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Good morning Father Angelo.

I am writing to ask you in which ways a Vow made by my fellow villagers to Our Lady in the year 1600 (on April 13, corresponding to the First Sunday after Easter),  and renewed in the year 1800 (on September 8, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Feast day)  to ask for protection from plague and cholera epidemics  is still binding on us today, in the traditional  formula by  which it was issued.

I enclose a copy of the parchment containing  the wording of the vow (…) together with the promises that were subsequently renewed on  the second occasion.

To this day, the Feast of the Vow has been celebrated in place of that of the Patron Saint of  my village, but we certainly do not fulfil all the obligations listed in it.

Thank you very much and I wish you a happy Holy Easter!

Alessandra Brasa

Gaggio Montano (Bologna)

The Priest’s answer  

Dear Alessandra,

1. The vow, exactly for the reason that it is a form of free self-determination to carry out a certain specific practice, only binds those who made it.

Therefore, the vow made by the fathers does not bind the children from one generation to the next.

The same also applies to communities, both religious and civil.

2. We may then ask ourselves what rationale there is for making a vow such as that made by your village community, that binds until the end of the world, if posterity is not required to fulfil it.

3. To understand this, it is necessary to remember that a vow is a law, an obligation that one makes  by  oneself.

It is a specific form of law.

4. Our civil or religious communities may make  themselves specific laws to which they bind themselves.

For example, the government of a city or a village has the right to decide who the patron saint is and the day on which his or her feast is celebrated, including, from the civil point of view,  school holidays to be observed accordingly, and so on… .

Likewise, it has the power to give a name to a specific street or square.

It also has the authority to enforce prohibitions, obviously without prejudice to the general law of the state.

Once a specific law is enacted, all members of that community are required to respect it forever, until it is repealed.

5. Therefore, for the vows made by a community, the obligation of respecting the law must be held distinct from that of carrying out the vow.

The specific law that your community made  (to name your village Gaggio, land of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary, the fasting prescribed for the Saturday before the First Sunday after  Easter , the partaking of Holy Communion on that Sunday, the solemn procession, all of which can also be fulfilled by means of the recitation of a third part of the Holy Rosary by those who are not otherwise able to fulfil such obligations) is a law still in force because it has never been repealed.

It is a law that you yourselves made and that has not been repealed.

6. Who has the power to repeal it?

Since  we read in the text that “the community of Gaggio makes a promise to God now and forever by means of  a solemn vow” it means that it is not just about any vow, but a solemn vow. 

Solemn vows are received as such by the Church and therefore they can be exempted only by the Holy See.

6. However, although that vow was solemn, only your fathers were obliged to keep it. It could not and cannot still bind the posterity, that is you. So you are faced with a law that you  made and therefore binds you, although  it no longer binds you in the form of a vow.

This means that if you fail to comply with the obligations of this particular law  you are failing in your duty, but you do not commit sin because specific   laws are regulated only by civil or criminal law, therefore any of their possible violations are subject to their rules. Only non-compliance with the general laws of the State or the Church, as they are perfect societies, also constitutes a sin.

7. However, if you, as current  citizens, carry out these practices, you are carrying out not only a good deed, but a work that in the eyes of the Lord has a greater merit, because it arises from a voluntary obligation that binds you closer to God. It is as if you were renewing the vow.

8. Your community, like all those who inherited such specific laws, do well in keeping them.

They are part of the heritage of the common good that was inherited from the fathers, they give testimony to the experience of their faith, and are a warm encouragement to do the same.

It is a duty to respect them, at least until they are repealed in law or in fact.

But I say again: they do not constitute an obligation as they do not constitute a sin. 9. In conclusion, since the specific law that the village made  remains in force,   the obligation to celebrate the Feast remains.

However, the fact of celebrating the  Feast  does not bind under penalty of breaking the vow, because the vow binds only those who made it.

But whoever wants to carry out all the practices of the vow does something praiseworthy and deserving of merit before God for the present and the future life.

I wish you a happy continuation of the Easter holidays.

I remember you in my prayers  and I bless you.

Father Angelo