Cologne-Lindenthal, April 25, 1935
Very Reverend and dear Mother Petra,
The Bridegroom sends you the little wreath of myrtle with which your love decorated him, him as well as the bridal candle, the candles on the table, the napkin, cutlery, etc. The Bride wore a wreath of white roses. I was very happy to hear where the adornments came from. Heartfelt thanks for them. We have not yet finished discussing what else I am to receive from you. I thought of an emblem and lining for a vestment since the silk of the bridal dress has not yet been used and has been waiting for the necessary accessories since the Clothing Day. But perhaps our dear Mother [Josepha, the prioress] will think of something more urgent.
When you visit us again—after all, we’ve been anticipating it with joy all winter—we will recount everything that happened from the first hours of the morning until night on this beautiful Easter Sunday. One cannot write about it in such detail. The Veiling ceremony will come only three years from now, after perpetual profession. For us, the preparation consists primarily of a ten-day retreat made in total silence and solitude. During that time we are allowed to live like hermits. I will tell you about the daily schedule when I see you.
For my meditation, I had our Holy Father John’s Dark Night and the Gospel of John. Usually, on the day before Profession, before dinner, one makes a public admission of one’s faults. I was allowed to do that at noon on the Wednesday of Holy Week so that it would not interrupt the silence of the Holy Triduum. I found it especially good [to comply with that custom] before the first of the Tenebrae offices—once they begin one wants to leave off all occupation with oneself. On Saturday evening I was called [to come for a few minutes to see the community] during recreation time; I received from each Sister the promise of a spiritual bouquet and a commendation of intentions.
Richly laden I then returned to the choir. Of course, out of the great riches of grace on this Easter day, I let all those have a share who have given me something of their heart to take along into Carmel.
Once more, sincere thanks for all your goodness and love. In caritate Christi, your Sister
Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, OCD
Saint Edith Stein
Saint Edith Stein’s Letter 198 to Mother Petra Brüning, OSU
- It was customary to place a small statue of the Infant Jesus on the head table in the refectory where the newly-professed is seated next to the prioress. Myrtle is used to create a small wreath for the statue of the Infant, the “Bridegroom”, who faces his “Bride”, wearing a garland of white roses. Edith sent the myrtle wreath that had been used on the statue to Mother Petra, who had provided it and all the flowers and decorations for the celebration.
- Edith refers to the Chapter of Faults, where even to this day in many Discalced Carmelite monasteries, nuns will gather in the Chapter Room of the monastery to listen to the prioress give a brief spiritual reflection on an aspect of community life and how it applies to the Carmelite Rule and their Constitutions. The nuns then take a spiritual and moral inventory, reviewing their life together; each one admits her public faults and begs forgiveness of her sisters. On occasions like religious profession, a nun will individually and publicly admit her faults and ask for forgiveness outside of the community Chapter of Faults. Since her profession rite took place on Easter Sunday, Edith made her public admission on Holy Wednesday; she gives the reasons why.
- During the retreat days prior to her profession on Easter Sunday, Edith would have assisted at the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours in the nuns’ choir. However, she would have veiled her face with her great veil (grand Voile) when in the presence of the community so as to maintain the spirit of solitude where the Discalced Carmelites “are allowed to live like hermits,” as Edith describes above. In the photo below, the veil that you see extending over her shoulders is the great veil, while the small veil (petit Voile) tucks inside her scapular. In her hermit days while on retreat, we see that Edith preferred to spend extra hours of solitary prayer in the choir near Christ in the tabernacle while the rest of the community was occupied at recreation.
[Sources: Leuven, Stinissen & Gelber; Carmel of Haifa]
Stein, E. 1993, Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Discalced Carmelite, translated from the German by Koeppel, J, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Although not a long life, WHAT a life!!! I am reminded, I forget who said it, of the strong advice “not to waste your time hankering after other people’s vocations”… I would have given a great deal to have had such a life.