Interpretation and integration of the Ratio and the Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment
Fr Francesco CEREDA
General Councillor for Formation
In implementing the Ratio and the Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment some Provinces have found difficuty in interpreting the texts which speak about the anticipation of perpetual profession.
1. Text of the Ratio and of Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment
The Ratio (FSDB) at number 511 states: 'The perpetual profession may be made at the expiry of the time of temporary profession  or up to three months earlier  . This last possibility requires that there be a just cause, to be assessed by the Provincial with his Council'.
In Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment at number 147 it states: 'According to our Constitutions  , the time of trial for us is normally six years. In special cases and for a just cause recognized as such by the Provincial and his Council, perpetual profession can be anticipated.'
In the Ratio it speaks of anticipating perpetual profession up to three months earlier than the expiry of six years of temporary profession; in Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment there is no distinction made between anticipating up to three months or more than three months before the expiry of the six years of temporary profession. The two texts need to be at least harmonised.
2. Interpretation of the Ratio and of Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment
2.1 Anticipation of perpetual profession up to three months before expiry
For a correct interpretation of the Ratio and the Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment it is opportune to refer to the Code of Canon Law and to our proper Law.
For the validity of perpetual profession the Code of Canon Law in can. 658 requires in addition to having completed the 21st year of age, the 'previous temporary profession for at least three years.' In the same canon there is reference to the provision of can. 657 3, in which it is said that 'perpetual profession can for a just reason be anticipated but not by more than three months.' Therefore the concession is granted to Superiors of Institutes to anticipate perpetual profession for a just reason up to three months, with respect to the three years of temporary vows established by can. 658. The proper law of each Instituto can, obviously, determine, the manner and the competence with regard to this anticipation. It is clear that for exceptions to the norms of the Code, that is for greater anticipation, the authorisation of the Apostolic See will be necessary.
Considering proper Salesian law, in our Constitutions in article 117 it is laid down that 'perpetual profession takes place ordinarily six years after the first profession.' Therefore our own criterion for validity is added to that established by universal law for admission to perpetual profession; previous temporary profession of at least six years is ordinarily required. The same article 117 of the Constitutions then indicates the possibility of prolonging this period of temporary profession, but not beyond nine years, and gives the Provincial competence for this prolongation, making specific in this way, the 'competent Superior' in can. 657 2. Nothing is said in our Constitutions nor in the General Regulations about a possible anticipation of admission to perpetual profession.
The possibility of an anticipation of perpetual profession was taken into consideration in the Ratio, which as the 'directory' of formation comes within the ambit of proper law. At n. 511 of the Ratio the possibility is admitted of an anticipation of up to three months with respect to the expiry of the years of temporary profession. The 'three months' of anticipation certainly refer to the three months can. 657 3, speaks about but, as distinct from the general norm of the Code, for us the three months of anticipation are to be applied within the context of our proper law, that is they refer to the ordinary expiry established by the Salesian Constitutions, that is six years.
The Ratio retains the motivation of the just reason indicated by the universal law and gives to the Provincial with his Council competence to evaluate such a just reason and therefore the possibility of permitting the anticipation up to three months.
The question was taken up in Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment at n. 147; but whereas the anticipation for a just cause is still left to the judgement of the Provincial and his Council, here no distinction is made between anticipation of perpetual profession 'up to three months' or 'beyond three months'.
It should be observed that adding the expression 'up to three months' to number 147 of Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment, the directive remains clear and is in harmony with number 511 of the Ratio.
2.2. Anticipation of perpetual profession beyond' three months
What has so far been considered comes under the 'ordinary' praxis sanctioned by the Constitutions and the Ratio and Criteria and norms: temporary profession ordinarily for six years, with the possibility of anticipation 'up to three months' for a just cause, in the judgement of the Provincial with his Council.
However, there can be extraordinary cases, 'exceptional,' in which there are serious reasons to request an anticipation of perpetual profession beyond three months, in respect of the ordinary expiry of six years.
It is a question of establishing who is competent to judge the 'extraordinary nature' and to permit the anticipation of perpetual profession beyond three months, after a previous temporary profession of at least three years according to the Code of Canon Law.
In this regard, excluding the disciplinary nature of article 117 of the Constitutions - in which case article 193 of the Constitutions could be applied - there is no doubt that when the Constitutions do not specify differently, 'the Rector Major with his Council,' 'as well as the General Chapter', can give a practical decision in the interpretation of the Constitutions. (cf. C. 192). In this case, since in the Ratio 511 competence has been given to the Provincial to anticipate perpetual profession only up to three months, it follows that 'the judgement of cases of anticipation beyond three months is reserved to the Rector Major with his Council. In fact it is a question of an exceptional concession, for which our proper law has not established specific norms, and which therefore remains in the competence of the Rector Major with his Council.
On the basis of these observations therefore the prescriptions of the Ratio and the Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment can be integrated.
3. Integration of the Ratio n. 511 and of the Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment n. 147
Number 511 of the Ratio will be formulated in this way: The perpetual profession may be made at the expiry of the time of temporary profession 1 or up to three months earlier2. This last possibility requires that there be a just cause, to be assessed by the Provincial with his Council. In the exceptional case of anticipating perpetual profession beyond three months, before the expiry of the six years of temporary profession, the request should be addressed to the Rector Major.
Number 147 of Criteria and norms for Salesian vocation discernment will be formulated in this way: 'According to our Constitutions3, the time of trial for us is normally six years. In special cases and for a just cause recognized as such by the Provincial and his Council, perpetual profession can be anticipated' up to three months. To anticipate perpetual profession in exceptional cases by a period beyond three months, before the expiry of the six years of temporary profession, the request should be addressed to the Rector Major.�
4. Request to the Rector Major to anticipate perpeptual profession beyond three months
In order to anticipate perpetual 'profession beyond three months, the candidate will submit, through his Provincial, a written request to the Rector Major 'in which he will present the reasons for his request. The Provincial will send a letter of his own with the confreres request in which he will give his favourable opinion and the consent of his Council, regarding both the acceptability of the reasons given and the moral certainty of the maturity in the spritual life attained by the candidate.
The request to anticipate should be presented before preparation for perpetual profession, which begins 'about a year before the expiry of his profession' (FSDB 515).
In the case of anticipation by more than three months the practice of the Rector Major is to permit such anticipation only in exceptional cases.