Monastic Profession

Walk into a Cistercian church at prayer time and you see two lines of monks facing each other, one line on each side of the long nave. What strikes you are the cowls each monk inhabits, cowls white like clouds. It is an arresting sight, intriguing, and beautiful. The white cowls mean something. The Cistercian Constitutions tell you what they mean: The characteristic Cistercian habit is the white cowl. Given at solemn profession it is a sign both of a monk’s consecration and of the unity of the whole Order. You could say that the Cistercian monk wears his identity on his sleeve. A monk professes the three vows Saint Benedict names in his Rule, and he is consecrated by the Church to the service of God. The cowl he receives, wears throughout his life, and will be buried in reminds him of that and is a sign of it to others.