Whilst researching the role of Blanche de la Force from Poulenc’s Opera ‘Dialogue Des Carmélites’, I found an opportunity to embark on a little adventure. My character is the daughter of a French Noble family who joins the Carmélite order of nuns against her families wishes during the period of the French Revolution.
At College, as part of a trio, we were doing some short improvisation exercises led by our Director Stuart Barker during our first staging rehearsal last Thursday. The objective of these tasks was to see how your character would react in circumstances prior to our actual scene. For example, Glen and I improvised a meeting between Blanche and her Brother at home with the objective of organising a birthday party for their father. In the second exercise with Davidona, we improvised that our characters were completing the daily tasks that a nun might participate in. It soon became apparent to me that because I don’t have a Catholic upbringing, there were areas of my character development that I had no way of imagining. I wanted to deepen my understanding of what Blanche may have been going through emotionally and the mechanics of her daily life within a Carmélite Monastery.
In order to do this, on Friday afternoon I decided to research on the internet about the Carmélite Order some of which I have added to the end of my post. To my amazement, I discovered that there was a Carmélite Monastery in London, within 45 minutes travelling by bus from my home. I emailed via their contact form on the website, and I was very grateful to Sister Patricia who said that I could join them for Mass on Saturday morning at 8am. Luckily, I’m an early bird so I set my alarm and planned to start my day with this experience.
I arrived at the Monastery around 7:40am, all was quiet and the morning sun was just starting to colour the sky blue. Not knowing what to expect I was a little apprehensive at first as I was alone and the Monastery was completely enclosed. Ahead of me in the courtyard was a simple sign ‘Chapel’, I climbed the stairs and after a little wait I was greeted silently by one of the sisters and guided into the chapel for Mass.
Shortly after I sat down, the regular congregation began to slowly arrive. The sister turned on the electric lights to reveal the beautiful intricacies of the chapel. Somebody then came to light the candles and prepare the altar for the mass. One very interesting observation, even though I could barely see, was watching the sisters in the separate room prepare for Mass as well. The grille was in place, and heavy curtains were opened. Then one sister unlocked half of the grille and it opened in folds like a concertina to create a private opening to the altar. Then the Priest entered the chapel through a private door and began the Mass. It was so wonderful and humbling to watch the mass. I felt very relaxed and reflective. Deep in thought about what I had seen and experienced whilst sharing this short time with the Sisters, I left full of energy for the day ahead. I have the utmost respect for their dedication and commitment and I will try my very best to show that when developing the character that I am to portray in my performance on January 19th at the Royal College of Music.
The Nuns live a cloistered life, in 2010 they allowed a documentary film director a rare glimpse into their world after he asked them for permission over a ten year period, this film is called ‘No Greater Love’.
More Information On The Carmelite Order
The Postulancy is the initial stage of formation and is generally an 8-month experience.
The first and last months of the Postulancy are spent at the Motherhouse, and the other six months are spent at one of the Homes served by the Congregation. The Postulant is given the opportunity to work with the elderly in the facility and to participate in the prayer life of the Sisters.
A Certified Nurses Aide training program and other pertinent services are provided for a postulant with no previous experience working with the elderly.
Classes are given on the following: Spiritual life, Community history, Carmelite Spirituality, Catechesis, Community life.
The Postulant Director meets at least weekly with the Postulant to discuss her progress and difficulties, and to offer guidance.
If readiness for the Novitiate is ascertained, the Postulant receives her name in religion and prepares for the next phase of formation: the Novitiate.
The Novitiate is a two-year period of time during which the Novice explores on a deeper level what it means to be a member of our Carmelite Congregation. The resolve and suitability of the Novice is further discerned. There is concentration on developing a solid spiritual foundation.
The First, or Canonical Year
The Novice receives the Habit of Carmel (Brown tunic, brown scapular, and a white veil.)
The Sister becomes more fully acquainted with the many facets of religious life.
Classes are given on the Rule and Constitutions, the Vows of Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty, Scripture, Prayer, Liturgy, Christian Doctrine, Vatican documents, spiritual growth, and development.
These classes are given by the Novice Director, experienced priests, and other qualified speakers.
The Second Year
The Novice continues to learn and live the spiritual and religious aspects of the Carmelite life.
She learns more about the apostolate through a course on the Organization and Operation of the Long Term Care Facility and by spending time in two homes of the Congregation.
If readiness and suitability of the Novice are ascertained, Sister then goes on to the next step of her religious formation “Profession of First Vows” and receives a black veil that distinguishes the Professed Sister from the Novice.
The Temporary Profession of Vows
The Temporary Profession of Vows is the stage in religious formation during which the newly Professed Sister is assigned to one of our mission houses, where she will gain further experience in integrating the spiritual and apostolic aspect of our lives as Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.
The Religious Vows are renewed annually before perpetual profession.
The Sister continues in the active ministry of the Congregation and resides with a local community of Carmelite Sisters.
The Sister continues to attend formal spiritual programs held at the Motherhouse twice a year.
She strives to grow in union with God and in her gift of self to the Community and the apostolate.
The Perpetual Profession of Vows
After completing the five to seven year period of temporary vows, the Sister may request to make perpetual profession.
A gold ring is given at the time of perpetual profession.
The Sister becomes a permanent member of the Congregation.
By her final profession of vows, she gives herself forever to God, her Community and the Church.