|Sister Mary George Barrett, O.P., prays during the blessing of the candles before Mass at the Motherhouse on the Feast of the Presentation. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which also was the end of the Year of Consecrated Life. Feb. 2 was both the Feast of the Presentation and the World Day of Consecrated Life. Photo by Andy Telli
When religious sisters, religious order priests and others living a consecrated life gathered in Rome for the end of the Year of Consecrated Life on Feb. 2, they heard from a kindred spirit in Pope Francis, a Jesuit.
“Anybody that is in consecrated life has a deeper understanding,” said Sister Mary Angela Highfield, O.P., a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. “He knows what it’s like to live in community and how important it is to keep us focused on what we’re about and who we’re about.”
Sister Mary Angela, a member of the board of directors of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious, was in Rome for a week of activities marking the end of the Year of Consecrated Life, including a pilgrimage to the Jubilee of Mercy Holy Doors at St. Peter’s Basilica, prayer, a workshop organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, a general audience with the pope, and the Year’s closing Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Feb. 2, the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation.
“The whole week was really designed by the Congregation for Consecrated Life to say thank you to religious and remind the religious how much the Church loves and cares for them,” said Sister Mary Angela, Vicaress General of the Nashville Dominicans.
The Year of Consecrated Life was proclaimed by Pope Francis and began in November 2014. It ended on the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation, which traditionally is a celebration of consecrated life. The year helped raise awareness about religious communities, Sister Mary Angela said. “All over the country people had open houses, opening the doors, (inviting people to pray) with the religious. We heard wonderful remarks from sisters all over the United States.”
“It gave all of us an opportunity to thank God of our vocations,” she added. “It makes you more conscious that this is a gift from God that we are thankful for.”
The Council of Major Superiors of Woman Religious, which represents more than 120 communities in the United States with approximately 6,000 sisters, scheduled its board meeting in Rome to coincide with the end of the Year, Sister Mary Angela explained.
After their meetings were complete, the board members joined the other religious participating in the workshops that featured speakers addressing a variety of topics related to religious life, she said.
One of the sessions Sister Mary Angela attended addressed the need for ongoing formation in religious institutes. “All communities have developed programs of initial formation, but the Church has asked us to develop programs of ongoing formation for the rest of our lives,” she said. The speakers examined the needs of religious at different stages of their lives, including deepening their prayer life but also the physical and psychological changes as they age, Sister Mary Angela said.
Among the questions Pope Francis has asked religious communities to consider are “have I lost my first love? Do I know why I am doing what I’m doing?” Sister Mary Angela said.
Each session began with Lectio Divina, Sister Mary Angela said, and she participated in a pilgrimage from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Holy Door at St. Peter’s.
The week ended with the closing Mass at St. Peter’s.
The experience was “very enriching and filled with lots of graces,” Sister Mary Angela said. “To have the Year of Mercy already under way only added to it.”
Meanwhile back in Nashville, the Nashville Dominicans marked the end of the Year of Consecrated Life with the traditional blessing of the candles and procession into the church for Mass on the Feast of the Presentation.
“It’s rich in symbolism,” said Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, O.P., principal of St. Cecilia Academy.
The Feast was traditionally celebrated as the end of the Christmas season and was called Candlemas because it was the day the candles used in the liturgy were blessed. After the candles were blessed, the faithful would process into the church carrying candles.
The feast comes during the winter, the darkest time of the year, Sister Anne Catherine noted. “In the midst of this darkness, the light of Christ appears,” she said.
“Mary presented Christ, the light of the world, into the temple,” Sister Anne Catherine said. “We are presenting ourselves into the temple, into the Lord’s house.”