The bride was fashionably early, beaming in the back of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in New Orleans while standing with her parents on May 27.
It was her 36th birthday – an occasion of joy by itself – but the Mass that was to be celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond was a lot more than met the eye.
In becoming a “bride of Christ,” Rizzo carried an oil lamp into the sanctuary and made promises to Archbishop Aymond to live her life as “a consecrated virgin living in the world” – one of about 235 women in the United States and 4,000 throughout the world.
Rizzo, who will continue to work as a real estate clerk in the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, wore a white wedding dress and was accompanied in the opening procession by Sister of Mount Carmel Beth Fitzpatrick, vicar for religious for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and her younger sister, Miriam Rizzo.
“Of all the beautiful and touching things, I will remember the archbishop and the tender, fatherly love that was shown to me by my-now spiritual father in this vocation,” Rizzo said. “Other people commented to me that they felt the love in the church and were so touched by the consecration rite.
“I had so much joy in my heart and love of the Lord in my heart and love for all the people that were there that it was almost as if I could have flown to the Lord. I felt like I could fly.”
Carried her lamp
Rizzo sat initially in the front pew with her parents, Deacon Pete Rizzo and his wife Gayle. After the Gospel (John 15:9-17) – “This, I command you, love one another” – Rizzo lit a small oil lamp, symbolic of the women in the parable of the 10 virgins who awaited Christ’s coming, and walked into the sanctuary after being called forth by Archbishop Aymond.
In his homily, Archbishop Aymond called the liturgy of consecration “historic” for the archdiocese. He reminded the congregation that Rizzo would continue in her job, showing others in her daily life the light of Christ. Rizzo counsels people who are in danger of losing their homes through defaulting on their mortgages.
The archbishop said Rizzo would promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily for the church, to pray for the bishop and to pray for the special intentions of priests and for women who have been raped or sexually abused.
“To swim with the tide can be fun; however, whenever one is courageous enough to swim against the tide, it can be very, very challenging,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Pope Francis says we must swim against the tide in order to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. That is also true to live in the world as a consecrated virgin – swimming against the tide.”
The archbishop said some of the baptized are called to live a life of consecrated virginity. “It is a call from God,” he said. “It is a vocation to a unique way of life.”
Archbishop Aymond said Rizzo had spent nine years in prayer and spiritual direction before coming to the altar. “This was not something she rushed into,” he said.
An ancient vocation revived
“The call to the consecrated life dates back to the time of the apostles,” he added. “Today through her promise and through the words of consecration, Elizabeth becomes the bride of Christ. She promises that she will be single-hearted and radically committed to him alone. Her human life, in a very special way, will point to Christ. And she will remind us that the true life that we seek is not here but rather in our home in heaven.”
The archbishop said when Rizzo shows compassion to those with whom she works and to those whom she serves – the ones who may be losing their homes through foreclosure – she is doing Christ’s work.
“Through the opportunity to enter into the darkness of people’s lives, she sees Christ in the faces of those who are hopeless,” he said. “She will assure them through her prayers that she will do whatever possible to help them when she extends the heart and compassion of Christ.”
After the homily, Rizzo prostrated herself in front of the altar as the Litany of the Saints was intoned. She then knelt in front of the archbishop and placed her hands in his, a sign that she was placing her life in God’s care. She stated her intent “to live in chastity as one espoused to Christ.”
Archbishop Aymond then offered the prayer of consecration, presented her with a white veil, an ancient sign of spousal commitment as the virgin to Christ. She then received a ring – her late grandmother Marie’s – as a sign that she is “the bride of Christ.”
“You will wear that ring always as a sign of your commitment, and also it is a sign of God’s commitment to you,” Archbishop Aymond said.
To learn more about the vocation of consecrated virginity, go to the website of the U.S Association of Consecrated Virgins – http://consecratedvirgins.org.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.