For Christ alone: Andrea Polito added to the Order of Virgins

It was April 6, 2012—Good Friday—and 26-year-old Andrea Polito was doing what many Catholics do on that sacred day: She was praying at the foot of the cross.

The pediatric oncology nurse told Denver Catholic that she had an experience in prayer she can only describe as a “profound moment of grace.”

“I was looking at Mary Magdalene,” she recounted, “and I asked the Lord, ‘Why, of all the people that you healed in your ministry, is she the one who gets to be here?’”

“And he just really simply said,” she recalled, “‘because she gave up everything and followed me.’

“And I just kind of instinctually said in that moment, ‘That’s where I want to live, that’s where I want to be.’ And he said, ‘Well, come and follow me.’”

Polito said the prayer surprised her: “I was like, oh no, I think I just kind of told Jesus I was going to be a nun, and I kind of freaked out.”

Andrea Polito, 31, consecrated herself as a virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver during a powerful ceremony celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila on July 22. (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

But as she prayed more over the next weeks and months, she realized that what God was asking of her wasn’t to leave the world as a religious vocation would require: “I didn’t feel called to leave the world. I felt really convicted of my work, I felt really convicted of a Catholic presence in the medical field, which is such a secular place…. I didn’t feel peace about going and leaving all of that.”

Through conversations with a friend, Father John Nepil, who would later become her spiritual director, Polito began to consider the vocation of a lay consecrated virgin.

Prayerful discernment

The 20-something embarked on a serious period of discernment and prayer.

“Over those years we studied it, and I did a 30-day silent retreat and made an election, and talked to the diocese, and this was what made the most sense and [what] I felt most called to,” she said.

On July 22, nearly five and a half years after hearing the first invitation to follow Christ, and on the feast of her patron Saint Mary Magdalene, Polito was consecrated a virgin of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila celebrated the rite of consecration of a virgin in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, with more than 20 priests concelebrating the Mass.

“You are committing yourself permanently to the Lord, and giving yourself completely to him,” Archbishop Aquila told Polito during his homily. “If you truly want happiness and joy, you must belong to Christ, and he alone. This is the Lord’s deepest desire for you, Andrea, and for every Christian.” (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

The consecration of a virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church, and in the early Church, before religious orders existed, many women consecrated their virginity to the Lord to devote themselves full-time to evangelization.

The consecrated virgin lives in the midst of the world, in intimate union with God, offering the gift of her physical virginity to Christ as a sign of the total donation of her entire life to him.

There are approximately 3,000 consecrated virgins in the universal Church, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, including 235 in the United States. The Office of Consecrated Life for the Archdiocese of Denver reports that there are currently six consecrated virgins in northern Colorado, and two more women who are actively discerning.

‘A day of great joy’

The rite of consecration began with the calling of the candidate after the Gospel, at which time Polito, with candle in hand, approached the sanctuary as the choir sang: “Be wise: make ready your lamps. Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.”

The archbishop then delivered his homily, which he began by proclaiming that day as “a day of great joy.”

“You are committing yourself permanently to the Lord, and giving yourself completely to him,” he said. “If you truly want happiness and joy, you must belong to Christ, and he alone.

“This is the Lord’s deepest desire for you, Andrea, and for every Christian.”

After the homily, the archbishop examined Polito about her readiness to accept solemn consecration as a bride of Christ, and then, similar to the sacrament of holy orders and religious profession of vows, Polito lay prostrate while the congregation petitioned the saints to intercede.

Polito said that kneeling before the Archbishop during the Mass and “experiencing that I had a father in the diocese, and I was a daughter of the diocese was really beautiful.” (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

Polito then approached the archbishop, and placing her hands in his and addressing him as father, she offered her resolution to “follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity.”

The prayer of consecration was said by the archbishop, and then the newly consecrated received a volume of the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as a ring, clearly symbolizing her mystical marriage to Christ.

Polito noted that a key moment of the consecration was when she was kneeling before the archbishop with her hands in his, “experiencing that I had a father in the diocese, and I was a daughter of the diocese was really beautiful.”

Called to Denver

Andrea, now 31, is a native of San Diego, California. She studied nursing at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and after college moved to Washington, DC, to begin working as a pediatric nurse.

She moved to Denver in 2010 without a job out of an interior conviction that she was supposed to live in Colorado. “It was a horrible decision at first,” she revealed, as it took her four months to find a job, and moving in the middle of winter was not easy for the California native.

“But the Lord definitely provided,” she said. “Obviously, I see in hindsight why God called me here. It was for the sake of this vocation. For the sake of the mission here in Denver.”

More than 20 priests concelebrated the Mass during which Andrea Polito, 31, consecrated herself as a virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver on July 22 in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (All photos by Joshua Paul Photography)

Listen to the Archbishop’s homily here: https://archden.org/andrea-polito-consecration/#.WYJjcYQrKV6

Below, you will find a summary of the Rite of Consecration of a Virgin.

RITE OF CONSECRATION OF A VIRGIN

Procession

The procession moves through the church to the altar in the usual way, while the choir and people sing the entrance song of the Mass. The candidate may join in the procession. It is appropriate for two women – either consecrated themselves or chosen from the laity – to accompany the candidate to the altar.

When she comes to the sanctuary, all make the customary reverence to the altar. The candidate takes her place in the pews and Mass continues.

Rite of Consecration

After the Gospel, if the consecration takes place in front of the altar, the bishop goes to the chair prepared for him and sits. If candles are used, the choir sings the following antiphon:

Be wise: make ready your lamps. Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.

The candidate with her lamp or candle, and accompanied by the two women, approach the sanctuary and stand outside it.

Then the bishop calls the candidate; he sings or says aloud:

Come, listen to me, my children; I will teach you reverence for the Lord.

The candidate replies by singing this antiphon or some other appropriate song:

Now with all our hearts we follow you, we reverence you and seek your presence. Lord, fulfill our hope: show us your loving kindness, the greatness of your mercy.

As she sings the antiphon, the candidate enters the sanctuary so that everyone may have a complete view of the liturgical rites.

She places her candle in a candelabrum, or gives it to the ministers, until it is returned at the end of Mass. They she sits in the place prepared for her.

Homily

The bishop then gives a short homily to the candidate and the people on the gift of virginity and its role in the sanctification of those called to virginity and the welfare of the whole Church.

Examination

After the homily the candidate stands and the bishop questions her in these or similar words:

Bishop- Are you resolved to persevere to the end of you days in the holy state of virginity and in the service of God and his Church?

Candidate- I am.

Bishop- Are you so resolved to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel that your whole life may be a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the kingdom of heaven?

Candidate- I am.

Bishop- Are you resolved to accept solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

Candidate- I am.

Bishop and all present- Thanks be to God

Invitation prayer

Then all stand, and the bishop, without his miter, invites the people to pray:

Dearly beloved, let us pray to God the almighty Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, he will pour out the Holy Spirit of his love on these servants of his whom he has chosen to be consecrated to his service.

Litany of the Saints

Then the bishop, the ministers, the candidate, and the people kneel (except during the Easter season, when all stand). Where it is customary for the candidate to prostrate herself, this may be done.

The cantors then sing the litany. At the proper place they may add the names of other saints who are specially venerated by the people, or petitions suitable to the occasion.

Then the bishop alone rises and, with hands joined, sings or says:

Lord, hear the prayers of your Church. Look with favor on your handmaids whom you have called in your love. Set them on the way of eternal salvation; may they seek only what is pleasing to you, and fulfill it with watchful care. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All- Amen.

Renewal of intention

Then, the candidate offers herself to God at the hands of the bishop.

She kneels, places her joined hands between his hands and says:

Father, receive my resolution to follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity which, with God’s help, I here profess before you and God’s holy people.

Prayer of consecration

After the renewal of intention, the candidate returns to her place in the sanctuary and kneels. The bishop extends his hands over her, and sings or says the prayer of consecration.

Loving Father, chaste bodies are your temple; you delight in sinless hearts. Our nature was corrupted when the devil deceived our first parents, but you have restored it in Christ. He is your Word, through whom all things were made. He has made out nature whole again, and made it possible for mortal people to reflect the life of angels. Lord, look with favor an your handmaids. They place in your hands their resolve to live in chastity, You inspire them to take this vow; now they give you their hearts.

You have poured out your grace upon all peoples.
You have adopted as heirs of the new covenant
sons and daughters from every nation under heaven,
countless as the stars.
Your children are born, not of human birth,
nor of man’s desire, but of your Spirit.
Among your many gifts
you give to some the grace of virginity.
Yet the honor of marriage is in no way lessened.
As it was in the beginning,
your first blessing still remains upon this holy union.
Yet your loving wisdom chooses those
who make sacrifice of marriage
for the sake of the love of which it is the sign.
They renounce the joys of human marriage,
but cherish all that it foreshadows.

Lord, protect those who seek your help They desire to be strengthened by your blessing and consecration. Defend them from the cunning and deceit of the enemy. Keep them vigilant and on their guard; may nothing tarnish the glory of perfect virginity, or the vocation of purity which is shared by those who are married. Through the gift of your Spirit, Lord, give them modesty with right judgment, kindness with true wisdom, gentleness with strength of character, freedom with the grace of chastity. Give them the warmth of love, to love you above all others. Make their lives deserve our praise, without seeking to be praised. May they give you glory by holiness of action and purity of heart. May they love you and fear you; may they love you and serve you. Be yourself their glory, their joy, their whole desire. Be their comfort in sorrow, their wisdom in perplexity, their protection in the midst of injustice, their patience in adversity, their riches in poverty, their food in fasting, their remedy in time of sickness. They have chosen you above all things; may they find all things in possessing you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. All: Amen.

Presentation of the Ring

The ring marks her as a bride of Christ. Keep unstained your fidelity to her Bridegroom, that she may one day be admitted to the wedding feast of everlasting joy.

Presentation of the Liturgy of the Hours

The candidate receives the book of the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church; may the praise of our heavenly Father be always on her lips; pray without ceasing for the salvation of the whole world.

Then the virgin says:

I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his glory.

The bishop concludes the rite:

The almighty Father has poured into your hearts the desire to live a life of holy virginity. May he keep you safe under his protection.

Amen.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, with whose sacred heart the hearts of virgins are united, fill you with his divine love.

Amen.

May the Holy Spirit, by whom the Virgin Mary conceived her Son, today consecrate your hearts and fill you with a burning desire.

COMING UP: Professor-nun’s lecture explores privilege, purpose of consecrated life

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Julie Filby

To live a life of perfect charity: that’s the goal of all Christians and of religious in particular.

So said seminary professor Sister Esther Mary Nickel, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Mich., speaking to a group of 20-plus religious and college mission students gathered for a talk and discussion on the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life March 25.

The Vatican II document, also known as “Perfectae Caritatis” (Perfect Charity), and another, “Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, are marking 50 years during this Year of Consecrated Life called for by Pope Francis. The special year also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

In promulgating the Year of Consecrated Life, which started Nov. 30 and runs through Feb. 2, 2016, the pope wants the Church to revisit the two documents so as to bring their implementation to fulfillment. Sister Nickel’s talk, hosted by the Little Sisters of the Poor at Mullen Home in northwest Denver, was the second in a three-part series to build awareness of what they say.

In the midst of the social and political revolution of the 1960s, the Catholic Church was experiencing her own transformation as she convened and began carrying out changes called for by the Second Vatican Council. The era played a significant role not only in how the 1962-1965 council was understood but also in how it was implemented, Sister Nickel said.

“A Church history professor (of mine) used to say, ‘It usually takes 50 years to implement a council … but we’ve made a few mistakes so it’s going to take us a little longer,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Misinterpretations by some in the Church and media misrepresentations contributed to the confusion that followed Vatican II as parishes grappled with the changes. She urged those in attendance to read “Lumen Gentium” and “Perfectae Caritatis,” which are vital for understanding the roles of religious and of laity in the Church.

“Lumen Gentium,” she noted, recovered Christ’s universal call to holiness.

“That was very different,” Sister Nickel said, adding that prior to Vatican II holiness was seen as the domain of clergy and religious but the document affirms that, “Everyone is called to holiness.”

Holiness, she said, is achieved in the perfection—or fullness—of charity (love), which every Christian is called to and which consecrated men and women are called to in a specific way.

“(Religious) are striving toward a fuller and more intense participation in the life of God, in the charity of God,” she said.

The role of religious, Sister Nickel said, is to be a sign and a reminder that Christians are mere pilgrims on earth.

“Our consecration, our fully giving our lives to the Lord,” she said, “gives witness to the truth that we’re not here to stay, we’re here to lead others to heaven.”

Religious have the privilege of being called to a stable life in which they are bound to practice the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience (some also take a fourth vow) and live a life in common that supports their efforts to do so.

“You’re more free than ever,” Sister Nickel said, “because you know you’re doing the Lord’s will.”

In keeping with God’s plan, over the centuries “a wonderful variety of religious communities has grown up,” she said quoting “Perfectae Caritatis.”

“That’s what we see in this room,” Sister Nickel said, acknowledging the Little Sisters of the Poor, Carmelite sisters, Capuchin Franciscans and Servite friar in attendance, “a wonderful variety … each blooming with it’s own beauty.”

What religious ultimately desire, she said, is to share the fulfillment expressed by Christ as he hung on the cross on Good Friday.

“We long for that moment when we will see the Lord … and be able to say, ‘It is finished.’ And Our Lord can say to us, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.

“That’s what’s at the heart of perfect charity.”

 NEXT LECTURE

Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life

By Sister Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M.

7 p.m. April 30, Mullen Home, 3629 W. 29th Ave., Denver