On 15 April 1934, Good Shepherd Sunday, Edith Stein was clothed in the habit of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel and received a name that she herself had suggested, Teresia Benedicta a Cruce.
“Full of joy on hearing the news of the forthcoming clothing [Rosa] lovingly inquired whether she herself could contribute anything to her sister’s wedding feast. When Edith asked her for the bridal dress, Rosa sent some heavy white silk material that is still in the Carmel, having since been made into a Mass vestment” (Sr. Teresia Renata Posselt, O.C.D.).
“The practical foresight of the nuns is responsible for an unusual sartorial note regarding the bridal dress Edith wore. The community had made a new foundation in Breslau/Pawelwitz and, in sharing with the ‘daughter’ house their own small supply of liturgical vestments, they were aware that new white ones would need to be made. When Rosa Stein generously supplied beautiful material for a gown to be made for Edith’s clothing ceremony, the sacristan saw to it that the pattern used would have as many generous folds as possible. That way, after Edith wore the gown for the two–three hour ceremony, it could be restored to practical dimensions, allowing the vestment pattern to be cut with a minimum of seams and with as little piecing as possible” (Sr. Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D.).
“Many Sisters in Carmel at that time took the name of St. Teresa of Avila as part of their religious name [in other countries and cultures, Carmelite nuns took the name of Mary]. Edith chose to add ‘Benedicta’ to honor St. Benedict of Nursia since, in her own words, ‘He adopted me and gave me the rights of home in his Order [at Beuron] even though I was not even an Oblate since I always had the Mount of Carmel before my eyes [Cf. Letter 178]” (Sr. Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D.).
It was a feast such as the Cologne Carmel has never seen. #EdithStein #EasterTweet
The generous bouquets of flowers given by many friends and acquaintances lent the little church a most marvelous beauty.
Everyone had expected a lot of people to be present at the ceremony but they still were surprised at the great throng that did come. It was an overwhelming testimony to the high esteem, the veneration, and the love that Edith had enjoyed in the world. It hardly affected Edith. The equilibrium of soul she had gained was not to be unbalanced by this evidence of universal admiration.
An hour before the ceremony began she left the enclosure “as a Bride adorned for her Husband” (Rev 21:2) to receive the guests of honor in the reception room (…) For each one of them she had a friendly word, but when the ringing of bells signaled the beginning of the ceremony, she breathed with relief.
“What has been frequently referred to as a ‘parlor’ was more often a reception hall where visitors were received by the extern Sister who then gave a signal at the ‘turn’, summoning the nun who had visitors. Some monasteries had the custom, before a Clothing Ceremony, to allow the Sister to go for a last meeting with family and friends outside the ‘enclosure’ (Sr. Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D.).
At the head of the procession of clergy coming from the sacristy, dressed in his liturgical attire, was the Most Rev. Archabbot [Raphael Walzer of St. Martin’s Benedictine Archabbey in Beuron, Germany] who received Edith at the church door and led her toward the altar. There she knelt at the prie-dieu to follow the liturgy of the Mass that was rendered even more beautiful by the singing of a choir of Third Order Dominicans.
After the High Mass, the celebrant delivered an address that again severely tried the humility of our unassuming Bride of Christ. Then her Carmelite superior, Fr. Theodore [of St. Francis from Regensburg], moved toward her, and there followed a dialogue that has remained unchanged for centuries, in which the postulant bears witness in clear, unambiguous words, before Holy Church and the whole world, to the strength and freedom of the incomparable love that has drawn her and will keep her forever behind the high convent walls in that “enclosure” valued above all else.
A dialogue unchanged for centuries
“What do you ask for?” Calmly and distinctly audible to everyone present, came the answer from Edith’s lips. “The mercy of God, the poverty of the Order, and the company of the Sisters.” “Are you resolved to persevere in the Order until death?” “Thus do I hope and desire, through the mercy of God and the prayers of the Sisters.” With the closing blessing, “May the Lord who has led you to us divest you of your former self together with all its works,” her superior left her side. (Posselt 2005)
Edith Stein rose, took the lighted candle in her hand and approached the convent door as it opened before her. Awaiting her inside the enclosure were the veiled nuns standing in two ranks, each of them holding a lighted candle. One of the Sisters, stepping forward, held up the crucifix. Edith sank on her knees before it and kissed it. She crossed the threshold and the door closed behind her.
Edith Stein rose, took the lighted candle in her hand and approached the convent door as it opened before her. #EdithStein #EasterTweet
While the congregation now pressed toward the wide-open grille in the church and the Sisters threaded their way through the cloisters singing “O gloriosa Domina” [listen here], Edith Stein hurriedly removed her secular adornment. Over her shoulders was laid the coarse habit. The bridal veil and myrtle-wreath gave place to the nun’s habit and helping hands changed her pretty shoes for a pair of rough sandals. When the procession drew into the choir at the last verse of the hymn, the transformation was complete and she and the Reverend Mother came in together, the last pair in the procession.
The novice knelt on the carpet before the grille; lying on a footstool nearby was the rest of her Carmelite habit. “May the Lord clothe you with the new self, created in God’s image, in justice and holiness of truth.” The Mother Prioress, standing on the novice’s left, took the leather cincture, handed one end of it to the novice-mistress standing on the right, and together they fastened it round her waist. “When you were younger,” said the provincial, reminder her of her absolute obedience, “you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you shall be old, another shall gird you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Taking the blessed scapular, the Reverend Mother, together with the novice-mistress, laid it on the shoulder of the kneeling novice. “Receive the sweet yoke of Christ and His burden that is light. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” prayed her superior, indicated evangelical poverty.
Now the two Sisters put the white mantle and veil on the Novice while the provincial referred to the voluntary commitment to chastity as he prayed: “Those who follow the Lamb without stain shall walk with Him in white garments. Therefore let your vesture be ever unspotted in token of interior purity.”
The clothing was now over…
Sister Teresia Renata Posselt, O.C.D.
Edith Stein: The Life of a Philosopher and Carmelite
15. The Novitiate (excerpts)
We have left the story of Edith Stein’s clothing day unfinished; Mother Teresia Renata, Edith’s novice mistress, has more to say about that glorious day. We encourage you to purchase her biography of the saint and martyr, written from such a unique perspective and edited with great detail by Discalced Carmelite scholars Father John Sullivan and Sister Josephine Koeppel, along with Edith’s niece, Susanne Batzdorff. The cost of the print volume is very reasonable and the book is available in digital editions, also. Our thanks to ICS Publications for sharing this gem with us all.
Posselt, T 2005, Edith Stein: The Life of a Philosopher and Carmelite, translated from the German by Batzdorff S, Koeppel J, and Sullivan J, ICS Publications, Washington DC.