Is the Profession of Vows a Sacrament?
Similar to priestly ordinations, the solemn profession of religious vows takes place within the context of a Mass—ideally a Sunday or solemnity Mass. For those Catholics who have witnessed a profession of religious vows, they likely have noticed that the ritual looks, from the outside, very much like an ordination.
We see a man called up to the altar; he answers questions; he lies face down and we recite the Litany of Saints; he kneels before the presider, makes vows, and is given a line of embraces from the attendant friars.
Indeed, they share many ritual appearances. However, the difference between them is important to understand. A profession of vows is not a sacrament, and not a rite of Holy Orders. The sacrament of Holy Orders, refers only to the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons, and it “confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a ‘sacred power’ (sacra potestas).” Within the ritual of the sacrament, this sacred power is conferred by the visible sign of the “laying on of hands.”
The profession of vows, however, does not permit a friar to the exercise of any “sacred power.” And the Mass of profession excludes that very decisive gesture of the laying on of hands.
Rather, within the Augustinian Rite of Solemn Profession, the friar asks that he be united “more closely to God” through a lifelong embrace of “of perfect chastity, poverty, and obedience.” Further, though the vow of the friar is made exclusively to the Order of St. Augustine—and his promise is specifically given to the Prior General of the Augustinians, who resides in the Roman Curia. This usually is done via the friar's local Prior Provincial.
Below is the full text template of the solemn vows a friar makes to the Augustinian Order. While it shares much with the solemn vows of other mendicant orders, the vow is uniquely Augustinian in character and language:
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. In this year of the Lord _____, on the ____ day of ____, I [name] led by the Holy Spirit declare my intention to follow Jesus Christ more closely and to give a fuller expression to my baptismal consecration. Therefore, calling upon the Virgin Mary and our holy father Augustine, I give myself to God and unite myself to his will by the solemn vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, in the Order of Brothers of Saint Augustine and according to the Rule of our holy father. I wish to continue my quest for God together with my brothers and serve the people of God in community life and mutual sharing of goods. For the love of God and in the presence of my brothers, I promise obedience to you, ____, in the name of ______, prior general of the Order. I pray that the Lord will enable me to live faithfully with you in unity of love and have one mind and heart intent upon God.”