Cloistered Passionist life is a profoundly liturgical life. In addition to daily Mass, we pray the full Liturgy of the Hours, which extends the fruits of the Mass throughout the entire day. This schedule of daily prayer in common forms the “backbone” of our daily life, or to use a musical term, establishes its “rhythm”.
We use the Church’s 4-volume breviary, together with a “Passionist breviary” – entitled “Passionist Proper Offices.” This Church approved Passionist breviary contains the Liturgy of the Hours for our various Passionist saints and blesseds, as well as other feasts such as Our Mother of Holy Hope (July 9) and the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) which the Church has approved to be celebrated by Passionists. This special breviary also has a series of Passion Votive Offices which we often pray on Fridays of Ordinary Time, when not impeded by an obligatory memorial, a feast or a solemnity. Some of these special Offices are: “Jesus Prayer in the Garden”, “The Face of the Suffering Christ”, “Jesus is Scourged,” etc. Praying these with the Sisters of our own community as well as with guests, is a beautiful way to honor Jesus in the great mystery of His love.
Since we also have great devotion to Our Blessed Mother, we usually have a Votive Mass and Office in her honor on Saturdays when liturgically permitted. In regards to the praying the rosary we pray this powerful Marian prayer alone or with a small group, in order to allow each Sister the freedom to pray it at a slow rhythm and to make use of pauses for silence.
As regards music for the sacred liturgy, we like to think of it this way: In the Gospel, Jesus speaks about the scribe who can bring from his treasure house both the old and the new. Our choice of music for the sacred Liturgy includes both the old and the new, both Latin and English. When we sing Latin music we try to understand what the Latin words mean, so that we can truly pray the music. We use an array of Latin Gregorian chant Masses, antiphons, hymns, traditional Latin motets and traditional English hymns, as well as carefully chosen modern music (never with a rock beat) which have authentically Catholic lyrics.
We always use the organ to support the singing, and there are three Sisters who play the organ. One postulant may soon be learning the organ, while another is an accomplished violinist. We are already planning to include the violin in our Christmas music repertoire. For the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we always use the Novus Ordo which Pope Benedict said is “ordinary form” of the Mass. We do make a distinction between the more simple weekday Masses, and the memorials of saints, feasts and solemnities. We do not treat every day as a solemnity.
As regards a priest for Mass, we have our own resident chaplain whose house is on our property but outside the enclosure boundaries. Father is often joined by another priest who is a Passionist Oblate. Visiting priests on retreat may also concelebrate if they wish. We are deeply indebted to our bishop for assigning a chaplain to our monastery, when so many cloisters in the U.S. have great difficulty finding a priest to offer their Masses.
Because our monastery is located in a very rural area, it is quite difficult to get male servers. Because of this difficulty, for some years we did not have servers at all, until our Bishop exercised the right given him by the Church, and asked the Nuns themselves to serve. Does this surprise you? Actually, since our habits are “holy attire”, that is, sacramentals blessed by the Church, we would rather have a Nun walk up into the sanctuary during the Offertory and after Holy Communion, to assist the priest, than to do what is done in many places, that is, to have a male guest in secular clothing assisting the priest in the sanctuary. On greater feasts we most certainly do take a lot of time lining up servers, but this is not reasonable for our simple daily Masses.
Some notes regarding our chapel architecture
Since we have only one chapel, in which both the Nuns and our guests pray, the cloister separation is provided by a channel of flowing water dividing the private space reserved for the Nuns from that of our guests.
The baptismal font at the back of chapel is the origin of this water channel flowing down the middle of the nave toward the altar, as well as away from the altar to the back of the chapel. The symbolism is scripturally rich, calling to mind Revelation 22:1-2: “The angel then showed me the river of life-giving water, clear as crystal, which issued from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and flowed down the middle of the streets.” We think too of this passage from the Book of the Prophet Ezechial: “I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple….” (47:1)
Our chapel design allows the Nuns and guests to be close to the altar for Holy Mass and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
It also greatly facilitates the participation of retreatants and guests in the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours.
In the design of our chapel and of the guest house and public areas of our monastery, we were guided by the following passage from the post-conciliar document Mutuae Relationis, #25:
Religious communities for their part—contemplative Institutes in particular, with due attention to preserving their distinctive spirit—should offer to the men of our day helpful opportunities for prayer and spiritual life, thus meeting a need for meditation and a deepening of faith which is acutely felt at present. They should also offer suitable opportunities and facilities for sharing in their own liturgical celebrations, without infringement of the laws of enclosure and other rules laid down in this regard.
Our chapel truly fulfills this “vision” of the Church. Catholic and non-Catholic guests frequently tell us how meaningful it is to them to join in our liturgical prayer. We are always so amazed that at the end of Night Prayer it is not unusual for non-Catholics to approach the sanctuary to be blessed by Holy Water after the Nuns have been blessed!