How to Be a Nun

A very common question for a young woman discerning her vocation is "How do I become a nun?"  This question of how to be a nun can be answered on many different levels. 

There is of course, first the process of discernment which you can read about on these pages: Vocations and Belonging to Christ.  But what happens after a young woman decides to enter a particular community?  Here is the formation process for our community-- the process, if you will of becoming a nun.

It all begins with a knock on the cloister door...

At the beginning of Vespers for the date chosen for her entrance, the young woman approaches the closed doors that lead into the cloister and knocks.  Two nuns open the double doors and the young woman is greeted by Mother Abbess with all the community members lined up behind her.  Mother presents the question to the woman, "What do you ask?".  The young woman responds "To try my vocation as a Benedictine in this Abbey" (a response written out and given to her before the ceremony!)

Thus begins the first period of novitiate, Candidacy.  A young woman is a candidate for the next 2-3 months.

Benedictine Postulant with Rule

 

Postulant

After the initial period of Candidacy, she is then received as a postulant.  At the ceremony initiating this period, she the postulant veil and the Rule of St. Benedict.  This stage lasts for about 9 months. 

During the candidacy and postulancy, a woman studies our Benedictine rule, traditions, and ways of prayer as she lives the community life.  This is a period of discernment on the part of the individual and the community.  We attempt to discover together whether the person seems genuinely called to be a nun in our monastery. 

 

Novice

At the end of the postulancy, the young woman may be received as a novice.  A novice receives the habit of St. Benedict and also the title of "Sister".  She is a novice for about two years.  The novitiate is a period of more intense discernment and preparation for vows to become a nun. 

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 Before donning the habit, Mother Abbess cuts the hair of the newly received novice and prays: "O God, you called us to turn away from the vanities of the world, its desires, cares and ambitions.  We beseech you, be gracious to your handmaid, who for the sake of your love, lays down the adornment of her head."  Each piece of the habit has a special significance.  The belt is symbolic of obedience and purity of heart.  The scapular is a sign of the yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ, which a nun willingly accepts on her shoulders.  "O God, you made us aware that our hearts cannot be satisfied with earthly goods, and cannot find peace except in you. "  ~Final blessing of novices at Clothing Ceremony

 

 

Temporary Vows

At the end of the novitiate,  with the approval of the community, the novice makes her first monastic vows of obedience, stability, and fidelity to the monastic life, for a period of three years, during which she continues her formation education and community life.  The sister in temporary vows receives a new (religious) name, a full length scapular, and a black veil.

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 Mother first examines the intention of the novice:

My dear sister, by water and the Holy Spirit you have  already been consecrated to God's service.  Are you resolved to unite yourself more closely to him by the new bond of monastic profession?

The Novice then reads the formula of her vows before the Abbess and all assembled.  After professing their vows, the novices invoke the help of God singing, with hands raised in supplication, "Uphold me, O Lord, according to your word and I shall live, and let me not be confounded in my expectation."
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 She is then presented the full length scapular: "Receive the yoke of the Lord and carry his burden which is sweet and light."  Upon presenting the novice the black veil, the Abbess says, "Receive, Sister, the veil of your holy profession.  May it lead you to true humility and meekness, so that you may deserve everlasting life."  

 

 

Solemn Vows!

At the end of what amounts to 6-7 years of formation, the sister may at last make her solemn (or final) vows.  These vows bind her to the monastic community for the rest of her life.  She is now considered a "Spouse of Christ" and is consecrated by a bishop to belong to Christ alone.

For pictures of a solemn profession ceremony click here.