The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins says the following about their sacramental:

The Consecration of a Virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church, and one of the fruits of Vatican II was the restoration of this profound blessing on virgins living in the world. The promulgation of this restored Rite for women living in the world was on 31 May 1970.

What was the impetus for restoring the Consecration of a Virgin during Vatican II, and more broadly for women living in the world? As it says, this is an old practice, but seems to have fallen out of favor after a time, so I'm curious as to why it came back.


What was the impetus for restoring the Consecration of a Virgin in the 20th Century?

The answer is quite simple: Rome had received many requests from around the world to restore the ancient custom of consecrated virgins living in the world.

While the Second Vatican Council’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is suitably known for its call for the reform of the liturgy in general, it can come as a surprise that the Constitution also mandated the revision of the Rite for the Consecration of Virgins. Despite the promulgation of the Rite, the vocation to consecrated virginity remains relatively unknown today. Nevertheless, the vocation dates back to the very earliest times of the Church, pre-dating even religious life.

The virgin martyrs of the Roman Empire are among the first consecrated virgins. Take, for example, the consecrated virgins, St. Lucy and St. Agnes. These women lived in the world, but as brides of Christ. They did not take religious vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, nor did they live in community or wear habits. Their life was marked by a love for Christ the Bridegroom and service to his Church, but they lived externally “normal” lives.

For reasons outlined elsewhere, over time the consecration of virgins became associated exclusively with religious life. In the decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council, however, there were a growing number of requests throughout the world to restore the ancient custom of consecrated virgins living in the world. Paragraph 80 of Sacrosanctum Concilium is the Council’s response to the request for the restoration of the integrity of the rite: “The rite for the consecration of virgins at present found in the Roman Pontifical is to be revised.” - “Sign of the Great Mystery of Salvation:” a Reflection on the Rite of the Consecration of Virgins

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In 1927 the Holy See forbade public vows of virginity apart from entering a religious institute (AAS 19 p. 138); no reason was given why:

To the dubium:

An expediat concedere facultatem dandi benedictionem et consecrationem Virginum mulieribus in saeculo viventibus
Whether it is expedient [for the pope] to give [bishops] the faculty to bless and consecrate virgins living in the world

the Holy See responded:

Negative et nihil innovetur.
Negative and no changes.

Presumably it was considered inexpedient because of the dangers of upholding a vow of virginity in the world. Also, "nonnulli locorum Antistites petiissent facultatem [several local bishops requested the faculty]."

The 1983 Code reinstated the "order of virgins" (Can. 604).

Public vows of virginity were permitted in other eras of Church history, too.

Consecrated virginity is a vocation, so perhaps the Church wanted to give more official support to it, considering the drastic decline in female religious life after Vatican II.*

The ceremony for consecrating a virgin is in the Pontificale Romanum:

cf. The Mystery of Love for the Single by Fr. Unger, O.F.M. Cap. (1958) ch. 5 and this informative blog by a consecrated virgin.

*appendix of Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II by Michael Davies:
"• Sisters. 180,000 sisters were the backbone of the Catholic education and health systems in 1965. In 2002, there were 75,000 sisters, with an average age of 68. By 2020, the number of sisters will drop to 40,000—and of these, only 21,000 will be aged 70 or under. In 1965, 104,000 sisters were teaching, while in 2002 there were only 8,200 teachers."

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  • The quote in the question lists the date of reinstatement explicitly as 31 May 1970. Is it possible that the there was an earlier source reinstating it than the 1983 change you site? – Thunderforge Jun 15 '19 at 22:17
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    The "nihil innovetur" that you quoted suggests that the prohibition on consecration of virgins living in the world was already in effect before 1927 and that the 1927 decision was just a refusal to change an earlier law. – Andreas Blass Jun 15 '19 at 23:03

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