No bells in the cloister today. Instead, the novices hurried through the dorms with wooden clappers. The sound was harsh, dissonant. After so many mornings of bells, the clappers told me immediately this day was different. Today Christ died to save us. Today Christ suffered and died for me.
I was the same Sister Mary Joan who went to bed past midnight, passing the long evening hours before the Lord’s altar of repose. The same sister who prayed so fervently for healing and answers only two days before. I knew my pain would have no easy fix. Knots and barbs and tangles, as far as the eye could see: that was the shape of my interior landscape. Broken, tortured wilderness.
“I will allure her, and lead her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:14.
Seven months a sister, and the dust had finally settled on that jagged plain. Clear enough to see the One that I hoped was coming.
On Good Friday it all pressed close to me, pressing like the Crown of Thorns around the Lord’s tender face. He was suffering today, suffering for me.
I stayed with Him, pressing deeper into the thorns.
At breakfast, I picked out six saltine crackers and sat in my place beside Sister Lucia. She had given herself a similarly tiny meal. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw that her face was as somber as the day we first met. Was she thinking about her family? About Jesus on Good Friday?
Probably both, I concluded. Just as I was thinking about healing for my back pain and Good Friday at the same time. They went together so naturally: my brokenness and Christ’s sacrifice. The curse, and the cure.
I nibbled the edge of my fifth saltine, fretting over my meager meal.
I want to fast, Lord. But what if I can’t do it? What if I eat too much or too little? What if I just can’t do enough?
I finished my last cracker, then rose to clean up the breakfast dishes.
The Lord—it is what He is doing that matters today. The Lord alone has done enough.
Pilgrimage to the Cross
Just before noon, the novices returned with wooden clappers, calling us to the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. The day’s liturgy began with the readings, Gospel, and intercessions.
When the time came for the Veneration of the Cross, the Sisters approached the Lord on their knees. Beginning from their chapel stalls, they inched down the side aisles, around the back, up the center, to kiss the feet of Christ on the cross. Each Sister. A long, slow pilgrimage to the Cross.
On my knees, I reached the cross laid out before the altar. I bent low, kissed the feet of Christ.
Jesus, remember me, as You come into your kingdom, I prayed.
Inside the sunlit chapel, everything shone clean and simple and beautiful as always. Yet my memory paints everything red with His Precious Blood. With the final proof of His Love.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. - John 19:30
The next morning felt quiet and somber, like the tomb. We prayed from the Office of Readings and the lament of Jeremiah. In the afternoon, the weather was very fine. I dyed Easter eggs in the sewing room with the other novitiate sisters, then took a spring walk around the grounds. The March sky sparkled with color and sunlight.
After dinner I dressed in my nicest postulant outfit for the Easter Vigil. One of the black-veil Sisters had braided my hair earlier in the afternoon.
“Ah, postulant hair,” she’d sighed. I could tell she considered braiding my hair to be a special treat. The veiled Sisters kept their hair cut short beneath their white caps.
The other postulants styled their hair for Easter, too: Sister Kristin’s strawberry blond hair was pulled back in twists and curls, while Sister Francesca’s short chocolate hair was combed clean and fresh.
The weather outside was now threatening rain, so the priest lit the charcoal fire for the Vigil in the great room instead. My friend Sister Lucia and I stayed close to the front, eager not to miss a single moment.
“Christ our light,” sang the priest.
“Thanks be to God,” the Sisters answered. Inside the Motherhouse, the only light came from the small charcoal fire, and then the candles held in the Sisters’ hands. The Sister beside me lit my candle. I nodded in thanks, then turned to join the priest’s procession into the chapel.
“Christ our light,” the priest repeated.
“Thanks be to God,” the Sisters and I sang.
We descended the stairs, passed through the vestibule, and entered the unlit chapel. The space felt wide and cavernous as I stepped inside just behind the priest. Candlelight reflected off gold and brass, and the fragrant scent of incense filled the air.
“Christ our light.” The priest’s voice sounded small and insignificant in the vast space.
“Thanks be to God,” we echoed a few times over, as the Sisters far behind us picked up Father’s words.
With every step forward, the light in the chapel grew. Each tiny candle of the Sisters increased it, until the room went from pitch black to soft grey. It was still dark, but light enough to find our way to our chapel stalls for the Liturgy of the Word.
Once everyone was inside, we sat down in the chapel’s soft gloom. Then the first lector read the opening lines from the Book of Genesis:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
The Easter Vigil readings told the great stories of salvation history, from the creation narrative to Abraham and Isaac, the parting of the Red Sea to Isaiah and the prophets. Then came a reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.
- Romans 6:8
After the readings came the Easter Sequence.
“Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando: Dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus,” I sang with the Sisters. Translated in English, the words said:
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
We had practiced the Sequence earlier in choir practice, but it sounded far more magnificent in the dimly lit chapel with all the Sisters singing.
When we had finished, the priest rose for the reading of the Gospel. Overhead, the lights of the chapel turned on, illuminating the room with glorious Easter light.
“Alleluia, Alleluia!” I smiled in delight at the other postulants, my heart overflowing with perfect joy. “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”
Thank you so much for reading! Please join me next week for a lively Easter celebration and an Easter Monday revelation: a "moment of truth" that changed everything.
You can also read my latest posts for Life After Convent blog here: www.maryrosekreger.com
About the Author:
Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she
writes fantasy for teens and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during and after the convent here and at www.maryrosekreger.com