A DAY WITHING THE WALLS
“In solemn silence sweet it was to hear; The soft-toned clock upon the stair chimed three, too sweet for sleep, too early yet to rise.”
“When night is almost done, and sunrise grows so near that we can touch the spaces,
It’s time to worship the give of yet another day.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Ephesians 5:19 “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,”
STAY AWAKE! KEEP WATCH
The rising bell sounds throughout the dormitory cloisters at 4:50 AM, and the monastery day has begun. “My eyes sleep but my heart watches,” we greet the dawn of a new day with the word from Song of Songs. Throughout the monastery, lights go on, doors open and close, and footsteps shuffle down the stars, manifesting the silent haste with which sisters prepare to go to chapel for Matins [or Vigils], the first of the Offices of the Work of God.
In the chore, the Prioress, starts “O sacred banquet” and we all join in. The Hebdo-marian solemnly intones, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” The first words of the nun’s day are the beginning words of Matins, sung in beautifully.
The invitatory psalm is sang, using Gregorian music and psalms are recited. We pray Martins while much of the world is still a sleep, it signifies the watchfulness spoken of in Our Lord’s parable of the wise virgins, who keep watch for when the Bridegroom will return.
PRAY AT ALL TIME
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Mathew 6:6
In accordance with the monastic tradition, nuns walk silently to their cells where they meditate on the Scripture. For, as a kind of cloister within the cloister, cell is the space where, having closed the door she prays in secret, it is a place conducive to “lectio divina”, meditation and study. Dominican constitutions.
Lectio Divina is a form of reading which isn’t simply intellectual but also loving, “prayerful, peaceful and diligent”, “directed towards a true encounter with God”. “Read again this word in your heart, remain there in spirit, let it become as sweet as honey on the lips, meditate, live with the word so that the word dwells with you and in you forever.” Jordan of Saxony (first successor to St Dominic). Hence, from 5:45 to 6:45 AM nuns engage with the Scriptures in the silence of their cells.
Lectio Divina, as many writers have observed, leads to prayer, adoration, joy and an authentic interior liberty”
“Those who devote themselves to the contemplation of Truth are happiest in this life” St Thomas Aquinas.
THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE DAY
“The night is far advanced, and now the daylight approaches. Let us cast off, therefore, the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light!” Thus invigorated, we gather for lauds which is followed by the Eucharistic celebration. Thanks to our Dominican brothers who always break the Word and the bread with us and for us.
Here the nuns encounter and receive their Lord and Spouse, and from Him receive the graces needed to be faithful to His calling. After solemn Thanks giving to our Divine Benefactor, we
Adorations beginning. We all take turn throughout the day.
Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, “you owe me”
2 Thessalonians 3:10 “this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
Things move faster in the cloister. Most of the morning nuns spend their time pouring candles, making vestments, cleaning, attending the door bells, gardening, cooking, classes etc: these peaceful duties, allow us to meditate on spiritual matters, or to commune with the Lord.
We reflect how privileged our community is, to have as our main source of income the making of what will someday be used in liturgical celebrations. But every work in the monastery has infinite meaning and significance, no matter how tiny, for it is done with love and for the Lord.
Thus, the morning passes with two interruptions. One for terce at 9:15 – 9:30 AM and another for Sext together with the holy Rosary at 11:55 – 12:45PM.
SOUL AND BODY
John 21:5 “Jesus therefore says to them, Children, have you anything to eat?”
After sext and the holy rosary, the community gathers in the refectory for the main meal of the day. Our table is usually frugal but sufficient for all. We eat all the meals in silence, accompanied by listening to some edifying reading. Thus, both body and soul are nourished.
When the meal is finished and the prayers have been said, we help with the dishes. An short optional recreation is allowed, which is followed by an hour of profound silence.
Mark 6:31 “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
At 2:15, the bell rings for None—the third “Little Hour”, after which nuns head for final touches in their working places for about 45 minutes.
The rest of the afternoon is spent in personal study and prayers. Doctrinal study is a special responsibility for all Dominicans, for study is an observance. Real study demands intellectual asceticism, but for that reason it also offers rich rewards! As St. Thomas says, “Truth is the illumination of the intellect.” In our human knowing we are conformed to the divine Word, a Word that “breathes forth love.”
“Darkness descends, daytime surrenders to night,
Shadows silently steal the gloaming’s soft light,
Hapless homeless hasten towards hidden sites,
Darkness redeems us
Vespers, Supper, Recreation, and Compline…and another full day draws to a close. Our night prayer concludes with the Salve Regina sung in procession, and finally an ancient chant in honor of our Father Dominic: O lumen ecclesiae, Doctor veritatis. We entrust the day—all its joys and all its sorrows—into his hands and those of our Blessed Mother, to bring before the throne of God.
The sun is setting as we extinguish the compline candles. Yet, a small flame, though, remains burning by the tabernacle. At the heart of our monastery, and the heart of each nun, Christ abides. He is our Light. He is our Life. He is our Love. He is our ALL.
At the end of the day we are ready to retire. “May the all-powerful Lord grant you a peaceful night and a perfect end.”
The great silence begins with compline bell and is only broken after mass. As solitude and silence are important aids to interior recollection and prayer, this opportunity to spend time alone with the Lord in one’s cell is so precious to everyone in the cloister. After a long but blessed day, we return to our cell, tired, yes, but peaceful and happy, too. By eleven o’clock the last lights from various nuns’ cells go out.
As we drift off to sleep, hopefully these words from the Song of Songs, “I sleep but my heart keeps watch,” will be true for each one of us also, until it is time to rise once again, refreshed and ready