Meaning of Religious Vows

“Hence it follows that the profession of the evangelical vows is a super-addition to that consecration which is proper to Baptism. It is indeed a special consecration which perfects the former one, inasmuch as by it, the follower of Christ totally commits and dedicates himself to God, thereby making his entire life a service to God alone.” [1]

Vows are public promises. To nurture a closer relationship with Christ, religious model their life on Christ’s example. His life had many, but three main characteristics:

  • He lived without any possessions: “For you know the graciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ – how, being rich, he became poor for your sakes, that by His poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
  • He lived the chastity of an unmarried person and he spoke about celibacy: “… and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 19:12)
  • In all things, Jesus obeyed his Heavenly Father: “My food is to do the Will of Him who sent me, to accomplish His work.” (Jn 4:34)

Most religious make three promises, called vows, pledging to imitate Jesus in these ways for their whole life.


“In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their own will as a sacrifice of themselves to God and so are united permanently and securely to God’s salvific will. After the example of Jesus Christ who came to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10:7; Ps. 39:9) and “assuming the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7) learned obedience in the school of suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8), religious under the motion of the Holy Spirit, subject themselves in faith to their superiors who hold the place of God. Under their guidance they are led to serve all their brothers in Christ, just as Christ himself in obedience to the Father served His brethren and laid down His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 10:14-18). So they are closely bound to the service of the Church and strive to attain the measure of the full manhood of Christ (Eph. 4:13).” [2]

By the vow of obedience, Religious make decisions in tune with God’s Will, which is often mediated for them through the authority of their congregation.


“Religious should diligently practice and if need be express also in new forms that voluntary poverty which is recognized and highly esteemed especially today as an expression of the following of Christ. By it they share in the poverty of Christ who for our sakes became poor, even though He was rich, so that by His poverty we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Matt. 8:20). With regard to religious poverty it is not enough to use goods in a way subject to the superior’s will, but members must be poor both in fact and in spirit, their treasures being in heaven (cf. Matt. 6:20).” [3]

By the vow of Poverty, Religious own everything in common, share possessions and live simply.


“The chastity “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse.” [4]

By the vow of celibacy / chastity, Religious give themselves in love to God in a way so total that the pursuit of union with God makes it impossible for anything or anyone to be more central. Their heart is free to love God above all and to love all men for the sake of God. Celibacy is embraced not because marriage is not desired but because the union with God and the work of God is more greatly desired.

“All men should take note that the profession of the evangelical counsels, though entailing the renunciation of certain values which are to be undoubtedly esteemed, does not detract from a genuine development of the human persons, but rather by its very nature is most beneficial to that development. Indeed the counsels, voluntarily undertaken according to each one’s personal vocation, contribute a great deal to the purification of heart and spiritual liberty. They continually stir up the fervor of charity. But especially they are able to more fully mold the Christian man to that type of chaste and detached life, which Christ the Lord chose for Himself and which His Mother also embraced. This is clearly proven by the example of so many holy founders. Let no one think that religious have become strangers to their fellowmen or useless citizens of this earthly city by their consecration. For even though it sometimes happens that religious do not directly mingle with their contemporaries, yet in a more profound sense these same religious are united with them in the heart of Christ and spiritually cooperate with them. In this way the building up of the earthly city may have its foundation in the Lord and may tend toward Him, lest perhaps those who build this city shall have labored in vain.“ [5]

[1] Message of Pope Paul VI to the general chapters of Religious Orders and congregations on May 23, 1964.

[2] Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life: “Perfectae Caritas” n°. 14

[3] Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life: “Perfectae Caritas” n°. 13

[4] Ibid. n°. 12

[5] Dogmatic Costitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium n°. 46