In this Edition:
- Prayerful Remembrance of the Holy Souls
- Community News
- Website News
May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art merciful. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art merciful!
Dear Friends of Carmel,
Not wishing to let too much time pass, and especially this prayerful month of November, we send another letter with the spirit and news of Carmel. Yes, it is indeed a prayerful month, as we answer the call of Holy Mother Church to pray for the Faithful Departed, “that they may be released from their sins,” as the Book of Machabees expresses it. Carmelites have ever been devoted to praying for the souls in Purgatory, as the history of the Order documents, especially from the time of our Holy Mother St. Teresa. Prayers for the them filter through each day’s regular life, from the Hours of the Divine Office to processing into the refectory before meals. And since the purgatorial life is itself a life of prayerful reparation, we find true union of soul with these holy sufferers, so united with God – saved but in need of purification to be worthy to dwell with God in the Beatific Vision. We love to reflect on the words of Mother Mary of St. Austin in her work on Purgatory:
Marvelous is the mercy of God to have provided sinners with a Purgatory – a place of purification in unchangeable eternity; a robing room for those whose wedding garments are earth-soiled; a period when God Himself, jealous for the beauty of His bride, finishes the life-work which the negligent soul has left undone. “O, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!…”
(The Divine Crucible of Purgatory, now out of print)
The highly venerated Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine (4th century) speaks tenderly of the affectionate devotion of praying for the dead:
A love marked by remembrance and prayer is shown toward the departed by the faithful who were most dear to them. There can be no doubt that such a love profits those who in their earthly lifetime proved worthy of receiving it after death… supplications for the spirit of the dead person are not to be omitted. And the Church undertakes to offer these supplications in a general commemoration for all who die in the Christian and Catholic fellowship, even though their names are not mentioned, so that those who lack parents or children or relatives or friends may have these prayers provided for them by the loving mother of all… Since this is so, we should not think that anything reaches the dead whom we care for, except what we solemnly ask for them by the sacrifice of the altar or by prayer or almsgiving. In fact, these do not benefit all those for whom they are made, only those whose lives were such that they are prepared to be benefited by them. But because we cannot tell who these may be, we should do these things for all the baptized, so that none be left out whom these benefits could and should reach. For it is better that they be superfluous for those whom they can neither hinder nor help than that they should be lacking to those whom they would help.
(From the book of St. Augustine, Bishop, On Duties Toward the Dead)
Our prayerful remembrance of souls who have passed before us into eternity has been more intimate and constant during our work on three sets of Requiem Mass vestments this year. You may recall we first mentioned this project in the fall of 2012. Our work was inspired by a very old vestment, lovingly designed and sewn by some soul or souls whose names are known only to God, for the vestment is surely a century old, or perhaps older. We have been able to identify at least four different fabrics or trims used to replace the original for numerous repairs during its history. Our attempts, off and on for over 4 years, to re-create its silver stump work and hand-embroidery met with mixed and unsatisfactory results. (Stump work, by the way, is a very old and traditional form of decorative embroidery in which a shape is cut out of cardboard, such as one leaf of the weeping willow design of our vestment, thread is wound around the piece until it is completely covered, and then that piece is stitched on the vestment by hand.) Only in the last two years have we found the technology and developed the skills necessary at last to replicate, as best we could, such intricate and detailed embroidery by machine. Machine embroidery, we have discovered, requires just as much artistry and patience as hand work. Same tools, only more of them! And here we recall once again the wise words of a dear priest friend of ours, now himself in eternity, “You can’t use the tools of yesterday to accomplish the work of today.”
Some of our first test sew-outs from the embroidery machine had so many stitches that the fabric bunched up and creased into countless “wrunkles”, the word we coined for this most annoying turn of events…! Altogether unsuitable for a vestment to be worn for divine worship, to be sure. But with repeated experimentation, patient comparison of methods and critical evaluation of our own efforts, we finally accomplished what we dreamed of – or at least came very close.
Sewing and embroidery are difficult, detail-oriented and painstaking work, but there is no better reason to do them than the glory of God and the aid of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. It was also quite a meditation to reflect that we were working on the vestments that may very well be used at our own funerals someday… Besides the three vestments, we also undertook the project of making an antependium (altar frontal piece) and cope, using the same weeping willow theme, and were able to complete and prepare them to be used for the Requiem Masses on All Souls day. Over these years of working on this tremendous project, we took time to research the history of the symbolism of the weeping willow. Ancient use of the symbol was found in the Near and Far East, where it is known for tearful symbolism, used in some places as a cemetery ornament signifying an association of grief for the loved one in the grave. The imagery is frequently found on gravestones all over the world and was very popular in the funerary art of the late 18th and early 19th centuries (giving us a possible clue to the age of the original vestment?). It was used most often to symbolize immortality and rebirth, likely because of its swift-growing habit. Today the image of a weeping willow growing on a riverbank with its cascading leaves falling over the water is a familiar one, evoking the concept of life, death and rebirth. We found it remarkable that it has been used to symbolize both death and re-birth. The dominant symbol of the holy cross enriches a hundredfold the depth of meaning – Christ’s sacrificial death upon it brought about our eternal redemption and the living hope of resurrection. Truly, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Today, November 14th, Carmelites the world over are celebrating the Feast of All Saints of the Order of Carmel. The Divine Office for this feast is very beautiful and extolls the virtues of our Saints – their humility, purity, voluntary poverty and contemplative prayer. These Saints always “strove to work here below that they might possess eternal glory… and their lamps they held always ready, awaiting the coming of the immortal Bridegroom.” They encourage us to to live peacefully in God’s presence and strive for Heaven as they did. We have considered it very important to provide the best of Carmelite writings and biographies, and indeed plan to deepen this selection on our new web site. We invite you to look over these excellent books and read from them the fruit of the wisdom and sanctity of God’s chosen souls, sharing with us their counsels for reaching eternal life and union with God. Carmelite Devotions and Prayers for the Special Feasts of the Liturgical Year is an especially wonderful book that offers meditations and prayers of these Saints and in their honor.
You will remember that a key aspect of the Carmelite apostolate of prayer is intercessory prayer for Holy Church in her priests. We are always pleased to hear from priests, as well as those studying for the holy priesthood, and to receive their intentions to bring before the Divine Master in prayer. The plea of Christ is ever with us: “Pray the Lord of the harvest that He send forth laborers into the harvest…” Not long ago, we heard from a young man through the mail who is not Catholic, but wholly committed to a form of ministry in a non-Christian religion. He wrote that recently a close relative had passed away who was Catholic, and that the death of this dear one had made him wonder more than ever what Catholics believe and why. He asked about Purgatory, the Rosary, the Saints and many other things, but notably about religious vocation. It struck us that this young man, so sincere, courteous and searching, was clearly a generous soul yearning to give his very best to God. Might he be one of the “laborers” the Lord seeks to send, if only he could learn the loving will of God and His truth? Please join us in praying for him and for all priests and seminarians. And if you know of the spiritual needs of these chosen men, we welcome requests for prayers for them. (email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Other goings-on at Carmel include numerous, little house-repair jobs, like mending cracked walls left from last summer’s rains, replacing bathroom fans, sanding and staining wood door frames, collecting unused items for give-away. And then there is yard work, much neglected in favor of the vestment this year. We love our trees, especially the oak tree outside the refectory and the Virginia Creepers, which both turn brilliant red this time of year, but fall means plenty of clean-up from their now-cast-off beautiful foliage. Raking leaves and needles, bulb-planting, mulching… Carmelites are never idle!
The other “big work” for us at this time is, of course, the construction of the new website. Happily, and thanks be to God, we are making good progress. If technology found its felicitous use in Carmel for vestments, you can imagine its very practical value in accomplishing this task; in fact “technology” is the task. The younger third of our community of Sisters takes this all in stride, and indeed without them, we would be in a real pickle. They grew up using these tools, thinking the way a computer thinks, in many ways. And they gladly and graciously instruct their older Sisters. So we are all, in one way or another, involved in some aspect of the work, whether giving the overall view and planning each Sister’s assignment, offering impressions for the site’s appearance and how it works for the visitor, using old business skills and experience for what must not be neglected, or being right in the trenches of the detailed work of building the site, we are all giving our help to complete this necessary work, both for our apostolate and our livelihood. Thank you for your interest and good prayers for its accomplishment.
With Advent coming soon, we all need the spiritual food to spend it prayerfully in preparation for Christmas. We highly recommend spiritual reading for the season, of course – and especially the excellent book of sermons of St. Francis de Sales. We have been receiving Christmas gift orders for quite a few weeks now, and it is not too early to order for gift rosaries, rosary bracelets or chaplets. All of us tend to put off choosing gifts, not sure where to begin… But please don’t wait until the last minute – especially you fathers and husbands, boyfriends and brothers! (Sorry, gentlemen, but you do tend to be the big procrastinators when it comes to Christmas…) Let us assist you in arranging for just the right gift. Our Christmas card selection is now complete, and we’ve been happy to hear the positive response to them. A Knights of Columbus group invited us to offer a selection of our cards for their fundraiser, and the parishioners were especially glad to find respectful, devotional religious cards that really express the meaning of Christmas.