You ask me what my work is in Carmel, I could answer that for the Carmelite there is only one occupation: “to love, to pray.” But since, while already living in Heaven, she still has a body on earth, she must, while surrendering herself to love, keep busy in order to do the will of Him who did all these things first to set us an example.
We begin our day with an hour of prayer at 5 o’clock in the morning, then we spend another hour in choir to say the Divine Office… then Mass. At 2 p.m. we have Vespers; at 5 p.m., prayer until 6 p.m. At 7:45, Compline. Then we pray until Matins, which is said at 9 p.m., and it is only around 11 p.m. that we leave the choir to go to take our rest.
During the day, we have two hours of recreation; then, after that, silence the whole time. When I am not sweeping, I work in our little cell. A straw mattress, a little chair, a board for a desk, and there you have its furnishings, but it is filled with God and I spend such wonderful hours there alone with the Bridegroom.
For me, the cell is something sacred, it is His intimate sanctuary, just for Him and His little bride. We are so much “together,” I am silent, I listen to Him… it is so good to hear everything He has to say. And I love Him while I ply my needle and work on this dear serge that I have so longed to wear.
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity
Letter 168 to Madame Angles
29 June 1903
Notes: Editor Conrad De Meester, O.C.D. offers several notes concerning Saint Elizabeth’s schedule, which she described to her dear friend, Madame Angles. The schedule described here is the summer schedule; the Carmel of Dijon observed a schedule that varied slightly during the winter. When Elizabeth mentions “our little cell” she is referring to her own monastic cell; because Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Albert stipulated the renunciation of ownership, the Carmel of Dijon had the custom of referring to property as “our”, rather than “my”. This is a custom that many Discalced Carmelite communities still observe to this day.
Every nun in the monastery has at least one job; Father De Meester states that Elizabeth was the “second habit Sister”; her mention of plying the needle and working on “this dear serge” indicates that Elizabeth was mending habits. He continues:
When it was not necessary for her to work in the “habit room”, she worked in her cell. This cell was small but harmonious: 10 feet, 6 inches long by 10 feet, 2.75 inches wide by 9 feet, 7.75 inches high.
Father De Meester offers further details concerning the “board” that served as a desk:
This “board” (20 inches by 13.25 inches) was fixed to the wall in a corner at the left of the window and at a height of 25.5 inches. Elizabeth kept several books there; it could also serve as a little table.
To gain a better understanding the French ‘flavor’ of Teresian Carmelite life, the Discalced Carmelite nuns of the Holy Land offer an English-language website that describes their history and way of life. All four of the Holy Land Carmels were founded by nuns from France.
Elizabeth of the Trinity, S 2003, The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity volume 2: Letters from Carmel, translated from the French by Nash, A, ICS Publications, Washington DC.