The Carthusian Order

The Carthusian nuns

« In the "whirlwind" of the world,
the cross remains steadfast. »

Some chronological references

Some chronological references

In June 1084, « burning with divine love », Bruno made his way to the desert of the Chartreuse and settled there with six companions, thus realizing his project: to form together a communion of solitaries living for God alone, in pure contemplation.

In 1090, Bruno left his beloved solitude of the Chartreuse for Rome, in obedience to the summon of Pope Urban II, a former student, who called him there in order to serve the Holy See. But a few months later he succeeded in convincing the Pope of his contemplative vocation. He regained solitude and founded another hermitage in Calabria in the south of Italy. He died on the sixth of October 1101. To his solitary companions he left neither a Rule nor a project of a well defined Order: only a few rare writings. But he entrusted to them a spirit and the example of his life.

In the "trail" of Bruno, his companions, dwelling in the school of the Holy Spirit and formed by personal experience, elaborated gradually a specific style of the eremitical life. From 1115 other hermitages were founded in imitation of that of the Chartreuse. On their repeated requests and those of St. Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, Guigues, the fifth Prior of the Chartreuse, drew up a description of this form of life.

On 1127, all accepted it and decided to conform themselves to it. The "Customs" of Guigues show forth the atmosphere of silence and solitude, of austerity, of peace and joy in which the first carthusian monks lived. The present Statutes of the Order retain all the spiritual "marrow" and the principal observances of the "Customs" in a harmonious development.

Around 1140, under the Priorate of St. Anthelm, the first General Chapter was held at the Motherhouse: the Grande Chartreuse. All the other Houses promised obedience to it forever. Till our own days, the General Chapter is still celebrated every 2 years and constitutes the supreme authority of the Order.

About 1145, the nuns of Prébayon in Provence, decided to adopt the Carthusian way of life. In reply to their demand, St. Anthelm appointed blessed John of Spain, at that time Prior of the Charterhouse of Montrieux, to give them the "Customs". Such is the origin of the female branch of the Order.

Monks and Nuns

The two branches of the Order, male ad female, both draw their inspiration from the charism of St. Bruno, thus forming together one monastic family. But each branch has its own organization and particular government, with a separated General Chapter, presided over by the Prior of Grande Chartreuse who is also the Father General of the Order.

The solitary life in the cell

Among the various religious families dedicated to contemplative life, the distinctive feature of the Carthusian nuns is solitary life in cell. This vocation to solitude is expressed even in the structure of their Houses. In a Carthusian monastery, which should be sufficiently remote from inhabited areas, each nun dwells in a "cell", composed of a small hermitage and a garden. In this hermitage, the absence of worldly noises invites one to interiority and solitude, for a life of intimate union with God, heart to heart, listening to His Word. The greatest part of the nun's life is spent in this cell. It is the habitual place of her daily occupations: liturgical and personal prayer, lectio divina, work, meals and repose.

The rhythm of Prayer

In the middle of the night, the nuns gather together in the Church to celebrate Matins and Lauds of the Divine Office. These long hours of night prayer are conducive to contemplation, in a vigilant expectation of the Lord's return (cf. Luke 12,35-40) and supplication for the coming of His Kingdom. Towards the end of the day, the nuns meet again in the Church to sing the evening praise (Vespers) which invites one to recollection and spiritual repose.

The conventual Mass is sung everyday. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the centre and summit of the Carthusian life, the manna in the spiritual exodus which, through the desert of solitary life, brings the nun back to the Father in Christ.

The other parts of the Divine Office are celebrated in the solitude of the cell. At the sound of the bell, all pray at the same time, thus making of the House one unique praise to the glory of God. When they celebrate the divine Office, the nuns are the voice and the heart of the Church. Through them, it is the Church who presents in Christ, to the Father thanksgiving and adoration, praise, supplication and humble petition for forgiveness, in the name of the whole people of God.

The nun tries to offer to God an uninterrupted worship. In her life, liturgical and solitary prayer complete themselves harmoniously. The assiduous meditation of the sacred Scriptures, the intense moments of personal prayer and study create in her a disposition of loving attention and listening. Introduced progressively, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, into the depths of her heart, the nun can then love God and adhere to Him with all her being.

The liturgy of the Carthusians is marked by their solitary vocation. The Gregorian chant which is proper to them is part of their patrimony conserved from the beginning. It invites one to interiority and spiritual sobriety. The texts and the rubrics of the Carthusian liturgy have been revised according to the orientations of the Second Vatican Council.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

« Our hermitages are dedicated in the first place to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin and St. John the Baptist, our principal heavenly patrons… Besides the Divine Office, our Fathers have transmitted to us the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we recite, ordinarily preceding each of the Canonical Hours. By this prayer, we celebrate the eternal newness of the mystery that is Mary's spiritual engendering of Christ in our hearts » (Carthusian Statutes). In addition to this expression of our devotion to her whom we are accustomed to call Mother, we venerate and honor her by praying the Angelus four time daily, pray a "Hail Mary" when returning to cell from the cloister, a Mass of our Lady is normally celebrated each Saturday in every House of the Order, we name her in our formula of monastic profession and so forth. Over and above this devotional custom, each person is encouraged to cultivate a lively, filial and tender devotion to her.

« Mary, image of the Church, the bride without spot or wrinkle which by imitating her preserves with virginal purity an integral faith, a firm hope and a sincere charity, sustain consecrated persons on their journey toward the sole and eternal Beatitude » (Vita Consecrata 112).

Fraternal Life and the Conventual Places

Nevertheless, the carthusian nun is not a pure hermit. She rejoins her sisters on certain occasions. For that reason, her cell opens onto a cloister leading to community places: the Church, the Chapter room, the library, the refectory. On Sundays and Feast days, the reunions are more frequent and greater emphasis is given to the comfort and joy which the family life offers. On such days, the nuns have lunch together in the refectory, after having sung the office of Sext in the Church. Terce and None are also sung in the Church. Moreover, they have a community recreation for friendly encounter, discussion and fraternal sharing. In addition they meet once a week for a walk of 3-4 hours along mountain paths and countryside. They walk habitually in pairs, thus permitting more personal exchanges. Except for this walk, the nuns remain always within the enclosure, which « creates a space of separation, solitude and silence where one can seek God more freely and where one lives only for Him and Him alone » (Verbi Sponsa 5). These different fraternal encounters favour the unfolding and the union of hearts, sustain mutual affection and help all to live more fruitfully in solitude.

The Carthusian family : Harmony in Diversity

From the Origin, the carthusian Order, like a body whose members have not all the same function, finds its unity in the different forms of complementary lives. The nuns of the cloister are called to seek God principally in the silence and the solitude of the cell. The converse sisters on their part share to this life of solitude a great part of manual work for the service of the community. All live in a monastic state and participate in the same contemplative and solitary vocation, though each in a different manner, according to the diversity of their divine call and the personal aspirations and aptitudes of each.

A contemplative work

The nuns of the cloister accomplish various works in the cell: maintenance, carpentry, book-binding, sewing, weaving, dactylography, painting of icons, etc. The converse sisters, according to their assignments, devote themselves to multiple household tasks for the service of the maintenance of the House. Although from time to time they have to help each other, most often, they accomplish their work in solitude.

For the nun, to work in union with Jesus, in His poor and hidden life at Nazareth, is a contemplative work. Union to the will of the Father by works inspired by true obedience, for the good of the community, is the inexhaustible nourishment for whoever ardently desires God. Bodily and manual occupation can also facilitate a prayer that is completely simple, an almost incessant dialogue with the Inner Guest. The more difficult and trying work assignments invite the nun to a deeper communion with the passion of Christ, our Saviour.

The formation: a long maturation

Whoever aspires to live in the Charterhouse must learn to interiorize gradually the spirit and the customs of the Order. She must strive to free her heart from all that could constitute an obstacle to her union with God, and thus tend to make of her entire life a continual prayer.

The formation is long and the stages are many, in order to prepare the nun for the definitive engagement: several months of postulancy, even a year if necessary; followed by two years of noviciate; three years of temporary vows, renewed afterwards for two years. Finally the nun is called to the total and definitive self-giving of solemn profession. Sometime after, the nuns who so desire can receive the virginal consecration, which the Order has always kept since its origin.

« Continuing formation… is an intrinsic requirement of religious consecration… Due to human limitations, the consecrated person can never claim to have completely brought to life the 'new creature' who in every circumstance of life reflects the very mind of Christ » (Vita Consecrata 69).

Hospitality

In this domain the solitary form of life which is ours imposes its own specific restraints. The community does not receive anyone except those aspiring to the Carthusian life and the visiting families of the nuns, once or twice in the year.

The Mission of the Carthusian nuns

« Only those who have experienced the solitude and silence of the desert can know what benefit and divine joy they bring to those who love them » (St. Bruno). Nevertheless, the Carthusian has not chosen this "better part" (Luke 10,42) for herself alone. By embracing the hidden life, she does not abandon the human family. To be free for God alone is a function which she has to accomplish within the Church, in the name of all and for all. In the measure that her union with the Lord is authentic, her heart is enlarged to the point of making her capable of embracing the whole world and of bearing in God all its aspirations.

If the Carthusian nuns have chosen solitude, freely imposing on themselves some noticeable restrictions, it is with the sole purpose of keeping themselves more open to the absolute of God and to the charity of Christ. They are expected to avoid every form of egoism and to live in a great simplicity. Then the Word of God will fill their silence: by means of despoilment and work, they shall be in full solidarity with all those who labour and toil in the whole world. In the very heart of Humanity, albeit hidden from the world, they shall be like the unrootable memory of its divine origins, the constant reminder of a spiritual destiny for all men. For they will be living the very Life of God.

« In silence and solitude, by listening to the Word of God, participating in divine worship, personal asceticism, prayer, mortification and the communion of fraternal love, the contemplatives direct the whole of their lives to the contemplation of God. In this way, they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church's love for her Lord and they contribute with a hidden apostolic fruitfulness to the growth of the people of God » (Vita Consecrata 8).

Signs of visibility

The Carthusian's "presence to the world" is rarely perceived exteriorly, for their part is to remain hidden in the secret of God's Face.

The charism of our founder St. Bruno, as described by a monk of his times, was to follow « a certain star coming from the East, that of those ancient monks, vowed to the solitude and poverty of spirit, who thronged to the deserts when the memory of the Blood shed by the Lord was still alive and burning in many hearts » (Carthusian Statutes).

Our responsibility in the Church is to keep following this star, even though for our contemporaries it will be nothing but a puzzling mystery, just like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who chose virginity in an epoch when it was considered a non-value.

As nuns, we want to assume the role which the Church has entrusted to us: woman is especially apt to guard values (like Mary who « treasured all in her heart », Luke 2.51). Such a silent educative influence has played an important role in history.

The spousal dimension of our engagement invites us to be in intimate communion with Christ's love, thereby giving life to the world with Him.

Projects

The Holy Father strongly encourages the institutes consecrated to the contemplative life to establish themselves in the Churches throughout the world.

We are deeply grateful to the bishops and ecclesial communities who welcome the contemplative foundations, thus creating a favourable climate of faith in the value of gratuitous prayer.

Because of our solitary vocation, our visible participation in the life of the local Church seems very reduced, but we hope that the exigence of our profound communion to this domestic Church may, with God's grace, all the more be stronger.

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