Come, children, hearken to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord. —Psalm 33
The first step of formation is postulancy. The aspirant requests admittance, and begins to live with the community. She receives a Miraculous Medal, which continues to be worn throughout life, wears a black dress with a leather belt, and a short veil during postulancy. No commitments are exchanged.
She is given a course in basic spiritual and doctrinal principles, and learns the ropes of day-to-day living. The postulant is asking God and asking the community to receive her into this particular family. If, after several months, she has discerned that she “belongs,” she may ask to be clothed in the habit and be admitted as a novice.
Should I not willingly entrust myself to the One Who had the good will to save me? He sought me out, he called me through grace; will he refuse me as I come to Him? I fear neither force nor fraud which can snatch me from His hand. — St. Bernard
Her petition having been accepted, the postulant approaches her clothing day, or “Investiture.” St. Gertrude called the day of her Investiture the beginning of her conversion, and rightly so. Here, a decisive break from the world occurs, though prudence and Canon Law prohibit vows until the candidate has proved herself.
The postulant dons a wedding gown to embark upon the long journey of her espousal to Christ. She declares her intention before the community, her family and the Church. Her hair is cut as a sign of her renunciation of self, and she retires to replace her wedding gown with a long, black tunic. Each additional part of the habit is given to her with a prayer, including the white veil.
Finally, as a sign of the new life which she has begun (hence the word “novice”) she is given a lit candle and her new name. Two years of intense prayer and preparation, with more detailed studies and formation in the monastic virtues follow.
The more one who shall have renounced earthly desires or possessions to become a disciple of Christ shall advance in His love, the more persons will he find who rejoice to receive Him with heartfelt affection as one of their own, and to sustain him with their own goods; being companions in his profession and life, these make it their delight who has made himself poor for Christ’s sake into their homes and lands and to cherish Him with more devoted love than ever did a wife, a parent, a brother, or a sister according to the flesh. —St. Bede
When her time of novitiate is complete, the novice prostrates before the community to ask prayers and permission to make her vows to God and before her Prioress for a period of one year, to be renewed annually.
If accepted, the novice processes into Mass on the day of her First Profession with a lit candle, just as she ended her Investiture with one. Her profession, by which she vows Obedience, Stability and Conversion of Life, is within the context of a very symbolic and very rich, traditional ceremony before the Offertory verse of the Mass.
She receives a black veil as a symbol of her death to the world. The five year period that follows is to ratify the earnestness of the Benedictine. It is a measure of prudence the Church requires as a confirmation of a genuine vocation. She continues her studies and formation during this time.
In perpetual profession, the vows become perpetually binding to Our Lord, her Divine Spouse. At this ceremony, each Sister is called by Our Lord in the person of the Bishop who holds the Church’s authority, and she clearly answers His call.
She repeats her vows and is given a gold ring, a symbol of her union with Christ and His Church as His bride. She then receives the cuculla to show her full acceptance into monastic life.
Crowned with flowers, she is given her Office book and commissioned by the Church to carry on its praise.