Quote of the day, 26 September: St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

My darling little sister,

There is so much happiness in my soul that I needed to come tell you about it while asking for your prayers as well.

Our Reverend Mother is allowing me to begin retreat, and tonight I am leaving for my great journey: ten days of complete silence, absolute solitude, with my veil lowered and several additional hours of prayer; it’s a very enticing schedule, I’m taking you and your angel with me; please tell our dear Mama to pray for the hermit who, for her part, will not forget her.

Please recommend me to your brother-in-law, the Abbé, and to Marie-Louise [Hallo].

A Dieu, little sister, I leave you, and I’m going to lose myself in Him, to let all this happiness I can no longer contain overflow. Union.

Your Sabeth r.c.i. [unworthy Carmelite religious]

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity

Letter 211 to her sister Guite

Note: Saint Elizabeth’s private ten-day retreat began on 26 September 1904. She indicated to her Rolland aunts in a New Year’s letter at the end of 1904 that it was the first retreat since her religious profession—”a very great grace” (Cf. Letter 216). After briefly explaining to her aunts what a private retreat is like for a Carmelite nun, she told them “that these ten days of prayer and silence have been a foretaste of our Homeland.”

Discalced Carmelites receive a new aspirant
at the monastery of the Incarnation in Avila

Let’s pause a moment to consider St. Elizabeth’s comment, “with my veil lowered and several additional hours of prayer.”

It was the practice in her community—and it still is in many Carmels around the world—to devote the days of private retreat to prayer, spiritual reading, rest, and quiet work in the solitude of one’s cell. Nevertheless, each Carmel was and still is autonomous, so practices varied from one monastery to the next.

The nun is excused from attending the two hours of community recreation, which is a perfect time to capture moments of solitary prayer in the choir near the Blessed Sacrament or perhaps from the prayer space on an upper floor of the monastery that overlooks the tabernacle and altar.

For Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, St. Elizabeth would have worn her
grand voile lowered while she was with the community—it’s the large veil that you see in the photo above.

Also, during any meals that she would have taken in silence with the community in the refectory, she also would have worn that large veil and had it lowered, as well. It became her guardian of solitude during the retreat.

For Elizabeth who loved to be “alone with the Alone” (Cf. Letter 297), we can understand why she called this ten-day retreat “a very enticing schedule.”

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.

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