jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/clerical-collar-300x174.jpgThere is a great deal of confusion about what celibacy, chastity, and continence are.
Each one of these concepts is subject to common misunderstandings, but the differences between them are easy to sort out.
A reader from the Asian country of Myanmar writes:
Please, may I ask your help to explain the similarities and differences between celibacy and chastity, especially in the context of consecrated life, among diocesan clergy, and in married life.
I’d be happy to help! I’ll also throw in the related concept of continence.
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
1) Formal vs. Informal Speech
People often think that celibacy means not having sex, or having a commitment to not have sex.
This understanding is so common that you will find dictionary definitions for celibacy like “abstention from sexual intercourse.”
People often have the same idea about chastity, and so you can find dictionary definitions for chastity like “the state of not having sex with anyone : the quality or state of being chaste.”
These are informal ways of speaking that use these words the way they are popularly understood.
In this piece, though, we are going to look at what these terms mean when they are being used in a formal, Catholic context.
**2) What is continence? **
Continence refers to what people think celibacy and chastity refer to—that is, not having sex.
The term also has other meanings, but in a formal, Catholic context, it means not using the sexual faculty.
That includes not just ordinary, regular sexual acts, but all sexual acts. If you are refraining from any and all sexual acts, you are being continent.
It comes from the Latin word continentia, which means “a holding back.” By the late 1300s, this had come to mean refraining from sex.
More recently (in the 20th century), it has come to refer from holding back other bodily functions as well.
3) What is celibacy?
Celibacy is the state of not being married.
People associate it with the priesthood because, in the Latin rite of the Church, the norm is for priests to be unmarried—to be celibate.
However, properly speaking, anyone who is unmarried can also be said to be celibate.
It comes from the Latin word caelibatus, which simply means “the state of being unmarried.”
4) What is chastity?