Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monastery Time: Feast Days

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In most places and for most people these Catholic feast days probably pass with little notice. It is just another work day, a feast day that may not even be noticed. But in the monastery time has a different meaning. Part of the purpose of a monastery is to sanctify time, to hold in deep awareness the alternative reality of the liturgical year with its feasts and seasons.

On a major feast day like this everything is a little different at the monastery, time has a different feel. There are multiple small indications that this day is special, set apart. Often we start prayer later than usual, a reminder that this day is unusual. Everyone dresses up on the major feast days, there are skirts and nice blouses. On a day like today, a Marian feast, there seems to have been a secret memo that went out for everyone to wear blue, Mary’s color. In the hallway, in the refectory, everyone wishes everyone a “happy feast day.”

In the chapel there are special decorations, altar clothes, flowers, the candles are color coordinated. Even the prayer books are different. There is a “feast day” book which marks the celebrations that are apart from the ordinary days. Even the meals reflect the altered sense of time and occasion. The special “Sunday” plates are put out. There is a treat of pie and ice cream at dinner. One some feast days the tables are decorated with cloth table clothes and decorations that reflect the feast.

The special days and times are set apart, they are consecrated through our actions, our behavior, our acknowledgment of the gift of this day. Today we remember the mystery of Mary’s conception without sin. In our rituals we make space in our lives, in our hearts, in our thoughts to ponder, to reflect, to be present to this mystery.

Monastic life is about creating theses little oases of time and space. Together, through this way of life we can acknowledge the holiness of time. In coming together to pray, in acknowledging feast days, in the tangible practices that remind us of the holiness of a particular day we create a way of life that emphasizes the presence of holy.

Maybe this different sense of time is one of the gifts of monastic life to the world. In a world that seems to run at a frantic pace, when for most people time represents the tyranny of the urgent, the monastery is a witness of a different reality. In the midst of the ordinary, on an otherwise undistinguished day, we stop, pause, give thanks and remember. Today is holy. Today we give thanks for the mystery of Mary. Today is a gift, let us rejoice.

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