Vow Of Celibacy For Laity? Is There Such A Thing?

Has anyone heard of or know anything about a lay person making a vow of celibacy?

I’m asking this withing the framework of the Church, not just a personal commitment to remain chaste and pure as required by ordinary obedience to the commandments, but a more formal recognition of the call to the state of celibacy and a public commitment to remain in that state until death.

**Is there such a thing as a vow of celibacy for a lay person who is not a member of a religious order, deacon or priest? Is there such a thing as vowed celibate laity? Is this what is called a “Private vow?”

If so, what is the form? Does one stand up at Mass and take a vow or is it a more private affair?

Is there a public form of recognition or recognizable indication that one has made a vow of celibacy? I know that some of the religious orders wear cords around their waist with three knots indicating to remind them of the three vows, priests and deacons wear collars, etc. Is there such a practice for those who make a private vow?**Without getting into my own personal situation too much, I have committed myself to chastity and purity in both body and mind for the past three years and have received incredible blessings and freedom from it. As I become stronger in Christ, I have become aware of how the grace I have been given piques the interest of some men and as I become more open about my personal commitment, it has touched the lives of few men, some of whom struggle intensely against lack of self control.

I really feel called to commit myself in some way out of love for God and in thanksgiving for the grace and freedom he has granted me. I think that doing so would be a way to witness to other men that celibacy is not just for old priests and monks in the monastary and that real self control and freedom is possible for ordinary guys.

Anyone have any information on this subject (other than “Talk to a priest”)?


I know a lay woman who is a consecrated virgin but I don’t know the process that she had to go through.

Consecrated virgin

For women only. I don’t know of any similar process for men unless taking vows in a religious order (which does not necessarily mean becoming a priest).

There is a “third order” of many religious organizations where the lay people take the vow of chasity. Of course these are people who want to be affilated with a certian type of spiritualities.

Third Order Franciscans tssf.org/
Third Order Dominicans 3op.org/
Third Order Carmelite therese.kashalinka.com/thirdorder/

I am not sure if you are referring belonging to one of these. The third order are lay people who live private lives, work jobs and yet follow some diciplines of the group.

I hope this helps.

This is an Anglican organization.

nafra-sfo.org/ < Secular Franciscans. They are NOT a third order, however, they are autonomous.

I have become somewhat interested in the lay Cistercians recently but this is not what I was asking about.

I’m just asking about a regular guy who want’s give his chastity and purity to God in thanksgiving, thats all. I’ve read a few websites which mention private vows but nothing by way of explanation and certainly nothing authoritative other than citations of canon law.


There are

private vows

simple vows in community

  • solemn vows

Anyone can make private vow, about any non sinful thing. This obliges the individual, any priest can release or exchange this obligation for acceptable reason.

Community vows are taken in the presence of the community and superior, and only the community, in some cases the Ordinary (bishop) can give release from the obligation. Some third order members take such vows, traditionally the celibacy was not among them. Recently this is more relaxed, e.g. Opus Dei numerary members take the vow of celibacy, they are living together in houses as community; as the brothers and sisters of the religious orders.

Solemn vow is the final vow for chastity, poverty and obedience is taken by religious after several years living under simple community vow; that can be released usually only by the Apostolic See. So does the priestly celibacy.

The vow itself does not help to keep the goal. For the celibacy the priestly ordination or living in community with those in similar status and the community vow confers special graces.

You must ask yourself seriously, why do you want the vow?

I disagree.

The vow can clarify and strengthen the intention I already have and to the point of your question it will do just that for me, like a compass needle that always points in the right direction. It will serve as reference point by which I can evaluate thoughts and actions.

Its like a waypoint on a GPS or a trail marker. Helps you know where you are going and that you are on the right track.

Yes, I know. This is not something which is being considered lightly.

Evaluating the motivation for a vow is really the work of a spiritual director and wasn’t the point of my questions anyway. I apologize if adding my personal details gave the impression that it was.

I’m more interested in the mechanics of it all, the who, what, where, when and how as opposed to the why.


Canonically speaking, there is no vow of celibacy in the Catholic Church. There are several forms of continence.

If you are a secular man who is going to be ordained and are single at the time of your ordination to the diaconate, you make a promise of celibacy. A promise is not a vow and celibacy is not the same as chastity. Celibacy is a promise not to marry. Chastity is purity of heart, mind and body. Secular clergy do not vow chastity.

If you are a novice in a religious or secular order, you make a vow of chastity at the end of your novitiate. A vow is different from a promise. A vow is part of a way of life. Obviously consecrated religious live the common life, and they do not marry. Brothers and sisters in secular orders do not live in communities, even though they belong to communities. They can and often do marry. The vow of chastity is a commitment to live according to the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” The vow of chastity is not a commitment to remain celibate; it is a commitment to live purity in one’s respective state: single, married or consecrated religious.

Consecrated virgins make a vow of virginity, which has as effect celibacy, but the commitment is to the life of virginity. This consecration is only available to women. They can be lay or religious.

In the history of the Church, there have been men who have made vows of continence, which obviously implies both celibacy and chastity. These are private vows, even if they are made in the presence of a congregation. They are private, because they are not part of a way of life that is recognized by the Church. That does not mean that it is less binding than the vow of chastity made by a religious. It simply means that it is lived in the private life of the individual. If the person changes his or her mind, he or she must request a dispensation, which can be granted by the confessor, unless the local bishop has reserved such dispensations for himself.

A person who believes that he or she is called to a life of continence should go through a period of discernment guided by a spiritual director. The Spiritual Director may be a layman, religious, deacon, priest or bishop; but it has to be a person who is knowledgeable about the ascetical life. Continence is a form of asceticism. The spiritual director will then guide the person to discern if this is truly his or her vocation. If that is the case, then the person may be referred to Church authority, such as the local pastor or the local bishop.

Happy New Year!

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

My spiritual director has me doing the following as I discern a Private Vow of Celibacy:

I make a yearly private vow of celibacy in the presence of my spiritual director and another Catholic Witness. We document this with a little certificate with signatures and the date.

At the end of 5 continuous years of renewing the annual private vow of celibacy, my spiritual director has said I could then make a perpetual private vow of celibacy.

I just “renewed” my vow for the the 4th time! I couldn’t be happier!

I have considered asking my spiritual director and my parish priest, when the time comes for the perpetual vow of celibacy, if I could have a little something (special blessing/prayer?) during one of our weekday massess. I know my friends with whom I attend daily mass would be so very happy to celebrate with me!

This is not the same thing as a vow of celibacy. Everyone is called to chastity as defined by one’s state in life. For the unmarried (whether never married, widowed, separated or for consecrated religious including clergy), it means for men, continence, and for women, abstaining from all sexual relations. However, for a married couple, “chastity” means licit sexual relations in a manner open to life.

For consecrated virgins, chastity and celibacy end up meaning the same thing. For consecrated religious (men or women) or clergy, chastity ends up meaning the same thing as celibacy.

For married folks, chastity means, even those belonging to Third Orders or who are secular Benedictine Oblates, chastity means only engaging in licit sexual relations with one’s spouse, in a manner open to life unless there are legitimate reasons to use NFP to delay or space children.

If you read the Stories of the Saints throughout History - this practise is not uncommon. In fact St Paul mentions it in Scripture.

Even in a married state - a couple can agree as a couple to make a vow of Celibacy. One can make a vow of Poverty. Or practise a rule of Penance. And any number of other penitant actions in order to subjugate the flesh to the spirit. When one learns to master the Flesh - and to subjugate it rather than to be a slave to it - then one can elevate ones Spirituality to a higher plane.

It is for this reason the Church adopted Celibacy for the Clergy as it was not always so.


I meant the private vow in itself does not confers regular grace to keep the object. Psychological aid is given by that.

Otherwise the celibacy (not to marry) is value only with the chastity. To be a bachelor is not Christian value.

Let’s keep things separate here. Do not confuse the vow of chastity with the promise of celibacy. They are not the same thing nor do they have the same effect.

Diocesan ( and other secular clergy) make a promise of ceibacy, not a vow of chastity nor a vow of celibacy. They are bound to live chastity as any unmarried person.

Consecrated religious make a vow of chastity, not cleibacy. We are bound to live chastity according to life in a community. Therefore, we embrace our community as our family, surrendering the right to a human spouse. Celibacy is a consequence of community life, not something that we promise. We promise to remain chast to the end of our days, not to remain unwed. Obviously, we do remain unwed, because we are bound to our religious community.

There is a difference between chastity, a vow of chastity and a promise of celibacy.

I believe the OP is speaking about continence, which we often refer to as celibacy.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Let’s look at this as if we were looking at secular clergy: deacons, priests and bishops. They do not make a vow of celibacy. They make a promise of celibacy. Celibacy in itself is not a virtue. However, fidelity to a promise or a vow is a virtue. Obviously, a chaste life is also a virtue. Therefore, celibacy can be a form of actual grace that leads the individual to sanctifying grace through the exercise of the evangelical counsels.

The difference between the promise of celibacy and the vow of chastity is not in its effects, but in the vow itself. You’re taking a virtue that everyone is called to live and you are vowing to live that virtue. The excercise of the virtue is intself a source of gace, but so is the fulfillment of the vow (covenant).


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Thank you Brother, for taking the time to respond. I’m sure I’m thinking of more than just not getting married. I’m sure I am thinking of purity.

This is what I am looking for, a spiritual director. Your comments about continence being a form of asceticism are meaningful to me. I wan’t to make sure that I am doing it for the right reasons, not trying to become holy through some form of violent spiritual mortification which would, in the end, just crush my spirit. That previous sentance was in my thoughts in an indistinct way but became clear to me at your mention of the word ascetism - I think it brought back thoughts from “No Man is an Island” by Merton.

The feeling has not gone away and is strong enough that I recognize it for what it is and thought I’d reach out. The fact that you took the time to provide a thoughtful reply means more to me than you know.

Happy New Year to you too!


Third Order Carmelites (Lay Carmelites) are allowed to take vows of Obedience and Chasity.

There’s the Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is Our Lady of Chastity. St. Louis de Montfort’s form of it, Praise God, is very popular, and quite a profound and inspiring read .

I propose that you take up St. Louis de Montfort’s book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a companion to the Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin.

It is a 3 week-long consecration period, complete with readings from spiritual books (Imitation of Christ, e.g.) and Sacred Scriptures. Every day is part of a certain cycle, centered around a theme (Knowledge of Christ, e.g.) and one is commanded to pray certain liturgies and prayers, included within, to the Blessed Virgin, Holy Ghost, and of the Holy Name of Jesus; usually performed with a preceding 12 day preparation period, and ends on Marian Feast or Solemnity (Feast of the Assumption, e.g.). On that day, one consecrates themselves solemnly with a document written by St. Louis de Montfort, that shall include your name and the date, and go to Holy Confession and receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Mass, as well as give an offering (a candle, a fast, etc.)

You are encouraged, in this devotion, to repeat it annually and often.

I am glad to plan mine for this year’s Feast of the most glorious Assumption!

May God Bless You and Yours,

In Christ,

Will Mayer

I know a third order Carmelite who took this vow. I don’t know if it is considered a vow or promise, but she wears a wedding ring on her left hand.

Normally a carmelite makes a promise of chastity, yet a vow is allowed with approval from the proper authority.
A vow or a promise would not authorize the wearing of a wedding ring,.

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