Nuns and Religious Professions

Photos: OC-Travel
Speaking of liturgical arts, one of the most simple and yet fascinating rites in the life of the Church is the Perpetual Profession of Vows and the Investiture of Novices for sisters.  It was an immense pleasure to witness both these sacred rites conducted with the greatest solemnity on the feast of the Assumption at the FSSP parish of All Saints in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Many thanks to the Most. Rev. Andrew Cozzens (auxiliary to the Archbishop of St. Paul) who sang Pontifical Mass and celebrated the rites and the archpriest who assisted him, Fr. Gerard Saguto, FSSP (pastor of All Saints in Minneapolis), who has been instrumental in helping the sisters' new community.

The program and commemorative booklet that was beautifully put together by volunteers
Needless to say, nuns play a crucial role in the life of the Church and are a tremendous blessing to the life of a parish.  Many of us who grew up under the care of teaching sisters can attest to the immense benefit they bring, especially to children, greatly enriching all on many levels.  As the rites illustrate for us, the sisters fulfill a distinguished part in Christ's Mystical Body, where "all members have not the same function" (Romans 12:4).

Twenty years ago there were precious few options for young women who were discerning a possible call to traditional convent life.  Today this has changed with a flowering of countless fresh, new, viable, flourishing orders, constituting a totally new playing field, each offering a unique and slightly different witness to the glory of the Church.  This reflects a similar pattern from the nineteenth century when many new orders appeared after the devastated vineyards of the French Revolution and the Masonic revolutions that followed in its wake.

The Church has a lot to teach us in these rites, reflected in the vows of profession.  The vocation of the sister is highlighted in the rite, referring to her as, "His [Christ's] handmaid, our sister," consecrated as an overflowing fountain of heavenly graces while building up Christ's Body the Church (cf. Eph. 4:12).  As the tenor of the rite suggests, the Church is very much in need of sisters.

An excerpt from the rite of final profession
Hence it must be stated that nuns are part of the earliest history of the Church.  The first Catholic nun was Our Lady, the Blessed Mother.  She leads the way, and was followed by others during the apostolic age, including St. Mary Magdalene, whom legend avers fled the Holy Land amid persecutions, arriving on the shores of France at the fishing village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where she evangelized in the Roman port of Marseille, and finally lived as a hermit high in a cave on a mountain ridge called Sainte-Baume.

Thus the noble vocation of professed religious sisters continues to this day.  In 2017 the Filiae Laboris Mariae (Daughters of the Works of Mary) community began ad experimentum in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph with the permission of Most Rev. James Johnston.  Their original home was at an old convent at the church of St. Mary in Independence, Missouri.

The Labor Mariae sisters were founded earlier that same year by Mother Maria Regina of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, a native of Holland, who had been a religious sister for over twenty-five years.  She is pictured on the left, wearing the crown of thorns on her final profession day as a member of the new community.  The other sister is the newest postulant, Sr. Maria Gratia of Canada.     

Group photo taken after the ceremony
The sisters moved to their new home in Northeast Minneapolis this spring at the invitation of the FSSP and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  They live in a heritage convent on the grounds of the FSSP parish that was occupied until last autumn by the Sisters of St. Francis.

The new community consists of four members (one fully professed and three novices) with a steady flow of young women expressing interest in joining as postulants, inspired by the suitable vocation of spending themselves readily in God's service and in the works of the apostolate.

The Labor Mariae sisters are a traditional order with statutes that aim to serve parishes while assisting in the catechesis of the young, continuing in the pattern of Christ, working for the upbuilding of the Church according to heaven's design.

The rites of vows and investiture that were witnessed by the parish will no doubt inspire many vocations to follow in the path of religious life.  The milestone event offered an outstanding token of heavenly riches through a wealth of poetic imagery seen in the the ordo of rites with various symbolic items that were made use of for all to see: a funeral pall, a ring, a crown of thorns, a wedding dress, the cutting of hair, the investiture of the blessed habit, including the tunic, cincture, scapular, wimple, veil, and even a rosary and breviary.

A particularly poignant moment revealed itself when the sister making final profession of vows lay prostrate on the sanctuary floor while she was covered with a large, black funeral pall as a sign of her death to the world.  Meanwhile, the entire community joined in supplication for her singing the Litany of Saints.  Another particularly touching moment was when the same sister was given a ring and was crowned with a crown of thorns.  Further, inspiring moments included when the new novice was given a new name as a sign of her new found life in conjunction with having her hair cut by the bishop and exchanging an exquisite white wedding gown with the habit of the order.   

The Church has always taught that the more ardently sisters unite themselves to Christ through self-surrender involving their entire lives, the more vigorous becomes the life of the Church and the more abundantly parish life bears fruit.  As the rites attest, the sisters are "fortified with heaven-sent strength." 

A hand painted ceramic from Japan that was presented to the sisters.
We thank heaven for the presence of these good sisters, a choice sacrifice of praise, brightening God's people with the richest splendors of sanctity.  By their complete example they motivate the faithful by imparting a hidden apostolic fruitfulness to the parish, causing the Christian community to grow.  The good example of their own lives affords the highest recommendation for their life-long commitment and inspires further vocations in the parish.  The Church has spoken thus in Perfectae Caritatis (24): "Parents should develop and protect religious vocations in the hearts of their children."

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