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Thursday, 19 July 2012

On the Order of Widows

Anna, the Widow and Prophetess

In Old and New Testament studies among both Catholic and Protestant scholars, a resurgence in the interest of the history of widows has happened. Now, some of the Protestant interpretations, usually, of course, based entirely on Scripture, reveal, as do the Catholic studies, the plight of the widow in the time of Christ. This post is not a history of the widow either in the Old or New Testament, but a discussion of what is sometimes called The Order of Widows.

Starting in the years following the World Wars, there emerged an interest in Europe to acknowledge the needs of widow both physically and spiritually. France seems to be the earliest example of the post-war re-institution of an Order of Widows. According to Elizabeth Rees, in the most complete article I have seen on this, the French Bishop of Paris had a blessing for widows approved by the CDW for a specific group attached to an order of nuns.

There are several groups in America, none of which have the approval of the Vatican at this time. Some live in communities, and some have non-communal affiliations. I do not mention them by name, as these are not approved, and in some cases, somewhat liberal. I would only recommend approved orders at this time.

However, in some European countries, but not in America, a few individual consecrated widows have made private vows to their bishops. These widows do not live in communities.

In the early Church, the Order of Widows may be connected to what is written in 1 Timothy 1-16. The criteria are that the widow must be truly one, of one husband; that she is over 60, (nice, assuming a woman younger may get married again), not gossipy or taken to wine, with an excellent reputation in helping the poor and other members of the Church.

One of the interesting notes is that it is the family who is to take care of the widow if she has one and not the Church. This is specifically stated. Those poor widows without families, of whom we can assume there were many, needed Church protection and funds.

Let a widow be chosen of no less than threescore years of age, who hath been the wife of one husband  Douay Rheims 1 Timothy 5:9
The Widow's Mite

Now, St. Paul uses the word "enrolled" or "chosen", and with the above list of set and clear criteria, the Church has concluded that this was some sort of "Order" with a rule.

That the Vatican has taken such a long time on revising this means that the CDW wants to get it right, clear, and in accordance with Scripture and Tradition.

At this time, for those women who are interested, I suggest you talk first with your spiritual director, then your bishop, and then, possibly write to Rome. If Rome had many letters requesting a renewal of this group, it may happen faster. In the meantime, a widow could make private vows, as least in Europe.

By the way, a widow is not a divorcee and an annulled woman. I did check that out with a priest who is involved with such a group. God bless all widows.


Phil Steinacker said...


I wonder if you will elaborate a little on those who the Church has granted annullment from marriage, sometimes even later in life.

Marriages are annulled only once the Church determines that an actual marriage never existed, most often because either or both spouses withheld full intent to live out their vows with Jesus Christ as the foundation and at the center of all that transpires between them - if I understand this properly.

So, such folks become single again, and technically, never married. At whatever age this occurs, they face the questions we've been discussing on all your posts. Do you think annulled men and women are called to remain open to entering into a consecrated state? If, as you say elsewhere, proper formation for religious life in later years is subject to age limits, then should not someone who is faithfully devout be open to marraige?

I realize this assumes reciprocal interest by a suitable candidate, which often does not occur. There are also those who were so wounded in the failure of their marriage that they choose to avoid another, hiding behind the claim that they never again feel any desire for relationship, even after a reasonable period for healing.

Based on observation and anecdotal experience, I think that too many single women over in the U.S. have been severly hurt by men who failed them. Plenty of them are faield marriage survivors but even more are refugees from failed cohabitataon. I'd like to see a breakdown along those lines of that 48% figure you cite.

Supertradmum said...

Phil, priests are confused about this point. I have discussed many concerns about annulled people, being one myself. Here are a few points.

1) Consecrated life usually means virginity. The Consecration of Virgins absolutely means a woman must be a virgin. However, if a woman or man who is annulled desires to enter an order and is under the age of acceptance, there is no reason that person may not apply. I have done this, but was rejected because I had cancer. Some orders will even consider older women who are formable and healthy. Those are two concerns.

2) An annulled person is NOT a widow or widower. Obviously, and there is confusion here. In those two categories, one was married (not annulled) and now has lost the partner through death. Categories are always clear in the Catholic Church, thank goodness.

3) I personally believe,and as St. Paul states this is an opinion, that the annulled person was most likely called to marriage and should be open to healing, repentance and marriage again, if that is possible. If one feels like going into the religious life, as a monk or nun, or even a priest, as most dioceses do not have age limits for men and orders are more open to older men than women's orders are, I think that if fine. But one must have a spiritual director or confessor to help discern such. God knows your heart.

Last point, annullment is no reason to be alone. We do not have to do extra penances for a situation which could have been caused by many complicated issues. The annullment is painful and God is not a harsh, sadistic God. He is Our Loving Father and calls us to fulfill our vocation no matter what age. I have two friends who just got married in their 70s and they are not only extremely happy, but a great witness to the parish. They support each other and are mature Christians. God bless you. I hope this helps.

The 48% are women who have never been married, as far I as understand the statistic of the poll. That is why I used that poll, as it proves my point as to too many singles. However, it does not mean these women have not been hurt. I can think of two excellent trad women who fall into that 48%-later converts to Catholicism from the secular world and not called to the religious life.

Supertradmum said...

Phil, I should have said, and I am in a rush to get to Mass, that consecrated life usually means virginity, but not always...of course, those of us who have sinned sexually, which includes annulled people, as if no married, no blessed sex, no marital sex, can join some orders if the order discerns and if your spiritual discerns that is a possibility. There are some consecrated people in Opus Dei who are not virgins, for example. It is a good idea to be committed to something, someone, God.

Phil Steinacker said...


Can you point me to any original or primary sources which treat the overall subject of vocations in which the Church's view that the uncommitted single life is not a vocation is articulated?

I have delighted in reading through your series on this. I know I'm a bit odd because I not only have strong trad instincts for the TLM and obedience to the Magisterium, but with no desire to introduce a new discussion I wish to tell you that my reading and studying various articles about the Theology of the Body (beginning 6 yers ago) saved my life.

Well, actually, that kind of saving doesn't occur in the mind alone; the Lord laid onto my heart a new ability to see with His eyes a myriad of (not so) new and beautiful truths about sexuality, and man's (me) relationship with woman. Since then He has continued tounfold more and more for me in this area.

TOB led me to fully embrace chastity (with which I had made serious but incomplete progress the previous 2 years) and rescued me totally from the grips of pornography. Praise God, I was released from my addiction immediately, and through His continuing Grace and my prayers He has protected me from it since.

Anyway, in my community of beleivers I am a lonely voice in the wilderness about much of the same things you have been posting, but while I welcome your support I would like to find sources stronger than various items which you express as your opinion. If you dirct me to the foundations for your opinions I'd like that - something which rises to the level of authority on this matter.

BTW, who in the Church has authority to speak on this kind of thing? Google is useless; I see nothing of use.

Off to Mass myself; I'll check later.

God Bless You!


Supertradmum said...

Phil, I can answer you now, but will not be avaialable for 24 hours after. I started this series from my own understanding as older teachings from the Church before the end of the 19th century.

As to reading anyone else, no. This is me and tradition. However, a student came up to me since I have been talking about this and said that your own man in the Theology of the Body area-West,has stated the same thing. She has just finished a long course of TOB and told me he says something very similar about no real call to the single state as we see it--you can check out if he says anything about some teachers giving in to secular norms instead of what God has designed.

You can follow that up yourself. The single life without commitment, and by that I mean no relationship with third orders etc, is a modern aberrational phenomenon. In fact, I just talked with an expert on Opus Dei, who insists that they are an Order, as the numeraries take vows of celibacy--therefore, I was correct in placing them as in orders, and not "lay" in the same sense as you and I. Consecration through vows changes all....

Supertradmum said...

Phil, when I have sources, other than tradition in Church and the long history of Catholic Culture, I give them

Phil Steinacker said...

STM, thanks for confirming your practice regarding sources.

While I don't recall West saying anything about the single life other than chastity alone is proper to it and all states in life, it is glaringly (at least to me) obvious that Pope John Paul II does not treat the idea at all in his TOB, and West sticks to that. JP II presents marriage and religious life, including the priesthood, as the only religious vocations. I take his failure to mention it to mean that his TOB reflects Church teaching and tradition on this point.

I firmly believe Church teaching and tradition on the question of single "vocations" as I described in my comment at your post on the subject. You've added greater depth to my grasp of it, and for that I am so grateful. However, I am unable to demonstrate to others there is more here than just my own opinion.

I am constantly challenged to show authority for my challenging the single vocation whenever I broach the topic, even by folks who otherwise understand the call to submit to Church teaching and tradition. They see a priest or bishop endorse single vocations, or notice the absence of clarity on this issue, and feel free to fill in the blanks with their own modern ideas.

I would like to find documentation (or whatever is the appropriate description) of the various sources supporting our understanding of Church teaching and tradition on vocations, the consecrated state, and the single state. I know you won't be available for awhile, so no rush, but do you have any suggestions on how to go about it? Frankly, I don’t have a clue where to look. I tried to Google it to some limited degree, but the results were vague, thin and wholly unsatisfying.

Blessings to you,


Supertradmum said...

Phil, I highly suggest that you get to a second-hand bookstore, or an old library in a seminary and look at old books on vocations.

Bye for now.