The full plan of any Formation program in Carmel should be to gradually fashion, in cooperation with the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, the interior dwelling of a candidate. Only in this way will the person called by Christ truly become a “place of rest” for Him and come to the fullness of her vocation!
Our Holy Mother, St. Teresa desired that candidates to Carmel be “persons of prayer, whose aim is complete perfection and contempt for the world.” Thus, in a particular way, the formation of those called to the contemplative life of Carmel is directed to a harmonious union with God and with one’s Sisters in community, within an atmosphere of silence, solitude and fraternal love, protected by the daily life within the enclosure of the monastery.
The Five Stages of Formation are:
“The Aspirancy, considered as a first knowledge of the community by the candidate and the candidate by the community, involves a series of contacts and times of community experience, even prolonged.” Cor Orans, 262
After becoming acquainted through letters and phone calls, a young woman who is interested may ask to come for a visit at the Monastery, outside of the enclosure. This allows the aspirant a certain encounter with our life and familiarizes her with the community.
After a period of interviews and consultations, the candidate is invited for a second visit, at the end of which, she may then be invited to become an Aspirant. The Aspirancy lasts a least a year or up to two years, and is the first step of formation. The Aspirant will have periods of “live-in” experiences within the Monastery.
“For the one who has heeded the call of Jesus to leave everything to follow Him there can be no question of how important it is to respond generously and wholeheartedly to this call from the very outset of her religious life.” Renovationis Causam, 7
If, at the conclusion of at least a year of Apsirancy, the decision is made by the community and the Aspirant to continue the vocational process, the young woman is accepted as a postulant. The postulancy begins with the formal entrance into the monastery and last at least one year. This time allows the postulant to make the transition from lay life, to experience more deeply the charism of Carmelite life, and to make adjustments to community living.
“The novitiate marks the beginning of the religious life. It allows the Sister to enter into the Carmelite experience of life in a small community of Sisters. In this way, the authenticity of the vocation of the novice can be confirmed in daily life over a prolonged period as well as her capacity to commit herself to the profession of the evangelical counsels.”
OCD Ratio Formations, 277
After the period of postulancy, the postulant becomes formally incorporated into the community as a novice. The novitiate lasts two years and begins with the reception of the holy habit of our Order with a white veil. During this period, the novice learns and interiorizes our Carmelite spirituality as taught in our Rule of Life and Constitutions.
“It is altogether proper that this temporary bond should have reference to the practice of the three evangelical counsels, in order to constitute a genuine preparation for perpetual profession.”
Renovationis Causam, 35
Temporary profession follows the period of novitiate. By religious profession, the Sister pledges herself by public vows to live according to the three Evangelical Counsels: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. This is a period that lasts five years during which time the Sister increases her practical understanding and knowledge of Carmelite spirituality and consecrated life in the Church in order to interiorize it more completely and prepare herself adequately for the definitive consecration of Solemn Vows.
At the end of the Juniorate, the next step is the life-long commitment to the Carmelite way of life through Solemn Profession of vows. It is a most solemn and joyous occasion for the Sister as well as for the entire community who receives her as a permanent member.
Formation, however, is also a permanent aspect of the religious life. “Our Holy Mother, St. Teresa always wanted to enrich and deepen her knowledge of God so that she could respond more generously to the gift of His presence and action in the soul. Following her example, and in response to the wisdom of Holy Mother Church and to its laws, all the Sisters will pursue their own spiritual, doctrinal and practical formation without interruption, throughout their entire lives.” (OCD Const. 169)