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REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PRAYING CHURCH
• Liturgical Life: Primary Element of the Contemplative Vocation
Two Ways of Praying the Divine Office
• “Reciting Without Chant” • Liturgical Life in Today’s Constitutions • Personal Prayer and Contemplation • Christ and Mary: Two Aims With One and The Same Love and Imitation • Contemplation and Apostolate
CHAPTER III, 1-7 1 The sisters who can read shall celebrate the Divine Office according to the custom of the Friars Minor. 2They may have breviaries for this, but they should read it without singing. 3those who, for some reasonable cause, occasionally are not able to recite their hours by reading them, may, like the other sisters, say the Our Father’s. 4 Those who do not know how to read shall say twenty-four Our Father’s for Matins; five for Lauds; seven for each of the hours of Prime, Terce, Sext, and None; twelve, however, for Vespers; seven for Compline. 5 Let them also say for the dead seven Our Father’s with the Requiem aeternam at Vespers; 6twelve for Matins, because the sisters who can read are obliged to recite the Office of the Dead. 7When a sister of our monastery shall have departed this life, however, they should say fifty Our Father’s.
Liturgical Life: Primary Element of the Contemplative Vocation
Every Christian group gathered in the Lord’s name experiences the need of giving expression to its faith and to the Spirit’s presence by oneness of community prayer. Such has happened to the first Jerusalem community: feeling themselves of “one heart and one soul” the faithful gathered together regularly “to listen to the teachings of the apostles, enhance the brotherhood to the breaking of bread and to prayers”. (Acts 2, 42)
A religious community is a true Christian group and, as such, is to be maintained and vivified by these four elements: openness to God’s Word, fraternal oneness, Eucharistic celebration and community prayer. (PC, 15) The fraternity made out by St. Francis, though far on purpose from monastic moulds, gave from its very beginning utmost importance to the values of community prayer, through very spontaneous ways much attune with real life. The Divine Office was looked upon as the daily indispensable praise offering to the Most High from each brother as from the group itself; but the way of its recitation was arranged according to the different conditions. There was no distinction between the choir brothers and the others, but between those who could read and the illiterate unable to make use of the liturgical books. On these cases the cleric’s Office was substituted by the Our Fathers. St. Clare could not but follow this model especially as the St. Damian community wished to be the female contemplative version of the Franciscan ideal. As in St. Francis’ Rule, the first part of Chapter Three speaks too of the Divine Office. The Liturgy of the Hours, distributed along the day’s different moments, responds to the ongoing attitude of the Church by offering to God the Father the sacrifice of prayer and petition in union with Christ her Spouse. “Communities … of religious who celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours … represent in a special way the Church at prayer. They are a fuller sign of the Church as they continually praise God with one voice and they fulfill the duty of “working” above all by prayer, “to build up and increase the whole Mystical Body of Christ, and for the good of the Local Churches. This is especially true of those living the contemplative life.”1
Two Ways of Praying the Divine Office
St. Clare adopts the same Divine Office of the Friars Minor. By a provision of their Rule, the Friars Minor had to adapt themselves to the “usage of the holy Roman Church”. Through this order, St. Francis did not only show his adherence to the Apostolic See but lightened the choral prayer, since the “Breviary” used at the Roman Curia contained shorter formularies and of easier handling. It was thus rendered more fitting to the simple and innermost lifestyle of the itinerant Brothers, and a longer period was left for mental prayer and active apostolate. By disposing “the divine Office be prayed after the usage of the Friars Minor, Clare thinks also about the union with the First Order: the same rhythm at prayer would also be the best proof of the spiritual oneness between St. Francis’ sons and daughters. Like Francis, Clare does not intend to establish two classes of sisters. Those who recite the Divine Office are not “choir” sisters entered in the monastery to be part of that category, but in principle all take part with equal right in the community recitation. If some do not do so, it will be due to an impossibility: either because they cannot read or are hindered “for any reasonable cause” (such as illness, incompatible occupations). At St. Clare’s Order, the introduction of class distinction was contrary to the Rule. The substitution of the psalmody for the praying of a number of Our Fathers was very common at that time. Clare herself had practiced it as a child. “She was very fond of praying, and having no means of counting the number of Our Fathers she recited, she used little pebbles.” (L Cl 4) This Office of the Our Fathers will not be a mechanical recitation. St. Francis who made a matter of contemplation out of the expression of the Lord’s prayer, 59
left for us in writing a beautiful paraphrase of the Our Father so that we may enjoy it in all its meaning and depth. It will hardly be possible finding nowadays a religious unable to read. If ignorance of Latin could before serve many as an excuse for not taking part in the Divine Office, one may not understand that it remains still reserved to just a sector of the community for now, if the spirit of the Rule is to be kept, since it is now recited in the vernacular. The ideal is, then, to bring together all the sisters for the Liturgy of the Hours by adapting the occupations and working hours in such a way that it may be normally possible. Freedom stands however, to have recourse to the Our Fathers, as it is foreseen in the Rule itself, whenever there is a serious motive. From biographical sources we know that the Divine Office was distributed in such a manner that the whole day might be made holy, by day and by night, with St. Clare giving good example of regularity and punctuality. “She would wake up the sisters at midnight by softly tapping each one of them to go praise God.” Before the sisters arrived, she had in advance lit the lamps and arranged everything for prayer.2 She did so “while she was fit”. The method she used to wake up the sisters at that hour is a detail that shows us her delicate charity in dealing with the sick ones, taking care not to break their sleep when the community went to do the night prayer.
“Reciting Without Chant”
This prescription of the Rule may seem to us somewhat odd, and obviously is not in agreement with the Church actual guidelines which so much recommend singing at the liturgical celebrations, even at the Divine Office. The 60
Saint’s order surprises us even more having in mind the previous Rules of both Hugolinus and Innocent IV as well as the posterior of Urban IV takes for granted that the Poor Ladies made use of chant at the recitation. The Rule of Cardinal Hugolinus seemed to rehearse a middle term between the solemn choral monastic Office and the spirit of the Franciscan seal: “Concerning the offering of the Divine Office to the Lord both day and night, let it be observed that those who know how to read the psalms should celebrate the regular Office. If they also know how to sing, it is permissible for them to celebrate the Office and praise the Lord of all by singing at the prescribed Hours. This they should do with the greatest seriousness and modesty, with humility and great devotion, so that those listening to them may be edified for salvation.” (n.5) The Rule of Innocent IV prescribed: “Let those who can read and sing celebrate the Office after the usage of the Friars Minor, but with gravity and modesty.” This norm would also be maintained in Urban IV’s Rule.3 How can this definite prohibition of singing in St. Clare’s Rule be explained , after knowing all the more, as she knew, that song and organ accompaniment were on use at the Franciscan churches? No doubt we are dealing here with a reaction born from her spirit of minority against the frequent abuse at that time of using up psalmody singing as a means to show off and allure the faithful to their churches with the resulting problem of acquiring an organ and appropriate musical instruments, competent personnel, etc. Looking up all the time to the wellness and a united and balanced community, Clare was perhaps afraid of the fact of unavoidable discrimination that could really be brought about between the sisters who can sing and the passive majority of the others. The Saint’s attitude can find justification in a paragraph St. Francis addressed to the whole Order by the 61
end of his life: “May the clerics say the Office with devotion before God, not concentrating on the melody of the voice, but on the harmony of the mind, that the voice may be in harmony with the mind, the mind truly in harmony with God. … that they may be able to please God by their purity of heart and not just charm the ears of the people by their sweetness of voice.”4 That is why Clare wished the recitation to be plain and simple, intimate, without ostentation, an easy vehicle for promoting piety and the spiritual union of the sisters. There was of course not a bit of fanatical contempt for art attached to the liturgy. It is enough to recall the joy with which she was telling the sisters the blessing received that Christmas night when unable by sickness to rise, she had to remain alone in the dormitory while the sisters went to Matins; “she immediately began to hear the organ, responsories and the entire Office of the Brothers in the Church of St. Francis as if she was present there.”5 At the huge basilica built up by Fr. Elias to shelter St. Francis’ body, the norms of simplicity so recommended formerly by the Saint does not prevail any longer. But at the San Damiano little choir, nothing had changed; even the divine worship was a witness offered to the “poverty and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ”. We are here again before another instance where the “written letter” of the Rule has lost its application, since it answered the concrete social context St. Clare found herself in, so very different from ours. The “spirit” though remains. The liturgical celebrations of a truly authentic Poor Clare community are to stand out by their “noble simplicity, sobriety of elements, and by the quality of their expression, where the spirit is drawn to rise toward God effortlessly.”6 All of this is not contrary to employing sacred music after today’s Church criteria.7 But it should truly be active and with the cooperation of all the sisters as much as possible, and, better still, in union with the faithful 62
who share at the same celebration. Sacred concerts aimed at flattering the ears of the people have nothing to do with the liturgy.
Liturgical Life in Today’s Constitutions
The third Chapter of the Constitutions, as in the Rule, is devoted to “contemplative life” or “life with God”. After an introduction about the importance and meaning of the “contemplative mission” in the Church, the liturgical life, considered as the primary element of that mission, an element that constitutes the very center of the fraternal life, has two essential parts: “the Eucharistic celebration and the Liturgy of the Hours”. The liturgical formation of the sisters and their conscious and active participation in the celebrations is stressed upon. They are to cultivate sacred singing, even at the Divine Office, at least on solemnities and everyday if possible at some moments of the recitation, without neglecting Gregorian chant. Aware of “representing the praying Church”, the Order wishes to continue celebrating entirely the Liturgy of the Hours by day and night. But if the community cannot fulfill the Office of Readings at night, the Abbess may dispose otherwise with the consent of the Chapter. The conventual choir is the ordinary place of the celebrations; “a more efficacious testimony of prayer is offered from it to the people of God”, but for a reasonable motive the Abbess may determine that the lesser Hours be held out of the Choir. It is also recommended that, after the Church wishes, the community may support the participation of the faithful at the celebration of the Hours together with the sisters, save of course from the demands of the cloister. 63
The sisters are reminded of their duty of praying the Office privately when she has not participated at the community celebration, and also the possibility of fulfilling that duty through the praying of the Our Fathers for a reasonable motive, in addition to the Abbess’ power of commuting such prayer with others or with the reading of the Holy Scriptures or even exempting fully from it. The Franciscan calendar is to be followed as applied by the Holy See though with flexibility to adopt the diocesan, especially when the presence of the faithful advises so. (Gen CC art. 60-71; Cap CC, 60-74).
Personal Prayer and Contemplation
St. Clare’s Rule does not contain any particular prescription about other ways of praying. It is only on the fifth chapter that there is a reference to the “spirit of prayer and devotion to which everything must serve” and again on the tenth, speaking about the spirit of prayer: “Above all things, they must desire to have the spirit of the Lord and his holy operation, to pray to God without ceasing with a pure heart.” Both texts are taken from St. Francis’ Rule. All of this makes us suppose that mental prayer was at the San Damiano community an exercise of essential importance, but not restrained by regulations for the very reason of its being vital. Each sister was open to the divine action with spontaneity and docility. Celano, a witness of what was happening there on 1228 writes in the first biography of St. Francis: “They have so merited the height of contemplation that they learn in it everything they should do and avoid, and they know with joy how to live out of
mind for God, persevering night and day in praising Him and in praying to Him.” (1 Cel.n.20) Let us mark the paragraph: “They learn in contemplation what they should do and what they must avoid.” Clare did not entrust the right progress of the community by the multiplicity of ordained discipline by which each sister was to know exactly what to do at a given moment, but on the higher wisdom that the sister received in the school of prayer. St. Francis had also the faith on the “unction of the Holy Spirit who teaches and will teach the brothers everything that is convenient.” (L. Per.n.61) The sisters who testified at the Process of Canonization are one in pondering the holy Mother’s grace of contemplation, “assiduous at prayer day and night”8 “She was assiduous at prayer and contemplation, and when coming back from prayer, her face appeared clearer and more beautiful than the sun, and her words sent forth an unutterable sweetness to such a pint that he entire life seemed totally heavenly.” (Proc., IV,4) It was a joy that spread and diffused itself all around. “When she came from her prayer, she admonished and comforted her sisters, always speaking the words of God who was always in her mouth. When she returned from her prayer, the sisters rejoiced as though she had come from heaven.” (Proc.,I,9) This precious paragraph in one of her letters to Agnes of Prague seems to echo her personal experience: “Therefore, dearly beloved, may you too always rejoice in the Lord. (Phil 4:4) And may neither bitterness nor a cloud of sadness overwhelm you, O dearly beloved Lady in Christ, joy of the angels and crown of your sisters. Place yourself before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead itself through 65
contemplation. So that you too, may feel what his friends feel as they taste the hidden sweetness that God himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love Him” (3LAg, 10-14). There were for Clare three preferred moments to devote herself to the exercise of personal contemplation: at midnight after Matins, staying behind alone at the choir for a long time; in the morning at the Hour of Terce; at noontime at the Hour of Sext.9 Real contemplative prayer draws its life from “God’s Word”. According to one of the witnesses, the Saint “enjoyed a great deal at listening to God’s Word. (Proc. X, 8) This element of contemplative dimension, equally essential to all who live the consecrated life, especially so at the cloister, is very strongly stressed in the Constitutions, be it at its form of “spirit of prayer” as well as at the exercise of “contemplative meditation”. So that prayer life may shape the entire being of a religious, it requires: an appropriate conventual atmosphere, a rather long period of time devoted to intimacy with God, a spiritual feeding through God’s Word and the reading of sources about Christian and Franciscan spirituality. Summing it up, the General Constitutions prescribe that, according to tradition, one hour and a half be devoted at least to mental prayer everyday, even if it may not be continuous at a time. At the Constitution of the Capuchinesses, the two traditional hours are maintained. At both texts, it is left to the conventual chapter to determine the opportune place and time as well as other external circumstances. Each sister is free to adopt the method of prayer that best fits her spiritual welfare, and she is likewise to be granted the time and books necessary for her “lectio divina” and her formation. (Gen CC art. 72-77; Cap CC, 75-81). 66
Two special portions of time are prescribed for a deeper reflection: the monthly retreat and the yearly spiritual exercises. (Gen CC, art. 79s; Cap CC, 80)
Christ and Mary: Two Aims with One and the Same Love and Imitation
As it appears from her personal writings, contemplation and the imitation of Christ occupy the very center of St. Clare’s spirituality, an expression she had learnt from St. Francis. She used to recite often the paraliturgical Office of the Passion composed by St. Francis (L CL, 30). On the last days of her life, she had incessantly on her lips the Passion of the Lord and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Proc. X,10). The Lord’s Passion constituted the very heart of the spiritual formation that she imparted to the sisters (Proc., XI,2). The abasement of the Son of God is obvious to Clare not only at his immolation on the cross, but also, as did Francis, at the mystery of the humility and poverty she meditates at his Incarnation, at his Birth and at the Eucharist. Her first biographer says that she was furthermore a “perfect imitator of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, whom she sees associated to Christ’s redeeming poverty. Francis had proposed her to the sisters as a model of poverty on his “last will” written for them. Mary’s poverty at Jesus’ birth must be to them an incentive to dress poorly; “out of love for our Lord Jesus Christ and of his most blessed Mother”. The sisters should desire nothing else under heaven but poverty; the basic commitment is “to keep forever the poverty and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ and of his most holy Mother”. (Rule II, VI, XII) 67
Mary is the best way to a better following and reaching to Christ. Let us see another substantial paragrapgh of the Third Letter of Clare to St. Agnes of Prague: “May you totally love Him who gave Himself for your love….I am speaking of Him who is the Son of the Most High, whom the virgin brought to birth and remained a virgin after His birth. May you cling to His most sweet Mother who gave birth to a Son whom the heavens could not contain. And yet she carried Him in the little enclosure of her holy womb and held Him in her virginal lap…As the glorious Virgin of virgins carried Him maternally, so you too, by following in her footprints, especially those of poverty and humility, can without any doubt always carry Him spiritually in your chaste and virginal body, holding Him by Whom you and all things are held together, possessing that which, in comparison with the other transitory possessions of this world, you will possess more securely”. (3LAg, 17-26) Shortly before her heath, Clare would see herself consoled with the visible presence of her whom she had always taken as model and guide to follow Christ. (Proc., IXI, 4) The author of the Legenda sees in the Saint a faithful image of the Mother of God – Dei Matris vestigium. This expression passed over to the old liturgical Office; and as Francis was called “alter Christus” on account of his resemblance to the Crucified Lord, so too was Clare held as “altera Maria”, another Mary.10 As a part of the life of prayer, the practices of prayer have their own place at the Constitutions, always having in mind though, after the doctrine of Vatican II, that they are solidly based on the Holy Scripture and in agreement with liturgy, either deriving from it or leading somehow to it and 68
shunning too many community encounters with acts of devotion, so as to reserve time and energy for personal and common prayer. As a matter of fact, devotionalism does not agree with the “spirit of devotion and prayer” that both Francis and Clare speak about. The aim of these pious exercises should be to aid the union with Christ especially through the consideration of His Passion and the love for the Virgin Mary, venerated mainly under the mystery of her Immaculate Conception. Pious exercises particularly recommended are the Stations of the Cross and the Marian Rosary or the Rosary of the Seven Joys/Sorrows. (Gen CC art. 78-79; Cap CC, 80-81)
Contemplation and Apostolate
Clare’s prayer was a prayer in faith. Like that of Jesus, it was centered on the Father’s interests: his glory, his kingdom, the design of his will, and the needs of men. Testimonies of the Saint’s efficacious intercession are plentiful due to the trust she resorted to God, whenever an emergency distressed the sisters or a public danger threatened the city of Assisi. Her fellow citizens had the security of San Damiano being for them the best city’s defense. They experienced above all on two occasions: the Saracen incursion (1240) and the siege of Vitalis of Aversa (1241).11 The same sensitiveness existed at San Damiano towards all the needs and circumstances of the Church. The intensity of contemplation in silent seclusion, far from isolating the poor sisters from the interests of world salvation, maintained them in an open, eager zeal. Clare “was imbued with so great a fervor of spirit that she would have wished to undergo martyrdom for the Lord’s love”. 69
When the news arrived of the martyrdom of the first missionaries at Morocco, she felt a strong desire of going there to offer her life to the Lord; it was a day of great emotion at San Damiano.12 Clare was then in the prime of her twenty-seven years of age. Her first biographer speaks about the irradiating power that the San Damiano community cast: community of nuns being renewed in the spirit, homes that started living in a more Christian manner, men and women who chose a life of consecration and even of continence by mutual consent of husband and wife; a “fervent emulation to better serve Christ”; “a number of virgins excited by the stories of Clare, although they were not able to enter the enclosed life, strove to live a regular life without a rule in their own home”. And he goes on: “Meanwhile, so that the stream of this heavenly blessing sprung up in the Spoleto Valley would not be confined within the limited boundaries, it was so channeled into a river by divine providence that the current of the river would gladden the entire city of the Church. For the newness of such great things went far and wide in the world and everywhere it begun to gain souls for Christ. Remaining enclosed, Clare began to enlighten the whole world and the brilliance dazzled it with the honor of her praises. The fame of her virtues filled the chambers of noble ladies, reached the palaces of duchesses even the mansions of their queens.” (L Cl,10) Attached to the silent testimony of Gospel life was the expiatory efficacy of immolation. St. Clare wrote to St. Agnes: “I consider you a co-worker of God himself and a support of the weak and wavering members of His ineffable body.” (3LAg, 8) The expression of the Bull of Canonization is not empty rhetoric: 70
“While this light remained certainly in a hidden enclosure, it emitted sparkling rays outside. Placed in a confined area of the monastery, yet it spread throughout the whole world. Hidden within, she extended herself abroad. Clare was hidden, yet her life was visible. Clare was silent, yet her reputation became widespread. She was kept hidden in a cell, but was known throughout the world….Moreover, she broke the alabaster jar of her body in her solitude, the whole Church was thoroughly imbued with the aroma of her sanctity.”13 Somewhere else, we spoke of the profound ecclesial conscience of Clare. Pope Gregory IX had great confidence in the powerful prayers of Clare and her sisters. In favor of the universal Church, he entrusted her the big problems of his pontificate. In 1228 he addressed the San Damiano community a beautiful letter telling them therein: “In the midst of all these numberless sorrows and infinite afflictions, grieving us unceasingly, you are our consolation. Therefore, we beg you all, and exhort you in our Lord Jesus Christ by this apostolic writing, that you live according to the spirit and forgetting what is left behind, you may go on towards what is ahead. (Phil 3:13) Keep on desiring the better charisms. Thus, by abounding more in virtues, you may give glory to God and complete our joy….And since you – as we trust are one spirit in Christ, we entreat you to remember us in your prayers, raising up your hands to God, begging him unceasingly that we, who know not how to stand amid so many dangers because of human weakness, may be strengthened by His power and mercifully grant us to fulfill worthily the ministry He has entrusted us so that it may serve to His glory, to the joy/delight of the angels, to our 71
wellness and to all those committed to our governance.” 14 Offenses to God arose in Clare deep sorrow. When she came to know that a “worldly person had done something against God, she would weep bitterly. (Proc., II, 10) One of these worldly men, touched by God’s grace through the zeal of the Saint, was knight Hugolinus who gratefully declared at the Canonization Process to have abandoned his wife and, after a separation of over twenty-two years, not heeding the reproaches of even pious persons, at last received one day a message from Clare. Without thinking, he got mad at the messenger, but after a few days, he experienced an inner total change, and went back to join his wife. (Proc., XVI,4) The apostolic dimension is essential to every Christian commitment and more so to those who by vocation have themselves committed to an immediate cooperation with the work of salvation in building up God’s kingdom. Contemplative calling is not excluded from this specific mission. On the contrary, the most important portion of the missionary task of the Church corresponds to the contemplatives who contribute with the best and most efficacious means, such as vital oneness with Christ; fully necessary that the faithful “may bear abundant fruit” (Jn15, 4ff), growth in holiness, immolation and prayer of intercession. That is the reason Vatican II has declared without ambiguity that “no matter how pressing/urgent the needs of active apostolate may be, the fundamental occupation of living up for God ‘in solitude and in silence, in constant prayer and cheerful penance’ should never give up its primacy”. (PC,7) It is from this perspective that the Constitutions approach the kind of apostolate of St. Clare’s sisters in our days, by determining with precision first of all their “mission in the Church” and stating this immutable principle: “contemplative life is our first and fundamental 72
apostolate”. A contemplative soul must take on herself the needs and constraints of the Church as well as the anxieties and pains of all men. As true daughters of Francis and Clare, who lived intensely the Church’s evangelizing impulse, the Poor Clares are to take upon themselves the part that is theirs, of the missionary cooperation according to Vatican II (AG, 40), by fostering as much as possible the foundation of new monasteries at mission countries. (Gen CC art. 160-163; Cap CC, 6, 156-157). Footnotes to Chapter 4:
1. General Ordination of the Hours, n. 24.
2. Proc., II,9; X,3. I. Omaecheverria translates: She woke up the
sisters silently with a little bell.” The original says, “certsegni”. Though the Latin term ‘signum’ could certainly mean the bell, nevertheless, the way the two sisters testifying does not seem to give way to that translation. Said author cites a 1630 catalogue kept at Saint Damiano where among the heirlooms of the old monastery, there appears the little bell that St. Clare used to wake up the sisters for the Divine Office.” (Escritos, p. 75, note 11). 3. Rules of Hugolinus, 5; of Innocent IV, 3; of Urban IV, c.6 4. Lt. Ord., 41ff. 5. Proc., III,30; VII,9) 6. SC, 34. 7. General Ordination of the Hours, 112-121. 8. Proc. I,7; II,9, 19; II, 3, 25; IV,4; VI, 3,4; VII, 3; XI, 5; XII,6. 9. Proc., I,7; II,9; X,3; XIV,2. 10. L Cl, preface, p. 134. the expression is found at the hymn “Concinat plebs fidelium” of Alexander IV, former “Office of the Saint”. 11. Proc., II,20; II, 18ff; IV,14; VI, 10ff; IX,2ff; XII,9; XIV,3; XVIII,6. 12. Proc., V,6; VII,2; XII,6. 13. I. Omaecheverria, “Escritos” p.118. 14. I. Omaechevarria, “Escritos” p. 361ff.