St. Elizabeth of Hungary


St. Elizabeth
Jan Van Eyck, Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor, detail: St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Recently, we celebrated the feast day for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the namesake of the Béguinage church since the 1400s. So what does that mean for monastery life? St. Elizabeth, the patroness of many Béguinages, was herself the daughter of a king, and spent her life doing charitable works, and devoting her life and fortune to the work of God. Through the centuries this was a common tradition, done by many Béguines and Benedictine Sisters including those here at this Béguinage in Bruges. A 16th century painting by Jacob Van Oost of St. Elizabeth offering herself to God hangs over the high altar. It never fails to inspire devotion and abandonment each time I bow before the altar, which is many times a day. It reminds me of my own offering to God and the completeness and sweetness of my commitment as a Sister at the Community of Jesus.

So religiously speaking for feast days, all the liturgies are sung in Latin (the historic language of the Church) and not in Nederlands, the language of the people. The solemn tunes are used, rather than the everyday, for the psalms and the Te Deum. The altar is transformed with special linens, mostly lace bordered or cut-work. These never fail to surprise me with their variety and number. The candlesticks are gold or silver, hand engraved. Of course there are special flowers and colors. The priests` vestments are again stunning with designs lovingly and delicately embroidered or sewn. There was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: the Bible lay on a velvet embroidered pillow, and the Sacrament was displayed in stunning gold and silver.

So how do the devoted Benedictine Sisters and this one very average American nun celebrate this feast day? The day begins with a half hour of extra sleep and croissants instead of daily bread; there is music instead of reading at meals, and sauces with our main meat or poultry, and a special (usually homemade) dessert.

All combines for love and praise throughout the day until the final Salve Regina in solemn tune is sung after Compline. “Love the church” is a  blessed refrain as this feast day comes to a close.


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