This entry continues our series of “Vocation Letters” concerning our fictional postulant, Sister Melanie. Here she tells her family how nuns live the liturgical year. Sister Mary Magistra is our fictional Novice Mistress/Vocations Directress—”Magistra” means “lady teacher” in Latin.
Ave + Maria
Dear Mom, Dad, Josh, Zach, and Tessa,
Joyful Eastertide greetings! Christ is risen—indeed He is risen! I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. I was so thrilled to see all your letters in the bundle of mail Mother had saved up during Lent to give us at Easter.
When I first was getting to know the Sisters, one of the older Sisters mentioned how intense the experience of Holy Week and Easter was for her during her first year in the monastery. She had always attended the services while growing up, but the way we live out the liturgical year here in the monastery is so all-encompassing! Now that I have experienced both Christmas and Easter here at Marbury, I can assure you that what she said is true.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as we went into Advent. The Office books changed, and I discovered that the Advent hymns and antiphons and readings, the purple of the vestments and the Advent candles, the solemnity of the Mass without any organ accompaniment, all reflected the long dark nights of December in longing and anticipation for the coming of the Redeemer. Then Christmas itself! Not simply the glorious celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, but the grace of the Infant Christ overflowing into the feasts of St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, then Mary, Mother of God and the feast of Epiphany! What a celebration!
Lent, of course, has a different, more penitential tone of preparation and purification in union with the sufferings of Our Lord. It’s like a desert journey preparing our souls for “dies tua, / per quam reflorent omnia” “Your day wherein all things bloom anew,” as the Lauds hymn says: the Paschal Feast of the Lamb! So we say special prayers, and pray the Passion Verses every Friday . . . Holy Week itself is like the summit of the mountain towards which we have been journeying. Everything we do becomes focused on living out this week in the Liturgy—preparing the palms, the cleaning, the purple drapes and the Repository for Holy Thursday. One of the Novices impressed me with her enthusiasm for the chants which are so powerful during this season: the chants for Good Friday, the Reproaches of our Crucified Lord and our own pleas for mercy. And we have special chants for Tenebrae too.
Then, at the Easter Vigil, all the intensity of Holy Week bursts out into joy, joy, joy, with flowers and organ and singing and light and a whole eight days of celebration! And more chant! The Haec Dies, and the Christus Resurgens! Since we don’t have to return to work or school, we can really enter into the celebration for the whole week—and everything changes, from the penitential atmosphere of Lent all throughout the house, to the radiance of Easter when now, finally, our interior joy can match the superabundance of flowers blooming all around down here in the South.
Since this was my first time being here in the monastery for the Paschal Triduum, I had to use of lot of energy just following everything and trying to turn the page at the right time, but I am so looking forward to having these ceremonies grow into a part of me over the years. That’s what Sister Mary Magistra told me: as cloistered nuns, we don’t “go anywhere”; we “stay at home all the time”; and we don’t “do” any external apostolate (I mean, we have plenty of work here—the laundry we will always have with us!—but we don’t have the occupation of an apostolate). So for us, it is truly the liturgy that gives direction and movement to our lives, drawing us ever deeper each year into union with the Mysteries of Christ, “whom we desire to love solely.”
That is all for now. After finishing up this epistle I will barely be in time for “light’s out”! I hope you all have a wonderful Easter season. Please keep up your prayers for me—you know I always keep you in mine!
Love in Our Lady,