Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation

The morning before the Solemnity of the Annunciation Chapter is held in place of Terce. After we all gather in the Chapter Hall one of the Chantresses chants the beginning of St. John's Gospel. This year it was Sr. Joseph Maria's turn. Afterwards the community makes the venia (a Dominican prostration done on one's right side). At the signal (the Prioress knocks) all rise and resume their places as the sister who has been asked to give the sermon comes forward.

It has been the custom in our monastery that for both the Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation and the Solemn Chapter of the Nativity the Prioress chooses another sister to give the sermon. This is always kept secret, so we never know who has been chosen until they step forward. This year Sr. Lucia Marie who was asked. She did a wonderful job, and you can read her sermon below! The Chantresses intone the Verbum Caro, and Chapter concludes with a short prayer.

 Sr. Lucia Marie's Annunciation Sermon:

        While the other Gospels begin with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, or with a brief description of Jesus’ birth, Luke starts his story with the Angel Gabriel announcing a miraculous birth, first to Zechariah, and then to Mary. Why does Luke choose to tell the story as he does? I think that perhaps Luke presents it the way he does in order to give us an example of how we too ought to hear and respond to the message of the Gospel which we are about to read in his account. Mary’s response of faith is contrasted to the disbelief of Zechariah when the angel Gabriel announces a miraculous birth to each of them. Mary hears and responds in faith to the message of the world’s salvation which is given to her, then lives it as she visits Elizabeth and eventually gives birth to Jesus.

                In the Annunciation, the Gospel message of the coming savior is proclaimed to Mary – a message that contains great joy and great hope, but also entails obvious sufferings for her. Mary trusted in God, believed in his word, and accepted the angel’s message in faith. St. Augustine says that “Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ than in receiving the flesh of Christ. Her nearness as a mother would have been of no profit to Mary had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh.” And so, while we may never be visited by an angel who tells us that we are going to conceive and bear the Son of God in the flesh, we can imitate Mary in this assent of faith, bearing Christ in our hearts.

                The Annunciation is in a certain sense completed by the Visitation. Carrying Christ conceived within her, Mary goes out on a mission of mercy to her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is profoundly moved when she hears Mary’s greeting, even saying, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Our faith is not about just “us and God”, considering everyone else and their salvation as something nice but rather irrelevant to us. In fact, the first letter of John says, “If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Loving God without loving our neighbor is impossible. Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi writes: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another; through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.”

                And so our faith is completed when we carry it out in our actions, bringing Christ to everyone we encounter, even going out of our way to encounter those whom we know need Christ brought to them. We live this out through our interactions with others, even such as just a cheerful smile towards someone, but also and in a special way for us as contemplatives, through our prayers.

                This living out of our faith though never loses sight of the primary place of Mary’s example in the Annunciation. In our results-driven world view, it can be easy for us to see the value of going out and doing good, of “making a difference”, but less so to see the value of imitating Mary in encountering God in silence. There are many people who don’t even believe in God who have a sincere respect and admiration for Mother Teresa’s work among the poorest of the poor. But we forget that Mother Teresa was only able to do these things because she was first filled with God, looked first to God and then went out because this was what God was asking of her. If we imagine Mary’s Visitation without the Annunciation, it would be comparatively fruitless. It was the presence of Jesus within her that so profoundly affected both Elizabeth and John within her womb, not Mary in herself. Our desire to make a difference, to do good, even to be good can never allow us to lose sight of Mary’s example to us in the Annunciation. It is the grace of God received in faith that allows us to do the good, that changes us for the good.

                This Gospel message which we receive and live is really the same thing as St. Thomas described the mission of the Dominican order – to contemplate, and to give to others the fruits of our contemplation. Looking to Mary in the Annunciation, we seek God in prayer and open our hearts to his message. Imitating Mary in the Visitation, we take Christ within us out to others. All of this reaches its fulfillment in the Nativity, when Mary gives birth to the Son of God, finally seeing with her eyes and holding in her arms what she has trustingly believed she carried within her. At the end of our lives, if we have imitated Mary in conceiving Christ in our hearts in faith, living out that faith in our lives, we shall finally see God face to face.

                Mother Teresa’s resolution was to have, “A hearty “Yes” to God. A big “Smile” to all.” May we too give a hearty “Yes” to God in each moment in our life, and then bring the light of Christ to all the world by our witness and by our prayers.

Sermon for Sr. Lucia Marie's Clothing

During the clothing ceremony for the investiture of new novices the Prioress gives a sermon. Below is the sermon Sr. Mary Martin gave on the occasion of Sr. Lucia Marie's Clothing.

***

My Dear Sisters,

I heartily rejoice in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul, for He has clothed me in the robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bride bedecked in her jewels. Thus the bride, Israel, exults in the prophecy of Isaiah. She is a forerunner and type of all of redeemed humanity: the Church, Mary Mother of the Church, and today in a particular way, Sr. Marie.

In modern American custom, the bride decks herself out in carefully chosen and usually expensive finery. However, in this passage from Isaiah, it is the Bridegroom who bedecks his bride. In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says the same of Christ: He is the one who adorns His Church so that she is without spot or wrinkle. He does it at His own expense, at the price of His blood, the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb. During this season of Lent especially we celebrate the price of our redemption and the beauty with which our Redeemer has clothed us.

Today, remembering all these things, we clothe Sr. Marie in the habit of the Order of Preachers, the gown that we hope will be her bridal gown to wear the rest of her life. It is not materially costly, although I’m sure that the sisters who made her clothes put considerable time and effort into it. Nevertheless, the habit comes with a price, the price of one’s whole self which Sr. Marie begins today to surrender willingly to her Bridegroom, a small offering indeed in comparison with His infinite love for her. From our experience we can say to her that this sacrifice is carried out not in one grand gesture but in repeated small gestures made every day for a whole lifetime. It is not too soon to start!

As Sr. Marie begins her journey in the bridal finery of the Order of Preachers, there are a number of realities that she can take certain consolation from: one is the love and companionship of her Bridegroom and his beloved Mother, another is the gentle support and intercession of St. Joseph on whose feast she is being clothed, and last but not least, the support and prayer of her sisters in community and of the whole Dominican Order. Let us never forget to pray for one another as we all go forward together in this beautiful way of life that God has clothed us for.

 

Paschal Candle

Sr. Mary Ana has been working assiduously on this year's Paschal Candle. This year she painted the Eucharistic symbol of the Pelican. Never heard of this before? HERE is an explanation of the history and meaning of the Pelican's use as a Eucharistic symbol.

Didn't she do a beautiful job? We are so very blessed with the many talents of our sisters!

Palm Sunday

Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of the holiest week in the Church's liturgical year. This morning’s readings from Scripture, which trace out for us the path we will follow in this week’s liturgy, are held within two almost ironic bookends.

In  the first Gospel read at the blessing of the palms, we see Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem where He is hailed as King of the Jews—explicitly in the option from John (12:13) and implicitly in Mark’s Gospel (11:10). To those laying down their cloaks and palms this was the climactic moment, Jesus was revealing Himself as the Messiah, the King; they expected that He would now overthrow the Romans and establish His kingdom.

And they were right—but in a way they never expected and, indeed, did not recognize.

We hear those words “king of the Jews” once more in the last Gospel reading (Mark 15:2,9,12,18,26), but instead of being shouted in electric exhilaration and exultation by the Jews as they welcomed Jesus as King, we hear them on the lips of Pilate as he questions Him, from the mouths of the soldiers as they beat and mock him, we read them on the inscription of the charge against Him. What was once shouted in adoration as we began Mass is now shouted in indignation and mockery. What was first acclamation is now defamation. In between these two bookends the drama of Holy Week unfolds.

The Jews crying out in exultation, welcoming their King, were not wrong in their expectation of the impending victory of their Messiah. Their King was King indeed as he reigned from Pilate’s cross, conquering their foes and subjugating even death to his sovereignty. What they mistook for utter defeat would be revealed in three days as absolute triumph.

As the prophet Elijah wrote, “Who would believe what we have heard?” (Isaiah 53:1) Who would believe that the great victory of the Messiah would be through loving obedience in pain and suffering, even death? Who imagined that the great messianic hope of the people would be accomplished through oppression, persecution and death? It can be so easy to think that if we had been there we would have recognized Christ for who He was and His death for what it was.

But if we don’t recognize the same process in Christ’s body, the Church, why are we so sure we would have recognized it in His Head? For St. Paul tells us, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians is to enact, to enkindle Christ’s life in us, to bring Christ’s body into full unity with His Head, and this process involves suffering and death.

On Calvary the cross looked like utter waste, the hope of Israel rendered completely useless. As Isaiah says, “Seized and condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny?” (Isaiah 53:8) So often when we meet with pain and suffering in our life we see it as futile and useless, as Christ's death appeared to the Jews. We cry to God to remove it (just as Jesus did in the Garden) and yet are troubled and confused when He allows it to remain. We will all suffer in this life, the sin of Adam wove pain into the fabric of human existence; but Jesus, the Son of God, has transformed that suffering from something life extinguishing to something life-saving. The marks of slavery Jesus has endowed, by His own suffering, with redemptive value.

The drama of the Passion happened in history 2000 years ago, and we experience it every year in the Church’s liturgy. But it must go deeper than one week every Spring; we must let Christ live in us, let His salvific life, passion, death and resurrection truly be lived also in our life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is so easy to hail Christ as our King when He’s entering the Holy City in triumph, when everything is joy and celebration. Yet we must hail Him our King no less when He hangs from the cross and invites us to take up our own cross and follow Him who is The Way (Matthew 16:24).

 
 
Holy Week Schedule
 

Palm Sunday 
Usual Monastery Schedule

Holy Thursday

  • Matins-Lauds —6:50 AM
  • Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM
  • Mass of the Lord's Supper—5:00PM
    Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament inside the nuns' monastery.
    No Compline.

Good Friday

  • Matins-Lauds—6:50 AM
  • Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM
  • None—2:40 PM
  • Celebration of the Passion of the Lord—3:00 PM No Vespers
  • Compline—8:15 PM

Holy Saturday

  • Matins-Lauds—6:50 AM
  • Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM
  • None—3:00 PM
  • Vespers—5:30 PM

Easter Vigil is private. Closed to the public.

Easter Sunday

  • Lauds—6:40 AM
  • Holy Mass—8:00 AM
  • Sext—12:00 PM
  • None & Rosary—3:10 PM
  • Vespers—5:30 PM
    Compline, closed to the public.