Saturday, August 10, 2013
Yesterday the pair received the habit, but only today
(and even then only right before the Mass) could they don it. For most of the sisters, our first glimpse came during the entrance procession.
There was still one more revelation: what name would they go by? In our congregation, the norm is to keep one's baptismal name (since this sacrament initiates us into the covenant that the religious life is meant to live more intensely), and then add a new one (as a sign of entering upon a new stage in one's relationship with God).
Let me just say it out clearly.
Both of our newly professed sisters have names that resound for a total of five syllables. Sister Laura Fidelis. Sister Jacqueline Jean-Marie. I have been professed for 35 years, and never had more than two: Sister Anne Joan. And I only go by that name in the convent. After being called variations on Angela, Angelina, Anne Jo-anne, Anna Jo… I (reluctantly) dropped the Joan part in non-DSP-settings. So most of the time, I get only one syllable, and these newbies start off with five.
The "name reveal" isn't even a formal part of the ceremony of vows (it used to be); as that part of the Mass begins, the novice director simply calls each sister by her new name (pronounced with great solemnity, it must be said, since she knows we are all straining to hear!); the sister responds: "Here I am, Lord," and things just go ahead from there with the celebrant asking the sisters (in a way that deliberately echoes the baptismal rite) what they ask of God and the Church; if they are willing to follow the Lord in a life of chastity, poverty and obedience… and then each sister pronounces the formula, vowing to live chaste, poor and obedient for one year. They will, with the grace of God, renew those vows each year for five years before using the formula that says, "for all my life." But that "life" part is already intended from the get-go: "Looking forward to the day when I can consecrate myself to You forever…"
Since Sr Jacqueline Jean-Marie (the "Jean" part is for John the Baptist) hails from Kenya, there was a huge Kenyan contingent at the Mass, and they handled the Offertory procession. What a procession it was!
A choir, accompanied only by drums and a kind of shimmering rain of seeds within a reed-covered frame, sang in unison as dancers (in their Sunday best) stepped their way gracefully up the center aisle. Just before the children who carried the bread and wine for Mass, there were four women who bore woven bags filled with food. The long handles of the bags wrapped across the top of the bearer's head, while she held on tight and continued to step right, then left, all the way to the sanctuary.
Meeting the priest at the step, she turned completely around as the priest grasped the handles and lifted the burden to place it before the altar. There was no missing the point: this was an offering of one's substance, made joyfully, and made life-giving.
At Communion, Sister Laura's brother sat at the piano, and with accompaniment of viola, organ and a set of drums, sang of God's unfailing faithfulness.
When everyone had eaten, and the desserts (including large Kenyan beignet) were out, people started singing. And then dancing. And ululating. Song after song in Swahili. One of the men near me said that a song I especially enjoyed was about bringing the Gospel, which is like a fire. There were postures, steps and hand movements for every song, and everyone knew them, even though the guests from the Kenyan community had actually come from many different Kenyan communities in the Northeast. I've been stationed with sisters of many different cultures, but never really had a chance to experience the cultures of Africa. Here it was, my introduction to Africa, in our convent refectory in New England.
Tomorrow I head for Rome, and an international experience of the Daughters of St. Paul (including our vibrant communities of southern Africa, East Africa and Francophone Africa). I'm already the richer!
Posted by Sr Anne Flanagan at 7:21 PM