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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Guides: Stages of Formation

Written by Emily & Kim

When I was first interested in the religious life, I had absolutely no idea how one became a Religious (Religious with a capital R denotes the noun of being a Religious. Otherwise it just describes one's faith). Though of course every community is different, there is a significant amount of overlap in these processes so although some communities may deviate from this pattern, most will follow a process like this. I give here only an overall guide to the stages since the specifics of the responsibilities and study of religious in each stage will vary greatly between communities.

Canon Law restricts the age of those who enter the novitiate, stating that they must have reached 17 years of age. This practically limits the age of entrance to the postulancy to 16 but it is unusual for entrance to be at such a young age. Some communities who mutually decide with the discerner that it would be beneficial to the progress of one's vocation allow discerners under the age of entrance for postulancy to "live in" in before postulancy and extend aspirancy. There are communities however, who have special discernment programmes for girls and boys as young as eight years old. For more information on that, please contact Kim Lee.

Stage 0: Aspirancy
Aspirancy is more a time of exploration with a religious community rather than a stage of formation, which is why I've called it 'Stage 0' but is still important. Aspirancy refers to the period when an individual is discerning with a specific community. This is where an individual will get to know a community, visiting the community for retreats and if the community allows spending time there on a live-in. This can, in some communities be up to two years.

Stage 1: Postulancy
When someone first enters a religious community they are known as a postulant. The length of time spent as a postulant is variable, ranging by community generally from six to eighteen months. Postulants are not always referred to using a religious title at this stage (ie. Sister, Brother). For communities that wear the traditional habit, a postulant is not yet clothed in the habit. Some communities may have postulants wear regular clothes or have a specific uniform. At this stage the individual is free to leave the community at any point.

Stage 2: Novitiate
This is when the individual will become known by the appropriate religious title. If members of the community take on new religious names then this is when those begin to be used. Also, this is when the individual will be clothed in the habit (if applicable) although usually with some modification, such as a different colour of veil. The novitiate usually lasts for two years. As with postulancy, the individual is still free to choose to leave the community at any point.

Stage 3: Juniorate/Temporary Vows/Temporary Profession 
At this stage, the individual will profess vows usually for a period of three years. The individual is now bound to the community for the period of these vows. For female religious, the veil worn often changes at this stage, either to a modified version of the novice veil or the same colour as the solemnly professed. Many communities also allow for renewal of temporary vows for a year before making final vows if the individual needs more time to discern.

Stage 4: Final/Solemn Vows/Profession
The individual now takes vows that bind them to the community permanently. The individual will have spent usually between 5 and 6 years in the community by this point.

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