THE NOVITIATE AND FIRST PROFESSION
45. “The novitiate, by which life in the institute begins, is ordered to this, that the novices better recognize their divine vocation and one which is, moreover, proper to the institute; that they experience the institute’s manner of living; that they be formed in mind and heart by its spirit; and that their intention and suitability be tested.”
Taking into account the diversity of charisms and institutes, the end of the novitiate could be defined, in other words, as a time of integral initiation into the form of life which the Son of God embraced and which he proposes to us in the Gospel under one or another aspect of his service, or one or another of his mysteries.
46. “The novices are to be led to cultivate human and Christian virtues; they are to be introduced to a fuller way of perfection by prayer and self-denial; they are to be instructed to contemplate the mystery of salvation, and to read and meditate on the Sacred Scriptures; they are to be prepared to cultivate the worship of God in the sacred liturgy; they are to be trained in a way of life consecrated by the evangelical counsels to God and humankind in Christ; they are to be educated about the character and spirit, purpose and discipline, history and life of their institute, and they are to be imbued with a love for the Church and its sacred pastors.”
47. As a consequence of this general law, the total initiation which characterizes the novitiate goes far beyond that of simple instruction. It is:
- – an initiation into a profound and living knowledge of Christ and of his Father. This presupposes a meditative study of Scripture, the celebration of the liturgy according to the spirit and character of the institute, an initiation into personal prayer, so that its practice becomes habitual, and a relish for the great authors of the Church’s spiritual tradition, without being limited to spiritual reading of a modern cast;
- – an initiation into the Paschal mystery of Christ through detachment from self, especially in the practice of the evangelical counsels according to the spirit of the institute, an evangelical asceticism joyfully undertaken, and a courageous acceptance of the mystery of the cross.
- – an initiation into a fraternal, evangelical life. It is, in effect, within a community that faith is deepened and becomes communion, and that charity finds its numerous manifestations in the concrete routine of daily life.
- – an initiation into the history, particular mission, and spirituality of the institute. Here, for institutes dedicated to the apostolate, there enters the fact that: “to complete the formation of the novices, in addition to the time mentioned in n. 1 (that is, the twelve months to be passed within the novitiate community itself) the constitutions can determine one or several periods of apostolic exercises to be spent outside the novitiate community.”
These periods have the purpose of teaching the novices to “realize in their lives, in progressive stages, that cohesive unity whereby contemplation and apostolic activity are closely linked together, a unity which is one of the most fundamental and primary values of these same societies.”
The arrangement of these periods should take into account the twelve months to be passed within the novitiate community itself, during which the novices will not be occupied with studies and duties which do not directly serve this formation.”
It is not advisable that the novitiate be conducted within a milieu foreign to the culture and native language of the novices. Small novitiates are actually better, provided that they are rooted in this culture. The essential reason for this is to avoid a multiplication of problems during a period of formation in which the fundamental equilibrium of a person should be established and when the relationship between the novices and the director of novices should be comfortable, enabling them to speak to each other with all the nuances required at the outset of an intensive spiritual journey. Further, a transfer into another culture at this particular moment involves the risk of accepting false vocations and of not perceiving what may be false motivations.
PROFESSIONAL WORK DURING THE COURSE OF THE NOVITIATE
48. It is worth mentioning here the question of professional work during the course of the novitiate. In a number of industrialized countries, for motives which are at times justified by an apostolic intention, and which may also be in keeping with the social legislation of these countries, candidates who are receiving a salary only ask their employer for a one-year leave of absence “for personal convenience,” at the time of their entrance into the novitiate. This enables them to regain their employment if they should return to the world, and they do not, as a consequence, run the risk of becoming unemployed. At times this also leads to the resumption of their professional work during the second year of the novitiate under the guise of apostolic activities.
We believe that the following principle should be stated in this regard. In institutes which have two years of novitiate, the novices can exercise their profession full time only under the following conditions:
- – that this work effectively corresponds to the apostolic finality of the institute;
- – that it is assumed in the second year of the novitiate;
- – that it corresponds to the exigencies of can. 648.2, namely, that it contributes to perfecting the formation of the novices for life in the institute, and that it is truly an apostolic activity.
SOME CONDITIONS TO BE OBSERVED
49. The canonical conditions for licit and valid admission on the part of both the candidate and the competent authority must be rigorously observed. Conformity with these regulations can avoid many future difficulties. With respect to candidates for the diaconate or priesthood, special care should be taken at this time so that no irregularity later affects the reception of Holy Orders -it being understood that major superiors of clerical institutes of pontifical right can dispense from irregularities not reserved to the Holy See.
It should also be remembered that superiors must consult the proper ordinary and ask for testimony from him before admitting a secular cleric into the novitiate (can. 644 and 645.2).
50. The circumstances of time and place necessary for the fulfillment of the novitiate are indicated by law. Its flexibility should also be kept in mind, always remembering, however, that prudence can advise what the law does not impose. Major superiors, and those responsible for formation, should know that current circumstances, now more than ever, require conditions of stability sufficient to enable the novices to grow and advance in spirit in a profound and peaceful way. This is all the more important because of the fact that many candidates have already had experience of life in the world. Novices actually have a need of being trained in the practice of prolonged prayer, of solitude, and of silence. For all this, the element of time plays a determining role. They can have a greater need “to withdraw” from the world than “to go” to the world, and this need is not merely subjective. This is why the time and place of the novitiate will be organized so that the novices can find an atmosphere that is favorable to becoming deeply rooted in a life with Christ. But this is only achieved by becoming detached from oneself, from all that which opposes God in the world, and even from those goods of the world “that undoubtedly deserve to be highly valued.” As a consequence, making the novitiate in an inserted community is completely discouraged. As was stated above (n. 28), the demands of formation must take precedence over certain apostolic advantages of insertion in a poor milieu.
51. Not all the novices enter the novitiate at the same level of human and Christian culture. It will therefore be necessary to pay very close attention to each individual so that each advances at his or her own pace, and so that the content of formation and the way it is communicated, are suitable to the one receiving it.
THE DIRECTORS OF NOVICES AND THEIR COLLABORATORS
52. The care of the novices is reserved solely to the director of novices under the authority of the major superiors. He or she must be free from all other obligations that would impede the complete fulfillment of the role as educator. If he or she has collaborators, these depend upon the director in what concerns the program of formation and the conduct of the novitiate. Together with the director, they have an important role in discernment and decision.
When secular priests or other religious from outside the novitiate, and even laymen or laywomen, are brought into the novitiate, either for teaching or for the sacrament of reconciliation, they work in close collaboration with the director of novices, each keeping complete discretion.
The director of novices is the spiritual guide appointed for this purpose for each and all of the novices. The novitiate is the place of the director’s ministry, and he or she should thus be permanently available to the novices. The director will be able to fulfill this task readily only if the novices are entirely free and open in his or her regard. Nevertheless, in clerical institutes, neither the director nor his assistant may hear the sacramental confessions of the novices unless, in particular instances, they spontaneously ask him to do so.
Finally, directors of novices should remember that psycho-pedagogical means by themselves cannot substitute for an authentic spiritual direction.
53. “Conscious of their own responsibility, the novices are to collaborate actively with their director so that they may faithfully respond to the grace of a divine vocation.” And, “members of the institute are to take care that on their part they cooperate in the work of training novices by the example of their life and by prayer.”
54. During the course of a liturgical celebration, the Church, through the competent superiors, receives the vows of those who make their profession, and associates their offering with the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Ordo professionis gives the outline of this celebration, but it also leaves room for the legitimate traditions of the respective institutes. This liturgical action manifests the ecclesial roots of profession. Beginning from the mystery celebrated in this way, it will be possible to develop a more vital and profound appreciation of consecration.
During the novitiate, both the excellence and the possibility of a perpetual commitment in the service of the Lord will be brought out. “The quality of a person can be judged by the nature of his bonds. Consequently, one can joyfully say that your freedom is freely attached to God by a voluntary service, a loving servitude. And, as a consequence of this your humanity attains its maturity. ‘Extended humanity,’ as I have written in the encyclical Redemptor hominis, means the full use of the gift of freedom which we have received from the Creator when he called man, made to his own image and likeness, into existence. This gift finds its full realization in the unreserved donation of the human person, whole and entire, in a spirit of nuptial love towards Christ, and, with Christ, towards all those to whom he sends men and women who are totally consecrated to him according to the evangelical counsels.” One does not give one’s life to Christ on a “trial” basis. Moreover it is he who takes the initiative in asking this of us. Religious bear witness to the fact that this is possible, thanks first of all to God’s fidelity, and to the fact that this renders them free and happy, if their gift is renewed each day.
56. Perpetual profession presumes a prolonged preparation and a persevering apprenticeship. This justifies the Church’s requirement that it be preceded by a period of temporary profession. “While still retaining its probationary character by the fact that it is temporary, the profession of first vows makes the young religious share in the consecration proper to the religious state.”  Consequently, this time of temporary profession has as its end the strengthening of the fidelity of the young professed, whatever may be the human satisfaction which they receive from their daily life “in the following of Christ.”
The liturgical celebration should carefully distinguish the perpetual profession from the temporal profession, which should be celebrated “without any particular solemnity.” On the other hand, the perpetual profession is made “with the desired solemnity, and in the presence of the religious and others,” since “it is the sign of the indissoluble union of Christ with the Church, his Spouse (cf. LG 44).”
From Directives on formation in Religious Institutes, given by Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, 1990