Lent at Ephesus: An Interview with Mother Cecilia, Mother prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

Today, we are pleased to share an interview with Mother Cecilia, Mother prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. You may know these Sisters as the angelic voices behind the beautiful new CD Lent at Ephesus. We thank Mother for giving us a peek into monastic life and urge you to make this beautiful music a part of your Lenten journey. Order the CD here or at iTunes. LMH

flat with bold B of MWe at CatholicMom.com focus on the gifts and depths of Motherhood.  As Mother Prioress of a monastic order of nuns we would love to hear from you on specifically how you help prepare and form your “daughters” entrusted to you.

It is most important as the spiritual mother to souls, that before all else, I make myself available to my daughters. They must never fear to approach me, and not consider themselves a bother, no matter what. The most important thing I have come to realize over the past few years, is how crucial it is that each soul knows and fully understands how dearly she is loved by God. This love she must also be able to clearly see and experience in the one who represents God to her, the superior. This means a great deal of patience, understanding, and willingness to listen on my part, which come only through prayer and the grace of God! A delicate balance must be found between gentleness and firmness. Saint Benedict describes of the one who holds the office of superior: “He is to distrust his own frailty and remember not to crush the bruised reed. By this we do not mean that he should allow faults to flourish, but rather, he should prune them away with prudence and love as he sees best for every individual. Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.” There is so much wisdom in these words! When individuals are subject to an authority whom they can clearly see loves them very much, they can then understand God’s great love for them, and have the necessary foundation to respond to that love with even greater generosity and self-giving. I make bold to offer this advice to all mothers, for they too (along with fathers, of course) are God’s representatives for their own children.

As Lent is nearly upon us perhaps we could hear about some aspects of your preparation for this most sacred season?

We actually have a period of preparation for Lent, the season of Septuagesima, which begins two Sundays before Ash Wednesday. It is also a penitential time, but something like a warm up period before the more austere season of Lent begins. We have begun singing “Media Vita,” a hymn that made St. Thomas Aquinas weep when he heard it. It calls to mind the passing away of all things in this life, and the sufferings of the Savior that bring eternal life to our souls. The violet vestments already make their appearance, and the sisters submit for my blessing, the penances they wish to undertake during Lent. The palms that had decorated holy images now come down to be burned to ashes for Ash Wednesday. According to the Holy Rule, I select books for each sister to read during Lent, to be distributed on Ash Wednesday.

What is the most important thing you can share with us about Lenten sacrifices and how is this practiced within the Benedictines of Mary?

The Church has always exhorted Her members to undertake the threefold practice of prayer, penance and good works. There is always intensified penance here at the Priory, but I urge the Sisters to always keep a spirit of joyful charity, as joy is the mark of acceptance of God’s will in every circumstance in a soul that truly loves Him. It is what the Lord Himself tells us in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, “not to fast as the hypocrites do,” but out of love. It will manifest itself in a deeper considerateness for one another, as well as a more profound embracing of all souls outside of our monastery walls.

In the chapter on Lent, St. Benedict also urges us to adopt a greater spirit of silence. We forego Friday recreations, and strive to enhance the silence the Lord expects of us to always be ready to receive Him, the Word made flesh, in our souls. It is no accident that the feast of the Annunciation falls during Lent. It is a beautiful liturgical reminder of the silence maintained by Our Lady, and the fruit that it bore. Additionally, we don’t take our main meal until the late afternoon. As Our Lord tells us, there are certain kinds of demons that can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. This stricter fasting is something our community has always endeavored to joyfully embrace.

How can the music of your latest release “Lent at Ephesus” help us to share in your experience of Lent?

The Benedictine spirituality draws its strength from the liturgy. The sisters were just remarking at recreation that the Church seems to conserve Her loveliest music for Lent, and especially Holy Week. The chants, especially ones like “Improperia,” “Ave Regina Cælorum,” “Tenebræ” and pieces like “Stabat Mater” and “Adoramus Te” are embedded in the liturgy, and speak eloquently for themselves. There are also the prayers of the silence of our hearts, always flowing between the liturgies, of which our originals are good examples. Every aspect of our life is intended to lift our minds and hearts once more to the Crucified Lord, Who in obedience to the Father, laid his life down for love of us. 

Will you have the lyrics to the songs as a compendium to the music?

Yes, the lyrics are all contained in the booklet that comes with the CD, including English translations for the Latin pieces. The booklet is even available digitally when the album is purchased on iTunes.

Why did you decide to release Lent at Ephesus?

We decided to release this Lenten album mainly because of popular demand, but also because we have long had the desire to make a recording of some of the hymns and chants from this season, which as I mentioned above, contains an absolute treasure of profoundly moving and expressive music. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to share the musical beauty of the season of Lent with souls out in the world.

Can you tell us how your music can help with the New Evangelization?

I am keenly aware of the role that beauty has in bringing souls closer to God, as that was my own experience in my late teens and early twenties. The first time I heard truly sacred music (I was at a secular university) I had a profoundly moving experience, getting as it were, a glimpse of heaven and eternity. I asked myself, why am I not hearing this kind of music at Mass? Why, when I am there, do I experiencing simply more of the worldly kind of music that I can hear anywhere else; the kind of music that keeps me tied to earth? I began looking for a church that made use of sacred music that would do just the opposite, and lift my soul to God. Since God is the Author of all beauty, it only makes sense that we are drawn closer to Him when we encounter something that is truly beautiful. And how much sense it makes to utilize this music during the most sacred of times, that of Holy Mass! It is in this way that we hope to be instruments of the Lord, bringing sacred music to the fore, letting it speak for itself, and praying that many more souls will understand how important sacred music is for the New Evangelization.

Order Lent at Ephesus

Visit the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles

Copyright 2014 Lisa M. Hendey

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