Stages in formation differ from one institute to another; there are even variations among Dominican monasteries. The following describes the course followed by a young woman here at Marbury.
After writing back and forth and visiting the community a few times, a young woman may feel sure that this is where God wants her to try her vocation. It is at this stage that she applies to come for an aspirancy, completing all the paperwork that will be required to enter the monastery.
The aspirancy itself is a 3-4 week stay inside the enclosure. Living in the Novitiate, joining in the Novitiate classes, and participating in the prayer and common life of the community helps the aspirant to make an initial evaluation of this vocation, while also allowing the community to get to know her better. At the end of this time the aspirant returns home. If the aspirancy has confirmed her vocation so far, she formally requests to enter the monastery as a postulant. Once she receives her letter of acceptance, she settles her business in the world in order to try her vocation as a Dominican nun. If she perseveres in this way of life, her entrance to the postulancy will be her definitive departure from the world.
The Postulancy and Novitiate
Formation proper begins with the postulancy, which lasts for about a year. During this time the postulant lives in the novitiate and participates in the novitiate schedule. She begins to “let go” of the attitude of the outside world as she gradually learns and interiorizes the practices of the monastic life.
The next step in formation is the novitiate, which begins when the postulant receives the Dominican habit and her new religious name. During her two years as a novice, the young woman continues to grow in her Dominican vocation especially through attentiveness to God’s presence, willingness to learn from the Novice Mistress, and charity and self-sacrifice in daily life.
For all the Sisters in formation, the monastic community forms a school of charity, in which all strive to learn from Christ our Lord and His holy Mother. In addition, regular novitiate classes in Dominican monastic life, Sacred Scripture, liturgy, Church history, the history of spirituality and of the Order, and dogmatic and moral theology provide a firm basis for the Sisters’ contemplative vocation.
This time of formation is also a time of discernment. As a young woman learns and lives our way of life, it becomes clear whether or not she is able to flourish and be at peace in this vocation. A postulant or novice is always free to return to life in the world, as is a simply professed Sister at the expiration of her three-year vows. What is important is to seek and do God’s will, whatever it may be.
At the end of the two years novitiate, the novice makes her temporary profession of vows for three years. By this profession the Sister is implanted and rooted is the monastic life so that she may prepare for her total consecration to Christ in the Dominican Order. She receives the black veil, but continues to live in the novitiate under the direction of the Novice Mistress. At the beginning of the third year in simple vows, the simply professed Sister is integrated into the community of professed nuns and receives greater community responsibilities as preparation for Solemn Profession and life as a professed nun.
By Solemn Profession the nun is totally consecrated to God in the Order until death. Having completed her initial formation, she becomes a member of the monastery Chapter, is given official charges, and has a voice in the governance of the community. Life-long formation continues through personal study, community classes, the support of her Prioress and Sisters, and constant attentiveness to grace. Monastic life is a call to continually deeper conversion to the Lord, bearing fruit not only for the nun herself but also for the whole world. Persevering in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Dominican nun ardently longs for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so that with unveiled face she may reflect the glory of the Lord, her Spouse, and be transformed into His image from splendor to splendor by the Spirit of the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).
See also . . .
Follow the course of formation with our fictional postulant Sister Melanie’s Vocation Letters.
If you are interested in Dominican monastic life in our community and would like personal advice in your discernment and preparation, please feel free to contact our Vocation Directress.