The transition from lay life to monastic life is totally radical. To soften the shock, the transition is done slowly and in stages. The prolonged transition period also serves to test the authenticity of the vocation.
The four stages of formation are: Postulancy, Novitiate, Simple Profession, and Solemn Profession. In the first stage, the Postulant lives in community for a few months. He feels the rhythm of the life and participates as much or little as he pleases. He has no obligations and is free to come and go. At some point during this stage, he receives the habit of a deceased monk, less the hood.
The second stage, the Novitiate, begins with a ceremony in which the candidate is clothed in the full monastic garb including the hood. During this year of semi-seclusion from the outside world, he lives, works, and studies within the monastery. He undertakes a full regimen of prayer. He has jobs within the monastery proper. He receives formal in-house instruction on the elements of monastic life. This year of formation is rigorous. As symbolized by the clothing ceremony, the man is stripped of his false self in order to find his true identity as a son of God. This enables the Novice to put on Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24).
At the end of the first year of the Novitate, the Novice becomes a candidate for Simple Profession. “The concern must be whether the Novice truly seeks God and whether he shows eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience, and for trials (RB 58:7).” If the abbot and his council find the Novice to be a suitable candidate, he may make temporary vows for three years.
At the end of the that time, the monk becomes a candidate for Solemn Profession of vows. The profession of solemn vows is forever.
Subsequently, some monks also follow a call to study for the Priesthood.