Sunday, August 23, 2015
Typically, a candidate to monastic life will pay visits to a particular monastery over a period of months to become acquainted with the members of that community and its way of life. During this time, the candidate is spoken to frankly of the challenges faced on the path that leads to God. A candidate is received as a brother or sister in a community when these visits make clear that he or she possesses the spiritual dispositions necessary to live our life. It is also important that the newcomer possess adequate maturity and health.
Having determined that a newcomer is ready to enter the community, she is invited to do an "Observership". Under the guidance of the Novice Director, the candidate takes up residence with the community in the enclosure of the monastery and embraces the monastic way of life for a period of about six to eight weeks. This is an opportunity for the aspirant to experience monastic life in all it's aspects: private and communal prayer, manual labor, solitude, community life, fasting and vigils.
Having completed an Observership, and if the candidate and Novice Director discern that God is calling her to continue on, the Observer is admitted to the Postulancy. A postulant is further initiated into the spiritual disciplines of the Order by living the monastic life with the community for a period of about six months.
A postulant who demonstrates a desire and a capacity to live the Cistercian way of life may be admitted to the Novitiate. At this point, she is clothed with a religious habit and officially becomes a member of the order though she has not yet taken vows. During the novitiate, more formal instruction is offered in the monastic observances, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, prayer and manual work. During this time, the novice is supported and encouraged to persevere by her sisters in the monastery. The novitiate lasts two years.
If, after two years, it is seen that the novice truly seeks God and is zealous for the work of God, obedience and trials, and is well suited to community life, silence and solitude, then she may be admitted to temporary profession of vows as a "Junior".
By "temporary vows" a person commits to living the monastic way of life for a period of three years or three periods of one year. A Junior retains personal ownership of his or her goods but, before taking vows, must assign the administration of his or her goods to someone else. During these three years of formation, the Junior is typically entrusted with greater responsibility and is more completely integrated into the professed community. Formal studies are also continued during this period.
At the end of the period of temporary profession, after prayerful and prolonged reflection so as to appreciate the significance of the action she is about to take, a person may freely petition the abbess to make solemn profession. If the abbess and community consider her to be ready, then she is permitted to make solemn profession of the monastic vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of manners. By making solemn vows, a sister gives herself to Christ in a spirit of faith and commits herself perpetually to live, with her community, a life in accord with the Rule of St. Benedict. This commitment is made with the assurance of the love and support of the abbot and the whole community.