I have been puzzled about this story for a week or more. It’s time to share the mystery.
This Contra Costa Times article by Rebecca Rosen Lum is not all that bad. It’s about a hermit nun named Sister Lauren O’Neal, and the nicest thing about the story is that this sister comes off as a rather complete, balanced person. There are lots of nice details about her life and her calling. Take this glimpse into her living quarters and life:
Shelves full of books bank the living room. A print of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” hangs beneath a crucifix. “Bach Works for the Violin” waits on a music stand. A shelf holds DVDs — “The Hobbit” series, “The Green Mile” — a television and other gadgets. And she loves “Harry Potter.”
She embraces solitude, not isolation, she says: A hermit’s life is not for those trying to hide from society.
“Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that (hermits) live in silence,” said the Rev. Mark Weisner, spokesman for the Oakland Diocese. “We have the image of hermits being unhappy and unable to fit into society. Sister O’Neal is a very normal person. Can you imagine having constant contact with the Lord and not being joyful?”
Canon law describes a hermit’s life as one of solitude and penance, “but there is nothing in church law about how much silence to keep,” said Sister Marlene Wiesenbeck, who wrote a guidebook for aspiring hermits and the vicars and bishops who assess their applications.
Alas, it is the reference just ahead of this piece of the story that has me so baffled. I have been around Catholic worship, and the language of Catholic worship, for a long, long time, and this passage contains words that are either (a) clueless or (b) so obscure that there is no way they should have been used in a mainstream newspaper story without explanation.
So here goes:
Quiet feels natural in these rooms. A chapel in her room holds a tabernacle, and within it the instruments of the Eucharist, which she performs here and for other residents in the complex.
“Bishops allow hermits to do that,” she said.
I am not, it seems, alone in my confusion. If one Googles the phrase “instruments of the Eucharist,” one gets a variety of references that only make the situation more confusing.
Is the sister allowed to keep the reserved Sacrament in her quarters, to share with the sick and those who cannot get to Mass? But other references you can find online suggest that these “instruments” are the chalice and paten. That makes it sound like she has been given permission to celebrate the Mass. It’s a page one story around the world if a Roman Catholic bishop has approved that. So I think that is unlikely.
So what did the reporter hear? What did the sister actually say?