Video: Canticle of the Passion

The Canticle of the Passion, or the “Passion Verses” as we say, is a specifically Dominican devotion traditionally sung on the Fridays of Lent.  A compilation of texts from Sacred Scripture relating to the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, this devotion was revealed by the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Catherine de Ricci, a cloistered Dominican Tertiary of the 16th century, after the Saint experienced the first of her many ecstasies sharing Our Lord’s Passion.

“Our Lady is said to have desired Catherine, when she revealed this Canticle to her, to spread it through the convent as a form of prayer and contemplation supremely pleasing to our Lord. The venerable confessor, Fra Timoteo, wrote it out in full at the saint’s dictation and submitted it for the approval of the Order. Padre Francesco di Castiglione had then become general, and he was not satisfied with allowing its use in San Vincenzio. By a circular letter to all monasteries of the Province he ordered it to be placed amongst the regular devotions and forms of prayer peculiar to the Dominicans; and it has remained celebrated amongst us, under the title Canticle of the Passion, as a monument to the tender love of our great Dominican saint, Catherine de Ricci, for her crucified Jesus”  (from St Catherine de’ Ricci : Her Life, Her Letters, Her Community by Florence Mary Capes, p. 76-77).

The Canticle of the Passion is a good example of how Dominican devotions flow from and lead to the Liturgy.  Like the Liturgy, the Canticle is woven out of Sacred Scripture and sung to the haunting tones of our Dominican chant, leading us to enter more deeply into the solemn mysteries of this season of Passiontide and Holy Week.

The above is a recording of the Canticle of the Passion as we sang it during this Lent. (The chant we sing in Latin; we have added English subtitles along with pictorial meditations from sacred art.)

Parce Days: Making Reparation

St. Dominic prays at the foot of the Cross with his arms like a cross
The three days leading up to Ash Wednesday we call the “Parce Days” (pronounced PAR-chay, for those unfamiliar with ecclesiastical Latin). These are days are observed as days of special penance in reparation for the excesses of Mardi Gras, going back to at least the 13th century.

During the Parce Days, we pray special prayers of reparation, most notably by dropping our other employments and returning to choir (the nuns’ part of the chapel) every hour on the hour to sing the Parce, from which these days take their name.

Gregorian chant for Parce Domine

Spare, O Lord, spare Your people, lest You be angry with us forever.

Given that nowadays the Mardi Gras celebration in certain regions runs much longer than three days, it might seem that we need a longer period of reparation. In fact, given the current cultural situation, don’t we need reparation year round? We have it. A Dominican spiritual writer of the early 20th century states: our life as religious, organized as it is totally in relation to God, is an exact reparation for the Godlessness of secular society.

On normal days, we don’t hurry to choir on the hour to pray special reparation prayers as we do during these Parce Days. But we do return to the choir time and time again each day, for Holy Mass and to chant God’s praise in the Divine Office. Each hour also finds a new Sister beginning her Hour of Guard in our continual vigil of Eucharistic Adoration and Perpetual Rosary.

Every moment of our lives is consecrated to God through our public vows and the witness of our life in community. We offer this to Our lord in reparation for those who exclude Him from their lives and instead vainly search for fulfillment in so many other ways. Have mercy, O Lord!  As in the prayer the angel taught the children at Fatima:

O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee.

See also:

Presentation of the Infant Jesus

O Thou, Who through Thy birth hast sanctified the virginal womb,
and Who hast blessed the arms of Simeon as it is meet,
do Thou, when wars prevail, give peace to Thy people.
Hail O thou, full of grace, virgin and Mother of God,
for from thee has arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ God,
illuminating those who are in darkness.

This Feast, celebrated on February 2, has several names, all pertaining to the various meanings of the Feast. In the Eastern Church it is called Hypapante or Encounter, because Simeon and Anna encountered the Infant Jesus in the Temple. We usually know it as the Feast of the Presentation – the 40th day after His Birth when Jesus was presented by Mary and Joseph in fulfillment of the Law of Moses. The Law also prescribed that mothers submit to a rite of purification at the same time, so today’s Feast has a strong Marian significance. Our Lady, who is All-pure, willingly submitted to this rite, giving us a marvelous example of obedience to the Church in all things.

Adorn your bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ, the King. Greet Mary, the gate of heaven, with loving embrace; for she bear the King of Glory, the new Light. There stands the Virgin, in her arms the Son begotten before the day-star.
(Procession hymn)

This Feast is also called Candlemas Day, the day on which all the candles to be used in the Liturgy are blessed. This signifies that Simeon called Jesus the Light of Revelation to the Gentiles. By our Baptism and Confirmation we are required to bring the Light of Christ to the world too, and so before Mass the priest gives each of us a candle. Then all go in procession into the Church with the lighted candles.

We should never forget that consecrated life is a gift which comes from on high, an initiative of the Father “Who draws His creatures to Himself with a special love and for a special mission” (Vita Consecrata 17). This look of special love profoundly touches the heart of the one called, who is urged by the Holy Spirit to place himself or herself in the footsteps of Christ, in a particular way of following Him, by means of assuming the Evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II designated this day as Consecrated Life day. He chose this day specifically because this Feast “reveals the mystery of Jesus, the One consecrated by the Father, come into the world to carry out His will faithfully.” All religious are obliged by their religious consecration to do this in a special way. Consecrated life the Pope said, is a “stupendous gift” of the Father to the Church. On this day everyone should “give unceasing praise and thanks to the Lord” for this gift. Furthermore he intended that celebration of this Feast should “promote a knowledge and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God.” “What would become of the world if there were no religious?” he quotes from St. Teresa. Yes, with all our hearts we thank God for our call to religious life!

The Holy Name of Jesus as a Seal on One’s Heart

Manuscript illumination of Bl. Henry Suso

This letter from our Dominican brother, Blessed Henry Suso, speaks in his distinctive evocative style of devotion to Our Lord and to the Holy Name of Jesus.  Although he is writing to Dominican nuns as their spiritual father, his words may apply to all who love and seek God.

Pone Me ut signaculum super cor tuum!

The eternal God pleads for a resting-place with His bride: “Lay me upon thy heart like a love-token” (Song of Songs).

My dear children, I am sending you these letters to provide food for your souls by which your heart and spirits may be constantly renewed and set aflame in tender love of the fair and gentle eternal wisdom.  For here is the deepest joy we can have in this life, when, alas, the purest contemplation, the most tender and intimate embrace and unchanging, everlasting union with Him is still impossible to us.

By means of them we can always be thinking of our lover, our chosen one, can long for Him in our hearts, speak of Him always, read His affectionate messages to us, unite ourselves with Him in all our work, be attached to nothing else on this earth.  Our eyes should look at Him with love, our ears be open to His word, our heart, mind, and spirit embrace Him.  When we have angered him, we must plead for pardon: when He tries us, we must bear it patiently: when He hides Himself from us, we must seek our adored one and never relinquish our search until we have found him, again and again.  When we have found Him, we must cling to Him in tenderness and virtue.

Whether standing or walking, eating or drinking, the golden sign of Jesus should always be engraved upon our heart.  If we can do no other, we must impress His image upon our soul though our eyes, let His sweet name sound on our tongues.  We should be so occupied with Him during the day that our dreaming at night is of Him alone.  Let us echo the heartfelt sigh of the prophet: “Oh, beloved God, Thou fair, tender, most excellent wisdom, how good thou art to that souls which seeks Thee, which desires Thee alone!”

Image of the Holy Name

This, in turn, reminds us of the hymn we sing for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus at the beginning of this month of January.  If we were not already nuns, this hymn would make us want to enter the monastery to belong to Jesus alone!

Jesu dulcis memoria
dans vera cordi gaudia:
sed super mel et omnia
ejus dulcis praesentia.

Sweet is the memory of Jesus, giving true joys to the heart; but above honey and all things is His sweet presence.

Nil canitur suavius,
nil auditur jucundius,
nil cogitatur dulcius,
quam Jesus Dei Filius.

Nothing sweeter is sung, nothing more pleasant is heard; nothing more lovely is thought, than Jesus, the Son of God.

Jesu, spes paenitentibus,
quam pius es petentibus!
quam bonus te quaerentibus!
sed quid invenientibus!

O Jesus, hope of penitents, how kind art Thou to those who pray!  How good to those who seek Thee!  But what to those who find Thee!

Nec lingua valet dicere,
nec littera exprimere:
expertus potest credere,
quid sit Jesum diligere.

No tongue can tell, nor written word express it; only one having experienced it, can imagine what it is to love Jesus.

Sis, Jesu, nostrum gaudium,
qui es futurus praemium:
sit nostra in te gloria,
per cuncta semper saecula.

O Jesus, be Thou our joy, who art to be our reward; in Thee be our glory forever.  Amen.

Christmas Greetings and Newsletter 2016

Blessed, Joyous Christmas Greetings!

Image of Mary, Baby Jesus, and a lambOh Come, Divine Messiah! The joy of Our Lady is truly ours in this Advent Season leading up to the luminously beautiful celebration of Christ’s Birth. One of the blessings of living in the Monastery is that of being free from the hustle and bustle that has come to be associated with preparation for Christmas. While there is much to do during Advent, we can still focus on preparing for the coming of the Infant Jesus. Like most folks, we accumulate a lot of “excess baggage” on our pilgrimage to Heaven. Silence helps us discover that baggage and rid ourselves of it. During Advent we enter the “desert” of Silence in greater depth. Saint Mother Teresa gives us five ways to practice silence: eyes, ears, tongue, mind and heart. By closing our eyes, ears, tongue, mind and heart to the noise of uncharitableness, untruths, and selfishness, and opening them to the beauty and goodness of God as witnessed in others, we shed our excess baggage. This will make our journey to Bethlehem a joyful and light-hearted one.

Of all the “firsts” that a postulant experiences in the monastery perhaps the most memorable is her first Christmas. Our new postulant, Sister Anna, the second oldest of a large Catholic family, grew up in Bethel, Ohio. She entered the Monastery on October 1st, after graduating from Northeast Catholic College this past May. Sister’s most recent Advents were probably spent studying for exams—quite a contrast to the Advent Liturgy’s solemn countdown to the Holy Night. Yet to come is the increasing drama of Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass and the characteristically monastic (but not dull) celebrations in honor of Our Lord’s long-awaited appearing on earth.

Photo of community of cloistered Dominican nuns with the Master General of the Order of Preachers

Our community with the Master General of the Order of Preachers

As Marbury is far off the beaten track, we were totally surprised when we received a call informing us that the Master General of the Order of Preachers, Father Bruno Cadoré, O.P. wanted to visit us this past October. Our excitement was not the least dimmed when we later learned that he would be arriving about 8:00 p.m. and leaving early the next morning. It was a great honor and delight for us to receive the successor of Saint Dominic in our midst. How grateful we are for Father Bruno’s thoughtfulness and solicitude for the Nuns of the Dominican Order.

High School Football teams usually have colorful names indicating how ferocious they will be on the field. We are familiar with the Lions, Tigers, Cougars, Bull Dogs, Wolverines, Knights and Pirates, Yellow Jackets, Hornets and Bees. When she heard the name of another team recently, however, Sister was a little puzzled. Was SQUASH BUGS really the best they could do? Fortunately, a Sister with better hearing assured her that the name was actually SWASHBUCKLERS! (The devastating attacks on our cucumber plants can testify, however, that a team named Squash Bugs may well be undefeatable.)

“Bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells! What a fine monastic life their melody fore-tells!” With our apologies to Edgar Allen Poe, our life in the monastery is filled with the “tintinnabulation” that rings to mark the time in our daily rhythm of prayer and work. In this particular case, we are thinking of the chimes of the grandfather clock which now stands in slender majesty in a niche between our community room cabinets. A true grandfather clock, it was assembled by the grandparents of one of our Sisters, and was brought down to us after they both passed away earlier this year. Now, as it chimes the quarter hour throughout our times of work, or announces (with undue cheerfulness!) the end of evening recreation, we pray for their souls and praise God for the many “bells” which lead us too towards Heaven.

Our Lady’s memories of the life of her Son are what make up the beautiful chain of the mysteries of the Rosary. At Fatima, Our Lady asked in every apparition that we pray the daily Rosary. As Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary, we constantly ponder the mysteries in and through Mary’s Heart. The Rosary is so powerful. May we all pray it for peace, for our country, and for the whole world.

May you have a joyous Christmas and every blessing in the New Year!

Mother Mary Joseph, O.P. and Sisters