A young person visits as a “candidate” or “aspirant.” He or she may visit the community a few times, speaking with the Vocation, Postulant, and Novice Directors until they are ready to ask to enter in which they are referred to by the Directors to talk to the Provincial or Higher Superior.
Entrance date is set by the Superior and the new member arrives welcomed by very joyful religious! They enter and become “Postulants” from the Latin “postulare” which means “to ask.” They are Postulants for 6-12 months, but the time can be extended to 19 months.
The next stage is “Reception into the Novitiate” or “Investiture” in which they become a “Novice” which means “something new or learner”. The novices typically receive three things: they are received into the community as members of the community, they receive the habit and veil, and receive a new name indicating their taking on a new life with and for Christ.
The young woman is a novice for one or two years, often two. The first year is called “Canonical year” as they must concentrate and work only in the convent (not assist in schools, day care, hospital, etc.) and focus on deepening their prayer and spiritual life. This year is a time to really “know thyself” and work through issues they may have before continuing on. This year is mandatory by Canon Law.
The second year, they are still novices, but a bit more experienced in the consecrate life. (Consecrated means to be set apart – for God). In some Communities, the second year novices go on “Mission” to one of their other houses. They live with the professed Sisters (as by Canon Law, the novitiate is always separate from the Professed so that they may receive their formation solely from the Postulant and Novice Directors and not get advice and counsel from all other sources) and work in an apostolate for six months. This is a test of their vocation – everything that they have learned in the last two years, must be put into practice. In laymen’s terms, it is similiar to an internship. After six months, they return to the Provincial House and, upon acceptance by the Provincial Council, may proceed to prepare for “First Profession.”
On the day of their First Profession, the novices profess to live in Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience and in some Communities, receive a black veil, and other religious insignia such as a crucifix or rosary. In their heart, they must desire this forever, but the Church gives the young Professed a time of deepening this desire. Therefore, they are now “Temporary or Junior Professed” Sisters. The next three to six years, they live with the Final Professed, work in the apostolate full-time, and have a Sister responsible for their Spiritual life, called a “Junior Director.” After at least four years, the Junior Professed are “invited by the Provincial Superior” to preparation for Final Profession. After acceptance, they have a period of preparation and retreat before making Final Profession.
Finally, the Junior Professed make Perpetual or Final Profession into the hands of the Provincial Superior and the Bishop of the Diocese. They may receive a gold ring, symbolizing the eternal marriage we have with Our Lord Jesus.
In short: Postulant –> 6 -19 months
Novice —–> 1-2 years
First/Junior Professed –> 3-6 years
Final/Perpetual Profession –> forever!