Thursday, March 31, 2011

OMS #10

Cuculla, koo-koo'-la, or monastic choir robe is in the same family as a cowl--a hooded cloak with wide sleeves. White ones were worn by Cistercians, black by Benedictines. They were initiated in the Middle Ages, probably for warmth for long hours in unheated and drafty churches and chapels.

Our sisters received their cuculla at the time of final profession of vows and wore it for special occasions--feast day liturgies, for instance. They had the wide sleeves, but were hoodless. In the early 1960s they stopped being worn in our community, though I know of at least one US community who still uses them.

The word I received from some who wore them (over their habits) was that they made events quite warm, especially in the summer!

Prayer shawls are actually quite popular these days. This one can be ordered from

And here's another member of the family of this type of clothing: a cappa magna, a ceremonial train usually worn by a cardinal.

I doubt that carries these.

Well, this ends my little winter diversion called Old Monastic Stuff (OMS). I certainly enjoyed finding things that I hoped would be of as much interest to you as they were to me. Spring is (slowly) arriving in Erie and our activities are picking up a pace so I'll be turning my attention back to weekly doings that come my way. Thanks for all the encouragement, especially with this feature, OMS.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Grand Central Station

This weekend was one of our "Grand Central Station" ones.

Our Canisius students were here through noon Saturday. A delightful week with them. Click here for a Smile Box of their week which will be up sometime today.

Saturday morning we heard music coming from the chapel and discovered that a guest, who was here with his wife for a little away time, brought both his flute and hammered dulcimer. He spent about 2 hours practicing that morning and then serenaded us during lunch. What beautiful sounds from both instruments.

In the afternoon the young leadership team of a parish youth group came for an afternoon of planning. The adult leaders are oblates of ours and brought them here for meeting time. The Mount is really a perfect place for groups--from 3 or 4 to 40. We have small and large group gathering spaces, the chapel, and accommodations for meals and overnight stays.

Two more weekend experiences: This may look like our water symbol, but on Sunday morning it served as the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman as two of our sisters memorized and played out this special Gospel. Wonderful rendition!

Our deer sightings are becoming more and more regular, even though their coats are still dark and there are no fawns with them yet. Here's a shot of some of the six that were on our east lawn Friday. Click to enlarge.

Photo by Charlotte Zalot, OSB

Thursday, March 24, 2011

OMS #9

Johannes Trithemius was a 15th century abbot, lexicographer, historian and cryptographer. He studied at the University of Heidelberg. Travelling to his home town in 1482, he was caught in a snowstorm and took refuge in a Benedictine abbey. He decided to stay and was elected abbot in 1483, at the age of twenty-one. He set out to transform the abbey from a neglected and undisciplined place into a center of learning.

However, his efforts did not meet with enthusiasm and his reputation as a "magician" was also a problem. He later become the abbot of St. James Abbey, W├╝rzburg and died there in 1516.

Trithemius' most famous work is Steganographia. The work has lent its name to the field of stenography----the art of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient can decipher them. Additionally, his book, Polygraphiae, was the first printed book on cryptography.

One of Trithemius' schemes was to conceal messages in long invocations of the names of angels, with the secret message appearing as a pattern of letters within the words. For example, as every other letter: "My event was ten to morn" hides the message: "Meet at noon."

As an example of cryptography, try this cryptogram and see what you think!

Click here for our prioress's reflection on the Feast of Benedict.

And more from our March Art Show:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Feast of Benedict-March 21

For the feast of Benedict I wanted to share this excerpt from an article in London's Tablet magazine of February 26. A lovely Benedictine tradition that I did not know of at all. Hope you enjoy it,too.

"Flame of peace burns brighter"

Every year for nearly 50 years, a torch has been lit somewhere in the Catholic world and carried to Monte Cassino Abbey to mark the death of St Benedict. This year, uniquely, its journey to Italy begins in London’s Westminster Abbey – a non-Catholic church but very much a Benedictine one.

At a special service in Westminster Abbey on Wednesday, March 2, the Torch of St Benedict will be lit in the presence of a representative congregation. The torch will then begin a journey to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, St. Benedict’s own monastery and the place of his burial, in time for the anniversary of his death on March 21.

This will be the first time that the torch has been lit in a non-Roman Catholic Church. We feel a great sense of delight and privilege that Westminster Abbey has been chosen for this honour. It is presumably no random decision. Not only did Pope Benedict XVI, in company with the Archbishop of Canterbury, address an exuberant ecumenical service at the abbey during his visit to Britain last September, but the church’s long history includes at least 600 years as a monastery committed to the Rule of St Benedict, from St. Dunstan’s foundation or refoundation of the abbey in 960 until its dissolution under Henry VIII in 1540, and then again from its refoundation under Mary I in 1556 until its fresh dissolution at the beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign. In 1560, Elizabeth reerected the abbey as the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster, its proper title and character to this day.

Both individually and as a community, daily life at Westminster Abbey is infused with the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict. As a Benedictine community, we seek to be hospitable and to welcome visitors. We are also committed to the work of education. Part of the abbey’s mission reflects the Rule’s understanding of the monastery as a “school of the Lord’s service.”

The ceremony of lighting the torch began when Pope Paul VI visited Monte Cassino in 1964 and named St Benedict as Patron of Europe. The main purpose of Pope Paul’s visit was to reconsecrate the abbey and its church following its reconstruction after the Second World War. In 1944, there were four battles, costing up to a quarter of a million lives, between the German army, occupying Monte Cassino, and the Allies, including the British Eighth Army and the US Seventh Army, who were making their way northwards through Italy following the invasion of Sicily.

Before the second of these battles, the Allies bombarded the 1,400-year-old monastery from the air with 1,400 tons of bombs. Many of the treasures had been removed for safe keeping but the buildings themselves were laid waste and much of the artwork was destroyed. The Italian Government after the war committed itself to reconstructing the monastery as it had been. Much of the work was achieved in the first 12 years after the war, but some decorative work was not added until the 1970s.

Since 1980, the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St Benedict, the torch has been lit in many different parts of Europe and traced its route back to Mont Cassino. It has been taken further afield to Jerusalem and New York, emphasising the Benedictine message of peace, particularly important following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the tenth anniversary of which will incidentally be observed with a special service in the abbey.

An hour before the service on Wednesday, representatives of those who fought and suffered at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 will lay wreaths at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in the abbey in commemoration of those of several countries who lost their lives in the conflict. The occasion will be one of remembrance but it will also symbolise and
strengthen the peace we have in Europe and point the way, hopefully, towards peace wherever there is conflict.

The Very Revd. Dr. John Hall, Dean of Westminster.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

OMS #8

Happy St. Patrick's Day and a perfect time to look at monasticism in Ireland. Two great monastic men, Columba and Columbanus, were early monks (5-6c.) in Ireland who also were missionaries, and who traveled to the European continent, Iona, etc. to spread Christianity and monastic life. In the mid-12th century an Irish cleric traveling to Rome stopped at Citeaux and ended up leaving some men there to be trained as monks. The first Cistercian monks were sent to Ireland in 1142 and the number of Cistercian monasteries multiplied quickly.

If you browse on any of the pages below, be sure to go to their history page--fascinating!

Today there are only a handful of Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in Ireland. Kylemore and Glenstal castles were built in the mid-19th centuries and bought or given to Benedictines later on. The photos of the places are breathtaking. Roscrea in Tipperary is one of the first Cistercian places.

So, if you take one of those popular "pilgrimages" to Ireland that we Americans so often do...stop over at one of these places and enjoy the Benedictine world from their point of view.

Kylemore, Co. Galway
Tyburn Convent, Co. Cork
Cistercians, N. Ireland

Glenstal, Co. Limerick
Mt. St. Joseph, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary
Rostrevor, N. Ireland

If you haven't seen it yet, here is a 5-minute slide show of the Ohio Wesleyan girls' visit last week. Fun!

Just in time....for the Canisius students arrive this Sunday for their spring break week of ministry!

Monday, March 14, 2011

March marches on

Gone are the days of sadness, mourning and long faces during Lent. An everyday "joy" is surely appropriate. Here's one take:

Don't Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don't hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that's often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Mary Oliver

And some more pieces from our March Art Show.

We don't really have this "window." It's a combination of two in the small chapel.

Three artists: weaver, woodturner and photographer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

OMS #7

Not only was ordinary life in a monastic community in the Middle Ages rather basic and even harsh, especially compared to our standards today, but during Lent they added onto their usual discipline, making it quite the penitential season. I wonder if movie versions that include hair shirts, fasting to the point of fainting,and knotted cords for discipline may have been too close for comfort!

Rule of Benedict Ch. 49: "The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent...This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink...In other words, let each one deny herself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting..."

Today Lent is still noticeably different here, especially in practices, though the intentions are the same. The opportunity to spend more time in reading and quiet, eating moderately, and experiencing special prayer are still valued and important parts of our Lenten season.

If you're nearby and could use any of the above, please come--especially for weekends when our Saturday night Vigil of Sunday and Sunday morning Liturgy are quite special.

Click here for reflections on Lent by our prioress.

"Lent is a time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod." Sister Joan Chittister (newspaper "Celebrity Cipher" on Ash Wednesday!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Full House

We have a full house this week. Eight gals and two advisors are here from Ohio Wesleyan for their alternative spring break. They'll be working in our ministries and at the Mount. We just adore having them around: such energy, such generosity and such willingness to enter into everything! Here's a display of their photos and a short bio so we could get to know them a little before they came.

The much-anticipated annual March Women's Art Show opened Sunday. A few artists among our oblates and ministries were invited to enter a piece this year. Makes for a new variety of works. Here are a couple very nice ones, (click to enlarge).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

OMS #6

When we renovated our chapel 4-5 years ago, we included a choir stall set up of chairs for the daily community prayer. They are contemporary ones, not the huge, usually wooden furniture pieces that you can see in the choir stalls throughout the old abbeys and churches in Europe--and I myself have seen in a few Benedictine places in the US.

Choir stalls came into use starting in the 11th century. They were usually made of wood with whole or partially enclosed backs and sides. Rugs were sometimes placed on the floor and cushions could be added to the seats, which often lifted up and revealed a compartment. Over time artists began to add intricate ornamentation, often in the form of animal heads and religious symbols, even scenes from the life of Christ. There are still choir stall masterpieces in monasteries and cathedrals especially in Germany and France.

Here's a collage of images of choir stalls. Amazing!

Conclusion of our chipmunk saga:
Monday 6 am- No chipmunk in the traps;
Monday noon-Sighting in chapel again;
Monday evening-Sister Audrey on switchboard in main foyer visited by chipmunk. When she tries to herd it outside, it runs back into chapel, UNDER the closed door;
Tuesday noon-Seen in north hall TV room; all doors shut and towels placed underneath. An hour later seen sitting in the Lazy-Boy chair there. Soon after--caught.
It was a nice visit and late-winter diversion!