By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
The lives of cloistered religious, whether they be monks or nuns, may be described by a single word – prayer. It is their constant. Prayer is not the interlude between work to sustain the abbey, or eating, or sleeping or recreation. Those are the interludes between prayers.
Its most important form is through daily Eucharist or Eucharistic Adoration, and second to that, in most monasteries, is the Liturgy of the Hours.
At the Langhorne Monastery of St. Clare (Poor Clares) “It is very major,” said abbess Sister Evelyn Eynon. “We are deputed by the Church to say the Liturgy.”
The command traces back to St. Clare herself, who with St. Francis of Assisi founded the Poor Clares in the 13th century. Unlike most European women of her day, St. Clare, a member of a wealthy family, could read and write. She even wrote the rule for her order herself, Sister Evelyn noted.
Because she could do this it made the recitation of the psalms, the heart of the Liturgy of the Hours, possible. In her time those sisters who could not read were permitted to substitute Pater Nosters (Our Fathers) for the psalms.
When Sister Evelyn entered the Poor Clares, the Liturgy of the Hours, “the Prayer of the Church,” was recited or chanted in Latin, the universal language of the Church. Now it is celebrated in the vernacular, which in America, usually means in English.
Back when she joined, sisters observed the traditional hours, beginning with Lauds at dawn and continuing through Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, and in the middle of the night, Matins. This constant round of prayer was one of the features that made the Poor Clares attractive to Sister Evelyn, who grew up in Philadelphia’s St. Stephen Parish.
The Liturgy of the Hours has been slightly modified over the years. By tradition, the Hours would be chanted, but because the Langhorne community is small – 12 members at this point – it’s not practical.
“That’s a luxury we would have only if we had a large choir,” Sister Evelyn said.
Nevertheless, on major feasts – including last week’s feast of the Immaculate Conception – most of the liturgy is sung. Night Prayer began with the ever-beautiful Ave Maria and continued through the singing of Psalms 122 and 127, interspersed with the Lord’s Prayer, antiphons, canticles (including a Magnificat especially written for the community), responsorials, readings and intercessions.
Except for special feasts, the Liturgy of the Hours follows a four-week cycle during which all 150 psalms are recited or chanted, at least once. Does it become tedious?
“We promised we would do it and we love it,” Sister Evelyn said. “We are joining the whole Church to praise God. This is part of our life.”
Prayer life at the monastery begins with Morning Prayer at 5:30 a.m., according to Sister Jean Therese, another member of the Poor Clare community. This is followed by an hour of Adoration and a 7:15 a.m. Mass (8:15 on Sunday). Daytime Prayer and the Office of Readings follow. After a few hours of work, Little Hours will precede and follow lunch. In mid-afternoon there is the rosary and Adoration, and at 5 p.m. Evening Prayer. Finally after supper, at 6:30 p.m. there is Night Prayer.
“Our whole life is the Liturgy of the Hours, a prayer for the Church and the whole world,” Sister Jean said. “I think every hour has its importance, it refocuses us back to God, be it the Morning Prayer in the morning, the Little Hours during the day, the Evening Prayer or the Night Prayer. It is part of our calling, to stop whatever we are doing and pray.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.
(A Magnificat written for the Poor Clares of Langhorne
by musician Anthony Navarra)
My soul Glorifies the Lord: My spirit sings for joy.
He has smiled on His little one. Alleluia!
From now on, all will call me blessed: His life has filled my life.
Holy is His gracious name. Alleluia!
He cares for His faithful ones. His mercy stands forever.
He will save with His holy power. Alleluia!
He has scattered the haughty ones. The mighty He casts down.
Yet the humble He raises up. Alleluia!
Empty ones He fills with joy. The proud He sends away.
He will watch over Israel. Alleluia!
He will not forget His word, His promise to our fathers,
Abraham and his children. Alleluia!