"Receive me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope."
- Psalm 119:116
Becoming a Cistercian nun is a gradual process which moves through a number of well-defined stages in what is called initial formation. This gives way after profession to a less well-defined movement of ongoing formation which is actually unique to each sister and continues throughout her life. Cistercians are called to continual conversion and growth as human beings and as disciples of Christ.
A young woman who experiences an attraction to our way of life is encouraged to contact the vocation director email@example.com. She will be invited to visit the monastery for a monastic weekend or individually so that we can better come to know one another. During the course of discernment, there is the possibility of a "work-in," which involves spending several days living in the guest house and working a couple of hours each day with the sisters. If it seems likely that this person may indeed be called by God to this community and way of life, then she would be invited for an "observership," which involves a stay of several weeks with the community in the enclosure, living the monastic schedule along with us. After such a period of time, the young woman would be invited to go back to her ordinary life to discern further whether God is calling her to enter as a postulant.
From the beginning, a postulant follows the ordinary routine of the monastery by praying and working alongside the sisters. But she belongs to the novitiate group, which is guided spiritually by the Novice Director and introduced by her to the Cistercian way of life and spirituality through weekly classes. The postulancy lasts for a minimum of one year and ends when she is ready to become a novice.
When she receives the Cistercian habit and her religious name, she is called "Sister." Novices continue to learn about Cistercian life through classes in Scripture, Cistercian patrimony, monastic history and the vows, among other topics. More importantly, they begin to integrate the Cistercian life in a personal and practical way through prayer, ascesis, growth in self‑knowledge and participation in the life of the community. They should continue to develop humanly and spiritually, growing in a personal relationship with Christ, and in a realistic acceptance of and love for one another. The novitiate lasts two years and at the end of this time the novice makes a petition to profess simple vows.
Sisters who have made simple or temporary vows for one year at a time are affectionately known as "juniors." At the time of their profession they move out of the novitiate and into the wider community, though they continue to receive spiritual direction and classes from the Junior Director and belong to the monasticate group. The monasticate continues and complements the work of the novitiate in a way that is less structured and which is spread over a longer period. During it, the juniors will progressively learn to act more from inner principles and move towards a fuller participation in the activities and responsibilities of the community. When she is ready, usually after three to six years in simple vows, the junior asks to make solemn profession.
Solemn Profession and Consecration
After a significant number of years living, praying and working in the community, growing in self-knowledge, in love of God and others, in continual prayer, in service and in understanding of and fidelity to one's vocation, a woman may be ready to throw in her lot with this community and way of life as a means to union with God.
"By monastic profession a sister is consecrated to God and joined with the monastic community that receives her. At this time the consecration received in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation is renewed and given vitality. The sister binds herself in faithful stability to a sincere conversion of life through ready obedience until death."
- OCSO Constitution 8
She makes profession of the three Benedictine vows:
Stability of Place
By the vow of stability within her community a sister obliges herself to make constant use of the means of the spiritual craft there, trusting in the providence of God who has called her to this place and to this group of sisters.
- OCSO Constitution 9
"By the vow of conversatio morum or fidelity to monastic life a sister who, in the simplicity of her heart, seeks God by the following of the Gospel, binds herself to the practice of Cistercian discipline. She retains nothing at all for herself, not even authority over her own body. She renounces the capacity of acquiring and possessing goods for herself. For the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, she makes profession of perfect continence and celibacy."
- OCSO Constitution 10
"By the vow of obedience a sister desiring to live under a rule and an abbess promises to fulfil all that lawful superiors command in accordance with these Constitutions. In thus renouncing her own will she follows the example of Christ who was obedient until death, and commits herself to the school of the Lord’s service."
- OCSO Constitution 11
The Cistercian Habit
"The characteristic Cistercian habit is the white cowl. Given at solemn profession it is a sign both of a nun’s consecration and of the unity of the whole Order."
- OCSO Constitution 12
The shape of the cowl signifies the cross; it also signifies being enfolded in prayer. It has no opening down the front or back which signifies final commitment. The black veil also received at solemn profession is a symbol of a woman consecrated to God.
"Lord Jesus, in your great love, you clothed yourself with humanity. May these garments, given by our Monastic Forbears to those who renounce the world, be a sign for our sister of her desire to follow you always, and may you always grant her to be clothed entirely in your ineffable mercy."
- Solemn Profession Ceremony