Prayer, the vocation of the Teresian Carmelite
Discalced Carmelite Nuns are obliged by their vocation to “live in allegiance to Christ Jesus” and to “meditate day and night on the law of the Lord and watch in prayer.” Holy Mother was faithful to this principle of the “primitive” Rule. She renewed the call to contemplation of Mt. Carmel’s fathers of old (Way of Perfection 21:10; Interior Castle 5:1,2). She made prayer the foundation of her daughters’ life and their primary activity (Way of Perfection 4:2, 9; 17:1).
For this reason, the Church expectantly asks all Teresian monasteries to enter deeply into the mystery of contemplative prayer and to offer an exemplary witness to it among God’s People (Pope Saint John Paul II, homily given at Avila, 1 Nov. 1982).
The obligation of prayer and contemplation cannot be confined to participating in prayer at stated times. On the contrary, in the spirit of the Rule, it must permeate the entire existence of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. In that way they will walk in the presence of the living God (cf. 1 Kings 18, 24), put faith, hope and love unceasingly into practice, and make their entire life a prayerful quest for union with God (Life 8:5; Ascent of Mount Carmel 2:6).
As a consequence, prayer must be the first priority in organizing the life of the community and in the personal commitment of every nun (Way of Perfection 4:2).
Christ, teacher, model and mediator of prayer
Christ raised the prayer of His disciples to the dignity of a share in His own Filial converse with His Father in the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 11:2-4; Romans 8:15-17). Model, teacher and mediator of Christian prayer, He taught His friends the “Our Father.” This evangelical prayer expresses the intentions which the Christian holds dearest; and, as Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus noted, it contains a program of life that follows the way of perfection (Way of Perfection 24-27; Ascent of Mount Carmel 3:44, 4).
Liturgy and prayer life
The sacred liturgy is the highest sharing in the prayer of Christ. This participation is prolonged during the day in personal prayer. The liturgy enriches personal prayer which, in turn, enable us to bring a truly contemplative spirit to a worthy celebration of the divine mysteries.
Theological meaning and style of the liturgical celebrations
When it celebrates the liturgy, the assembled religious community realizes the mystery of the Church and shares in the Paschal mystery of Christ and in His priestly office. In fact, by word, sacraments and prayer, He nourishes and sanctifies His Church, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit joins the Church to Himself so that it may worship the Father’s glory and obtain the well-being of the entire human family.
Therefore, by celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments, and by proclaiming the word and singing the divine praises, a community builds and renews itself, expresses its union with the universal Church, and does its part for the coming of the Kingdom.
The celebration of the Eucharist and eucharistic worship
In the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ renews His covenant with the Church and makes His paschal sacrifice sacramentally present. The eucharistic banquet is a sign of unity and a bond of charity. Through its participation in the one bread and one cup (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17), the community is united as one body and one spirit. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of the Church.
At the heart of community life is the abiding eucharistic presence of Christ, Whom Holy Mother calls “Our Companion in the Most Holy Sacrament.” It fosters union with Him and sustains Teresian prayer for the Church (Life 22:6, Way of Perfection 33-35; Foundations 18:5).
The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours
The eucharistic praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are celebrated in the Mass, are prolonged and renewed all day long by the “Liturgy of the Hours.” Through this liturgical prayer, each community, in union with the Church in heaven and on earth, joins itself to the unceasing praise and supplications which Christ offers to the Father for the salvation of the whole world.
Each community represents, in a special way, the Church at prayer and exercises its ministry of prayer on behalf of the entire mystical Body of Christ and the local Churches.
Continual prayer and the practice of prayer
The life of “Christ Who contemplates on the mountain” was always nourished by filial conversation with His Father. Imitating Him, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns should give witness in the Church to a life of unceasing prayer.
Since prayer is “an intimate sharing between friends, a frequent lingering in solitude, with Him Who we know loves us” (Life 8:5), it involves every aspect of the nuns’ being. It informs their life with faith, hope and love that marks out the path to evangelical sanctity (Way of Perfection 21:1-2,6-7).
Since prayer is a friendly conversation with God “Who speaks to men and women as to friends and Who remains with them in order to draw them and admit them to communion with Himself” (Life 8:5), progress in the life of prayer is not possible without sufficient knowledge of God’s word.
For that reason the Rule lays down that the nuns must continuously keep the word of the Lord in their minds and hearts. And so they will study all of the Scriptures with special care – especially the Gospels – and meditate on them so that they may come to the preeminent knowledge of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 3:8; Way of Perfection 21:4; Ascent of Mount Carmel 2:22; 5-8).
Besides using the Scriptures for their spiritual reading, the religious must nourish themselves with the works of the Church Fathers, with the documents of the Magisterium, with the writings of the saints and other authors of our Order, especially Saint Teresa or Jesus and Saint John of the Cross, and with other theological and spiritual books. In that way, they will renew their spiritual formation.
Asceticism and the examination of conscience
The life of prayer which leads to union with God requires purity of heart and a commitment to seeking perfection (Way of Perfection 5:3; 21:2). In order to keep turning their hearts to God, the nuns will examine their consciences twice each day: before dinner and in the evening at Night Prayer.
Silence and solitude in the cell and in work
In order to foster the prayerful and solitary atmosphere that is the hallmark of Carmel, all the sisters shall prayerfully keep silence (Way of Perfection 4:9), except when they are required to talk by necessity or by reason of their duties, or when they have permission of the Prioress to speak with sisters in response to some need. All the same, work and every occupation must be reconciled with silence so that the monastery truly becomes a house of prayer.
For all the time in which the sisters are not with the community or are occupied with house duties, they will keep each to her own cell, as the Rule prescribes; they will remain in God’s presence in solitude and given themselves to prayer, study or work.
(from the Carmelite “Rule & Constitutions,” approved by the Apostolic See in 1991)