Kerstmis at the Konvent

Christmas Lauds at 7:15 in Latin came early after Midnight Mass. A sister is assigned as wekker ~ the person to knock on doors ~ and wake the sleepy faithful. It did feel good though to welcome the day with the Latin Benedictus repetitions in praise to God. Breakfast was special rolls and a tartine, a sort of smooth jam speciality of the Liege region of Belgium; breakfast had a quiet feel with all the sisters actually around the refectory tables at the same time; we all lingered a bit enjoying the silent connection. The daily routine has the church sister coming later after sacristy duties and the others coming and going at different times. Our priest paid us a very congenial visit after Mass and then a very special Kerstmis dinner – white roses at our places and chocolates and lobster, shrimps, salmon and sushi fish all provided by the personnel who work at the Beguinage, doing dishes, cleaning, carpentry and immaculate ironing. The afternoon was open for a little napping after the Midnight Mass and the early Lauds; the halls were strangely empty, no swish of black habits and muted footfalls. As I crossed the courtyard for Christmas Vespers, I expected to sing to an empty church……….No…it seems the Beguinage nativity makes a special  Christmas visit for families, children and oldsters alike. The babble of children`s voices resounded in the church as they oohed and aahed over Baby Jesus in his lace bordered swaddling clothes and no doubt there was an ooh and aah for  the cow and sheep as well. The candle rack now stands by the creche so the children eagerly light and gingerly place their candle; the oldsters stop, sit, admire, say a prayer or two, and listen to the sounds of the ancient Christmas chants as they begin to envelope the church. Recreation in the convent was at 5, a time for lively sharing  around Mary who now had her baby Jesus in her arms. One sister was spied tenderly adjusting Mary`s veil and arranging Jesus in her arms. This sister had been married with children before becoming a nun. There was a happy phone call from the older sisters of  the Beguinage community at a home in Ciney, some hours away. The phone was eagerly passed around while greetings were shared like all families with loved ones far away.  Supper was a feast of assorted cheeses and breads and the day ended with Compline. There were no presents and no decorated tree; only Mary and the Nativity. At the Beguinage, Kerstmis was a feast day of the heart.

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