Novitiate, Canon Law of
NOVITIATE, CANON LAW OF
The novitiate is the required probationary period prior to profession of vows in a religious institute during which time the aspiring religious is initiated into the life of the particular institute and his or her call (vocation ) to this institute verified. Because of the importance of novitiate for religious life, its major components and conditions are prescribed by the universal law of the Church (e.g., Codex iuris canonicis, Codex canonum ecclesiarium orientalium, and Potissimum institutioni, CICLSAL, March 2, 1990, AAS 82 (1990) 472–532); the proper law of each institute specifies and supplements the universal law. A period of probation is also required of candidates prior to incorporation into a secular institute or society of apostolic life; such groups, however, are not bound by the norms that follow as these groups are free to determine for themselves the manner and duration of the probationary period.
A period of probation prior to full membership has characterized religious life since its earliest expressions in the post-Apostolic era, but it was the Council of Trent (1545–63 at Sess. 24, cap. 15) that first mandated a oneyear period of novitiate for all religious as a requirement for a valid subsequent profession. Current universal law for Latin rite institutes cites the minimum time as 12 months.
This article will consider the novitiate under five main headings: establishment of the novitiate, admission to the novitiate, the novitiate program, duration of the novitiate, and the termination or conclusion of the novitiate. The article will also highlight some significant differences between canonical norms governing Latin rite institutes and those governing institutes of the Eastern rites.
Establishment of Novitiate. In addition to being a period of time, the novitiate also refers to the designated place where the probationary period takes place. By means of a written decree the general or highest superior of the institute authorizes the establishment, transfer to another location, and suppression of a novitiate house. For Latin rite institutes the superior must have the consent of the council to act; for Eastern rite institutes the advice of the council suffices. If the novitiate is to be established as a new foundation, i.e., where no formally established house of the institute exists, the diocesan bishop of the place of establishment must also give written consent. Contrary to prior, more restrictive legislation,
the highest superior in Latin rite institutes has authority to establish as many novitiates as are warranted, even more than one in a province if necessary. Independent monasteries, by their nature, have a right to their own novitiates. Over the last century, however, independent monasteries of similar traditions have been encouraged to form federations (Pius XII, Sponsa Christi AAS 43 (1951) 5–24; Perfectae Caritatis 22, AAS 58 (1966) 702–712); where such federations exist a single novitiate common to all monasteries of the given federation may be established.
The novitiate or period of probation generally takes place in a location designated by formal decree as the novitiate house. Several exceptions, however, are possible. In the first, the general superior, with consent of the council for Latin rite institutes and after consulting the council for Eastern rite institutes, may for serious reason permit an individual novice to make the novitiate in another house of the institute under the direction of another religious who assumes the role of director. The second exception, emphasizing the novitiate community rather than the novitiate building, allows for novices as a group to be assigned by the major superior (not necessarily the general superior) to another house of the institute for a certain period. The third exception, articulated only for Latin rite institutes (Codex iuris canonicis 648), allows for novices in apostolic institutes whose formation program provides for apostolic experiences to reside outside the novitiate house during such assignments.
Admission to the Novitiate. Life in a religious institute begins with the novitiate and only those suitably prepared and properly disposed should be admitted. The right to admit candidates to the novitiate belongs to that major superior so designated according to the institute's proper law. For valid admission to the novitiate of a Latin rite institute it is required that a candidate be: (1) at least 17 years of age; (2) not bound by an existing marriage bond; (3) not bound by vows or other sacred bonds in another institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life; and (4) forthcoming about, i.e, not concealing, any prior membership in another institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life. In addition, to admit a person to the novitiate is a juridic act and the personal dispositions necessary for placing a valid juridic pertain (Codex iuris canonicis 125). Therefore, both the candidate seeking admission and the admitting superior must be free from constraint and admission is invalid if either party acts under force, grave fear, or malice.
Requirements for valid admission to the novitiate in an Eastern rite institute are identical to those for a Latin rite institute with the following exceptions: (1) persons under certain canonical penalty or under legitimate threat of canonical penalty are barred; (2) monastic candidates must be 18 years of age; and (3) concealing one's prior membership in another institute or society of apostolic life is not an invalidating impediment.
In addition to the requirements for validity identified in universal law, the proper law of individual institutes may establish other requirements for valid admission or other conditions. Should an invalidating impediment be detected during the screening process, either a dispensation must be obtained or the admission be refused or deferred. Also should a member of one sui juris rite seek admission to an institute of another rite, an indult of accommodation must first be obtained from the Apostolic See.
Superiors have wide discretion in ascertaining the suitability of candidates for their particular institute. Suitability regarding health, character, and maturity may be established through a combination of personal self-disclosure on the part of the candidate, documentary evidence and further, even secret, inquiries on the part of the superior. Before admission a candidate must present proof of baptism, confirmation, and free status. If the candidate for admission is a cleric, the superior is first to consult with the cleric's proper ordinary. If the candidate had previously been in a seminary or in another institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life, testimony from the former seminary rector or major superior is required. Some assessment of financial solvency is also expected since those burdened by debts that they cannot repay may not be admitted. Other documentation might include medical evaluations, educational transcripts, proof of military service or immigration status, and letters of recommendation. In addition to these requirements for licit admission common to all, candidates for admission to an Eastern rite institute must also be free of family obligations (Codex canonum ecclesiarium orientalium 452). In seeking the necessary information to arrive at a determination about admission, superiors of Latin rite institutes are admonished to balance the demands of canon 220, avoiding damage to the good reputation of both the candidate and the institute and respecting the candidate's right to privacy.
Admission to the novitiate begins with the celebration of the Rite of Entrance for those in Latin rite institutes and with ceremonies determined in the proper law for Eastern rite institutes.
Novitiate Program. The novitiate is a probationary period, a designated place, and a process. The intense, interactive yet individualized process deepens the novice's lifelong configuration to Christ begun at baptism. The initiation that characterizes the novitiate goes far beyond simple instruction, incorporating physical, moral, intellectual, affective, and especially spiritual dimensions. (Potissimum institutioni, March 2, 1990, AAS 82 (1990) 472–532). It includes formation in the cultivation of human and Christian virtues; prayer; asceticism; liturgy; the teachings of the Church; and the history, life, and rule of the particular institute. As mature and responsible persons the novices share responsibility for their own formation and are expected to collaborate actively with the opportunities and graces of this process.
The novice director, a perpetually professed member of the institute legitimately designated according to proper law, functions directly under the authority of the major superior. The formation plan serves as a guide for the director, and for any persons assigned to assist the director, in discerning and testing the vocation of the novices and leading them gradually into the full life of the institute. The novitiate period is reserved solely for formation and, therefore, all activities in which the novices are involved should directly serve this purpose. Similarly, the novice director should be freed from other responsibilities that could interfere with this primary and critical role.
Duration of the Novitiate. For Latin rite institutes a minimum of 12 months is required for validity of the novitiate, but the institute's proper law may require up to two years. Apostolic institutes of the Latin rite also have the option of requiring, in addition to the minimum of 12 months in the novitiate itself, one or more apostolic experiences outside the novitiate during this probationary period. The duration of the novitiate for religious institutes belonging to the Eastern Catholic churches is similar to that of the Latin rite with the exception of Eastern rite monasteries with no temporary profession; for these monasteries a full and continuous three-year novitiate is required (Codex canonum ecclesiarium orientalium 457).
Absence from the novitiate is carefully regulated to protect this foundational period of formation, ensuring that the novice has sufficient freedom, accountability, and continuity to accomplish its ends. Current legislation greatly simplifies the question of absence from or interruption of the novitiate. During the basic required 12 months any absence from the designated novitiate house or community that lasts more than three months, from whatever cause, either continuous or interrupted, renders the novitiate invalid. An absence that lasts more than 15 days must be made up.
Under certain limited circumstances the minimum requirement of universal law (12 months) or of the particular institute (which may be up to two years) may be shortened. With the permission of the competent major superior, i.e., either the general superior or another major superior according to the proper law, first profession may be anticipated by up to 15 days. In the extraordinary situation of a novice in danger of death, the novice may be admitted to profession even absent the required time of novitiate. Should the novice recover the vows cease to bind and the novitiate is continued with profession being made in the usual manner.
Termination or Conclusion of the Novitiate. At any time during the novitiate a novice may freely leave the institute. Similarly, at any time during the novitiate the competent authority may freely dismiss a novice. At the completion of the prescribed novitiate one of three eventualities occurs: (1) if judged suitable, the novice may be admitted to temporary profession; (2) if judged unsuitable for profession, the novice is to be dismissed; or, (3) if there remains a question regarding suitability, the major superior has the option if the proper law permits, of extending the novitiate in a particular case for up to six additional months. For Eastern rite monastics an extension of up to one year is permitted.