With the reception of three young men into the monastery’s novitiate last Wednesday and the Solemn Profession of Bro. John Paul, OSB the following day, we have received several questions related to the various stages of becoming a monk, what we refer to as the period of monastic formation. Below in capsule form is a brief description of the various stages. (For a more narrative exposition of these stages please see the Abbey’s website page on becoming a monk.)
Observer: informal initial residence with the community for about four to six weeks. The observer continues to wear lay clothing.
Postulant: a more formal six month residence with the community, to discern one’s vocation and to prepare for novitiate. The postulant wears lay clothing.
Novice: The novitiate lasts one year and one day. It is an intense year of education and work in the monastery, to discern whether one is ready to profess vows as a monk. The novice wears a simple black tunic with a cloth belt. At the beginning of the novitiate, the novice would be given a monastic name by the Abbot, and would be called from then on (for example) Brother Xavier.
Simple Vows: At the end of the novitiate, a novice can petition the monastic community to be accepted for temporary vows as a monk. The initial period lasts three years. The monk in temporary vows (or more simply, the junior monk) will wear in addition to the tunic, a scapular and hood, and wear a cloth belt instead of a leather one. Once in simple vows, the monk may add the initials O.S.B. to his name (that is, Order of Saint Benedict).
Solemn Vows: At the end of three years, the junior monk may petition the community to be accepted for solemn vows, which would constitute a permanent commitment to live the monastic vowed life here at Saint Anselm Abbey. At this time, the solemnly professed monk (or, senior monk) would become a voting member of the Abbey’s Chapter. Thus, in addition to being referred to as a solemnly professed monk or senior monk, he may be referred to as a capitular, that is a member of the Chapter. The solemnly professed monk essentially retains the same monastic habit he had as a junior, but would now wear a cloth belt. At the ceremony for solemn profession, he would also receive the cuculla, a choir robe that he would wear at certain solemn liturgies and other occasions (such as the college’s Commencement exercises).
For a more detailed description of the various components of the monastic habit, please see the Portraits story on Good Habits available online.