Though the names and duration of the phases can vary, there are similarities among the stages of formation in a religious congregation. Much of the formation of religious is governed by Canon Law as well as by the Constitutions of the order.
Becoming an aspirant for means that you “aspire” to join an order. In this stage you would continue with your regular life, while growing in your knowledge of and experiences with the order. It is a time of mutual discernment: the order with you and you with the order.
Postulancy refers to “one who asks,” and marks your official entry to an order. As a postulant you would live and pray with the order, take classes to learn more about the order and religious life, and could participate in apostolic works of the order.
The purpose of the novitiate is to prepare you to live a vowed life. It’s a time to deepen in knowledge of the order’s charism and spirituality, as well as of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. At the end of novitiate, with the approval of the order, you would profess your temporary vows.
The mutual discernment process continues after the first profession of poverty, chastity and obedience. You would still be in formation, learning about the order as well as particular skills you might need as a member (i.e., teaching or nursing). Participating more deeply in the life of the community, both the spiritual and apostolic dimensions, help to solidify your relationship with God as well as to clarify your call. You may renew the temporary vows, and after a period of time (3-6 years) and confirmation of your call by both you and the order, you would profess perpetual or solemn vows.
Perpetual Vows/Solemn Profession
Solemn Profession is a public declaration of your commitment and intention to give yourself completely to God and to the service of others though the specific charism of your order. The perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience constitute a radical commitment for life which predetermines all other choices.
Formation as a religious continues beyond solemn profession, in order to help you continue growing in your relationship with God, your knowledge of the faith and of the spirituality of the congregation.
Leaving an order
At any time in this process, up until perpetual vows, it may become clear to you and/or the order that this life is not a good “fit” for you. It could be this particular charism or way of life, or it could be that you are called to a different vocation. Either way, God will not be outdone in generosity and will continue to lead you. Make sure to continue your prayer life and find a good group of friends outside the community who can support you in your journey.