Handing on the Faith by
a Life of Prayer
a Life of Prayer
Why was Christ crucified? For the love of mankind. For the same reason, the Poor Clare dedicates herself to a life of prayer and penance. By a strange irony, pleasures quickly turn to ashes, and leave only sorrow and frustration in the heart, but sacrifice spreads a perfume of joy in the soul and over the world.
When a young Poor Clare offers her life to God on the day of her profession, the bishop prays, “Lord, in your love grant that her way of life may bring glory to your name, salvation to all mankind, and spread your love and joy through all the world.” An amazing prayer for the Church to make, considering that this young woman will spend her life within the embrace of the monastic enclosure. She will not be teaching children their catechism, nor instructing RCIA classes, nor engaging in the other manifold and magniﬁcent works of the active ministry. But the Church conﬁdently asks God that her life of persevering prayer and willing penance may help to bring His salvation to the world. This prayer is made with the conviction that a cloistered nun is indeed handing on the Faith by her life of love at the very heart of the Church.
The Divine Office
Even among the laity, the breviary is today regaining its place of honor, the place it held in medieval times when kings and queens retired to their private chapels to pray it, or generals of armies paced up and down as they recited it before battle. But it is to her priests and contemplative nuns that Holy Church entrusts the Liturgy of the Hours of the Divine Office to be recited officially in her name. Thus Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi, said: “The Church deputes nuns alone among the women consecrated to God for the public prayer which is offered to God in her name … and these she binds under grave obligation by law according to their Constitutions to perform this prayer by reciting daily the canonical hours.”
Dom Columba Marmion has written powerfully of the grandeur of this Divine Office, explaining how all things are of value only in such measure as they procure God’s glory. And while some works, such as literary work, teaching, sweeping, cooking, nursing, working in the garden, have no direct relationship with God’s glory (although they give Him glory indirectly when transformed by the love and the intention of the one who performs them), there are other works which procure God’s glory directly. “Such,” says Dom Columba, “are Holy Mass and the Divine Office. From God’s point of view, these works surpass all other works.” It is to them that Poor Clares are primarily dedicated.
The Poor Clare rises just after midnight, while the world around is sleeping or perhaps sinning, to begin her day’s work of prayer for the Church and in the name of the Church for all mankind. Sin loves the cover of night. Prayer goes out into the backstreets of the night to seek out sinners and reclaim them. The night Office is a torch held in the hands of the Poor Clare as her love goes looking down the lanes of the world for the lost, the straying, the despairing, the suffering, the dying. Seven times a day she gathers with her sisters for this blessed, hidden work of love, offering God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, begging his grace and mercy, interceding for healing and peace for a suffering world. Not only the wars of nations and the scourge of evil leaders of men are her concern, but the small bickering that threatens the peace of the family down the street.
Pope John Paul II frequently spoke of this evangelization-by-prayer during his long pontificate. In 1980 he addressed the cloistered nuns in Nairobi: “The Church … forcefully proclaims that there is an intimate connection between prayer and the spreading of the Kingdom of God, between prayer and the conversion of hearts, between prayer and the fruitful reception of the saving and uplifting Gospel message” (John Paul II, Address to Cloistered Nuns, Nairobi, May 7, 1980). He asked cloistered nuns to “set themselves at the very heart of Mission by their constant prayer” (John Paul II, Homily in the Vatican Basilica, Nov. 30, 1997).
“Seven times a day I praise you” (Ps. 119).
The life of the cloistered religious also bears silent but eloquent witness to the things of eternity. In a society where material wealth is presented by the media as life’s only meaning and satisfaction, the Poor Clare’s life of joyous Franciscan poverty proclaims that only God can bring the human heart, created by Him and for Him, the true and eternal happiness for which it longs.
A monastery of contemplative nuns is also a gift for the diocese to which it belongs. Verbi Sponsa, a recent Instruction from the Holy See, states that “representing the prayerful face of the Church, a monastery makes the Church’s presence more complete and meaningful in the local community….It represents what is most intimate to a local Church, "its heart” (Verbi Sponsa, Instruction on the Contemplative Life and the Enclosure of Nuns, 1999). From this hidden heart of our diocese, the Poor Clares in Roswell collaborate by prayer and penance with our bishop and his people in handing on the Faith.
Our life of prayer is further explained in our Constitutions. A brief selection follows:
As contemplatives in the Church of God, we are particularly called to cultivate a spirit of prayer and to be dedicated more than others to mental prayer after the clear example of our Holy Mother Clare.
Prayer will be nourished by the assiduous reading of sacred Scripture, particularly the New Testament where Christ Himself speaks to us as Teacher, by pondering the writings of our founders with filial affection, by a close attention to the documents sent us by competent authorities to give us a better interpretation of our contemplative role in the Church and our Franciscan spirituality, and by meditative reading of the spiritual classics as well as solid contemporary works of spirituality. Other exercises of piety and spiritual helps which foster union with Christ and devotion to the Mother of God should be properly appreciated and cultivated. Among these the Way of the Cross and the recitation of the Crown of the Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary are especially worthy of commendation according to the tradition of the Order. The rosary, too, should hold a place of honor and be fostered in community.
By our profession in the contemplative life, we are especially dedicated to union with God and to his public worship which finds its fullest expression in the sacred liturgy. Therefore, our whole life pattern should take form from this liturgy which nurtures the divine life received in Baptism and is intensified in our religious consecration.
Holy Mass should be the object of our supreme devotion since it is the central point of our whole spiritual life by which all else is transformed from within and we are “built together into a holy temple in the Lord.”
We shall gratefully acknowledge our sacred heritage from St. Francis and St. Clare of outstanding devotedness to the Holy Eucharist by focusing our lives on the tabernacle and manifesting “every reverence and honor to the Body and Blood of our Lord.”
The Liturgy of the Hours is the “voice of the Bride addressing the Bridegroom,” and when we recite it, we stand before the throne of God in the name of our Mother the Church. Of one mind with our blessed Father Francis and our Mother St. Clare, we not only offer our own praise in Christ to the Eternal Father, but call on all creatures to join with us. For when we pray as members of the Church, our prayer always has a social connotation, influencing the body of those who believe and all men.
Our liturgical life is greatly enhanced by Gregorian chant which so beautifully captures the aspirations of the soul in its communion with God. Each feast has its own proper character which is expressed with profound depth in the ancient chants that have been sung by generations of Catholics. With good reason the Second Vatican Council stated in its document on the liturgy, Sacrosantum Concilium, that Gregorian chant should be given pride of place in liturgical services.
Here is a selection of Gregorian Marian and Eucharistic hymns sung by the community:
1. Alma Redemptoris Mater
2. Salve Regina
3. Ave Regina Caelorum
4. O Salutaris Hostia
5. Tantum Ergo Sacramentum
6. Panis Angelicus
7. Ecce Panis Angelorum
8. Adoro Te Devote
9. Ave Verum
10. O Jesu Vivens in Maria
11. Anima Christi