31 March 2009

On Titles and Habits for the Diocesan Hermit

[[Dear Sister,
When does a hermit get the title Brother or Sister? How about the habit?]]

When I speak in various posts about the rights and obligations included with public profession, title is included. Ordinarily the hermit is not called Sister or Brother until they are professed, although I would think a Bishop could permit the usage for the serious candidate approaching certain profession. This is a different situation than in community life where a novice is given the title and (sometimes) a new name as soon as they are received into the community. Since for the hermit there really is no formal novitiate involved, and no reception into a community as a new sister or brother needing to be marked as truly belonging (a matter of increased legal rights and obligations as well as canonical relationships), either the hermit waits until profession or until her Bishop gives permission once the diocese is certain there WILL be a profession. From my experience, this latter situation is less frequently allowed than not. Again this is because the title is a sign of a commitment made publicly with public rights and obligations and rooted in new relationships the person has accepted canonically.

The same is true of the wearing of the habit. When the hermit's Bishop agrees it is appropriate, the wearing of the habit is associated with specific rights and obligations like the title itself, and these come with PUBLIC profession. The right to wear a habit is granted to one by the CHURCH as a sign of a specifically ecclesial vocation and identity; it is not assumed by the individual on her own. For the diocesan hermit candidate the Bishop may grant permission prior to profession to wear a habit around the hermitage but usually not in public, for instance; but even this is an exceptional practice.

All this is true because both titles and garb have significance in the church and beyond. They are associated with a particular witness to the way God is working in his Church and world through this individual, to a call which has been mediated by the Church, a vocation which has been carefully discerned and an identity and ministry which have been effectively consecrated and commissioned respectively. Both title and garb therefore come with a number of public expectations people have a right to hold with regard to the one styling herself as Sister (etc) or affecting a habit. (See labels on the unique charism of the diocesan hermit for posts on these expectations.) For these reasons they are not generally adopted by the diocesan hermit prior to or apart from her eremitical profession. Instead they are part of the "insigniae" formally given during liturgy after the public profession of vows. Beyond the habit itself is the use of the cowl by the hermit. The right to wear this garment is associated with solemn or perpetual profession in both monastic and eremitical life, not apart from this, not even with temporary profession.