Thursday, November 24, 2011

Daily Life In the Novitiate—Part Two

As a postulant and then as a novice, I prayed 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 or stood 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.
            A small, freestanding kneeler sat on the floor in front of each seat. I kept my diurnal, from which I chanted the Office, as well as my missal, used during daily mass, in the cubbyhole of my assigned stall.
            Four stepped tiers of these stalls stood on both sides of the chapel. 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 light onto the satiny wood of the choir stalls and the gleaming polished floor.
         A wide aisle ran down the chapel’s length, separating the tiers on each side. I often knelt in that polished aisle 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—

·      Giggled. A fellow postulant with whom I shared the same sense of humor sat next to me in chapel. Little things set us off, like the way a nun sneezed or even the way she blew her nose.
·      Banged the kneeler.
·      Mangled a Latin word.
·      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 hundred years 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. For this I will be grateful the whole of my life.
                                                                     (To be continued on Saturday. . .)


  1. Happy Thanksgiving my friend. I have been in many Catholic churches. There is a real beauty in some of their traditions.
    However I would have been constantly laughing of giggling at the same things you did. I'm afraid I would have been on my knees offering culpa more than on my feet. :)

  2. Dee, you're so right about the sense of Presence in a place that has been constantly prayed in. The chant done well really does lift the heart and mind beyond ourselves. I'm not surprised it all still feels part of you in some way.

  3. What beautiful, touching memories of that place imbued with prayer. Perfect for this day of thanksgiving. :)

    I am thankful to have met you this year. I hope the coming year is filled with peace and great joy! Blessings, Lady Innocence!! :):)

  4. I adore the setting of this--absolutely beautiful.

    I hope you'll have a wonderful Thanksgiving :0)

  5. I well remember the days when I would spend Holy Week in retreat at the Sisters of St. Walburga, which had a retreat house outside Boulder. (They have since moved.) When I would listen to the eighteen nuns sing the offices as you described, I often would be moved to tears.

    I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving filled with Light and Love. Blessings and, as you always say to me, Peace. :-)

  6. There's nothing like Gregorian chant to stir the spirit. To this day, I love hearing it and feel transported. (When I was working on a difficult book, I played a CD of Gregorian chant in the background to soothe my anxiety and it worked wonderfully). Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful memories today and hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving.

  7. This was truly a lovely post. It left me with a feeling of peace & serenity.

    I am THANKFUL for you!!

  8. Dear Melynda, Perpetua, Rita, Elisa, DJan, Kathy, and Fishducky,

    Thank you one and all for commenting on this posting about praying the Divine Office. I'm glad the peace I felt in that chapel reached out to you and recalled memories of listening to Gregorian chant and going on retreat in Boulder and feeling Presence in places where others have prayed, sometimes for centuries.

    I hope that the blessings of your life are present to you today. I am grateful for all of you.


  9. Loved the post, Dee! I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving. Thinking about you! I've always found great peace sitting in a chapel, surrounded by Divine Presence. There's such an incredible Holiness.

  10. It is now Friday morning here, Dee, and what a peaceful and reflective post this was to read on the day after Thanksgiving. You have painted such a vivid picture of your prayers in chapel and the photo carries the words home. Lovely.

    I grew up in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Though I no longer attend the church of my childhood on a regular basis, I miss the ancient chants and find myself singing them often, in Greek, which is not so unlike the Latin. Your words in this post bring it all back to me in such a rich way. Thank you, Dee.

  11. Tussling with all these memories must be bittersweet..& freeing too. They breathe the way you write them. No polyurethane sheen.

  12. Dear Roberta,
    I was gleeful today when I saw a comment from you. I hope the writing goes well. I'm glad both of us have experienced the abiding presence within holy places.

    Dear Penny,
    I no longer participate in the rituals of the Roman Catholic tradition, but the gifts of that tradition live on in the marrow of my bones. Like you, when I hear chant or a Gregorian "Te Deum" I experience a richness of expression that speaks to me of past, present, and future.

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you.

    Dear Mary,
    Yes, both bittersweet and freeing. I hope in my posting for Saturday and next Tuesday to explain the doubts I had about making first vows. Idealism can be troublesome.

  13. I know about the atmosphere in a place where spiritual, communal, singing and praying have been offered for centuries. It is almost as if it oozes out of the walls. I love being in an ancient church, quiet, with the power of that devotion pervading my being.

  14. Ooh, I can see that place and feel what it is like to walk in there. To this day, when I enter the doors of a chapel, goosebumps rise up my skin and a deep sense of peace settles in. Thank you for sharing it so skillfully.

  15. I love Gregorian Chant and have several CDs of this wonderful musical chant. Your description of the peacefulness you felt while in the Chapel is tangible. Very old churches really do seem to store the accumulation of prayerful thought within their cracks and crevices. I, too, have felt this in really old places of worship and, even in very old graveyards, there is that same pervading sense of utter peace. I so enjoyed the beautifully painted image you created with your words of that time in your life. I read on Rita's blog that you would like to know how to create art. You do it, already. Your blank screen is your canvas, your words are your colours. You are an artist of note!

  16. Dear Friko, Kario, and Desiree,
    I'm not surprised that all of you have experienced the peace that can reside where humans have met to worship. To experience that peace is, I think, a gift from the Universe.

    And Kari and Desiree, I want to thank you for your kind words about my writing. I've always been unsure of my writing ability and so when someone compliments me on the way I write I find myself blushing!


  17. What a beautiful picture you paint with your words, Dee. The communal aspect of prayer when all hearts are tuned to the same Source really captivates me. It must have been rarified air! Holy ground indeed! Debra

  18. Dear Debra,
    Yes, in that convent chapel the holiness of past and present and even future was palpable. Wholeness/holiness.

  19. "Giggled. A fellow postulant with whom I shared the same sense of humor sat next to me in chapel. Little things set us off, like the way a nun sneezed or even the way she blew her nose."

    This makes me happy. I love "the giggles."

  20. Dear Michelle,
    I'm glad that those words made you happy. Giggling always does that for me. Glad also that you had such a wonderful family trip and swam with the dolphins. I loved the photographs you posted.

  21. As usual, I am playing catch up with your posts. I like to read them when I truly have a moment to absorb and enjoy. Loved the descriptions in this one!