A Day Within the Walls: Dominicans

At the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, Buffalo, New York

Christ is our Light

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The world is sleeping as I make my way through the darkened cloister. Not all the world: I think of my friends who are nurses, and those who are new mothers. Perhaps our vocations are not altogether different… The oratory to my right, with its crèche and little vigil light, casts its glow before my steps. It is the vigil of Corpus Christi—far from Christmas—yet this scene of Christ’s birth stands as a perpetual reminder of the mystery of divine love: the Word made flesh, who dwells among us.

Venite adoremus! The clock strikes 4 and my sisters and I begin Matins, taking up these words of the Church around the world and throughout time. Like the shepherds and the magi, we are called to draw near to the Lord in wonder and praise. Like the Virgin Mary too, we are called to take Him in the arms of our hearts, bringing His presence into the darkness of our world, so thirsty for truth and love. Christ is our Light. Come, let us adore Him

Awaiting the Bridegroom

The sun is rising as I linger in choir after Matins, pondering the words of Scripture and waiting on the Lord. At 6 we are together again for Lauds, chanted in Latin with many of the hymns and antiphons of the Dominican Order—a heritage our community has sought lovingly to preserve. Ecce jam noctis tenuatur umbra, / Lucis aurora rutilans coruscat. (“Behold, the shadows of night now recede; the glowing dawn of light shines forth.”) Terce follows soon after; like the other “little hours,” it is sung simply and in English, giving our liturgy a harmonious blend of what is ancient and what is new.

These hours of vigil, in song and in silence, prepare us for the climax of each day, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As the Church teaches, the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of our lives, an anticipation and indeed a participation in the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Bridegroom is here; go out and welcome Him!

Handmaids of the Lord

Nourished by Christ’s own Body and Blood, we give thanks and begin whatever tasks obedience and charity may ask of us. Choir practice some mornings, laundry or cooking, sewing or cleaning, caring for the elderly or for guests: These are just a few of the duties to which sisters may be called.

With tomorrow’s solemnity, my morning will be full. Another sister and I set quietly to work, preparing the cloister for our Corpus Christi procession: tall honey-scented candles by the crucifixes, and an abundance of flowers! Some have been donated, others gathered from our garden: feathery white irises with fuzzy gold caterpillars, peonies with a thousand pink petals… Seeing them bloom as a holocaust for the Lord, I am reminded of my own vocation. In the words of St. Augustine, whose Rule we follow, my sisters and I are called to be “lovers of spiritual beauty, giving forth the good odor of Christ in the holiness of [our] lives.”

A School of Charity

The sun is high overhead as the tower bell summons us to Sext. Dinner follows in the refectory. This is the second holiest place in the monastery, for here we share our bread in sisterly communion, an image and extension of the Sacred Banquet.

Then comes an interval for rest, private prayer and reading, perhaps a walk in the spring sunshine. I take some time for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament—a gift we have throughout each day. Bejeweled and reminiscent of an airy cathedral, the monstrance is another image of the life to which my sisters and I have been called. “In the midst of the Church,” our Constitutions declare, “their growth in charity is mysteriously fruitful for the growth of the people of God.” We strive to be of one mind and heart in our search for God, yet, in the true spirit of our fathers, St. Dominic and St. Augustine, we cherish each other’s individual goodness. No two saints are the same, and likewise no two Dominicans! By this diversity, our community not only becomes a school of charity for the nuns themselves, but a more radiant reflection of the holiness of God.

A School of Truth

At the ninth hour, the hour of mercy, we gather for None and our communal rosary. Far from mere repetition, this gift of St. Dominic teaches us to ponder always in our hearts the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.

Doctrinal study follows—a special responsibility for all Dominicans. This year I have been studying the Trinity through a correspondence course designed by the friars for the cloistered nuns. Reading the Summa, I have discovered, demands intellectual asceticism, but for that reason it also offers rich rewards! As St. Thomas says, “Truth is the illumination of the intellect.” In our human knowing we are conformed to the divine Word, a Word that “breathes forth love.”

Lumen de Lumine

Supper, Vespers, Recreation, Compline…and another full day draws to a close. Our night prayer concludes with the Salve Regina sung in procession, and finally an ancient chant in honor of our Father Dominic: O lumen ecclesiae, Doctor veritatis. We entrust the day—all its joys and all its challenges—into his hands and those of our Blessed Mother, to bring before the throne of God.

The sun is setting as I extinguish the altar candles. A small flame, though, remains burning by the tabernacle. At the heart of our home, and the heart of each heart, Christ abides. He is our Light. He is our Life. He is our Love.

By their hidden life they proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true happiness to be found, here by grace and afterwards in glory. (Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers) For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord….For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)