These are men receiving training as members in our monastic community. The steps following one's Observership (see #1) are: Postulant (one year), Novice (two years), temporary vows (three years and renewable), culminating in life-long Solemn Profession (see #11). Formation involves a program of spiritual direction, monastic studies, personal relationships, but especially living daily the monastic balance of Liturgy, Lectio, and Labor - as our special way of growing in union with God in Christ.
Formation is the process of monastic training that begins when a candidate enters as a postulant. He will be a postulant for one year, during which time he lives the life of prayer and work, and takes classes in monastic values and practice. In particular, he will be trained in lectio divina - the monk's traditional form of prayer, based on contemplative reading and pondering Holy Scripture.
After being a postulant for one year, he becomes a novice for two years. This period of formation involves a more intense participation in the life of prayer, work, and classes. Also at this time, he receives the novice habit. If he needs more time, his novitiate may be extended.
A monk lives under the Rule of St. Benedict and in obedience to an Abbot. Therefore, in keeping with the emphasis on experience in Cistercian Spirituality, the Novice will take classes specifically geared to living monastic life, including the two Benedictine vows of Stability and Conversion of Manners. In his Rule, St. Benedict says, "The monastery is a school of the Lord's service." Later, in the twelfth century, our Cistercian Father, William of St. Thierry, wisely refers to the monastery as "a school of love."
Thus, the Novice learns Scriptural values in two vital ways: simply by living the life, and by reading the experiences of others who have lived the same values. Readings will include St. Augustine and other Fathers and Mothers of the Church. Eventually he will read our Cistercian Fathers, especially St. Bernard, William of Thierry, St. Aelred and Guerric of Igny. In all these readings, the Novice will especially become aware of the writer's desire for God, his experience of prayer and the spiritual life, and how he lived out these values. Lastly, the Novice will study the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, which monasticism has discerned from Gospel portraits of Jesus.
Normally, at the end of his Novitiate a man has been in the monastery for three years and is ready to take his first vows, called simple vows. His life of prayer, work, and classes continues for at least three more years. At the end of this time, he takes his solemn/perpetual vows as an expression of his life-long commitment to the Christian monastic life. Again, if he needs more time, he may extend his temporary vows. This allows the formation process to develop according to individual growth.