The Journey from Moving In to Becoming a Solemnly-Professed Monk
There are several stages in the monastic life between turning up with your suitcase and becoming a lifelong member of the community. This process is to ensure you do not make a commitment until you (and we) are convinced that this is where God wants you to be.
When you first move in (see Discerning a Monastic Vocation) you will be a postulant. This is from the Latin for ‘asking’ and means you are asking to become a monk. Although you will be given a form of habit to wear, strictly speaking you are not yet a monk. As a postulant you will join in the monastic liturgies and do some work. You will also have regular meetings with the vocations director. These could include some bits of study.
Postulancy can last for anything from a few weeks to a year. Usually, it will be a few months. When you and the vocations director think you are ready, you can apply to become a novice. As with applying to move in to the monastery, this has to be approved by the Chapter. (Chapter is the name for the monastic community meeting to decide on matters affecting the monastery.)
The novitiate lasts for one year. During this time you will wear the full monastic clothing of habit, belt, scapular, and hood. The only thing you will not have is the cowl. The ceremony in which you become a novice is called Clothing and it usually takes place in our house chapel. If you are being given a new name, you are told it at your clothing.
At this stage you will have a mixture of prayer, work, and study. You will study the Rule of St Benedict, the Constitutions of the English Benedictine Congregation, and other aspects of monastic life, including the history of monasticism and some aspects of the prayer life. There is likely to be some basic study of liturgy and Catholic faith. Also, you will probably study some Latin. Studies are tailored to the individual so you will not repeat things you have previously learned.
During the novitiate, you will have 3 ‘perseverances’. Perseverance is a short ceremony where the abbot asks the novice what he wants. The novice replies, ‘Perseverance.’ This means that the novice is asking for permission to continue in his attemps to become a monk. Although the ceremony is very brief, it always feel significant because it is marking another stage completed in the novitiate.
At the end of the novitiate, the novice writes to the abbot and asks to make Simple Profession.
Simple Profession and the Juniorate
As with applying for postulancy and the novitiate, Chapter votes to allow you to make simple (or temporary) profession. Although this is a temporary profession for three years, by this stage you should have some feeling that this monastery is where you will stay for the rest of your life.
The Profession takes place during the Conventual Mass in the Abbey Church and you promise stability, conversatio morum, and obedience for three years. This is also when you receive the cowl, the final piece of monastic clothing. You are now a junior monk. Although you do not have voting rights in Chapter, you start to play a greater role in the life of the monastery.
Your studies will include more philosophy, theology, and Scripture, as well as more of the classic monastic texts. After the first year as a junior, you might be sent away for further studies, particularly if you are selected for the priesthood. It is important to remember that priesthood studies are in addition to, not instead of, your formation as a monk.
After three years, you can apply to make Solemn Profession. It is possible to extend Simple Profession for up to three more years if there is a good reason. Once again, your application for Solemn Profession needs to be approved by the Chapter.
Solemn Profession also takes place at a Conventual Mass. It is your final commitment to life in the monastery. Before you can make you final vows you have to renounce all rights to property. As a monk, you own nothing, although you have the use of things you need. You now also have voting rights in Chapter.
Monastic formation does not stop with Solemn Profession. Everybody continues to develop as a human and as a monk. Additionally, there should be ongoing intellectual development. Even monks who are no longer engaged in formal studies continue to study informally, whether Scripture, monastic life, liturgy, art, or other relevant subjects. There may also be more formal studies directly related to the monk’s role in the monastery.
If you are studying for the priesthood, your Solemn Profession will take place while you are part way through these studies. You will then continue with your studies, which will lead to being ordained deacon and then priest.