Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Technical Terms

It is very easy when you live or work in a specialized environment to use terms routinely and forget that they may be new to others. I was made a aware of this recently when someone enquired whether as I was a sister, as I'm writing about the journey towards profession. The answer is that I am a sister, but I haven't made a 'forever' commitment as yet. So, I'm going to define the stages of the path to the 'forever' commitment. First, I'll take the opportunity to labor that point that it takes a very long time to become a fully-fledged Benedictine sister - five years minimum. This is the sequence in our monastery:
  • Affiliate - accepted for entry to the monastery but still lives regular life in the secular world (about 6-18 months).
  • Postulant - enters monastery, lives the monastic life but works part-time in a lay or community service job; begins classes related to monastic living (9-10 months).
  • Novice - deeper level of commitment; no outside work, limited community service; intensive study of monasticism, theology, scripture. Canon law requires that the novice does not leave the monastery for the whole year of what is called the canonical novitiate, except for certain defined activities. The novitiate may be extended for a second year but with fewer restrictions.
  • First Profession - the woman makes a commitment for a defined number of years (usually three); she lives alongside perpetually professed sisters, continues to study, and also works full-time either outside or within the community. After a minimum of three years, she can ask to make perpetual profession. This is the stage I am at, coming towards the end of my third year of first profession.
  • Perpetual Profession - the first professed sister and community discern together whether perpetual commitment is where the Spirit is leading. If that seems to be the case, then the prioress (the elected spiritual leader of the monastic community) grants the first-professed sister's request for perpetual monastic profession, which means the sister promises to live the rest of her life as a member of this Benedictine community, following the Rule of Saint Benedict (more about this another time).
You may have noticed that I haven't used the word 'vow'. This is because we now use the terms 'monastic profession' or 'monastic promises' when talking about our commitment.

Well, I think that completes the crib sheet of  technical terms. Next week, I'll continue with my journey.

Sister Karen Rose, OSB 

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