Thursday, August 27, 2020

Investitures, First Professions, and Solemn Professions of the Benedictines of Mary

The flourishing traditional Benedictines of Mary at the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus in Gower, Missouri, are no strangers to NLM readers; we have featured them before.

This past Saturday, August 22nd, I had the inestimable blessing of attending the solemn profession of two sisters at the abbey, one of whom is the daughter of close friends. The only word I can use to describe it: sublime. The largely medieval rite of profession was, like so much else, utterly cast aside after Vatican II as the Benedictines scrambled to dilute their identity into a neutral gray wash, but in usus antiquior communities, this profession rite has returned in its full splendor. To experience a traditional solemn profession — as with a traditional priestly ordination — is to experience the full glory of Catholicism, to experience bitterly what we have squandered like the prodigal son, and to feel a fire burning in one’s heart to repent and return to the house of the Father.

The day before, August 21st, six postulants were received as novices and clothed in the holy habit. Two other nuns made their simple profession.

I will share a few photos of these two days, courtesy of the sisters and the family of one of the professurae. With each photo, I’ve added a brief description of what’s happening at that moment, sometimes with an excerpt from the liturgical rite. Sadly, I don’t have photos for all the moments of the rite.

I. Before the Ceremonies and Processing In

The ladies to be clothed are dressed in bridal apparel, while the novices are identifed by the white veils of the novitiate.

Right before the ceremony begins
Processing in with lit candles
II. First Profession of Vows

After the sermon, the bishop calls the professurae forward by intoning the verse, “Venite, filiae, audite me: Timorem Domini docebo vos. – Come, my daughters, listen to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Psalm 33) They enter the sanctuary and kneel; there is an exchange by which their intention is declared, followed by the chanting of the Veni, Creator Spiritus and an admonition from the bishop. Then the professurae recite, one at a time, their “charts of profession,” which they write out by hand and sign upon the altar (we will see more photos of this part of the ceremony below with the solemn professions).

The high point of the ceremony is the chanting of the “Suscipe,” a verse from Psalm 118. The sisters bow low and sing, “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam.” Then, rising up and raising their hands aloft to heaven, “et non confudas me ab expectatione mea.” (Receive me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope.) Then the entire community of nuns repeats the chant. (In the Benedictine Office, this verse is sung at Terce of Monday; in the Breviary, it is traditionally printed in small capitals, as a weekly reminder of the rite of profession.)

This happens two more times, each on a higher note than before (like the Easter vigil Alleluia).

Following this, the bishop presents the veil to the professurae, concluding with the prayer, “O God, who bade the most blessed Benedict, Thy chosen servant, to serve Thee alone, detached from the turmoil of the world: grant, we pray, to these, Thy handmaids, rushing to Thy service under his direction, constancy in perseverance and perfect victory unto the end. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The professed present their candles to the bishop and Mass resumes with the Offertory.

III. Investitures

After the Communion verse, the Abbess leads the postulants into the sanctuary.

The bishop prays, “O God, Who, having snatched us from the vanity of the world, inflamest us to win the crown to which we have been called from on high, and Who preparest mansions in heaven for those who renounce the world, enkindle the hearts of Thy handmaids with the goods of heaven, that they may hold fast to the fraternal bond of charity, that they may observe with one mind the rules of this institute, and that, mortified, simple, and tranquil, they may know well the grace of their vocation, which has so graciously been given to them. Amen.”

Then comes the most dramatic moment in this part of the ceremony: the cutting of the postulants’ long hair. The bishop says, “Let us pray, brethren, to Our Lord Jesus Christ for these His handmaids, who hasten to prove their love for Him by the sacrifice of their hair, that He may grant them His Holy Spirit, Who will preserve them in holy resolution of religion and protect their hearts from the hindrances of the world and secular desires, so that, as they undergo an exterior transformation, they may be transformed likewise in spirit by the inner workings of the right hand of the Most High, and that, even as they are delivered from all spiritual blindness, so may they be completely filled with the light of eternal grace.”

After the hair of each has been cut off, the postulants retire to replace their wedding gowns with the tunic, and return.

The postulants now receive each additional part of the habit from the bishop: the cincture, the scapular, the wimple, and the white veil; lastly candles are given to them. It is at this point in the ceremony that the bishop tells them (and they hear for the first time) their new name in religion: "Jam inde, vocaberis Soror N." (From now on, you will be called Sr. N.).

Afterwards, the party! It looks like some friendly rivalry is going on here between the novices and the professed.

IV. The Solemn Professions

As mentioned before, the solemn professions of Sr. Marie Pascale and Sr. Jacinta took place the following day, on the feast of the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary, the octave of the Assumption, again in the context of a Pontifical Mass.

The Schola sings the Introit
After the sermon, the celebrant chants “Venite” (Come), and the sisters respond, “Et nunc sequimur.” (And now we follow). On a higher tone he chants “Venite” again, and they respond, “Et nunc sequimur in toto corde.” (And now we follow with all our hearts.) On a still higher tone the bishop chants, “Venite, filiae, audite me timorem Domini docebo vos,” to which they respond, “Et nunc sequimur in toto corde: timemus te, et quaerimus faciem tuam videre. Domine, ne confundas nos: sed fac nobis juxta mansuetudinem tuam, et secundum misericordiae tuae” (Come, daughters, hear me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. / And now we follow with all our hearts; we fear Thee and seek to see Thy face. O Lord, do not put us to confusion, but deal with us in Thy meekness and according to the multitude of Thy mercy. [Psalm 33; Dan. 3, 41-42]).

The professurae, holding lit candles, kneel before the celebrant to be questioned by him as to their resolve, “My daughters, already dead to sin and dedicated to Our Lord through baptism, do you desire to be more intimately consecrated to God by the bonds of monastic profession?” (the second question concerns stability at the monastery, the third conversatio morum, the fourth, obedience).

After the singing of the Veni, Creator Spiritus, there follows the reading of the chart of profession. “In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. I, Sister Marie Pascal ... vow to God forever stability, the continual conversion of my life, and obedience, according to the Rule of Saint Benedict... In witness whereof I have written this with my own hand in this venerable place, in the year after the Incarnation of Our Lord 2020 on the 22nd day of August, on the feast of the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Having read the Chart, she is escorted to the altar where she signs her name to it.

The Chart is then shown to the bishop and to the abbess, after which it is placed under the altar cloth for the remainder of Mass, so that the vows of the sister may be joined to the Offering of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The sister, having pronounced the Chart, goes to the Abbess for a blessing. The Abbess says, “Deus confirmet propositionem tuam.” (May God establish your resolved-upon course.)
The sister replies, “Ora pro me, Mater.” (Pray for me, Mother.)

There follows (as with simple profession) the chanting of the “Suscipe.”

After the antiphon Confirma hoc and a short prayer by the bishop, the nuns lie down on the floor and are covered with a black pall. The Litany of Saints is chanted, while the giant bell rings from the church tower as for a funeral.

Leading the Litany are two Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists of Papa Stronsay)
As occurs in priestly ordination, the bishop interrupts the litany with special petitions for the nuns: “That thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless Thy handmaidens here present, we beseech Thee to hear us. / That thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless  and sanctify Thy handmaidens here present, we beseech Thee to hear us. / That thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless  and sanctify and consecrate Thy handmaidens here present, we beseech Thee to hear us.”

After the litany, there is a prayer of Solemn Consecration from the bishop — one of the most remarkable in the Roman liturgy:
God, the Father and Guardian of a holy resolve, it is fitting that we honor Thee with appropriate praise. Through Thy Word in the Holy Ghost, Thou didst create the human family with ineffable love and didst with so much charity admit it to the divine union that Thou hast enriched it as a spouse with marks of Thy image and with the ornaments of everlasting life.
       When, however, it was beguiled by the devil's deceit and broke its bond of divine faith, Thou didst not cut it off from Thy marriage pact, but moved by Thy endless love Thou hast mercifully established in Noah, Thy servant, an ancient covenant. Then Thou didst choose from the seed of faithful Abraham the lineage that was to surpass the stars in number, and through Thy servant Moses established the tablets of the law of the covenant. In this chosen people of Thy love, holy women have been distinguished throughout the ages, outstanding for their piety and their fortitude, and famous for their justice and faith.
       When the fullness of time finally came, Thou didst raise up from the root of Jesse the sacred Virgin who, by the descent of the Spirit, the Paraclete, and by Thy overshadowing power didst bring forth the Redeemer of the world in a spotless birth. He became poor, humble, and obedient and was the cause and exemplar of all holiness; He founded the Church, His Spouse, and loved her with so great a love that He handed Himself over for her and sanctified her with His own Blood.
       Thou, however, O Lord, in Thy foreseeing wisdom, hast decreed that countless daughters were to follow in His footsteps. They were to become disciples of Christ and deserve to be raised to the dignity of His spouses. The Holy Church, like a Spouse adorned with jewels, a Queen bedecked with moral perfections, a Mother rejoicing in her child, is filled with the wonderful variety of these daughters.
       We, therefore, humbly beg and beseech Thee, Father: send down the first of Thy Paraclete upon these Thy daughters to nourish the flame of the resolve that Thou hast stirred up in their hearts. May the splendor of baptism and innocence of life shine in them, O Lord. May they cleave to Thee fervently in love, strengthened by the holy bonds of religion. May they faithfully preserve the companionship of their only Spouse, Christ; may they love with a steadfast charity Mother Church, and embrace with supernal love all people for whom they are reminders of the blessed hope of heavenly goods. Lord, holy Father, in Thy mercy direct the steps of Thy servants and in Thy kindness protect their journey; when they finally arrive at the judgment seat of the Most High King, may they have no fear of the Judge's words but delightfully hearken to the voice of their Spouse as He calls them to the wedding feast. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, for ages unto ages. Amen.
Then follows the Investiture and Bestowal of the Signs of Profession: the cuculla or large choir robe, the veil (in its fullest length), the wedding ring, the crown of roses, and the book of the divine office.

The giving of the cuculla, symbol of “the garment of salvation and the robe of eternal joy.”
Now wearing the full habit
The nun receives the ring from the bishop, who says, “I espouse you to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High Father, that He may keep you unharmed. Therefore, receive the ring of faith, the seal of the Holy Ghost, that you may be called the spouse of God and, if you will have served Him faithfully, that you may be crowned eternally. In the Name of the Father  and of the Son  and of the Holy ✣ Ghost. Amen.”

The nuns return to the center of the sanctuary and chant, “I am espoused to Him Whom the angels serve, Whose beauty the sun and moon admire.” Then, with right hand raised aloft: “My Lord Jesus Christ hath betrothed me with His ring, and hath adorned me as a bride with a crown.” (This text is taken from one of the responsories of Matins of St Agnes.)

The professed again come before the bishop and kneel. He places a crown woven of roses on their heads, saying, “Receive the crown of spousal preeminence, that as by our hands you are crowned here on earth, you may merit to be crowned by Christ with glory and honor in heaven.”

The nuns return to the middle of the sanctuary and chant, “The Lord hath clothed me with a robe woven of gold, and with countless jewels He hath adorned me.” (Also from the Office of St Agnes.)

The professed once more go to the bishop, who gives them an antiphonal, saying, “Receive this book, that, putting nothing before the work of God, you may carry out day and night the praises of God in the Church.”

Before the Offertory chant is sung, the newly professed present their lit candles to the bishop, who hands them to an acolyte to be placed above the altar, alongside the other candles, for the remainder of the Sacrifice. In these photos you can see them in between the last pairs of taller candles.

At Communion time, after the bishop has received the Precious Body and Blood, the two solemnly professed sisters enter into the sanctuary and receive Holy Communion before anyone else. At the conclusion of Mass, the sisters will process after the bishop.

Greeting Most Rev. Robert Finn afterwards — and siblings:

The author with Sr. Marie Pascale and her brother, a seminarian with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest:

And, of course: the cake at the reception!

Congratulations to the new novices, newly professed sisters, and the entire community of Our Lady of Ephesus Abbey. O Lord, send us many holy priests and religious vocations!

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