Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Dormitionistines

Passing through the sleep of death, the saints enter into eternal rest.  Each night’s sleep and slumber, therefore, ought conduct us closer to meeting the Lord, and entering into His rest.  Sleep is both an image of death, and a foretaste of everlasting repose.  For this reason, it is an eminently Christian and religious pastime to sleep.

This devotion is eminently Trinitarian: as Moses taught us, “The eternal God your refuge, and underneath the everlasting Arms” (Deut. xxxiv) – Which Arms are the Son, Who grants rest to His flock by establishing a new covenant of peace, “that they may rest in the woods” (Ezech. xxxiv, 25), that is, by faith in the power of His Cross; and the Holy Spirit, the Promised Consoler, “a spirit of deep sleep” (Is. xxix, 10).

The Canonesses Regular of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Dormitionistines, form the second order counterpart to the Dormitionist Canons.  Like them, they are enclosed, contemplative religious, devoted in childlike confidence to the Lord Who will grant His beloved eternal rest, through His Mother, as exemplified by her most holy Dormition.

The Canonesses in their piety love to dwell upon the little maidchild of whom Christ said, “The damsel is not dead but sleeping” (St Matt. ix, 24 and parallels).  The Lord blessed her in her sleep: she was therefore a lively image of the Christian, and of the virgin espoused to Christ, not dead in sin, but sleeping the sleep of the just.  He but woke her again for a time, till in due course she would at last sleep in Him forever.  In their convents, the Dormitionistines strive to live after her model, and observe a sweet and most pious, restful life.

“Tell no man of this” – such Christ commanded the parents of that little child, and hence the Dormitionistines keep themselves very quiet and humble; never before have the secrets of their retired lives been discussed in such detail…

It is their beloved Christ the Lord Who is the Bridegroom, at Whose delayed approach all the virgins “slumbered and slept” (St Matt. xxv, 5).  The Dormitionistines devoutly hope in their lowliness to be numbered among such women entirely consecrated to Him, as it were praying daily, “I slept, but my heart was awake” (Cant. v, 2).  This sums up the entire charism of their holy life.

The eyes of their hearts are directed Godward, in thanksgiving to the Father.  They rejoice to find written in the account of Creation that woman was made from man “when the Lord cast Adam into a deep sleep” (Gen. ii, 21), since the obvious conclusion may be drawn that, at her beginning, Eve, ere she sinned, was created in a state of sleep.  Sleeping Adam must have been the cause of sleeping Eve, for like is formed from like.  How significant is this!

As Christ is the New Adam, His Mother Mary the New Eve, the Dormitionistines hope to imitate her that they may return to Him; as these holy sisters wish to recover the paradisal state lost by sin, they therefore aspire to be as the First Eve, and sleep — as Holy Mary in her Dormition departed this mortal life by falling asleep in the Lord, by reason of her great love, so they wish to be enamoured of Christ the New Adam after the model of the New Eve, and fall asleep in love, perhaps at last to sleep in the Lord Whom they love, for ever.

They pray that a deep sleep from the Lord may fall upon them (cf. I Kings xxvi, 12), and for this they invoke the Holy Ghost.  “There is a great reward for those who fall asleep in godliness” (II Mach. xii, 45), and this must be begged as a grace from the Sanctifier of all.  Mindful that “healthy sleep depends on moderate eating” (Ecclus xxxi, 20) and on observing a prudent temperance in all matters, the canonesses invoke the Spirit of wisdom to guide them in their observance of all tenets of their Rule.

In this, they are assisted materially by their chaplains, Dormitionist Canons deputed to preach and celebrate Mass for them.  As we all know, and as even the great Apostle Paul’s example teaches, long sermons help the faithful to fall asleep, even to die (Acts xx, 9): without prompting, these good sisters repeatedly testify to a like effect gained from the homilies of most priests.

Mass in their chapels of course follows the Dormitionist Rite, very conducive to a spirit of restful piety, with the added help of not only the full prostration of the Canonesses throughout Low Mass required by the rubrics, but moreover the drawing of the great veil across the chapel screen, that nothing whatsoever of the softly murmured service be visible in any case.

The sisters find even their few daily tasks pleasingly soporific, as all necessary tasks have this innate quality by reason of Divine Providence, as everyone knows.  How much more their specifically religious duties, carefully adapted to the particular charism of their state!

Ignorant worldlings may scoff at the Dormitionistines, behaving like the Devil by quoting the Scriptures: “do not love sleep else you will become poor” (Prov. xx, 13) — but these wise women simply smile and agree that therefore poor religious should definitely love sleep, as the Lord has disposed that these two states should go together.

It is the hope of these quiet religious that their feminine example may be of profit to many women, too much distracted by the things of the world, Marthas, forgetful of the one thing necessary.  If more souls rested in the Lord, turning from rushing transience to still transcendence, how much happier would the world be.  "Sleep on, and take your rest."


Kate Edwards said...

The Dormitionistines are clearly the inspiration for so many modern female religous orders, which are also dedicated to sleeping (at least spiritually)...Hmm.

Are you perchance suffering from a lack of the aforementioned?

Joshua said...

I am shocked, shocked, that you would compare those holy nuns the Dormitionistines with the congeries of Sarabaitesses that pass for female religious despite being pretty poor examples of either.

After all the Dormitionistines are cenobitic nuns, living under a rule and a superior in their House, in solemn vows, devoted to the observance of the Regula Patrum Soporificum, and hold to orthodox Catholicism as a sine qua non of their peculiar charism: hence Papal enclosure, the religious habit, Latin Mass and Office according to their own traditional rite, etc. They are focussed on heaven and achieving eternal rest by practising it even in this life.

Compare that to the pathetic, dying groups of sisters who have "reverted to type" by settling down in little bedsits, contriving prayer of whatever sort they can be bothered with, and increasingly separate from the Church; I wonder if they really believe in the Last Things, or realize where they're likely to end up!

"But a third and most vile class of monks [and, sadly, of modern religious women] is that of Sarabaites, who have been tried by no rule under the hand of a master, as gold is tried in the fire (cf Prov 27:21); but, soft as lead, and still keeping faith with the world by their works, they are known to belie God by their tonsure. Living in two's and three's, or even singly, without a shepherd, enclosed, not in the Lord's sheepfold, but in their own, the gratification of their desires is law unto them; because what they choose to do they call holy, but what they dislike they hold to be unlawful." (RSB, ch. 1)