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Brisbane Carmelite Sisters sacrifice daily Mass “to be in solidarity with everyone else”

Happy sacrifice: The Carmelite Sisters in Ormiston in their choir loft where they normally sit for Mass. The community has decided to forgo daily Mass to be spiritually united with Catholics who cannot go to Mass because of the pandemic. Photo: Emilie Ng.

BRISBANE’S small community of cloistered nuns have chosen to sacrifice daily Mass in their chapel so they can be united with Catholics who cannot attend Mass because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Since the closure of churches in the Archdiocese of Brisbane on March 23, the Carmelite Sisters in Ormiston have forgone their daily Mass to be in solidarity with their fellow Catholics.

Prioress Sr Moira Kelly said the community of 15 sisters, including seven over the age of 80, and one visiting Carmelite, would not have a Mass in their chapel, the first time in their 93-year history, as long as Catholics were unable to frequent the sacraments.

It is a huge loss for the Carmelite community, who regard the Mass as the high point of their contemplative religious life and from where the Sisters find the strength to live their radical life of poverty, obedience and chastity.

Sr Moira said the Sisters were offered a priest to say daily Mass, but decided against it as it would pose a health risk for both the priest and their ageing sisters.

“But the main reason why the Sisters prefer not to is to be in solidarity with everybody else,” Sr Moira said.

“We’re all in this together.”
Instead the Carmelite Sisters are doing what millions of Catholics worldwide can only do, participating spiritually in a live-stream Mass, which on Sundays is the 8am Mass of Lismore Bishop Greg Homeming, a fellow Carmelite.

During the week the Sisters still have access to consecrated hosts that were placed in a ciborium prior to the closure of churches.

This means in lieu of their daily Mass, the Sisters pray the Liturgy of the Word and receive communion from their supply of stored hosts.

It’s no replacement but the Sisters are content with sacrificing the Mass to be in spiritual hunger like everyone else.

“We’re happy to be in solidarity with all the people who can’t even have communion,” Sr Moira said.

The Sisters continue to pray the Liturgy of the Hours seven days a week.

“In that sense our liturgy goes on even apart from the Mass, the liturgy where we’re uniting ourselves with the needs of all the people in the world,” Sr Moira said.

Sr Moira said the community was remaining vigilant about health and safety precautions to protect their older sisters, three in their 90s and four in their 80s.

“These are the ones who kept our community going and now they can’t do things anymore,” Sr Moira said. 

“We’ve had to wrap the Sisters up in cotton wool or we could lose half our community, easily.”

While the cloistered Sisters feel “right at home” with self-isolation and social distancing measures, their contact with the outside world has quietened significantly.

The amount of mail from the outside world has dropped, the phone is ringing less, their doorbell isn’t getting much use, and even their shopping is being done by generous friends of the community, sometimes almost daily.

“So in that sense it’s even better for us,” Sr Moira said.

With no chances to leave the convent even for food, the Sisters have looked to their garden to provide their daily bread.

The Sisters have already planted numerous vegetables including carrots, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, spring onions, beans, bok choy and sweet potato.

The quieter pace of the convent has also heightened the one thing that the contemplatives aim for –  silence.

Sr Moira said a nurse caring overnight for the elderly Sisters commented on the beauty of the newfound silence in the convent.

“She said, “I don’t know if I’m going to get to heaven when I die, but I’ve had a little experience of heaven right here,” Sr Moira said.

Sr Moira said the COVID-19 crisis was a “perfect occasion for actually being still and being silent, and thinking about the things of God”.

“There’s an opportunity here we don’t want to miss, in the silence, entering within,” Sr Moira said.

“I keep saying to the sisters, because it’s all about ‘Stay at home’, but we have God living within us – that’s home. 

“We have to enter even deeper within ourselves, ‘Remain in me, remain in my love’ the scripture says. 

“If people could just think about that and just get to know who’s within them. 

“People are never alone and God wants us to be there with Him, He is our companion. 

“We need never be lonely.”

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