A cloistered life centered around the Eucharist

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Sister Lucia Marie
Sister Lucia Marie of the Visitation. Courtesy photo

The day I walked through the doors of the public chapel of our monastery years ago as a teenager visiting a cloistered monastery for the first time, I was struck. While the entire chapel was beautiful, the focal point was a gleaming monstrance enthroned above the altar, built into the grille separating the nuns’ choir from the public side. I was instantly drawn by the sight.

The Eucharist is placed at the center of our chapel, and the chapel, in turn, is located in the center of our monastery. Our day is arranged around it, with daily Mass and the hours of the Divine Office which flow from it, and the daily schedule of sisters assigned to keep guard before the Lord as adorers. The physical centrality reflects a deeper spiritual one: The Eucharist lies at the heart of our vocation as cloistered Dominican nuns.

As contemplative nuns, we are called to seek the face of God. Many of the Dominican monasteries in the United States have the privilege of perpetual adoration. Here, before the monstrance, we gaze on his hidden face, bringing before him the sufferings and trials, needs and petitions, the joys and thanksgiving of all the world. Continually, we receive phone calls, letters and messages asking, “Sisters, would you please pray for … ?”

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In our monastery, we have the tradition of praying what we call the Adoring Rosary. During our assigned adoration time, we contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s life through the prayers of the Rosary while we adore him in his Eucharistic presence. There is such peace in the quiet chapel, looking up at Our Lord as the beads slip through my fingers. The mission of the Dominican order is “to contemplate, and to give to others the fruits of contemplation.” As a cloistered nun, I do not share the fruits of my contemplation by preaching the way my brothers, the friars, do — rather, in a mysterious way, the Word contemplated in my heart bears fruit through the Word preached by others.

Daily Mass forms the life-spring of every nun’s spiritual life. While all Christians are called to a spousal relationship with God, the nun is called to embody this in an even more radical way, leaving behind earthly marriage in order to choose Christ as her only spouse, passing over the figure to seek the reality. We have the custom of reciting a prayer each day as we place the veil on our head: “He has placed a seal upon my brow, that I might admit no other lover but him.” It is in the Eucharist that we receive “him whom my soul loves” (Song 3:4) The One who gave himself for me on the cross now comes to me, makes his abode in me.

As the re-presentation of Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross, the Eucharist shares with us the graces which that sacrifice merited. Like every sacrament, the Eucharist contains both sign and reality. As the forms of bread and wine signify replenishment and nourishment, so in the Eucharist we find forgiveness for our daily faults, our failings in sisterly charity, our distractions and sloth, restoring what was lost in us by our venial sins. It nourishes growth in the spiritual life, giving increase to virtue, most particularly to charity.

But the reality under these signs is Christ himself. When we consume normal food, it is changed into us. But in this spiritual food, we become what we receive, being transformed into Christ until we can say, “yet I live, no longer, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20) This transformation into Christ, this growth in charity, loving God and neighbor with the love that he himself has poured into our hearts, is the goal and perfection of the monastic life, of the spiritual life — in fact, of every Christian’s life.

And so, as we seek the face of God in silence, set apart for him alone by enclosure and consecrated to him by our vows, it is the Eucharist that feeds us on our journey toward him, that unites us to him and that promises us the joy of final union with him in heaven.

Sister Lucia Marie of the Visitation is a cloistered Dominican nun of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey.