Sr. Clarissa is in California this week at the Benedictine Abbot’s and Prioresses conference in Burlingame. She has sent news that she is enjoying the conference very much and will have lots to report when she comes home. We always look forward to Clarissa’s reports which are very comprehensive and informative.
Yesterday quite a few members of the community watched the Super Bowl in what used to be the Renewal Center on 4th floor. Fortunately we had just had the satellite dish reconnected just a couple of days before. Perhaps the biggest hit of the afternoon (at least for some of us!) was the incredible spread of munchies provided by the formation folks. A good time was had by all with the possible exception of the Chicago fans in our midst.
Perhaps the biggest, although somewhat anti-climactic news is that we are done with the renovation. It seems to have ended with a whimper since there is still moving around to be done between offices, but the construction people are finished. The hallways are slowly emptying out. Development is moving into and getting used to their new offices. The kitchen is enjoying not having to commute to the freezer and pantry. Everyone has been enjoying the new elevator for a while. The decorating committee is having a field day with curtains, chairs and making all the new rooms look special.
This is also seems to be the season for saint’s days and other feasts. Friday, February 2nd was the Feast of the Presentation. This feast is 40 days after Christmas and commemorates Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple as recounted in Luke’s Gospel. The traditional name of the feast was "Candlemas" because of the tradition of blessing candles on this day. This comes from the song sung by Simeon when he calls Jesus "a light of revelation to the Gentiles." The Church celebrates this first revealing of the light of Christ through the blessing of candles to be used in worship. We continue this tradition at the monastery by having a table in the middle of chapel at which we place a sampling of the candles we will use in worship throughout the year and where people can place their personal candles. In the morning prayer we then bless the candles with holy water and say a blessing over them.
The next day, February 3, is the Feast of St. Blaise. He was martyred in the early 4th century in what is now Armenia. According to legend he once saved a child from choking. As a result of this story he became a patron saint to protect people from problems of the throat. It is part of our history at the monastery to bless peoples throats on his feast day. The prioress and the sister in charge of the infirmary use two candles bound together in an X shape with a red ribbon, they place these on each sisters throat and pray a prayer asking for St. Blase to intercede for us against all problems of the throat.
As if all this wasn’t enough, today (February 5th) is the Feast of St. Agatha. She was a martyr of the early 4th century in Sicily. The people of Sicily have long sought her intercession to save them from the volcano Mt. Aetna in Sicily. People in other places began to ask her intercession against fire, lightning and other natural disasters. In the monastery we commemorate her feast by blessing a large number of small bread roles specially prepared for the feast. These rolls are blessed with water and prayer by the prioress and then small amounts are placed in containers and put in a variety of places around the monastery. (OK, it sounds a little odd, but you have to admit, we have never had a major fire or other natural disaster!).
All of these customs are part of our heritage, not only as Catholics but also within the monastery. We remember the sisters who have baked the Agatha bread in the past, the sisters whose throats we’ve blessed. Among the candles we recall the candles we had for profession, jubilees and other occasions. These rituals connect us with our history and with the presence of God who is light and who is present with us at all times, in sickness and disaster as well as times of joy.
One final Catholic concept for the day. These objects, candles and bread that are blessed, are known as "sacramentals." In the Catholic tradition sacramentals are tangible things which serve to remind us of God’s grace. We use holy water to bless ourselves and objects because that water reminds us of our baptism. Candles remind us of the light of God which shines in our lives and hearts. Bread is a reminder of the sustenance God gives us in the Eucharist and in physical bread.
Unlike sacraments which are considered to be actual, tangible manifestations of God’s grace (e.g. Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist), sacramentals do not convey grace in and of themselves, they simply remind us of God’s grace which is always present in our lives and world.