Does a private vow have to be made in front of a priest?


Hello folks...
Ten years ago this May, I made a private vow of perpetual viginity to Our Lord. I wish to keep it. However, since I took this vow when I was alone, now I am wondering... is it binding? Or does a vow have to be received by a member of the clergy to be binding?
If anyone can shed light on this question for me, I'd be grateful.


I believe it does, although I'm not an expert here. But anytime I've heard of the term "private vow" it has been understood as one that is received by a priest. I've made a temporary private vow of virginity before a priest, though I wished it to be perpetual very much! I hope this year to make it perpetual if he approves.

The vow you made before may be more like a personal promise to Our Lord. I've done this too, and I'm sure before the Lord it's what's in our heart that matters. But again, I think for it to be binding it does have to be received by a priest (I'm not sure if a deacon would suffice)

I recommend asking Jenna, a consecrated virgin in NYC, about this though for a more definitive answer. Her blog - If you do, please let us know how she responds.

God bless! :)


The vow is binding upon you in conscience if you were of age to make it, that you were qualified to make it, and that the words of the vow are valid. Private vows need not be made in front of a priest, as they are directly between you and God. If you have questions about whether the vow formula (the words you used) is valid you can talk to a priest about it, or I'd be happy to help you on the matter- just send me a PM or reach me through my website. I have written a bit about private vows on this site:


God bless you!


[quote="SerraSemper, post:3, topic:232563"]
The vow is binding upon you in conscience if you were of age to make it, that you were qualified to make it, and that the words of the vow are valid. Private vows need not be made in front of a priest, as they are directly between you and God. If you have questions about whether the vow formula (the words you used) is valid you can talk to a priest about it, or I'd be happy to help you on the matter- just send me a PM or reach me through my website. I have written a bit about private vows on this site:


God bless you!


Wow, thank you for posting that! very informative! :thumbsup:


Thank-you for your responses, folks.


Private vows do not need to be made in front of a priest. Neither are they “received” even when they are witnessed by a priest or other person. These are different things. Public vows are both witnessed and received in the name of the church, for instance, but not so with private vows. Private vows may also be easily dispensed by one’s pastor, so if one later decides they are no longer truly called in this way, the remedy is a simple one.


Thank-you, Sister Laurel. This is useful information.


I am sorry to ask a question in someone’s question but it pertains to this topic. My name is Natasha and I’ll be 28 in a few wks and I wanted to make a vow of celibacy or perpetual virginity is there a way I can do that without joining an order the reason I ask is because I am in a wheelchair I have cerebral palsy I have pca care so I do not think I could join the religious life but would still to make the vow. Is the only way to do so is make a private vow? If so I would like to have witnesses to make it more formal like a priest and I was wondering how I go about doing that? Do I just ask my church priest? I am thinking about joining the Benedictine oblates and after my formation could I make a vow that way when I make my final promise?
Just looking for some insight…


Jesus Christ asked us NOT to swear to do anything, and why religious take vows I’ll never know. So maybe don’t do it? Or maybe do it in the context of a religious order or Third Order Carmelites or the like?


If someone has made a private vow or vows to God, I don’t think that quite personally between self and God it is ever a simple matter to seek dispensation, meaning that one is seeking dispensation to abandon the private vow or vows for a lesser good (see below). For those under private vow or vows, however, the actual process of dispensation might be far more simple than for those under other forms of vow or vows.
I do realize that in your post, you are not stating that abandoning a private vow or vows is a simple matter, rather only that the process for dispensation is a more simple process than for those under other forms of vow or vows.
**Can. 1197 **What has been promised by private vow can be commuted into something better or equally good by the person who made the vow. It can be commuted into something less good by one who has authority to dispense in accordance with Can. 1196.

Another point re your comment - quote: “Neither are they “received” even when they are witnessed by a priest or other person”:


"One final thought. Vows can remain private even when made in a Church ceremony. An example of this can be when a **priest receives private vows of an individual **during Mass. "
Author: Therese Ivers JCL (A canon lawyer has significant knowledge about the legal system of the Catholic Church. Canon lawyers spend three or four post-college academic years studying canon law, earning a licentiate (J.C.L.) degree. }


My bad. Barbara, good catch. I don’t know why I wrote “received by a priest” since a priest does or bishop does not “receive” private vows. I will correct that article immediately. Only a bishop or superior of an institute of consecrated life can “receive” vows of the evangelical counsels in the name of the Church. Otherwise, vows are merely witnessed. It is my personal belief that private vows should not be witnessed during a parish Mass because it gives the illusion that it’s a public act and it isn’t.


Thank you. I did not mean at all to “catch” you, rather to the contrary I was relying on what you wrote to support what I understood - and that was that a priest could receive private vows. :o

“Received” in connection with private vows has definitely seeped into Catholic cultural consciousness it seems to me i.e. that a private vow can be received by a priest for example. “Received” seems to be a commonly used term with all with whom I have spoken including religious, priests and our Archbishop during my own considerable and quite lengthy (and including in time) researching of private vows and using various sound (I do hope) resources. His Grace was certainly quite supportive of a Home Mass for the purpose of private vows being witnessed (to use correct terminology I hope, if not his precise terminology as I understand it since approval came through my spiritual director (priest religious) who also used “received”).

Can you explain please what “received” means in theological or canonical terms (hoping only I am using correct terminology for the correct Church ‘departments’) and why a priest therefore cannot receive private vows. This is not to contest what you have stated above, rather to understand it and therefore to be able to explain it all myself and so cast, I hope, a very small pebble of correct terminology and understanding into the tremendously vast pool of Catholic cultural consciousness.

I am more than happy with “witnessed” incidentally, while still desiring to be able to explain what exactly “received” means. In fact, for me personally, the lower the vocation to private vows in the lay celibate state might seem to fall in the ‘scale-of-things-general-consciousness’, the more I rejoice.

Private vows in the lay celibate state has to be probably the most not understood vocation of them all and even a vocation about which there is not a great deal of reliable information readily available. I would not contest that it is perhaps a rare call at this point in time anyway.

Apologies to Sr. Laurel incidentally for challenging her statement re “received”. :slight_smile:


This is a good topic for me to write about on my website. Check for it soon.


Thank you - will do! :slight_smile:
By writing about it in your blog, I think a quite large pebble of correction will be cast into the tremendously vast pool of Catholic cultural consciousness.


Okay, I did a write up on private vows and priests on my blog. FYI.


So I have reading the commentary back forth about the opinions about private vows and I also clicked the link to the blog and read it but disapointed in how private vows have no merit. I think they should especially for people like me who has a desire live their life for God but can’t just join an order because they are dependent on home and physically disabled. I am looking into secular institutes like the Benedictine Oblates but I would also like to make a private vow of perpetual chastity and would like the counsel of a priest or spiritual director. And because private vows aren’t consecrated and recognized by church I understand why it shouldn’t be done during a mass but since it’s a big decision for a person to make I don’t see why there can’t be a formality to it and have it witnessed by a priest etc


Thank you, will check it out


I never said private vows weren’t a big deal or that they don’t have merit. I said they can’t be received by a priest and shouldn’t be pronounced aloud at Mass so as not to confuse people about the difference between vows received by the Church and those that are simply private.

The Benedictine Oblates are not a Secular Institute. A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life which has semi-public vows in that the vows are received by the Church and the person is truly consecrated even though they remain in the lay state. Oblates, on the other hand, are associates of the Benedictine Order and have ties to them but are not consecrated.

If you are looking for a spiritual director, I highly suggest the book Seeking Spiritual Direction by Fr. Thomas Dubay. It is the go-to guide for seeing what to look for in a spiritual director and what is expected in the relationship.

If you are a female virgin and physically disabled, you may want to consider becoming a consecrated (sacred) virgin. Sacred virgins have a marriage bond with Christ and do not need tip top health to become espoused to Him by their bishop. One of the sacred virgins I met in Rome appeared to be quadriplegic and was in a wheelchair with an attendant. Another in Italy suffers from Downs Syndrome, but has enough intellectual ability to assume the obligations of this vocation. Just to be clear, sacred virginity is not a private vocation. It’s public and in the consecrated state. It was the first vocation other than marriage for woman, Our Lady being the first to be made a sacred virgin by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

Another possible official Church vocation besides sacred virginity is diocesan eremitic life. The hermit makes semi-public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and the bishop is his/her legitimate superior. Some hermits are physically disabled. Because they don’t live a communal life like religious, they also don’t need to be in tip top health because their illness will not make common life difficult for oneself or others.

The Church wants the formality to be reserved to things She recognizes. So for a priest to witness a vow unofficially, it should be done in an unofficial setting- in the rectory, in a private chapel, at the home of the person making the vow surrounded by some close friends. Why? Because the Church doesn’t formally recognize private vows. It’s kind of like a private army. A private army can wear uniforms that don’t match a country’s official uniform (just like any company can have uniforms) but they can’t expect to be saluted by real soldiers or be addressed by titles or ranks because they have no standing in any country. Does that make any sense? For the Church to make a private vow formal would be to make it a public vow which is against the whole concept of a private vow.

One reason it is essential to learn the theology of the vows is that people really underestimate the vows of baptism. Lay people have a very special place in the Church and unfortunately, improper teaching about vows makes people think they are second class citizens of the Church if they don’t make any. It is true that the vow of chastity does make one closer to Christ (the state of celibacy is greater than marriage) but one has to truly grasp WHY one would undertake the renunciation of marriage on a permanent basis before thinking of making such a commitment. People can and have become saints, gifted mystics without making any vows or receiving anything beyond baptism and confirmation.


On a quick read, the post into doihaveavocation blog is an opinion and an informed one in some areas I thought. I am personally quite happy to use “witnessed” and not “received” re my own private vows. I had used “received” only because this was the term consistently used during my own research well prior to my Home Mass.

My own Home Mass for the purpose of renewing and witnessing by Father and family and friends my life private vows was advised and celebrated by my spiritual director and a priest religious in a well known religious order and with considerable experience in leadership. Permission for the Home Mass and for the purpose was obtained from my Archbishop. My parish priest also gave his permission for the Home Mass to take place in his parish as I believe is the protocol and correct procedure. At the Home Mass a text was distributed explaining private vows including that “private” is a term in Canon Law to distinguish from public vows in the consecrated state - with quotations and other matters relating to private vows so that those attending the Home Mass would not be confused on the subject. The text very clearly underscored and explained this.
There was an opportunity after Mass for questions to be addressed to either our Mass celebrant (my spiritual director) or myself. My Rule of Life (prior approval by my spiritual director) was made available for perusal if desired. This does explain the terms of my private vow of obedience (which does not nvolve my spiritual director) and also poverty and chastity.
Undoubtedly my past experience in two religious orders and monastic life has informed me on many matters re how the evangelical counsels are lived out in religious life in these two religious orders anyway.

I am considering only perhaps starting my own blog on private vows. It does seem to me at this point to be a time intensive exercise and I am unsure if I would be able to do the subject the justice it deserves. Private vows are the subject of affirmation in both pre and post V2 Vatican documents.


My own private vows had nothing really to do directly with religious life. My vocation was probably for me quite personally in potential anyway formally first recognized in this:

Catholic Catechism!/search/evangelical counsels

Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple.


That set me off more or less on the path of research. When very gingerly and cautiously I first raised the matter of living under the evangelical counsels in a way that would be more demanding than in the ordinary course and with my own rule of life - and raised it with my then confessor and director, (priest religious theologian living and lecturing in our seminary at that time) and some 35 years or more ago, I had no idea that there was such a thing as private vows. He informed me out of which flowed my understanding that the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience was the path that Jesus took.

Certainly, I view my private vows as directly linked to my baptism alone. Being called (or summonsed which is a beautiful term to me used in the Mass) to be a baptised Catholic is most truly the greatest honour I have ever received, or could ever receive. It is also a great responsibility and accountability for me since from baptism flows so many Graces

Paul to the Ephesians Ch1
[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: [4] As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. [5] Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will:

[6] Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved son. [7] In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace, [8] Which hath superabounded in us in all wisdom and prudence, [9] That he might make known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in him, [10] In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in him.

[11] In whom we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his will. [12] That we may be unto the praise of his glory, we who before hoped Christ: [13] In whom you also, after you had heard the word of truth, (the gospel of your salvation in whom also believing, you were signed with the holy Spirit of promise, [14] Who is the pledge of our inheritance, unto the redemption of acquisition, unto the praise of his glory. [15] Wherefore I also, hearing of your faith that is in the Lord Jesus, and of your love towards all the saints,

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