Today the last stitches were made on four veils of bridal white by the skilled hands of Sr. Mae. Sr. Mary Pietà, with saw and stain, has completed the crosses for the Rosaries. Sr. Jacinta will string the decades, bead by bead, for the wooden Rosaries soon to be blessed and bequeathed. The whole 113th Street complex is in a joyous hum of anticipation, for, in a few short days,
on August 2, the Solemnity of Our Lady Queen of Angels, we will be having an Investiture Ceremony, here at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, East Harlem.
Odds are, you have never experienced an Investiture, and unless you happen to be intent on becoming a friar or a sister, I’m afraid you’ll have to be content with the fruits of your imagination on the topic. Unlike Final Profession of Vows, Ordinations or First Masses, this is one of the hidden religious ceremonies conducted within the private sanctum of a religious family. This is the moment that a young Postulant steps forward and willingly submits herself to the Religious Life in earnest. Even though she has been living in the convent for at least a year (and possibly two), it is only now that she receives the Habit, her hair is shorn, and she receives a new name. It is a moment of decision and a moment of assent.
Our own investiture ceremony draws its inspiration from a decisive night in the life of a teenager, some 800 years ago. This girl, with heroic courage, left her family home in the dark of night, and slipping undetected through the quiet streets of her hometown, made her way down the steep hillside into which her town was built, to the little, newly restored chapel, Our Lady of the Angels, where a ragtag group of mirth-filled men received her. Their leader cut her long golden locks and set her upon the path of sanctity, from which she never turned back. Thus began the second branch of the great Franciscan family tree, and St. Clare’s Palm Sunday Investiture, by St. Francis himself, has been immortalized by Franciscan communities worldwide ever since.
Even today the externals are somewhat dramatic. On Sunday, four young women—beautiful, bright, accomplished and free—will kneel humbly at the altar, and into their empty, outstretched hands they will receive a tunic, a cincture, a veil and a wooden rosary. Their lovely tresses will be shorn, not to be braided, beaded, piled high, curled, colored, straightened, not even to be pulled into a pony-tail or fussed over in any way ever again. (Just think of the freedom!) After the offering of the hair, symbolizing the beauty of their uniquely feminine gift, made not to man but to God, they will be whisked into the sacristy (out the view of the sisters and friars gathered in the church); and when they emerge, clad in the habit, crisp and new, yet ancient-old, and veiled in white as pure as fresh-fallen snow, they will seem like a new creation. Then standing before the altar once again, each will hear her own name called, the only name she’s ever known, and a new name will be given her.
A new name symbolizes a new life. By a “new life” I am not referring to the new convent they will be moving into, nor am I referring to their new novice mistress from whom they will learn, nor the new routine, schedule, study or work…they themselves are to be the “new life.” This newness will begin within, and it will grow to overflowing—or so it ought. If a new novice is to be formed, and transformed, and if she is to mature into her calling and become the spouse of Christ, it will be because she has allowed herself to be made new as she begins to take on the sentiments and the very identity of Jesus. Yes, the externals of investiture are a bit dramatic, yet they are a mere shadow of the real drama taking place within.
The “yes” to be made on August 2nd by each of these four young women is not her first assent to God. It is one “yes” in an ocean of “yeses” already made, and like waves moving a boat upon the water, these decisions of assent, obedience, and surrender have brought her to this shore. This next “yes” will be the wave that will carry her to the novitiate, to deeper formation; if she is faithful it will be one more in a lifelong litany of “yeses” until she finally becomes all “yes,” as Our Lady was, and as every Religious Sister, and indeed, every disciple of Jesus should long to be. A disposition of lifelong “yeses” will become the waves that carry her on to another shore.
And so it begins. Please pray for our Postulants about to make their “yes.”
Mother Clare, CFR