Do i have authority over my private prayer vows?


I talked about a priest on the phone about my private vows that I didn’t tell to anybody except God. I said I was having troubles with them. He said that I don’t need priest despansion since I only have the original knowledge of the vow. He said that I can freely despanse the vow or make period for prayers longer. Was he right?


No. That is false. Even a private vow is big deal. You can’t dispense yourself from one.

Let’s see what Canon Law has to say:

Can.* 1196 In addition to the Roman Pontiff, the following can dispense from private vows for a just cause provided that a dispensation does not injure a right acquired by others:

1/ the local ordinary and the pastor with regard to all their subjects and even travelers;

2/ the superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life if it is clerical and of pontifical right with regard to members, novices, and persons who live day and night in a house of the institute or society;

3/ those to whom the Apostolic See or the local ordinary has delegated the power of dispensing.

Can.* 1197 The person who makes a private vow can commute the work promised by the vow into a better or equal good; however, one who has the power of dispensing according to the norm of ⇒ can. 1196 can commute it into a lesser good.

Can.* 1198 Vows made before religious profession are suspended while the person who made the vow remains in the religious institute.


I agree with DG. A private vow is indeed a big deal - never to be made lightly and probably best with spiritual direction, while spiritual direction is not essential. A spiritual director cannot give permission per se to make a private vow or vows, he can however advise one. A private vow or vows is the choice of one’s own free will alone. A private vow binds the one vowing under the virtue of religion. Dispensation is not a complicated process. You need ask to be dispensed as per Canon Law, which DG has quoted and is probably most often done by consulting a priest.

The virtue of religion belongs to Justice in the Cardinal Virtues, which are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance.

Catholic Catechism:

**1807 Justice is the moral virtue **that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbour. "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor."68 "Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven."69

Catholic Dictionary Virtue of Religion**
Religion is a moral virtue by which we render to God due honor and worship. We say that it is a moral virtue because acts of religion do not have, as their direct object, God, but rather the reverence which is due God. These acts of worship deal directly with the means which tend towards man’s final and last end, namely, God’s reverence and worship. We say moreover that religion is a virtue by which we render to God due worship, worship, i.e., by which we acknowledge God as the supreme Being, the Creator, the uncreated, infinitely perfect Being. Finally, we render to God due worship, ie., in so far as man, a finite, created being, can render worship to the infinitely perfect and eternal Creator. That man must exercise this virtue of religion is the teaching of the First Commandment: “I am the Lord thy God. …Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” (Exodus 20) The various acts of worship which man is capable of offering to God .are prayer, sacrifice, vows, oaths, and adoration. The sins against this virtue are blasphemy, idolatry, divination, tempting God, superstition, and simony.

There is much information on this website about vows and insofar as I am aware, the information is sound.


I have a friend who was in the habit of making private vows.

A priest told him (very sensibly) to stop doing it.


The advice might depend on what private vows were being made and why they were being made - and if the person understood what they were doing. Such advice might depend on a few factors indicating it was unwise for the person to make private vows. Certainly, private vows are recognised by The Church while private vows to the evangelical counsels do not form at this stage a section of consecrated life in Canon Law.
ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964
215) However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called “evangelical.” This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit, undertaken by many Christians, either privately or in a Church-approved condition or state of life, gives and must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness.

Sometimes priests can give inaccurate advice and some can look on private vows (to evangelical counsels) with suspicion.
Many years ago now, I was told by a priest that my private vows had nothing to do with The Church and his attitude in conveying that information was not at all respectful nor kindly. As a baptised Catholic, everything I think, say and do has to do with The Church. Father had given me incorrect information. I found it distressing until quite some time later, that information was corrected. On August 15th last, Solemnity of The Assumption, and with the permission of my Archbishop through our Vicar General also permission of my parish priest (formality), a Home Mass was celebrated in my home for witnessing (sometimes called “reception”)of my perpetual private vows (of some 30 years or more duration at that time). My home, ring and cross were blessed and a certificate stating same was signed by the celebrant and my confessor and director (priest religious). He also signed a certificate stating that my private vows had been received (witnessed) by him. Nevertheless, I am not in consecrated life as things stand today, rather lay celibacy in secular life.

If private vow or vows are validly made according to Canon Law, and a person approaches a priest seeking dispensation, then the priest should grant that dispensation unless he has very serious reasons indeed for not doing so. If the person has not validly made the vows, then the priest should advise same and that no actual private vow or vows exist in reality and explain why.

As I always state, a person should in wisdom and prudence prior to making any sort of private vow or vows seek advice from a priest. While no priest can give permission per se to make a vow or vows, he can indeed give advice. Spiritual advice ideally will continue for the life of the vow or vows.



My friend was properly dispensed of his vow or vows. The priest who dispensed his vow or vows was the one who told him to stop making vows.

My friend had a tendency to, in a flurry of zeal, write a lot of post-dated checks on his future self. (For instance, he was in the habit of vowing future rosaries.)


My opinion (two pennies worth only!) is that Father was wise to dispense your friend and to advise him or her not to make private vows in the future. It is also well to know that a priest does not have the power to give permission to make a private vow or vows, nor has the power to tell a person not to make them. A private vow is made only through the free choice of the person making the vow or vows. And in that, “free choice” is operative. A priest can only offer advice and also dispense if he sees fit to do so and most priests I am sure would not withhold a dispensation without a very serious reason indeed. Dispensation from private vows is not a complicated matter

However, I think that your friend would fall into the following category in Canon Law:
Can. 1191 §1. A vow, that is, a deliberate and free promise made to God about a possible and better good, must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion.

If your friend had a psychological tendency to impulsively act in a flurry of zeal and demonstrated imprudent and even somewhat presumptive actions (writing post dated checks on his future self), then I doubt such a person is in a position to make a “free promise” if any of the aforementioned dispositions did apply and Father aware of them in relation to private vows made - any such promise would be invalid. I am relatively confident that thankfully probably our majority of priests would be aware of all this, while still unable to either give or withdraw permission, but only to offer advice. Mind you this is only my very humble opinion indeed. I am neither priest nor canon lawyer, nor their bootlace to say the very least!



PS If a person feels that they have made an invalid private vow or vows, it would be most unwise even imprudent to “dispense oneself” in any way. One should speak with a priest about it.
Private vow or vows should be considered as a quite serious matter. They are a vow or vows to God and come under the virtue of religion.


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