A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Location: Virginia, United States

Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Epiphany Gift from the Poor Clares

In past centuries as well as some Catholic countries around the world today, Epiphany is the day on which gifts are traditionally received, rather than on Christmas Day. Needless to say, my family has always observed the American custom of opening our gifts on Christmas, which is always a very joyful occasion. However, I understand the rationale behind receiving gifts on Epiphany- it’s a beautiful way of sharing the experience of giving and receiving with the Holy Family. Just as I received wonderful gifts from my earthly family on Christmas Day, I also received a beautiful gift from my spiritual “sisters” on the Feast of Epiphany!

As a background, the Poor Clares in Barhamsville- a very rural town- used to have a monastery in Newport News- a highly populated small city- up until three years ago. Even though I never knew about the Poor Clares when they lived in their old monastery, the nuns were beloved by the Newport News community. Each Sunday, the Poor Clares would invite the local community to join them in their public chapel for evening Vespers, rosary, and Benediction. Supposedly this had become a very popular Sunday tradition during the decades that they were in Newport News. When the nuns moved to the new monastery located an hour away from Newport News, many of the nuns’ friends and benefactors found that they couldn’t visit them as frequently. Furthermore, I believe that the nuns were having trouble finding a priest to regularly say Benediction, since Barhamsville is little more than a hamlet. You can read more about the situation on the Poor Clares’ blog.

The Poor Clares now have a wonderful new chaplain, and so they wanted to give a “gift” to both their old and new friends in the area. Hence, they organized a special Epiphany Vespers and Benediction that featured a rosary with beautiful medieval and modern carols sung by the nuns! The nuns were preparing this a couple of months in advance, which also involved my distributing around the area the little flyers that they had made for the event. The picture that they used on the flyer is pictured above.

Epiphany itself was a very gray and dismal day in terms of the weather. In spite of the rain and the wind, I was happy to find that there was a large and diverse turnout for the Benediction- men and women of all ages, families, single persons, couples, and even the neighboring farmer’s dog (the nuns are Franciscans, after all) showed up for the event!

Fittingly enough, a statue of St. Clare- whose name means ‘light’- stood near two large doors that opened unto the beautiful public chapel which was filled with extraordinary brightness and warmth. All of the chapel’s light seemed to emanate from a golden monstrance which held Our Lord, who is the very source of all brightness. This was a brightness that made me forget that the weather outside was ever rainy and gray.

Someone once described Poor Clare nuns’ chant as being like a stream that flows peacefully. Certainly, it is a stream that occasionally bubbles and babbles with one or two nuns going flat- but this only adds to its beauty and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes I don’t know where the stream is going- I get lost and can’t follow along in the missalette- but it only adds to its quiet mystery. How ever loud or quiet this stream flows, the Poor Clares’ chant is a stream so peaceful, gentle, and beautiful that it ultimately carries me into the depths of my baptized soul as I gaze upon Our Lord in the monstrance.

After Vespers, which is a regular part of the nuns’ Sunday evening, they headed into the special part of the evening- a sung rosary. They said the joyful mysteries of the rosary and in between each decade, the nuns sang harmonized medieval and modern carols accompanied by the organ.

These exquisite carols were the nuns’ special gifts to all of us hearing them- and they were indeed gifts that were a bit unexpected but were extremely beautiful. I was a bit surprised to hear the nuns harmonize, since I’ve usually only heard them sing in plainchant. Furthermore, I was in awe as to how very beautiful the nuns sounded during these carols. All of the carols were very lovely, but as I heard the carol after the second decade, I thought to myself in all earnestness ‘this is a sampling of how the songs in Heaven will sound!’

Beyond the musical beauty of the carols, they were especially beautiful because the carols were a gift of love from the nuns to all of us. The music and prayers that they made on that night are a testament to how these nuns have said ‘yes’ to Christ’s Gospel call to go and bear fruit. Even though those in the public chapel could not see any of the nuns behind the wall, the music that all of us on the other side could hear was indeed the ‘fruit’ of their love. In effect, their music and prayers on that Feast of Epiphany was the Poor Clares’ way of saying ‘I love you’ to both God and all of us in the world.

We love you, too, Sisters! The Benediction Liturgy that you had prepared for so many hours was one of the most beautiful gifts that anyone could receive on Epiphany!


Blogger Charles of New Haven said...

Happy new year, Chiara.

I love your description of the chant; it betrays your Franciscan heart!

I have always had a special love for Epiphany and Transfiguration; somehow they seem so mystical to me.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Barhamsville Poor Clares said...

May God reward you, Chiara, for your glowing account of our Epiphany Holy Hour! During the next few Sundays of Ordinary time, we will conclude each decade of the Rosary with Eucharisticly orientated prayers of the Saints. We hope that you and all our friends will continue to join us each Sunday. God Bless You!

10:16 AM  

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