Holy See on Post-Novitiate


(Exerpts from the document Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes published by the Congregation for institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life in 1990)


58. With respect to the formation of those who are temporarily professed, the Church prescribes that “in individual institutes after first profession the formation of all members is to be continued so that they may lead more fully the proper life of the institute and carry out its mission more suitably. Therefore, proper law must define the program of this formation and its duration, keeping in mind the needs of the Church and the circumstances of human persons and times to the extent this is required by the purpose and character of the institute.”[1]

“The formation is to be systematic, adapted to the capacity of the members, spiritual, and apostolic, doctrinal and at the same time practical, and when it seems opportune, leading to appropriate degrees both ecclesiastical and civil. During the time of this formation, duties and jobs which would impede the formation are not to be assigned to members.”[2]


59. First profession inaugurates a new phase of formation, which benefits from the dynamism and stability derived from profession. For the religious, it is a matter of reaping the fruits of the preceding stages, and of pursuing their own human and spiritual growth through the courageous execution of their responsibilities. Retaining the spiritual enthusiasm given by the preceding stage is all the more necessary, since, in institutes dedicated to the apostolate, the move to a more open life style and to very demanding activities often runs the risk of disorientation and aridity. In institutes dedicated to contemplation, the risk is more apt to be a matter of routine, of weariness, and of spiritual laziness. Jesus taught his disciples through the crises to which they were subjected. Through his repeated prophecies of his Passion, he prepared them to become more authentic disciples.[3] The pedagogy of this stage will therefore aim at permitting young religious to make real progress by means of their experiences according to a unity of perspective and of life — that of their own vocation, at this time in their existence, with a view toward perpetual profession.


60. The institute has the grave responsibility of providing for the organization and duration of this period of formation, and of furnishing the young religious with favorable conditions for a real increase in their donation to the Lord. In the first place, it will provide them a vigorous formational community and the presence of competent instructors. Actually, at this level of formation, in contrast to what was said regarding the novitiate (cf. n. 47), a larger community, well provided with means of formation and good guidance, is better than a small community without experts in formation. As in the whole course of religious life, religious must make efforts: to better understand the practical importance of community life in keeping with the vocation proper to their institute; to accept the reality of this life and to discover within it the conditions for their personal progress; to respect others in their differences; and to feel personal responsibility within this same community. Superiors will specifically designate one to be responsible for the formation of the temporarily professed, extending in a specific manner to this level, the work of the director of novices. This formation should last for at least three years.

61. The following suggestions for programs are only indicative, and they do not hesitate to propose a high ideal, considering the need there is for forming religious to meet the requirements and expectations of the contemporary world. It will be up to the institutes and to the formators to make the necessary adaptations to individuals, places, and times.

In the program of studies, special attention should be given to biblical, dogmatic, spiritual, and pastoral theology, and in particular, to deepening a doctrinal understanding of consecrated life and of the charism of the institute. The establishment of this program and its functioning should respect the internal unity of teaching and the harmonization of different disciplines. There are not many sciences, but only one which a religious should be aware of learning: the science of faith and of the Gospel. In this regard, a cumulative diversification of courses and disciplines should be avoided. Further, out of respect for individuals, religious should not be introduced prematurely into highly controversial questions if they have not as yet completed the courses needed to approach them peacefully.

The program will aim at suitably providing a basic philosophical formation that will permit religious to acquire a knowledge of God and a Christian vision of the world, in close connection with the debated questions of our time. This will show the harmony which exists between the knowledge of reason and that of faith in the search for truth which is one. In such conditions, religious will be protected from the ever threatening temptations of a critical rationalism on the one hand, and of a pietism and fundamentalism on the other.

The program of theological studies should be judiciously conceived, and its different parts should be well defined so that the “hierarchy” of the truths of Catholic doctrine is brought out, since they vary in their relationship with the foundations of the Christian faith [4]The establishment of this program can draw inspiration from an adaptation of the suggestions made by the Congregation for Catholic Education on the formation of candidates for the priestly ministry,[5] taking care not to omit anything that could assist in acquiring a good knowledge of the faith and a Christian life within the Church: history, liturgy, canon law, etc.

62. Finally, the maturation of a religious at this stage will require an apostolic commitment and a progressive participation in ecclesial and social experiences in keeping with the charism of their institute, and taking into account the aptitudes and aspirations of individuals. In the process of these experiences, religious should remember that they are not primarily pastoral ministers, but that they are in a period of initial formation, rather than one that is more advanced, and that their commitment to an ecclesial, and especially a social service, is necessarily subject to the criteria of discernment (cf. n. 18).

63. Even though superiors are rightly described as “spiritual directors in relation to the evangelical purpose of their institute,”[6] religious should have a person available to them, who may be called a spiritual director or spiritual counselor, for the internal, even non-sacramental, forum. “Following the tradition of the early fathers of the desert and of all the great religious founders in the matter of provision for spiritual guidance, religious institutes each have members who are particularly qualified and appointed to help their sisters and brothers in this matter. Their role varies according to the stage reached by the religious but their main responsibilities are: discernment of God’s action; the accompaniment of the religious in the ways of God; the nourishing of life with solid doctrine and the practice of prayer; and, particularly in the first stage, the evaluation of the journey thus far made.[7]

This spiritual direction, which “cannot in any way be replaced by psychological methods,” [8] and for which the Council claims a “due liberty,”[9] should therefore be “fostered by the availability of competent and qualified persons.”[10]

These provisions primarily intended for this stage in the formation of religious, should continue for the rest of their lives. In religious communities, above all those which are large and especially where the temporarily professed are living, there must be at least one officially designated religious to assist their brothers and sisters with guidance of spiritual advice.

64. Some institutes have provisions for a more intense period of preparation prior to perpetual profession, which includes a withdrawal from one’s usual occupations. This practice merits encouragement and extension.

65. If, as is provided for in the law, young professed are sent to study by their superior,[11] “such studies should not be programmed with a view to achieving personal goals, as if they were a means of wrongly understood self-fulfillment, but with a view to responding to the requirements of the apostolic commitments of the religious family itself, in harmony with the needs of the Church.”[12] The course of these studies and the pursuit of degrees will be suitably harmonized with the rest of the program for this stage of formation, according to the judgment of major superiors and those responsible for formation.

[1] CIC 659.1-2.

[2] CIC 660.1-2.

[3] Cf. Mk 8:31-37; 9:31-32; 10:32-34.

[4] Unitatis redintegratio 11.

[5] Ratio Institutionins nn. 70-81 and note 148; 90-93. EV 3, 1103.

[6] Mutuae Relaciones 13a; cf. Introduction, note 8, above.

[7] Essential Elements II, 47; cf. introduction, note 10 above.

[8] Contemplative Dimension of Religious Life II, 11; cf. Introduction.

[9] PC 14; see also CIC 630.

[10] Contemplative Dimension of Religious Life II, 11, cf. Introduction, note 9.

[11] Cf. CIC 660.1.

[12] Mutuae Relaciones 26; cf. Introduction, note 8.

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