Saturday, July 23, 2011

Divine Office in the Choir Chapel

As a postulant, I learned how to pray the Divine Office. Psalms made up the basic structure of this ancient prayer, which we chanted, in Latin, several times a day—at Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Matins, and Compline.
            To pray we sat, stood, or knelt in stalls in the choir chapel. The straight-backed stalls had a narrow, separating partition on each side. Each stall’s seat was hinged so it could be lifted upright to provide more room for standing.
            In front of each seat a small, freestanding kneeler sat on the floor. In the cubbyhole of my assigned stall, I kept my diurnal, from which I chanted the Office, as well as my missal, used during daily mass.
            On both sides of the chapel stood four stepped tiers of these stalls. The nuns on one side faced the nuns on the other as we prayed. We chanted the psalm verses antiphonally—first one side, then the other.
            Stained-glass windows depicted the life and rule of our founder—Saint Benedict of Nursia. These exquisite works of art cast jeweled color onto the satiny wood of the choir stalls and the gleaming polished floor.
         Running down the chapel’s length and separating the tiers on each side was a wide aisle. I often knelt there during Compline and, with others, made public culpa. I’d bow my head and silently ask forgiveness from the community for diminishing the praise offered that day to God. 
         This happened when I—
1.     Giggled. Next to me in chapel sat a fellow postulant with whom I shared the same sense of humor. Little things set us off, like the way a nun sneezed or even the way she blew her nose.
2.     Banged the kneeler.
3.     Mangled a Latin word.
4.     Chanted off-key. My ear simply didn’t recognize pitch.            
When all of us were in good voice, the chanted prayer lifted our hearts beyond things like public culpa, giggling, and noisy kneelers. Our bodies cast weariness aside. Peace anointed us.
            That is the truest thing I can say—that the choir chapel was a place of peace. For nearly a century before I entered, women had prayed there. Their praise had become Presence.
            Whenever I was in that chapel, I could feel the Oneness of all those who had gone before me, all those who would come after, and all those with whom I then lived. While in that chapel I became One with All Creation.
            The time came when that was no longer true for me. It was then I left.



  1. This is so beautiful. These last words and paragraphs especially seized me. I have been on places where I felt this way, where so many years of seeking God sincerely, seemed to sit in the air...



  2. Hi Dee,

    I tried twice to leave a comment, but it got lost somewhere! Anyway, thanks for your comments! It's so reassuring to know of others who have lived past the knee replacement surgery!
    Now I'm going to catch up on your June posts! :)

  3. I felt a real sense of peace just reading your beautiful words. I can hardly wait to read more of this incredible story.

  4. You wrote this beautifully. Having been raised in France I am well acquainted with the Catholic church and it's worship services. (I'm assuming here that you are speaking of the Catholic church of course.)
    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I will enjoy reading more of your blog to see what I have missed.

  5. Oh, there you are! I went looking for you in all the wrong places :)

    Goodness only knows who'll be the recipent of the email I directed to, I thought YOU, at the time.

    I'm intrigued to hear you joined and then subsequently left your convent life. So many stories and movies have captivated the minds and imaginations of generations about this very thing. You're probably tired of being reminded :)

    I have a teeny bit of experience of a convent. When I was seven, my parents emigrated from then S. Rhodesia to South Africa. We initially moved to a tiny dorp (village) in what was then the Transvaal. My sister and I were enrolled in the Loreto Convent as the only alternative school was Afrikaans language medium and we could not speak or understand Afrikaans, as English was our Mother tongue. When we left Lydenburg to settle further south, we were once again enrolled at a convent, as my Mother had to work in order to help support the family at the time and, I guess my parents felt we'd be safely looked after by the convent Sisters after school until my Mother was able to collect us. I used to attend Mass, willingly. It was not compulsory for us to do so as Protestants, but I loved all the pomp and ceremony and used to think that I might like to become a Nun one day. That was a fleeting desire, of course.

    My favourite Nun at that school was Sister Damian. She was tall and strict, but incredibly fair and spoke beautifully. She apparently also left the convent after I'd moved on to another school. I have no knowledge of what became of her as I was still quite young at the time. I have never forgotten her, though.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading today's post, Dee. You have a beautiful way with words and I felt caught up in the moment.

  6. A spiritual journey never takes you where you expect, does it? A Never-ending story that is life-long, bewildering and sublime ...