Q. 1 What is a vow?
A. 1 A vow, temporary or perpetual, is a promise that a person makes to God and the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it as follows:
"'A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion,' [CIC, can. 1191 § 1] A vow is an act of devotion in which the Christian dedicates himself to God or promises him some good work. By fulfilling his vows he renders to God what has been promised and consecrated to Him. The Acts of the Apostles shows us St. Paul concerned to fulfill the vows he had made." [Cf. Acts 18:18; 21:23-24] (C.C.C. # 2102)
"The Church recognizes an exemplary value in the vows to practice the evangelical counsels: [Cf. CIC, can. 654] "
"Mother Church rejoices that she has within herself many men and women who pursue the Savior's self-emptying more closely and show it forth more clearly, by undertaking poverty with the freedom of the children of God, and renouncing their own will: they submit themselves to man for the sake of God, thus going beyond what is of precept in the matter of perfection, so as to conform themselves more fully to the obedient Christ. [LG 42 § 2] " (C.C.C. # 2103)
Q. 2 What vows do members of religious Orders make?
A. 2 Members of religious Orders make three vows, those of obedience, poverty and chastity. These are explained in Canon Laws as follows:
"Life consecrated through profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living, in which the faithful follow Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, and are totally dedicated to God, who is supremely loved. By a new and special title they are dedicated to seek the perfection of charity in the service of God's Kingdom, for the honor of God, the building up of the Church and the salvation of the world. They are a splendid sign in the Church, as they foretell the heavenly glory." (Canon Law # 573 §1)
"Christ's faithful freely assume this manner of life in institutes of consecrated life which are canonically established by the competent ecclesiastical authority. By vows or by other sacred bonds, in accordance with the laws of their own institutes, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Because of the charity to which these counsels lead, they are linked in a special way to the Church and its mystery." (Canon Law # 573 §2)
In the case of diocesan priests, they make two vows, those of obedience to their Bishop and chastity. They do not make the vow of poverty. As such, they are entitled to earn a wage, own a house and a vehicle, and possess other assets as they desire. Such is not the case with members of religious institutes (religious Orders).
Q. 3 What is a religious institute?
A. 3 A religious institute is synonym to a religious Order. Under Canon Laws, religious life and the religious institute are explained as follows:
"Religious life, as a consecration of the whole person, manifests in the Church the marvellous marriage established by God as a sign of the world to come. Religious thus consummate a full gift of themselves as a sacrifice offered to God, so that their whole existence becomes a continuous worship of God in charity." (Canon Law # 607 §1)
"A religious institute is a society in which, in accordance with their own law, the members pronounce public vows and live a fraternal life in common. The vows are either perpetual or temporary; if the latter, they are to be renewed when the time elapses." (Canon Law # 607 §2)
"The public witness which religious are to give to Christ and the Church involves that separation from the world which is proper to the character and purpose of each institute." (Canon Law # 607 §3)
Q. 4 What about a priest who has an income from teaching at a University? Does he not keep his wages as in the case of a Diocesan priest?
A. 4 Under the vow of poverty, a priest in a religious Order is required to turn over his income to the religious Order. This income is then used towards the common good of all the members of the religious Order, excess funds being applied towards charitable works of the Order. On this subject, the Canon Laws state:
"Before their first profession, members are to cede the administration of their goods to whomsoever they wish and, unless the constitutions provide otherwise, they are freely to make dispositions concerning the use and enjoyment of these goods. At least before perpetual profession, they are to make a will which is valid also in civil law." (Canon Law # 668 §1)
"To change these dispositions for a just reason, and to take any action concerning temporal goods, there is required the permission of the Superior who is competent in accordance with the institute's own law." (Canon Law # 668 §2)
"Whatever a religious acquires by personal labour, or on behalf of the institute, belongs to the institute. Whatever comes to a religious in any way through pension, grant or insurance also passes to the institute, unless the institute's own law decrees otherwise." (Canon Law # 668 §3)
"When the nature of an institute requires members to renounce their goods totally, this renunciation is to be made before perpetual profession and, as far as possible, in a form that is valid also in civil law; it shall come into effect from the day of profession. The same procedure is to be followed by a perpetually professed religious who, in accordance with the norms of the institute's own law and with the permission of the supreme Moderator, wishes to renounce goods, in whole or in part." (Canon Law # 668 §4)
"Professed religious who, because of the nature of their institute, totally renounce their goods, lose the capacity to acquire and possess goods; actions of theirs contrary to the vow of poverty are therefore invalid. Whatever they acquire after renunciation belongs to the institute, in accordance with the institute's own law." (Canon Law # 668 §5)