merciful love.

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