And in the midst of death, we are in life.
Over at Summit, NJ, the Dominican Nuns of Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery are in life and death, all the time. You can’t spend your days processing in and out of choir seven times a day to join the Angels in adoration and praise, without getting a seriously wholistic view of it all. But this week, especially, we see the literal life-in-death paradox (which, really, is true in all our lives) at work.
This past weekend saw the nuns celebrating the taking of First Profession of Sr. Joseph Maria of the Holy Family. In this important step, a novice trades her white veil for a black one, and is no longer a “novice” at all.
Sr. Joseph Maria receives the black veil of a professed sister, from her Prioress and Novice Mistress
While she is still “in the novitiate” until her final vows, the sister is at this point a “professed” nun -think of it as being made a junior partner in a law firm; she’s on the right track, and the letters OP (Order of Preachers) are attached to her name- and her life in the monastery becomes more integrated, her responsibilities change. In three years, if all goes well, she will make vows, for life, to God and her community.
And as one young nun enters the choir to make her vows, an elderly nun is brought to choir having reached her culmination:
Sr. Mary Rose Dominic, gone to her beloved, in choir for last time
Both of these occasions, it must be said, are “cause for joy” for the monastic. As a sister wrote to me of Sr. Mary Rose Dominic’s death, “Deo Gratias! There is always a feeling of joy when one of the Sisters dies. After all, we’ve been preparing for this moment since our profession!”
In The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris relates a monastic joke: A Benedictine monk dies and goes to heaven where he meets Jesus. He bows before Jesus and says, “my whole life I have longed for this moment, what is it I should do now?” And Jesus shrugs and says, “go to choir!”
In other words, “keep doing what you’ve been doing; keep singing praises to God on High, with the angels, the saints, the martyrs, the patriarchs.”
Her sisters will keep a 24 hour vigil with her remains, and then there will be a Mass of Christian Burial, and Sr. Mary Rose Dominic will be laid in the monastery’s own cemetery, her grave visited and tended to by her own and future sisters.
Even in death, they keep their enclosure