Stages of Formation

A very common question for a young woman discerning her vocation is "How do I become a nun?"  This question of how to be a nun can be answered on many different levels. 

There is of course, first the process of discernment which you can read about on these pages: Vocations and Belonging to Christ.  But what happens after a young woman decides to enter a particular community?  Here is the formation process for our community-- the process, if you will of becoming a nun.

The time of formation is the period in which a new member of the community is prepared to make her final commitment.  She is accompanied by a formator during this period as well as by the community at large as she is initiated in the sequela of Christ.  During this privileged time, the new member learns to progressively assume the spirituality and charism of the order as she continues to discern her vocation on a deeper level.  There are four stages of formation:

 

Aspirancy

During this first period of formation, while the candidate lives outside of the monastery, she has contact with community and visits the community for various lengths of time.  These visits may even include a live-in experience in which she is allowed to enter the cloister and experience our life more intimately.  The time of aspirancy lasts for one year.

Postulancy

The stage of postulancy begins when the aspirant, having received acceptance into the community, lives in the monastery and follows the life of the community.  At this time, the postulant has classes on the various aspects of the Benedictine spirituality.  The time of postulancy also lasts for one year.

Novitiate

The time of novitiate, which lasts two years, begins when the novice receives the full habit of the Benedictine nun.  She receives a white veil to indicate that she is not yet in vows.  This is a time of deeper discernment and integration into the community as she receives the title “sister” and continues formation classes.  During the novitiate, the novice’s first duty is to deepen her friendship with Christ to whom she will be vowed at the end of this period

 

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 Before donning the habit, Mother Abbess cuts the hair of the newly received novice and prays: "O God, you called us to turn away from the vanities of the world, its desires, cares and ambitions.  We beseech you, be gracious to your handmaid, who for the sake of your love, lays down the adornment of her head."  Each piece of the habit has a special significance.  The belt is symbolic of obedience and purity of heart.  The scapular is a sign of the yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ, which a nun willingly accepts on her shoulders.  "O God, you made us aware that our hearts cannot be satisfied with earthly goods, and cannot find peace except in you. "  ~Final blessing of novices at Clothing Ceremony

 

 

Juniorate

If it is discerned by both the novice and the community that the woman is called to continue our way of life, she will profess temporary vows and thus begin her juniorate.  At her profession ceremony, the newly professed member receives the full length scapular and a black veil.  This period is marked by a more intense study of the vows as the junior prepares to commit her entire life to Christ through Solemn Profession.  She is also given more responsibility in her work duties to allow her a fuller integration into the ora et labora of our community.  She professes her vows for three years and then renews them annually up to the completion of five years.

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 Mother first examines the intention of the novice:

My dear sister, by water and the Holy Spirit you have  already been consecrated to God's service.  Are you resolved to unite yourself more closely to him by the new bond of monastic profession?

The Novice then reads the formula of her vows before the Abbess and all assembled.  After professing their vows, the novices invoke the help of God singing, with hands raised in supplication, "Uphold me, O Lord, according to your word and I shall live, and let me not be confounded in my expectation."
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 She is then presented the full length scapular: "Receive the yoke of the Lord and carry his burden which is sweet and light."  Upon presenting the novice the black veil, the Abbess says, "Receive, Sister, the veil of your holy profession.  May it lead you to true humility and meekness, so that you may deserve everlasting life."  

 

 

Solemn Vows!

At the end of what amounts to 9-12 years of formation, the sister may at last make her solemn (or final) vows.  These vows bind her to the monastic community for the rest of her life.  She is now considered a "Spouse of Christ" and is consecrated by a bishop to belong to Christ alone.

For pictures of a solemn profession ceremony click here.