The new documents issued recently by the Holy See (“Vultum Dei Querere” and “Cor Orans”) have asked for changes in the Formation process of Cloistered Contemplative Nuns. These directives apply equally to all Discalced Carmelite Nuns whether of the 1990 or 1991 Constitutions. As daughters of Our Holy Mother, we are also “daughters of the Church” and willingly receive these new instructions with docility, humility and confident abandonment.
We are inspired by the words of our Father General, Very Rev. Fr. Saverio Cannistra, O.C.D.:
“For all the Nuns, therefore, ‘it is time to walk’, to undertake with energy and hope this new stage in their history with the will to learn and to be formed.”
With all this in mind, we begin again to “Seek the Face of God” through our revised formation program.
“Initial formation is the privileged time in which the Sisters who are candidates for the contemplative monastic life, with a special accompaniment of the formator and the community, are initiated in the sequela of Christ, according to a particular charism, progressively assuming and integrating their particular personal gifts with the authentic and characteristic values of their vocation.” Cor Orans 250
“Keeping in mind that the person is built very slowly, and that formation must be attentive to root in the heart ‘the attitudes of Christ toward the Father’ and the proper human, Christian and charismatic values, ‘ample time must be reserved for initial formation’, ‘no less than nine years and not more than twelve’.” Cor Orans 253
Aspirancy: (1-2 years)
see Cor Orans 262-268
The Aspirancy, considered as a first knowledge of the monastery by the candidate and the candidate by the monastic community, involves a series of contacts and times of community experience, even prolonged. This knowledge will also be useful to fill any gaps on the path of human and religious formation at this stage.
The Lord Jesus taught that whoever undertakes an important action must first carefully consider whether there ‘is enough for its completion’. For this reason, those who think of beginning the journey of contemplative life must spend a certain time in reflection regarding their real ability and to first make a personal verification of the authenticity of their call to the contemplative monastic life.
Having “enough” means possessing natural and psychological gifts, normal openness to others, psychic balance, a spirit of faith, and a firm will that make it possible to spend life in community, in continence, in obedience, in poverty, and in the cloister.
Postulancy: (1-2 years)
see Cor Orans 269-276
The Postulancy is a necessary stage for proper preparation for the Novitiate, during which the candidate confirms her determination to be converted through a progressive passage from secular life to contemplative, monastic and Carmelite life. This stage offers a more direct and concrete experience of community life according to the Discalced Carmelite charism since it is lived entirely within the enclosure of the monastery with the Community.
The Postulant will be entrusted to the Novice Mistress who will help her to look within herself and will gradually introduce her to the fundamental elements of our life: liturgical and private prayer, silence, solitude, manual labor as well as community life and recreation. During this time, the Postulant will be especially dedicated to her human and spiritual formation and endeavor to deepen her baptismal commitment.
Novitiate: (2 years)
see Cor Orans 277-284
The Novitiate begins with the reception of the Carmelite Habit, the Holy Habit of Our Lady, with a white veil as well as a new Religious name. This time as a Novice lasts two years, the second being the canonical year.
The Novitiate is the time when the Novice begins her life in Carmel; her vocational discernment continues as well as the deepening of her own decision to follow Jesus Christ in the Church and in today’s world, according to the Carmelite charism. It is also the time of trial, and its objective is to lead the candidate to become more fully aware of the vocation of a Carmelite Nun, verifying the real and concrete ability to live it with joy and generosity, particularly in reference to fraternal life in community.
The Novice must first of all deepen her friendship with Christ because without this she will never be able to assume and keep the promises of donation to Him and desire to grow in the knowledge of the Carmelite charism that she is called to live, questioning herself if she wants to share her existence in a fraternal life in common with the Sisters. This is obtained through the practice of prolonged lectio divina, guided by the writings of the Fathers of the Church and our holy Founders and Saints, a strong sacramental life and personal prayer.
Personal prayer finds its outlet in communal liturgical prayer of Holy Mass and the Divine Office, to which the Novice must devote all her best energies. In this atmosphere of love for Christ and prayer, the Novice opens herself to the Sisters, loves them cordially, and lives with them in fraternity. She is also guided to cultivate an authentic devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, model and Patroness of every consecrated life and to take her as an example of a consecrated woman.
Juniorate: (approx. 5 yrs.)
see Cor Orans 285-289
After the Novitiate, the Novice will make her profession of the Vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience for 3 years and then renew her profession annually up to the completion of 5 years, until the required minimum of 9 years of initial formation is completed. The newly Professed continues to wear the white veil but receives a Profession Crucifix which is worn beneath the Scapular.
During this “juniorate”, the young Professed further develops what began in the Novitiate and continues, under the Mistress, her human, spiritual, doctrinal and practical Carmelite formation. She will gradually become more fully integrated into community life and prepare for the definitive consecration of Solemn Vows for life.
After these years in intense formation, if the Chapter decides, the Sister may be admitted to the Solemn Profession of Vows. Here, in a solemn and beautiful public celebration, the profession of the Vows is made for life, the black veil replaces the white one and the newly Professed becomes a full member of the community, involved in all the aspects of the community life.
From this point, ongoing formation begins, which is a process of continuous conversion of the heart, “an intrinsic requirement of religious consecration“, and the need for creative fidelity to one’s own vocation. It leads to configuration to His Majesty and the assimilation of His feelings in His total oblation to the Father.
Ongoing formation cultivates the spiritual, doctrinal and practical capacities of the Sisters, and the maturation of the contemplative so that she can carry out her service to the monastery, to the Church and to the world in an ever more appropriate manner, according to the Discalced Carmelite charism and the indications of the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Querere.
“Fix your eyes always on the ancestry from which we come, those holy prophets. How many saints we have in Heaven who have worn this Habit! Let us adopt the holy presumption that with the Lord’s help we will be like them.” Our Holy Mother Saint Teresa of Jesus