Sermons for the Investiture and Profession of Novices

Introduction prepared by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Translator’s note:

This translation is based on the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap. in I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonianze dell primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol III/2, pp.2747-2755. The only additions to the notes made by the translator are references to Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, edited by Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. and William J. Short O.F.M. Conv., New York City Press, New York, London, Manila, for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.

Table of Contents


1. The sermon for the investiture of novices

2. The sermon for the admission of novices to profession


Whoever was the Master of Novices or the Superior in the friary where the novices were formed was told to deliver a special short sermon at the beginning and at the end of the year of formation. It was to be directed at those who were taking off secular apparel and putting on the rough Capuchin habit, and, twelve months later, at those who had come to the point of making their simple profession. The Ceremonial for Novices that was composed by Bartolomeo Vecchi da Bologna alludes to this and indicates that the Superior should “preach a short sermon that is aflame with the love of God in view of the event that is taking place,” that is, investiture with the religious habit. During the ceremony the novice will be given a new name chosen from “the saints who were well-known apostles, evangelists, martyrs or confessors or even saints in our Order.” There should also be a short sermon when the novice is professed.” (cf. vol. 1, nn. 1217, 1525).

This gave rise to a special kind of “informal” preaching within the Capuchin Order. The sermons were written out in manuscript form for private use. They were based on the personal experience of some of the past Masters of Novices. We have drawn on one of these manuscripts that is contained in the APC of Bologna that belonged to Father Giovanni Delfini da Guastalla (+1659) who was Master of Novices for thirty years. It was also used by others as can be seen by the notes in the margin that are written in different hands.

We present two of these “short sermons,” one for the ceremony of investiture and the other for the time of profession. They were composed in a style that is simple, fervent, suitable for the occasion, and poignant. This is how they were written and delivered and it echoes a frame of mind that portrays the cultural and spiritual climate of the time in Capuchin noviciates.

1. The sermon for the investiture of novices

Have your loins girt and your lamps burning in your hands, with each of you like men who are waiting for their lord to return from his wedding.[1]

6353 With these words, which St Luke quoted in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel, Our Redeemer taught us how to live a life that would gain paradise for a good Christian who refrained from sin and performed good works with the grace of God.

In fact, he is describing the kind of life that someone whom God has called to religious life should lead when he has left the world and taken up the religious habit. He tells the person that good intentions, the desire to serve God and putting aside everything for the love of God are not enough if they are not accompanied by good works. In chapter seven Matthew says that Christ said: Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, shall enter the kingdom of heaven.[2] Origine says that this means: The kingdom of God is not won by saying words but by the practice of virtue, the observance of the commandments and performance of good works.[3]

Words, good intentions and wearing a religious habit are not enough for serving God, to live out a vocation or to save one’s soul. What is required is to perform good works accompanied by the grace of God, to combat one’s passions, resist temptation, and to struggle valiantly against sensual feelings, the world and the devil and overcome them.

6356 This is exactly what the Holy Spirit is advising in Ecclesiastes chapter 9: Whatever your hand is able to do, do it earnestly,[4] while you still have time then God will look on you with compassion and mercy. The reason why you should not let a moment pass without doing something for the glory of God is because neither work, nor wisdom, nor knowledge shall be in hell where you are going.[5]

St John says: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. The same Spirit says that from now on they shall rest from their labour for their work shall follow them.[6] This is very true, and Paul adds that thus is what Christ did when He suffered, shed His blood and died the cruellest of deaths out of love for us. His Passion was more than enough for our redemption. Nevertheless, if we do not perform good works accompanied with the grace of God not even the medicine of the Passion of the Son of God, not the shedding of His blood, nor the death that He suffered for our salvation will help us to enter heaven.

Having been perfected He became the author of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.[7] These words of the Apostle make us understand clearly what took place. Note the word perfected. After he had been brought to His end by the scourging, the thorns, the torments, the nails, the cross and death, He became the author of our salvation only for those who obey Him. St Paul the Apostle said that neither faith, baptism, professing to be a Christian, or becoming the member of a Religious Order can gain us eternal glory if this is not accompanied by good works and the grace of God.

As we read in chapter 9 of the first book of Samuel, this is what is symbolised by the scraps that were served to Saul by Samuel at table: Here (said the Prophet) are the scraps that were left over and kept for you. [8] (You might say) what a strange way of acting. Would you invite a King to a meal and set down before him the scraps that others had left?

6357 For the present let us leave aside the literal interpretation and turn to the spiritual meaning of the text. What a sumptuous meal Christ prepared in His Passion, when by assembling various kinds of sufferings and torments in His body He placed them on the table and partook of them abundantly so that He could pay His Eternal Father the price of our salvation. Now we are all invited to share in this meal eating what Christ has left for us. What has Christ left to us to enjoy of the meal of His Passion? St Gregory has said that by His cross Christ redeemed all of us? Christ has rescued us from the hands of the devil and abundantly paid the ransom for us to His Eternal Father.[9]

He goes on to say that even though Christ’s Passion was very adequate and completed our Redemption and compensated our Eternal Father most abundantly, what the Saint said is still true because Christ did not finish everything. Christ did not eat the whole meal without leaving anything for us. He left something. What did He leave us? Listen to what St Gregory added: Whoever came after would be crucified in order to be redeemed and reign with God. [10] Such beautiful words that are so filled with mystery are worthy of consideration! This is what was left over. This is what remained after Christ’s Passion. I mean our personal contribution to salvation, our good works supported by God’s grace. This makes the satisfaction that Christ achieved take effect and assures us of obtaining the glory of paradise.

6358 I am saying that what is required of someone who wants to be a Christian and hopes to gain the eternal life that the Son of God who became man won by means of His Passion and the shedding of His blood and His dying for love of us is to perform good works, to beware of sinning, to live in God’s grace and to continue to carry Christ’s cross with patience, putting aside his own will, mortifying himself and living in conformity to the will of God. This is even more necessary for a member of a Religious Order who has abandoned the world out of love for God, left everything he had behind and come to serve the Divine Majesty in an Order.

How much more does this bind someone who has been called by God to serve in an Order that is so holy and good which provides him with the opportunity to perform good works, to pray, to fast, to practice discipline, to practice mortification, to repent and to do the many things that God in His mercy has enabled us to do. You know that only God and the one to whom He makes Himself known will see this!

6359 O how we ought to thank, love, and serve God! We should continually say with the Prophet: My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready, [11] by showing that we not only wish to be prepared to undertake to serve him with all our heart and strength but, as an anonymous author says, are ready to act both in word and deed. [12] By repeating this twice King David, who was always ready to obey the Divine commandments and to serve God, intended that we ought to wish, desire and carry out good deeds through the grace of God and that we should desire to do more to honour and give glory to His Divine Majesty.

This is what God asks us to do. He has brought us into His house so that we can serve Him faithfully and perseveringly till the end, filled with good works and merit in this life, and gaining an abundance of glory in the next. Because of His infinite mercy this is what God wants for you and for me.

From now on you will be known in the Order as Br, N. [13] The saint whose name you have been given began his life well, carried it out even better and ended it in a splendidly holy way by serving the Divine Majesty faithfully and perseveringly. If you have been given his name perform what he did so that by imitating his good work you may become worthy to join him in praising God in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, our Seraphic Father St Francis and all the Saints.

2. The sermon for the admission of novices to profession

Vow and pray to the Lord your God. Let all that are round about Him bring Him presents. [14]

6360 According to Euthymius the regal Prophet used these words when giving penitential gifts to God. He said that the prophet was offering penitential gifts to God to pay the debt that was due to Him. [15] This is the way to obtain God’s grace in this life and the glory of paradise in the next.

This is how John, while wrapped in ecstasy, put it in chapter 4 of the Apocalypse. He said that he saw a royal throne on which God was seated. In front of the throne there was a sea that was so transparent that it seemed like crystal. And behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and upon the throne one sitting. And in the sight of the throne was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal. [16]

Although the Fathers provide many interpretations for this vision, we shall accept the interpretation given by the Abbot Joachim.[17] He said that when St John was wrapped in contemplation of the Holy Trinity he saw the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three distinct persons with one essence. However, what is the significance of the sea that extends before the throne on which God is sitting? Denis the Carthusian says that it represents penance. This is in line with our purpose because it allows us to understand that once we have sinned there is no other way to obtains the grace of God and the glory of paradise than to do penance for our sins; It is impossible (these are the words of the Carthusian) for a soul, once it has sinned, to reach the throne of glory unless it sails across the sea of penance. [18]

6361 Therefore, if it is absolutely necessary to do penance in order to enjoy the sight of God, and you should not be surprised that King David urged us to offer gifts to the Divine Majesty” Make vows and repay your Lord God by offering Him gifts; Nor should you be amazed that Euthymius commented: promise God to offer penitential offerings as reparation that is due to Him. If this is the situation it is also true that out of all the penitential gifts that you could off Him in reparation for your sins the best one is what members of Religious Orders do in making their profession to His Divine Majesty after they have completed a year of probation in Noviciate. The royal Prophet says as much in the above-mentioned Psalm: Make vows and repay the Lord God by offering Him gifts. You who, having ben enlightened by God, have become aware of the deception and vanity of the world, have left it behind and come to serve God in religious life, and who during the year of probation have offered various gifts by denying your personal wishes, mortified your flesh and the senses, lived an austere life of discipline, fasting, prayer, vigils and other good works still have to do something for the glory of His Divine Majesty, for the salvation of your soul by offering the most precious gifts of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

This is very true because by means of these vows we offer God all the we have to give both what lies within us and what is external to us as we offer Him our body and our soul.

6362 This is proved by that fact that whatever we have in this life can be summed up under three headings. Some things such as property and wealth are eternal things, which are offered to God by means of the vow of poverty. This is very strict within our Order since we give up all proprietorship both personal and communal by being content with the simple use of what is necessary.

We offer God the pleasures of the flesh by abandoning them by means of the vow of chastity, which not only prohibits all kinds of impure actions against chastity as well as desires, but also, because of the strict Rule which we profess, all kinds of suspicious contacts that could take place in everyday activities and might leads to the slightest defect or sinfulness.

Finally, there are passions within the soul. We offer these to God by renouncing our own will in complete submission to our superior in everything that he commands except what would be contrary to the Divine Majesty. Our Seraphic Father St Francis wanted us to do this when he told us in the Rule to live in obedience, without property and in chastity.[19] Our Seraphic Father did not say that we are to become obedient, poor, and chaste, but that we are to live this out. He tells us to take these vows to heart wanting us to be ready to observe them at every moment.

6363 This is what our Saviour taught our Seraphic Father and all of us when He asked our Most Blessed Father three times to give Him three golden coins that he found miraculously in his pocket. They were symbols of the three vows which our Father St Francis was to observe and it meant that they were to be observed in the smallest detail.[20]

Therefore, in accord with what the royal Prophet said and in imitation of our Seraphic Father, you should also be prepared to offer yourself to the Divine majesty by means of these three promises. You should unite yourself to God by means of the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. What remains to be done now that you are about to make this offering, is to beg God in His providence to grant you the grace to observe them faithfully, so that you may merit eternal glory by observing them as has been promised to whoever faithfully observes our way of life and our Rule and looks forward to what God has promised.

Let us invoke the Holy Spirit so that he will assist you and fill your heart with love for God so that what you offer may be more acceptable to God. Ask Him to grant you perseverance so that you may obtain merit for what you do in this life and gain eternal life in the next.

Veni Creator Spiritus.

  1. Lk 12:35-36.
  2. Matt. 7:21.
  3. Cf. Origene Mutthäuserklerung III, Fragmente und Indices. “De Griechischen Christlichen Schrifisteller der ersten drei Jahrhundere” : Origines Werke, XII, Leipsig 1941, 269 (= Hom. IV, n. 7)
  4. Sir 9:10a.
  5. Sir 9:10b.
  6. Rev 14:13.
  7. Heb 5:9.
  8. 1 Sam 9:24.
  9. S. Gregorii Magni, In primi Regum expositions, lib. IV, n. 57 (PL 78, 273).
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ps 107: 2; 56: 9 (Vulg.)
  12. Either Michele Ayguani or Angriani (+ 1400) who was a Carmelite theologian from Bologna. His commentary on the Psalms was called Incognitus e Doctor ignatus in psalmos.
  13. This detail has been added by a different hand.
  14. Ps 75: 12 (Vulg.).
  15. Euthymius Zigabeni, Comment. In ps. 75 (PG 128, 778).
  16. Rev. 4: 2, 6.
  17. Cf. Expositio venerabilis Abbatis Joachim in Librum Apocalipsis beati Joannis Apostolo, Venetis, in aedibus Francisci Bindoni ac Maphei Pasini socii, anno Domini 1527, f. 119rab, 106rab.
  18. Cf. Expositio in cap. IV Apocalypsis, art. 5 (Dionysi Cartisiani Opera omnia XIV, Monstrolii 190, 264ab)
  19. Rb, 1, 2.
  20. Cf. Marco da Lisbona, Croniche degli Ordini institute dal padre san Francesco, trd. di Orazio Diola, Venezia 1582, 158 (Lib. I, cap. 83).