What Vows Does a Catholic Priest Take?

by Timothy Peckinpaugh
Catholic priests take up to three vows, depending upon their affiliations.

Catholic priests take up to three vows, depending upon their affiliations.

Since various religious institutes exist within the Catholic Church, the vows priests must take vary depending upon their affiliations. Not all priests must take the same vows. Most institutes require that priests take vows of chastity and obedience to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. However, some institutes exist, such as the Eastern Rite Catholics, that do not require priests to remain celibate.

Vows of Poverty

The strictest Catholic institutes require priests to take a vow of poverty. Other priests do not take this vow at all and can engage in the world's economy and can even hold side jobs. Whether or not priests have taken poverty vows, all clergy are admonished to live modest and simple lives by abstaining from unnecessary extravagances. Those who do take vows of poverty generally receive a meager living stipend for basic personal needs. Any goods they use, such as housing, vehicles and clothing, do not belong to the priests themselves, but to the institution.

Vows of Celibacy

The Western Catholic division of the Catholic Church selects priests who have taken vows of celibacy. However, this is not universal for all practitioners of the faith; priests in the Eastern Rite typically are married. The tradition of celibacy vows dates back to medieval times. The Catholic Church argues that it does not mandate any Catholic to abstain from marriage. By default, it does not mandate abstinence as sex is only permitted in a heterosexual marriage. Even so, most divisions choose priests among candidates who have taken the vow of celibacy. Exceptions include people who were previously sexually active before converting to Catholicism. Catholics believe marriage should only serve those who are too weak to take vows of celibacy, and celibacy offers practitioners a higher spiritual state.

Vows of Obedience

Most Catholic priests take a vow of obedience, an attempt to put the good of the Church before their own personal good. They work for what they consider to be the betterment of the community and not their own personal benefit, and by doing so, they are dedicating themselves to the service of the church. They see the commitment as a means of obtaining ultimate freedom. The vow also mandates that priests follow the order of the Catholic Church hierarchy, with the pope at the top, followed by the bishops. Priests may still appeal to higher authorities within the hierarchy if they disagree with a decision.

Other Responsibilities of Priests

Priests are responsible for the spiritual guidance of their practitioners, as well as for participating in community projects. Some priests live in communes, where they focus on meditation, prayer and study. Others work in the community, spending time visiting the sick, running community programs, conducting counseling services and holding mass and prayers. Some members of the clergy work in education as teachers for Catholic schools and universities in addition to their responsibilities in leading church services.

About the Author

A resident of Riverside, California, Timothy Peckinpaugh began writing in 2006 for U.S. History Publishers, based in Temecula, California. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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