Thursday, February 7, 2013

Profession of Passionist Vows {Sister Cecilia Maria}

Sister Cecilia Maria wears the white veil of a novice in the chapel cloister at St. Joseph Passionist Monastery, KY
Thirteen hours of travel (4 driving; half in a rental car from Tennessee to Kentucky) brought me my hotel in Owensboro at about midnight.  Twelve hours later I was on my way to St. Joseph Monastery, arriving early for the 1:30 Mass of Religious Profession for my friend Sister Cecilia Maria.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, including an exceptional homily by Father Rodger Hunter Hall, the Rite of Religious Profession began as Bishop Medley called Sister Cecilia’s name.  She stepped forward for the examination, “In your desire to follow Christ Crucified more perfectly, are you resolved to cherish in your heart a loving and grateful remembrance of the mystery of the Passion, and to express it in your life, observing consecrated chastity for the sake of the kingdom, embracing voluntary poverty, offering to God the gift of your obedience, and observing enclosure?   
To this examination, Sister Cecilia replied, “I am so resolved.

Sister Cecilia Maria responds to the examination by Bishop Medley as the Rite of Religious Profession begins.

Bishop Medley led the congregation in solemn prayers for God’s grace for Sister Cecilia Maria, after which she made her profession of vows.  Sister spoke her vows with great conviction, kneeling before her Superior, Mother Catherine Marie, seated at the foot of the altar. As Prioress of the Passionist Nuns at St. Joseph Monastery, Mother appeared jubilant and deeply peaceful, tenderly speaking her acceptance of Sister Cecilia’s vows with such love.

Mother Catherine Marie receives Sister Cecilia Maria's profession of vows

Sister Cecilia Maria receives her new black veil from Mother Catherine Marie.
Newly professed as a Passionist Nun, Sister Cecilia Maria received a black veil and Passionist ring, signifying her marriage to Christ Crucified.  The Passionist sign was placed on her habit over her heart as a constant reminder of her Divine Spouse and the sorrows of His holy Mother.  A crown of thorns set upon her head and a simple cross positioned on her back, Bishop Medley bid her to be faithful to her vows and to follow Christ in humility, obedience and self-denial.  Together with her sisters, she sang “Veni, Sponsa Christi” (Come Spouse of Christ), a love song.   
The Lord of lords holds your life in His embrace.  The King of kings fills your soul with His own grace…
Sister's new black veil proclaims that she belongs entirely to Christ.
Sister appeared in that moment as a living icon on fire with divine love.

Through tears of joy I photographed these moments as best I could without moving from my pew or causing too much distraction.
Wearing a crown of thorns as a reminder to follow Christ in humility, obedience and self-denial, Sister prepares to receive Holy Communion at her Mass of Religious Profession on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.

The cloistered sisters’ heavenly liturgy and simple, holy music, with sung Latin responses (Sister Cecilia’s preference), created a slightly surreal ambiance at Mass.  A baptismal ‘river’ runs the entire length of the center isle of the monastery chapel ~ holy water breaking the ground to mark the nuns' enclosure.  At the presentation of the gifts, the sisters processed on one side of the holy river and Sister Cecilia’s mom and grandma processed on the opposite side of the isle.  Sister Cecilia crossed out of the enclosure within the sanctuary at the sign of peace, at which time her parents, grandmother, and close friends approached her for an embrace.  
Bishop Medley incenses the gifts and the altar, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Holy water flows through the center isle of the monastery chapel.

Gustav Holst’s “O God Beyond All Praising,” the recessional march and closing hymn, played expertly by Sister Cecilia Maria's younger sister, Whitney, on violin, happened to be the same song to which their parents had recessed on their wedding day. How fitting that their daughter’s wedding song would voice theirs:   

And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill, we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still; to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways, and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.

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