Pope Francis has given an update to legislation on contemplative life, since the last apostolic constitution for that “illustrious portion of Christ’s flock” is from 1950, and legislation for cloisters hadn’t been revised since then.
A new apostolic constitution, Vultum Dei Quaerere, was presented today in the Vatican press office by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life.
This “illustrious portion of Christ’s flock,” as St. Cyprian described it, constitutes the beating heart of faith and of the love of the Church for the Lord and for humanity, the archbishop said.
The Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi , which dates from 1950, during the papacy of Pius XII, was the regulation in force for cloisters until now. Vultum Dei Quaerere is therefore valuable inasmuch as it fills the gap of the post-conciliar years, the consequences of which were starting to become evident, the Archbishop indicated.
“This gave rise to the concern of Pope Francis, a pastor attentive to the life of his flock, and his decision to give a new document to all those who in the Church, ‘men and women called by God and in love with Him, [who] have devoted their lives exclusively to seeking His face, longing to find and contemplate God in the heart of the world,’” continued the prelate.
The Holy Father, to underline his esteem for this particular form of consecration mysteriously called to give light to all humanity from silence and from the cloister, gives precise indications regarding the fundamental elements of a life of contemplation that, while not the exclusive prerogative of women, is mostly female.
“Therefore, in outlining the essential elements there is no lack of explicit references to contemplative women, to whom there is presented the icon of Mary as summa contemplatrix, Mary, Virgin, Bride and Mother, who welcomes and treasures the Word in order to give it back to the world … to help to bring Christ to birth and increase in the hearts of men and women.”
The Archbishop focused on the key points of the new Apostolic Constitution, emphasising that not by chance the first of these is formation, a theme which has for many years been of special interest for the Magisterium. “In this regard, the Holy Father on the one hand recalls that the usual place for formation for a contemplative community is the monastery, yet on the other expresses his hope for collaboration between more than one monastery, in various ways: the exchange of materials, the prudent use of digital media, common houses of initial formation, and the willingness of some sisters prepared to help monasteries with fewer resources.”
With reference to the ample space that the document dedicates to prayer, he indicated the Pope’s important clarification that prayer and contemplative life cannot be lived as a form of self-absorption, but must instead enlarge the heart to embrace all humanity, especially those who suffer.
“If it is a profound desire in the heart of Pope Francis to have an outbound Church,” he affirmed, “this is also applicable to those who are called to live out their lives within the walls of the cloister: the attention of the heart, in its maternal care, must continually extend the boundaries of prayer, so that it not only looks upward, to contemplate the holy face of God, but also descends to the depths, to encounter the suffering of man at his loneliest and most marginalized.”
Archbishop Rodríguez Carballo also referred to another two elements that are currently a subject of discernment and reflection for monasteries of contemplative life: autonomy, linked to the role of federations, and cloisters.
All monasteries, except in special cases, judged by the Holy See, are to be grouped in federations, and there is the interesting possibility for membership of federations to be based not only on geographical criteria but also on the basis of affinities of spirit and traditions. Likewise it is hoped that this will lead to the association, also juridical, of corresponding monasteries of men’s Orders, comparable to the formation of the international Confederations and Commissions of the different Orders.
With regard to cloisters, the three types of cloistered life already considered in Vita Consacrata are redefined: that is, the papal, constitutional and monastic cloisters, enabling individual monasteries to carry out careful discernment, respecting their own right to eventually ask the Holy See for permission to embrace a form of cloistered life different from their current one.
Archbishop Rodríguez Carballo concluded by reiterating that in Vultum Dei Quaerere, the Pope has considered all areas of contemplative life.
“With this Apostolic Constitution, his thought is translated into clear guidelines, that will be presented to the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, who will have the task of drafting a new document to substitute the existing one, Verbi sponsa, which contains the legislation regulating the formation, autonomy and cloistered life of monasteries of contemplative or wholly contemplative life.”
For full text of document click here.
The following reflection was written by Rev. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, who serves as parochial vicar at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Many people in our world are in need of prayer. All we have to do is turn on the news these days and see how much prayer our world truly needs with terrorism and senseless violence. We know people, or perhaps ourselves, who need prayers for health, employment, or discernment, to name just a few. Fortunately for us, some people dedicate their entire life to prayer, especially interceding for the world, the Church, and priests. The witness of these men and women in religious life who dedicate hours to prayer should inspire all of us to make time each and everyday for prayer.
In my work as a priest, I have had the privilege to celebrate Mass for a number of cloistered religious communities. Last year I shared “Why I Love Consecrated Religious” and this year I wish to draw attention to a number of these communities. One reason why I love consecrated religious is because they make great sacrifices. This is particularly true for women who join a cloistered community, because once the young postulant knocks on the door, and enters into the cloister, she does not leave except in extreme circumstances. Oftentimes they are separated from those who visit their monastery by a barrier called a grille. They give a radical witness to the world of what it means to love Jesus. It takes a special person whom God has called to join such a community, but their love for Jesus should inspire us. Each day they chant the Divine Office seven times, attend Mass, have times for personal prayer, spiritual reading, and all this is in addition to any other work their community does. They are prayer warriors who seek to be in intimate communion with Jesus their spouse.
Recently in my travels, I visited a monastery of sisters, and had a prayer intention to leave with them. I noticed their basket for prayer requests and wrote mine down. This has been true for every cloistered community I have visited. These nuns want to pray for you. Here are five orders of nuns who will intercede for you if you write and ask.
There are two types of Carmelites, the O.Carm and O.C.D. (Order of Discalced Carmelites). The Discalced Carmelites are cloistered religious who do not wear shoes–the meaning of the word discalced. Their foundation dates back to the great reformer, St. Teresa of Avila. I have had the privilege to get to know one particular monastery located in my diocese–the Holy Name of Jesus Monastery in Denmark, Wisconsin. There are several other Carmelites in the United States. See if you have a monastery in your diocese or in your state. Write them a letter, and ask them to remember you in prayer. The website for the Discalced Carmelites have a listing of all the sisters in the USA. Visit this link.
Poor Clares and Poor Clare Colettines
Many people are familiar with the Poor Clare Nuns because one of the most notable figures of the Poor Clare’s passed away on Easter Sunday this year, namely Mother Angelica. The Poor Clares are associated with St. Clare of Assisi, who worked closely with St. Francis of Assisi and established a community for women. Like other orders, there have been reforms within the Poor Clares. In addition to the OSC (Order of Saint Clare), there is a branch of Poor Clares called “Colettines” named after St. Colette, who in 1406, felt called to reform the Poor Clares and return to a life of poverty and austerity.
Recently, a young cinematographer, sought to capture the life of the Poor Clare Colettines in Rockford, Illinois, with her documentary Chosen, that has yet to be released. Besides Mother Angelica, another popular Poor Clare was Mother Mary Francis, from the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, New Mexico. She was a prolific writer, authoring many texts, including A Right to be Merry, Anima Christi-Soul of Christ, But I Have Called You Friends, and Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience, in addition to two books focusing on the themes of Advent and Lent.
There are Poor Clare Monasteries all throughout the United States, 26 states to be exact. This Poor Clare website lists all the different types (OSC, PCC, PCPA) of Poor Clare Monasteries. See if your state has a monastery.
Cistercians and Trappistines
The Cistercian order began when several monks left the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme because of a lax following of the Rule of St. Benedict. Robert of Molesme, Alberic, and Stephen Harding are the well known founders of the Cistercian order, established the Abbey of Cîteaux. The Trappists, known as Cistercians of the Strict Observance, were a reform of this reform. That’s right, that is a threefold reform of striving to live more faithfully the rule of St. Benedict. To my knowledge, there is one monastery of Cistercian nuns in the United States, located in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The have two websites, this one (about their life) and another one about their hopes to build a new monastery. In the United States there are five monasteries of Trappist Nuns.
Handmaids of the Precious Blood
During my seminary years I had the opportunity to become acquainted with this community because they had a monastery several miles from the seminary. That monastery in Illinois has relocated to their motherhouse in Knoxville, Tennassee. The Handmaids were introduced to me in this way: they were lover of priests and most especially prayed for priests. They pray for priests beginning from the womb, praying for those who will be called, and pray for more vocations to the priesthood and for the sanctity of those who serve the Church. The spirit of their order is Pro Christo in Sacerdote Suo, For Christ in His Priest. I’m sure the Handmaids of the Precious Blood would love to pray for your personal intentions, but if you write these sisters, I’d recommend sending them the name of some priests to remember in prayer. You can submit a priest’s name for spiritual adoption on their website.
Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters
Founded by St. Arnold Janssen in 1896, today they have xx of monasteries in the United States and have 22 houses in the world (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, Togo, and the United States). They are better known as the Pink Sisters on account of their habit color, but they actual name of their community is Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration. They are an order that prays perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament, praying especially for priests, the success of evangelization and missionary efforts. I am sure these sisters are holding in prayer our current efforts of the new evangelization. Other communities listed pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters spend their time before the exposed presence of Jesus in the monstrance. In the United States, they live in Lincoln, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.
Why ask the Nuns to pray for you?
Truth be told, anyone could pray for your special intentions, a priest, an active religious sister, monks, and lay people, but there is something special about asking cloistered nuns to pray for you. I know for a fact that their prayers will not be a one time occurrence but that they will continually time and again remember you in prayer. I met a cloistered sister once at a conference (she had permission to be outside the cloister) and she wrote my name down in her book of prayer. When I went to the monastery to celebrate Mass several years later, she showed me my name in prayer book from years ago and told me she prayed for me daily. Cloistered nuns pray for people everyday, this is what they have dedicated their lives to do, and they want to pray for you.
As you can imagine, living behind a grille is a little old fashioned. Many orders have updated technology, and communicate via phone and email, generally speaking, their preferred communication is through the mail, so as to avoid the distractions of the world. If you need prayers, consider writing a letter, addressing an envelope, placing a stamp in the right hand corner, and dropping it off in a mailbox.
Lastly, I acknowledge this list is not exhaustive, so if you have an order of sisters to recommend, send me a message at my website.