Monday, March 3, 2008
“Beati qui habitant in domo tua, Domine: in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te.”
Whenever we novices meet up with our old friends, they always invariably ask us: “so, Sister, what do you do all day?”
This question always provokes a grin, partly because of the honest incredulity behind it, (after all, it seems such an uneventful life) and partly because of its naivety. To the average person outside the Convent, it would seem that nuns really have no worries – and they are always praying!
- Well, what does a little Dominican novice do all day?
Certainly our lives are not as they would be in the world – after all, we do not have the same freedom as a young lady of the world, who is able to attend parties and movies and basically use her time and money however she wants to. We novices fill our lives in higher ways… our TV is the Blessed Sacrament, and we mint our money by winning graces for souls by our prayers and everything that we do. We live our lives for God alone - and we regret nothing, because we learn that it is His world we live in (no matter how everyone else seems to forget it) and we can lose nothing by doing precisely what He created us to do – spend our lives in loving and serving Him alone.
How do we do this?
The first bell of the morning sounds at 5:20am when the novice rises and offers her day to God with all “our thoughts, words and works”. Then the bell rings the Angelus, that joyful first greeting of the day to the Queen of Heaven imploring her protection and blessing. We are given twenty five minutes to don our holy Habit (at first it is not very easy – there are all sorts of things to worry about, from putting your scapular on inside-out to walking out your room door happily oblivious to the fact that you forgot to pin on your headdress!) and hurry to the Chapel, eager to sing the praises of God. There is something profoundly beautiful in arising so early – even before the sun has a chance to rise. To offer the first fruits of the day to Jesus Christ our Spouse: such is the beginning of a day that is to be wholly lived for Him, that is to be a whole-burnt offering for Him – a day that is one among years of a life consecrated entirely to His love. This is the summary of the life of a religious, and it is also the core and heart of the life of a novice, studying in the school of perfection. We know that we thus win many graces for souls and we glorify God.
The Office of Lauds with the rest of the community at 5:45am calls us to say “Good Morning” to God – we thank him for having looked after us during the night, and we dedicate ourselves to glorify him in all that we are about to do in the day. Prime is the office during which we ask God’s protection over us, that we may keep from offending Him by sin. To encourage our efforts, there is a little reading from the Martyrology everyday. Then, we make our half-hour Meditation, which is the immediate preparation for Mass. It is our great chance to think solely and undisturbed about the things of God, take a step back, and reflect, before advancing again to the spiritual combat against the world, the flesh and the devil. ( - Which combat the professed teaching sisters would say consisted entirely of school meetings, the ever-fun-loving children, and the never-ending marking!!) Mass at 7:00am and Holy Communion are the infinite sources of weaponry that we need to engage in this daily battle. Following our Thanksgiving after Mass we sing Terce, imploring the sanctifying action of the Holy Ghost upon all our work.
A very welcome breakfast comes next, after which we do our house duty, (for example, a Sister may be in charge of sweeping the staircase) and then follows the first class of the day for the novices at 8:30am taken by Mother Mary Catherine, our sub-mistress. Our mornings are usually filled with lectures and study, (naturally, being Dominicans, we “contemplate in order to pass to others the fruits of our contemplation”) during which we determine why we have entered the religious life, study what it means to be in the religious state, and the great graces that are attached to it. In short, we are given our two years in the novitiate to “feel our way around”, to decide whether it is really God’s will for us that we be religious, and in order to make a good decision we learn all about the vows that religious take, and we are gradually initiated into the life. The first year of the novitiate is a year given solely to contemplation – this means that we avoid unnecessary intercourse with the world, and it is for this reason that we do not teach. We do teach however, a little in the second and final year of our novitiate, as well as study, as a kind of gentle introduction to the life of a teaching Dominican sister.
The Divine Office of Sext is chanted at 12:55pm, when we have the chance to examine whether we have lived the morning for God, and we renew our fervour if we have been negligent in this respect. We renew our offering of ourselves, and we beg God to protect us especially at this time of the day, when temptations and distractions flood us and try to draw us away from Him. After Sext we have a simple lunch, and then follow classes, interspersed with free time when we either catch up on our duties, or we are left with the opportunity to go for walks to catch the last of the fine summer weather, a time very useful for catching up on saying our Rosaries – for, as Dominican novices, we must say a full Rosary every day; that is, fifteen decades. This is something we love dearly, of course, as it was to our holy Father Saint Dominic that the Blessed Mother of God gave the Rosary; and what better path to contemplation than this beautiful arrangement of Aves - a heavenly bouquet of roses to give to our Queen in reflecting upon the mysteries of her life and that of her Divine Son!
None is chanted at 4:10pm, after which the cook of the day prepares the main dinner. Vespers takes place at 5:00pm, when we thank God for all the graces so far received. The Rosary with the community is then said, and then when she is ready, the cook rings the bell for the dinner. After this, the Sisters chant Matins in anticipation of the next day, (as it would be rather cheeky to ask the teaching sisters to get up at unearthly hours of the morning to fulfil this very beautiful Office) and then make an evening Meditation of fifteen minutes. Sometimes we attend Benediction, or the Stations of the Cross at the Church, and this takes the place of the evening Meditation leaving us some free time – which we novices are very prompt to use for saying our Rosaries!
Recreation takes place at 7:45pm, just before Compline. Although we are, in the Novitiate, separated from the Professed, we still manage to have plenty of fun with our two postulants! Activities range from indoor board games to walking, roller-blading and playing tennis with Mother Mary Catherine. I am quite sure that if “externs” were to see us at recreation they would be dumbstruck: who would have thought that nuns could have so much fun! We laugh at everything and the air is pervaded with an overall atmosphere of happiness and a deep joy. Our Lord certainly never meant His spouses to be dismal! (and it is extremely funny to watch your very dear tennis-expert postulant patiently hitting the ball straight to you, and you with all the good will in the world powerfully batting the ball back straight – to her Guardian Angel! And meanwhile the poor Sister on roller-blades just can’t help wondering if you’re really aiming the hits at her or not…)
The Bell rings for Compline at 8:30pm, and we make our way to the Chapel to thank God for the graces of the day, to beg His pardon for any faults committed, and to beg His blessing and protection on the rest we must take in order to serve Him well on the morrow. The Salve Regina is sung, and the procession to the altar of Our Lady, led by the two Novices acting as acolytes and holding candles. The singing of the O Lumen to Saint Dominic marks the end of Compline, and then we have approximately forty minutes in which to prepare for bed.
When lights are turned off at 9:45pm, and we are drifting off on the gentle waves of sleep, we commend ourselves to Our Spouse as a child that lies secure in the arms of its mother, and we rest content, knowing that as we have lived solely for Him by His grace, so we will die.