Section on the Introduction into the Monastic Community.

(with modifications made by the General Chapters of 2002)

I: Postulancy, Novitiate, Profession
A) Postulancy
B) Novitiate
C) Temporary profesion
D) Solemn Profession
II: Other ways to become a member of a Community
A) Change of stability
B) Transitus from another Institute or Order
C) Readmission of someone who left the community
D) Reception of Oblates

      The usual process for becoming a full member of a community of the Order consists in being admitted as a postulant, then going through a novitiate, and making a solemn profession after a period of temporary vows.

      There are other ways of being introduced into the monastic community, such as:  changing one's stability from another monastery of the Order, transferring from another religious community or a society of apostolic life, or reentering a community that one had legitimately left.  One may also be accepted in the community as an oblate.

I: Postulancy, Novitiate, Profession

A) Postulancy

     The abbess determines with the novice director the time that the postulants spend with the sisters before canonically beginning their novitiate (St 46.1.A).  The length of this period can vary from one person to another; but a minimum period for the postulancy must be determined by each community (Ratio 28).

      If someone has an impediment that prevents her from entering the novitiate, but for which a dispensation can be obtained, such a dispensation must be obtained before starting the novitiate.  It is advisable, however, to present the request only towards the end of the postulancy, after the candidate has given serious signs of a vocation.

            Superiors are to exercise a vigilant care to admit only those who, besides being of required age, are healthy, have a suitable disposition, and have sufficient maturity to undertake the life which is proper to the Order.  If necessary, the health, disposition and maturity are to be established by experts, remembering, however, that no one may unlawfully harm the good reputation which a person enjoys, or violate the right of every person to protect her privacy (cc. 642, 220).

      Some documents must be procured before the beginning of the novitiate:

      a) proof of baptism, confirmation and free status (c. 645 § 1);

      b) in the case of or someone who has been admitted in the past to another institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life, there is further required the testimony of the major superior of the institute or society (c. 645 § 2);

      c) the superior may ask for other information, even with the obligation of secrecy (c. 645 § 4; Ratio 23).

      An indult from the Congregation for the Eastern Churches is required to admit into the novitiate someone from an Eastern Rite [1] .

      Someone who is burdened by debts that she cannot repay is not to be accepted (c. 644).

B) Novitiate

      a - Admission to the Novitiate

      It is the major superior who has the responsibility of admitting a postulant to the novitiate. She does it when, on the advice of the novice director, she judges that the postulant is ready and when the latter has expressed the desire to do so.  The superior must consult her council. (c. 641; St 38.C.a; Cst 46.1; St 48.A; Ratio 28) [2] .

      Any Catholic [3] who manifests a right intention, has the qualities required by our way of life,  is not prevented by any impediment and has a suitable preparation, can be admitted to the novitiate (c. 597 § 1 and 2; Cst 46.1; Ratio 22).

      One is invalidly admitted to the novitiate (c. 643):

1- who has not yet completed the seventeenth year of age;

2- who is a spouse, during a marriage (but a dispensation from this impediment can be obtained in some cases [4] );

3- who is presently held by a sacred bond with any institute of consecrated life or who is incorporated in any society of apostolic life (but the Code and our Constitutions foresee the possibility of a transitus -- see below);

4- who enters the institute as a result of force, grave fear or fraud, or whom the superior receives induced in the same way;

5- who has concealed her incorporation in any institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life (the hiding of the previous incorporation, and not the incorporation itself renders the novitiate invalid).

      The rite of admission is given in the Ritual of the Order (St 48.B).

      b - Duration of the Novitiate

      The novitiate in our Order lasts two years.   At the end of the novitiate the novice is to be admitted to temporary profession if judged suitable; otherwise she is to be dismissed. For pastoral reasons the abbess can prolong the novitiate for a further six months [5] (c. 653 § 2; Cst 50). (If someone is then received as an oblate, as it is being done in some cases, she must then go through all the stages foreseen by the Statute on Oblates.)

      For the novitiate to be valid a novice must spend twelve months in the novitiate (c. 648 § 1; Cst 50).  An absence of more than three months (with or without interruptions) during that period would render the novitiate invalid.  Any absence of more than 15 days must be made up (c. 649 § 1).

      In some special situations, the major superior may permit the group of novices to go for a stated period of time to another house of the Order designated by the same superior (c. 647 § 3).  This is not to be considered an absence.  Likewise, in particular cases, as an exception, by concession of the Abbot General with the consent of his Council, a candidate can make the novitiate in another house of the Order under the guidance of an approved religious who assumes the role of novice director (c. 647 § 2) [6] .

      The Abbot General, having consulted his council, can dispense from the second year of novitiate  (St 50.A).  This dispensation should not be requested without a very serious reason.  Experience shows that in most "special" situations, it is advisable  to prolong the novitiate  rather than shorten it.

      First profession can be anticipated but not by more than fifteen days (c. 649 § 2; Cst 50).

      The novice is free to leave at any time during her novitiate.  The superior can also dismiss her (c. 653 § 1).  Although no canonical process is foreseen for such a dismissal, it is assumed that the superior will act with a keen sense of justice and charity.  If the novice feels that she has been unjustly treated, she may have recourse to higher superiors, but her recourse does not suspend the application of the decision.

      c - Formation of Novices

      The formation of novices should be done according to the universal law (c. 652), to the Constitutions (Cst 49) and the Ratio of the Order.  In particular, the relationship between the superior and the novice director should be characterized by a deep unity of spirit, heart and orientation and a respect for each other's service within the community. Together they formulate a policy for the organization of the novitiate, which the abbess explains to the community (St 49.1.B).

      The novice director, appointed by the abbess, apart from the various spiritual qualities mentioned in the Rule, the Constitutions and the Ratio, must be at least 30 years old and solemnly professed in the Order for at least two years (c. 651 § 1; St 47.A; Ratio 25; RB 58.6).


C) Temporary profession

      a - Admission to Temporary Profession

      During the novitiate care is taken to discern whether the novice has grown spiritually through her participation in monastic life.  If she truly seeks God, is zealous for the Work of God, obedience and humiliations and is suited to living correctly, in solitude and silence, the community relationships that constitute Cistercian life then at the end of the novitiate she is to be admitted by the abbess to temporary profession.  This is done at her free request and with the consent of the conventual chapter (c. 653 § 2; Cst 51; St 37.B.a; Ratio 34).

      In voting for the acceptance of a novice the community does not make the "decision" to admit her, but rather gives its "consent" to the decision of the abbess to do so.  Therefore, the abbess should not present a novice to the vote of the community if she herself does not think that the novice should be accepted to profession. An absolute majority is required (St 37.B.a). After receiving the consent of the community, the abbess is still not obliged to admit the novice to profession (Cst 36.2), although some very serious reason would be required to refuse access to profession after taking the vote of the community and receiving a positive answer. Obviously, if the vote of the community is negative (and, therefore, the community does not gives its "consent"), the abbess cannot receive the novice to profession (Cst 36.2).

      The profession is made according to the Ritual of the Order (St 52.1.A).

      An official Act of the profession will be written, to be kept in the archives of the monastery.  It will be signed by the professed, the abbess, two witnesses and a Secretary or Notary.

      b - Requisites

      The following elements are required for the validity of the temporary profession (c. 656):

            - the person must have completed at least the eighteenth year of age;

            - the novitiate must have been validly completed;

            - admission must have been freely given by the abbess with the consent of the conventual chapter;

- the profession must be expressed and made without force, grave fear or fraud;

            - the profession must be received by the legitimate superior personally or through another.

      c - Material goods

      Before she makes temporary profession the sister should assign the administration of her goods to someone else and freely make arrangements regarding their use and revenues, following Cst 52.2 and the norms of canon 668 § 1-3.

      d - Duration

      The profession can be made for a period of three years, or for three periods of one year (c. 655; Cst 52.1). The abbess may prolong this time but not beyond a further six years (c. 657 § 2; Cst 52). It might be useful to note that the time in temporary vows "defined by (our) proper law" is three years.  Any extension beyond this is a permission granted "if it seems opportune" according to Canon 657 § 2. It cannot be established as a rule [7]

      e - Renewal

      When the time for which the profession has been made has elapsed, the sister who freely requests it and is judged suitable is to be admitted to a renewal of profession or to solemn profession; otherwise she is to leave (c. 657). The decision to permit or to refuse a renewal of profession, and the decision to present or not to present someone to the vote of the conventual chapter for solemn profession should be based on objective criteria and only for serious reasons. The vote of the conventual chapter with an absolute majority is required for someone to be admitted to solemn profession (St 37.B.b) [8] . To exclude a sister in temporary vows from making further profession the superior must first hear her council (c. 689 § 1; St 38.C.e; Cst 63.2). No consultation of either the conventual chapter or of the council is strictly required for admitting someone to renew his temporary vows [9] .

      Solemn profession can be anticipated for a just cause, but not by more than three months (c. 657 § 3; Cst 54).

      f - Formation

      The temporary professed can remain for some time in the novitiate or in a special part of the monastery.  The abbess is to take care that they receive whatever assistance they need, according to the monastery's resources (St 53.A).  She will be careful to see that offices and work given to the temporarily professed do not impede their formation (Cst 53).  She will make every effort to observe all the recommendations of the Ratio concerning this phase of the initial formation of the nun (Ratio 36-46).


D) Solemn profession

      At the end of the period of temporary profession, after prolonged reflection so that she might clearly perceive the significance of the action she is about to take, the sister may of her own accord present to the abbess her petition to make solemn profession [10] .  If the abbess considers her suitable then, with the consent of the conventual chapter, she is to admit her to profession (c. 657 § 1; Cst 54; St 37.B.b).

      The renunciation of any material possession must be made before solemn profession, as far as possible in a form that is valid in civil law, to take effect from the day of profession.  Whatever comes to the professed after her profession belongs to the monastery (c. 668 § 4-5; Cst 55).

      For the solemn profession to be valid, apart from the conditions already mentioned in the case of the temporary profession, the following conditions are required (c. 658):

- the completion of at least the twenty-first year of age;

- previous temporary profession for at least three years, taking into account the possibility of anticipating the profession by three months for a just cause (c. 657 § 3).

      The benediction of the nun is found in the Ritual of the Order (St 56.1.A). The formula of profession is found in Cst 56.3.

      The abbess is to notify the pastor of the parish in which the newly professed was baptized that the solemn profession has taken place (St 56.1.B.)


II: Other ways to become a member of a Community

A) Change of stability

      A professed nun may become a member of a community by changing her stability from another community of the Order.  To do so a grave cause is required, as well as the consent of the abbesses of the two communities implied, and also the consent of the conventual chapter of the monastery that receives her, with a two-thirds majority (c. 684 § 3; St 37.A.a) [11]  In the case of a solemnly professed nun, at least a year's probation in the new monastery is required before consent is sought from the conventual chapter. This consent is not required, however, in the case of a nun who had changed her stability to a foundation when this became autonomous and later returns to the monastery of her profession. She needs the consent of the two superiors, however (Cst 60; Stat. on found. 17.f).

      The change of stability is marked by a suitable liturgical ceremony (St 60.A), but the profession is not repeated.

         In the case of a temporary professed, when the vows are to expire they will have to be renewed, but this time for the new community. This renewal of vows by the can-didate is made with the consent of the conventual chapter. An absolute majority is needed. A probationary period of at least three years in the new monastery is required, at the end of which the abbess, if she considers her suitable, with the consent of the conventual chapter, admits her to solemn profession.

      When someone becomes abbess or titular prioress of a sui iuris monastery her stability is automatically changed to this new monastery.  When she ceases to be abbess or prioress of this monastery, she may resume her first stability within two months (St 40.C).  No vote of the community or permission of the superiors of either community  is required.

B) Transitus from another Institute or Order

      Canon law does not envisage the transfer (or transitus) of someone in temporary vows from one Institute to another [12] .  A religious having temporary vows in another institute and wishing to enter one of our monasteries before the end of her vows must obtain a dispensation from these.  Another possibility is for her to obtain from her superiors a leave of absence, in order to be able to live in the monastery.  She cannot, however, begin her canonical novitiate as long as she is still bound to her first institute, that is before the end of the period for which she has made temporary vows.

      A religious in perpetual vows coming from another institute to enter our Order will first obtain a leave of absence from her institute and will live in the community for at least six months (St 46.2.A). She will then need the authorizations of her Supreme Moderator and of our Abbot General, each with the consent of her or his council to transfer to our Order.  She will be admitted to a period of probation of at least three years, at least two of which are to be spent with those in formation. The time of probation can be prolonged by the abbess for another three years.  After which she can be admitted to solemn profession  (c. 684 § 1; Cst 46.2; St 46.2.A). 

      It is important to remember that the three-year period of probation cannot be validly begun before the permission of the two Superiors General has been obtained. (It is not rare that people think of asking for the permission at the end of that period!...).  On the other hand, our Constitutions require that the religious spend at least six months in the community before asking for such permission, or at least before beginning the official period of probation (St 46.2.A).  In order to make this first six months of trial in the community, the religious needs a permission from her major superior.  This should not be confused with the permission to transfer from one institute to another, which must be given by the Superior General and which must be obtained first, before asking for the permission of our Abbot General.

      Until her profession in our Order, the rights and obligations of this religious in her previous institute are suspended, but her vows remain.  From the beginning of probation, she is bound to observe the laws of our Order.  By her profession in our Order, she is incorporated into it and her earlier vows, rights and obligations cease (c. 685 § 1-2).

      One should be aware of the fact that all that is said in this section applies to someone coming from another religious institute.  In the case of someone coming from a secular institute or from a society of apostolic life (v.g. Daughters of Charity) a permission of the Holy See is required and its instructions are to be followed (c. 684 § 5).

C) Readmission of someone who left the community

      One who has legitimately left the monastery at the end of the novitiate or after temporary or solemn profession can be readmitted by the abbess with the consent of her council (with an absolute majority), without the obligation of repeating the novitiate (c. 690 § 2; Cst 66; St 38.B.a). 

      This applies to:

- those who freely decided to leave after finishing their novitiate, with or without prolongation (c. 653 § 1);

- those who, at the end of their novitiate, with or without prolongation, were not accepted to profession because they were not judged ready (c. 653 § 2);

- those who freely left at the end of their temporary vows (c. 688 § 1);

- those who left with an indult during their temporary vows (c. 688 § 2);

- those who, at the end of their temporary vows, were not admitted to renew them or were not admitted to solemn profession, because they were not judged ready at that time (c. 689);

      - Those who left with an indult after solemn profession [13] .

      This does not apply to:

- those who for any reason did not finish their novitiate;

      - those who were expelled according to canons 694 ff.


      The sister who is readmitted in this way must obviously make a new probation before being admitted to profession.  The form and the duration of that probation is determined by the abbess with the consent of her council (St. 38.B.a; St 66.A).  This person will not be admitted to solemn profession without having spent the usual minimum of three years of temporary vows, counting both the period spent in vows before departing, and the period in vows after returning [14] . (Of course, this is a minimum; pastoral prudence will usually require a much longer period in temporary vows.)  The usual vote of the conventual chapter will be required before solemn profession.

      Everything said in this section can apply only to someone returning to the same monastery of which she has been a novice or a professed member before.   Nevertheless,  the Abbot General has the authority given to him by Canon Law (c. 690 § 1) to permit -- with the consent of his council --  a former nun of a monastery of the Order to be reaccepted in another monastery of the Order.

D) Reception of Oblates

      Someone can be received in a community of the Order as oblate (Cst 6).

      In this case the abbess will follow the Statute on Oblates approved by the General Chapter of 1987. That Statute indicates the various stages of probation and which consultation or consent of the council or of the conventual chapter is required at each stage.


Canon 643      "One is invalidly admitted to the novitiate... who is a spouse, during a marriage

      A dispensation from that impediment can be obtained from the Holy See.  In the presentation of the case the following documentation is necessary:

      1. A "curriculum vitae" including especially any element which might explain better why a married person (that is, someone who has already been called to a special vocation in life, that is, the married life) should wish to enter the religious life.

      2. Statement about the children, if any, of this marriage, their age, condition (whether handicapped, etc). There is no question of getting their consent if they are majors.   If they are minors the necessary dispositions concerning them must have been taken.

      3. Request of the candidate herself (Oratrix) explaining why she wishes to enter religion.

      4. The opinion, with motives and reasons, (parere motivato) of the  abbess of the monastery where the candidate wants to enter, with the opinion of her council.

      5. Legal separation, whether this is by divorce or by mutual consent but testified by a civil act.

      6. Canonical separation given by the Bishop (of the diocese where the spouses lived), according to Canon 1153 § 1.

      This is the most difficult part to understand. But the Congregation insists on this document. It is a question of an administrative declaration of an already existing separation, and not of a judiciary decree. The superior may explain this to the Bishop when requesting this document.

      7. Declaration of the spouse, over and beyond the decree of divorce, in which he expresses  that he willingly (although perhaps not happily) gives the necessary consent to his spouse entering religious life, and in which he also states that he will not demand something: either money, or other rights incompatible with the religious state.  This declaration is not considered absolutely necessary, in the sense that if the other party unreasonably refuses this consent it should be explained in the presentation made to the Holy See.

      8. There should be some guaranties that there are no economic problems: that is, the other party is not being left destitute, and there are no unresolved debts, etc. which would make religious formation difficult.

      It has been the practice of the Holy See thus far to grant this indult much more easily if the other party has after the civil divorce entered into another marriage (attempted). The reason is that it is considered that the other party has lost her rights over her first spouse by this apparent act of adultery.

      In the case where the other party refuses to consider either a civil divorce or a canonical separation, the case is much more difficult to obtain and only the Holy Father personally will grant such an indult.

[1] The new Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church has not maintained the need of a permission from the Holy See to receive someone from another Rite; but the new Code for the Eastern Churches has maintained this obligation.  Therefore it is the postulant from an Eastern rite who needs an indult in order to join a monastery of the Latin Rite.

[2] Since c. 641 mentions the reception of novices as a right of the Major Superior, the Superior ad nutum or the Superior of a foundation does it as a delegate of the Father Immediate or of the founding abbess. In the case of a foundation the right to vote belongs to the solemnly professed nuns of the foundation (Stat. on Found. 14).

[3] A Non-Catholic may share the life of the community, except the Eucharist. She may be admitted to pronounce vows which, however, remain private vows.  She cannot be "canonically" a member of the community, and, therefore, cannot take part in the votes that are required by the Constitutions.

[4] See in Appendix the list of documents required when requesting a dispensation from that impediment.  There is no impediment in the case of someone whose marriage has been declared invalid by the Church, or in the case of a Catholic who was not married in the Church.

[5] At the end of the two years of novitiate, the novice who is judged suitable must  be received to profession (c. 653. § 2).  The superior can use the faculty to prolong the novitiate only if there is "a doubt about the novice's suitability". Therefore, a superior or a community cannot establish as a rule that all the novices will do two and a half years of novitiate. The discernment must be done in each particular case.

[6] This could be a house that does not have a novitiate yet. This is not foreseen in our Constitutions; but, according to the Congregation for Religious, nothing would prevent the Abbot General, as an exception, to use this power that is given to him by Canon Law (c. 657; Cf. Cst 82.2).

[7] This may require an explanation.  According to c. 655 the time established by the proper law for temporary profession must be at least three years and at most six years.  In our Order we have chosen three years (Cst 52.1, first part). At the end of this period, if the candidate is judged "suitable" (idoneus), she must be accepted to solemn profession (c. 657.1).  If it seems opportune, the superior has the faculty (c. 657.2; Cst 52.1, second part) to prolong the period of temporary profession, but in such a way that the entire time in which the member is bound by temporary vows does not exceed nine years.  This discernment must be made in each case; a community cannot establish as a rule that all the members will make six years of temporary vows.  In other words, the young professed, after her three years of temporary vows has the right to make solemn profession unless she, personally, is not yet considered idoneus.  This interpretation of c. 657 is that followed by the Congregation for Religious in the approval and interpretation of Constitutions.

[8] What is said above about the meaning of the community vote for the acceptance to first profession is obviously valid also in the case of the vote for solemn profession.

[9] When a nun has arrived at the end of the period for which she made her vows and, for reasons of timing, the following profession needs to be postponed, she must renew her temporary vows for a duration covering this waiting period.

[10] It is erroneously said at times that "solemn" vows do not exist any more in the new Code.  On the contrary, they are mentioned in c. 1192 § 2, and their effects are mentioned (e.g. in c. 668 § 5).

[11]   There has been a great deal of discussion among canonists as to whether canon 684 § applied only to nuns in perpetual vows or also to temporary professed.  The Commission for the Interpretation of the Code has decided that it may apply to both groups [April 29, 1987; AAS 79 (1987), p. 1249].

[12] Whether c. 684 § 1 can be applied to a religious in temporary vows is discussed among canonists; but, in any case, our Constitutions mention only the transitus of religious in perpetual vows.

[13] Some canonists think that c. 690 can be applied only to those who left after the novitiate and those who left during or after temporary profession. Others think that it can also be applied to those who left after solemn profession. It is legitimate to follow the latter interpretation in practice.

[14] Some canonists thought that the sister who has been readmitted in this way must do at least three years of temporary vows after her readmission.  The other position, expressed here, is generally accepted nowadays.