CHAPTER LVIII. Of the Discipline of receiving Brethren into Religion
12 Apr. 12 Aug. 12 Dec.
Let him who is to be received make before all, in the Oratory, a promise of STABILITY, CONVERSION OF LIFE, and OBEDIENCE, in the presence of God and of His saints, so that, if he should ever act otherwise, he may know that he will be condemned by Him Whom he mocketh. Let him draw up this promise in writing, in the name of the saints whose relics are in the altar, and of the Abbot there present. And let him write it with his own hand; or at least, if he knoweth not how, let another write it at his request, and let the Novice put his mark to it, and place it with his own hand upon the altar. When he hath done this, let the Novice himself immediately begin this verse: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam, et ne confundas me ab exspectatione mea. And this verse let the whole community thrice repeat, adding thereto Gloria Patri. Then let the newly-received brother cast himself at the feet of all, that they may pray for him, and from that day let him be counted as one of the community. Whatever property he hath let him first bestow upon the poor, or by a solemn deed of gift make over to the Monastery, keeping nothing of it all for himself, as knowing that from that day forward he will have no power even over his own body. Forthwith, therefore, in the Oratory, let him be stripped of his own garments, wherewith he is clad, and be clothed in those of the Monastery. And let the garments that are taken from him be laid by and kept in the wardrobe; so that if ever, by the persuasion of the devil, he consent (which God forbid) to leave the Monastery, he may be stripped of the monastic habit and cast forth. But the form of his profession, which the Abbot took from the altar, shall not be given back to him, but be kept in the Monastery.
The rite of monastic profession, as Saint Benedict sets it forth in Chapter LVIII, contains five essential elements. First, there is the reading of the chart of profession, which the novice will have written out by hand ahead of time. The novice makes a threefold promise of stability: (1) life-long permanence in the monastery; (2) the definitive choice of the monastic way of life with all that it implies of renunciations, observances, and obligations; and (3) obedience, that is, free and willing submission to the abbot and to the yoke of the Holy Rule.
Second, there is the deliberate placing of the chart of profession upon the altar. This element, though it may appear incidental, is essential. It expresses the same Eucharistic theology of self–offering that Saint Benedict presents, under another form, in Chapter LIX (On the Oblation of the Sons of Nobles or of Poor Men). There, the hand of the child is wrapped in the corporal, making clear to all that the child is identified with the offerings of bread and wine, and assimilated to the Victim Christ in the Holy Sacrifice. The significance of the altar, the place of sacrifice, is no less central in the profession of a monk. The chart of profession placed upon the altar represents the monk himself, and his whole life, past, present, and future. The monk is made over to God, with the Victim Christ, becoming one sacrificium with Him, according to the teaching of Saint Augustine:
Man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God.(The City of God, Book X, Chapter VI)
Third, there is the chant of offering: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam, et ne confundas me ab exspectatione mea, “Take Thou me unto Thyself, O Lord, and I shall live; let me not be confounded in this hope of mine,” (Psalm 118:116). Like a little child asking to be lifted up, the monk offers himself to the Father, trusting that the embrace of the Father’s strong arms will never fail him. At the same time, the monk offers himself to the embrace of the arms of the Cross. This is the monk’s participation in the hour of which Our Lord spoke: “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee” (John 17:1).
Fourth, there is the intercessory prayer of the whole community. A man does not become a monk in isolation. His offering is ratified by those fathers in Christ who made the same offering before him. He needs their prayer. A man does not become a monk on his own terms or by relying on his own strength. He begins his new life as a humble beggar, casting himself before the feet of all to ask for the prayers of each one. With the development of the Ordo ad faciendum monachum, “The Rite of the Making of a Monk”, this prayer became the solemn prayer of Monastic Consecration.
Fifth, there is the casting aside of worldly attire and the clothing in the monastic garment par excellence: the cuculla with its hood and ample sleeves. This is the garment that sets a monk apart as consecrated to the worship of God alone, or as Dante says, disposto a sola latria. In present practice, the casting aside of worldly attire is anticipated, being done at the first vestition of a novice; the clothing in the cuculla represents the grace of a second baptism. ” Mortui enim estis, et vita vestra est abscondita cum Christo in Deo, “You have undergone death, and your life is hidden away now with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).