There is something about the Dominican way of life that people notice even if they cannot articulate it right away. The very atmosphere of the place, whether church or chapel or convent or monastery seems to be instilled with the peace and joy and awe that comes from the contemplation of God. All the monasteries of Dominican nuns are wonderful in just this way. Today I would like to draw attention to one in particular: our Dominican monastery in West Springfield, MA.
The first thing you are likely to notice upon entering the chapel of the Mother of God Monastery is the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a beautiful monstrance atop a magnificent exposition throne integrated into the choir screen. The nuns of this monastery have a strong devotion to Eucharistic adoration. Strong, too, is their devotion to praying the Rosary. All Dominicans have a special love for the Rosary, but for the nuns of this monastery it is something special even among Dominicans. The roots of the Mother of God Monastery of West Springfield lie in a tradition going back to a French Dominican monastery in Calais that was founded for the perpetual recitation of the Rosary. True to their roots, the Rosary remains a key element of the spirituality of the community in West Springfield.
One of the times when I had the privilege of a visit with the Sisters in their parlor, my brothers and I were able to ask them some questions about how they pray the Rosary. Of course the nuns were too modest to boast that their prayer is really excellent. But when we asked especially for advice about how to meditate on the mysteries, it became clear to me that these sisters are virtuosos at praying the Rosary. Before my visit, I hadn’t really pondered the difference between the Rosary master and the Rosary novice.
The difference, at least with regards to the human dimension—which is an important dimension even though the grace of prayer comes from God alone—lies in the meditation on the mysteries which accompany the words we pray. Most of us, I think, manage to have the initial intention to pray attentively out of love for God, but in practice we hardly manage more than a few brief spurts of attentiveness each decade. St. Thomas Aquinas says that God is pleased with the whole prayer and hears it on account of the initial intention, even if in fact our mind wandered unintentionally during the course of it. But, he teaches that for the other effect of prayer, the spiritualis refectio mentis (the spiritual “refreshment” or “nourishing” of the mind), attentiveness is required throughout your prayer.
How does one become more attentive in prayer? Is it a matter of trying harder, straining with more effort? I suggest rather that it is more like developing the skill of memory. Many people aren’t aware that it is a skill that can be developed on purpose, but ask yourself: what are the things you remember best? Things for which you have a vague, hazy, weak, unclear mental impression, or things which you associate with a definite, strong, distinctive, clear mental picture? Likewise, as you pray the Rosary, what meditation will be less prone to distraction—a vague, weak, hazy meditation, or a clear, strong, vivid one?
From hearing a few of the nuns speak about the Rosary, I gathered that their Rosary meditations are strong and persistent and rich and varied beyond what many of us even aim at. How did they get this way? Not by accident, I am sure, but by lots and lots of prayer, practice, and grace.
Imagine if you had struggled to play the piano out of a sense of duty but never advanced much in skill. You might have a hard time understanding why a virtuoso musician always seems to take such delight in performing music, especially if you had never heard his music yourself. Just so, many people consider it a puzzling paradox that nuns who are faithful to the monastic life seem so happy all the time. As noble as music may be, the sisters delight in something incomparably more excellent—the contemplation of God. And the nuns at West Springfield give every indication of being happy women. I could see it in their smiles and hear it in their voices when they talked to me about Jesus and the things they do out of love for him.
Of course, in the end, it all comes down to love of God and neighbor, to which the Rosary is only a help. But it makes sense to me why meditative prayer like the Rosary is such a good help. To this truth, the Dominican nuns of the Mother of God Monastery in West Springfield, MA give living testimony.
Image: Dominican Monastery of the Mother of God (West Springfield, MA)
For more information, please visit the Monastery’s website.