ORLANDO | Marianne Cano walked down the aisle of St. James Cathedral in Orlando dressed in a long white gown and filled with irrepressible joy.
The day she awaited and prepared for since her youth — to become a “bride of Christ” — was here. Surrounded by parishioners, family and guests from as far away as Dominican Republic, Cano was consecrated to a life of virginity. The Ascension Parish, Melbourne, parishioner is the first woman to become a publicly professed consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Orlando. The rite dates back to the apostolic era and was revived after Vatican II.
Pursuing this path for more than 20 years, Cano began private formation with a spiritual director in 2013 after learning of the Rite of Solemn Consecration to a Life of Virginity. After petitioning Bishop John Noonan, Cano entered her final phase of formation with Sister of St. Joseph Kathleen Power in January 2018.
“The restoration of this ancient Rite in the church impacts each one of us as laity, priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and widows,” Sister Power said. “This wonderful consecrated virgin stands as an icon of all of us in the Church publicly. … it is another way to consecrate yourself to Christ in the world as laity. Having the chance to participate in Marianne’s formation has enlightened me and brought me great joy.”
Cano’s mother, Marta Menendez Cano, said her daughter has “been a consecrated person on her own since she was a teenager.”
“Daily Mass would not be missed by her, no matter what was going on in her life,” she said. “Marianne has been with the Lord all her life. This is her wish coming true. She has officially found what she did not know existed.”
As Sister Power called Cano to come forth, her attendant and fellow consecrated virgin, Magalis Aguilera, lit a brass lamp recalling Matthew chapter 25. The story speaks of 10 virgins who awaited their bridegroom, Christ, but only five were prepared at his arrival. Cano was ready and eager, singing her response with ardor.
“Marianne, God has called you and has led you to this moment in your life. You are to be united to God and to dedicate your life and service to God and his people,” Bishop John Noonan said. Referring to the reading from Is 62:1-5 as well as the new bond between her and Christ, he added, “This new relationship will be like the intimate bond between a husband and wife; they will no longer be forsaken or desolate, but will become one — the delight and the espoused of the Lord. To cultivate an intimate relationship with God calls for making God’s presence real and vibrant in our life.”
To do this, the bishop encouraged her to speak with God in prayer.
“Marianne, the Scriptures reveal so much to us about God and our faith. Unfortunately, too many Christians today do not know or believe in God. Jesus has become a personality not a person, set in dogma and doctrine,” he said. “Pope Benedict reminds us that Jesus cannot be an object, but must become the subject of our lives. Jesus is not only beside us, but dwells in us. It is God’s grace that gives us the knowledge and strength to make Jesus the subject of our lives. Marianne, prayer is our only means and source of cultivating and strengthening our relationship with God.”
Cano resolved to persevere in the holy state of virginity, to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel as a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the kingdom of heaven, and to accept solemn consecration as a bride Christ, the son of God.
Taking her hands in his, Bishop Noonan prayed the prayer of consecration: “Lord, look with favor on your handmaid. She places in your hands her resolve to live in chastity. You inspire her to take this vow; now she gives you her heart. She has chosen you above all things; may she find all things in possessing you.”
Visibly moved, Cano then received a veil as a symbol of her dedication to Christ; a ring, marking her as a bride of Christ; and the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church. All will serve as reminders of her betrothal and commitment to supporting the diocese in prayer and deed.
The ceremony crystallized Cano’s greatest yearning. Her emotions are summed up in in a letter she wrote to Bishop Noonan in November 2017, when she had requested permission for consecration.
“Since my youth, I have recited repeatedly this Scripture passage: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart’ (Ps 37:4). Reflecting upon my spiritual journey, I now see that contemplating Jesus, particularly in his passion and death on the cross, has actually transformed my heart into one that longs only to please Him and quench His thirst for souls. Indeed, he himself is and forever will be the fulfillment of all my desires.”