According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude. It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment. By his deliberate actions, the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience. Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth. With the help of grace they grow in virtue, avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son to the mercy of our Father in heaven. In this way they attain to the perfection of charity (CCC 1700).
Each person has a vocation, or a calling from God. This vocation is meant to perfect us in the love of God and our neighbor. Three major vocations are religious life, married life, and the single life. Within these three there are also many other vocations. For example, a married man may be called to be both a father and a doctor. God has given each of us specific gifts and talents in order to help us live out our vocation more perfectly.
Those who are called to the consecrated and religious life have a supernatural calling. “Virginity is preferable to marriage then, as We have said, above all else because it has a higher aim: that is to say, it is a very efficacious means for devoting oneself wholly to the service of God” (Sacra Virginitas 24). One of the reasons for this is that, as St. Paul says, “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
Therefore, those women called to religious life are, “To be the living images of the perfect integrity of the union between the Church and her divine Spouse” (Sacra Virginitas 31). For this reason the Church honors those women who are called to consecrate themselves to Christ, the Brides of Christ. This is a noble calling that only a few can attain to, “For virginity is a difficult virtue; that one be able to embrace it there is needed not only a strong and declared determination of completely and perpetually abstaining from those legitimate pleasures derived from marriage; but also a constant vigilance and struggle to contain and dominate rebellious movements of body and soul, a flight from the importunings of this world, a struggle to conquer the wiles of Satan” (Sacra Virginitas 49).
“For this reason, it requires strong and generous natures, such as, vaulting over the stream of pleasure, direct the chariot of the soul upwards from the earth, not turning aside from their aim, until having, by swiftness of thought, lightly bounded above the world, and taken their stand truly upon the vault of heaven, they purely contemplate immortality itself as it springs forth from the undefiled bosom of the Almighty” (Methodius, Banquet of the Ten Virgins).
The religious state is thus one way of experiencing a “more intimate” consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come (CCC 916).
The Catechism goes on to state in paragraph 923, “‘Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.’ By this solemn rite (Consecratio virginum), the virgin is ‘constituted . . . a sacred person, a transcendent sign of the Church’s love for Christ, and an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ and of the life to come.'”