Community life, as set forth in the Rule of Carmel and renewed by St. Teresa, follows the example of the primitive Church. It requires that the sisters who have been called to form the little “College of Christ” (Way of Perfection Esc. 20:1) should help one another advance toward sanctity (Life 7:20-33; Interior Castle 7:4,14). Their supreme law must be the love which the Master enjoined on His disciples, the very love which He proved by giving His life for us (cf. John 15:12-13; Way of Perfection 4:4,10-11; Interior Castle 1:2,17; 5:3,12).
When this mutual love is put into practice (Interior Castle 5:3,11), it is a proof of the authenticity of their life of prayer (Interior Castle 5:3,6-12; Way of Perfection 36:6). It ensures for them the presence of the Lord in the midst of the community. It maintains peace and concord (Way of Perfection 17:5-6; 7:9-11). This love should make every monastery an example of mutual concern, a witness to unity, a sign of universal reconciliation in Christ, and a beacon of the Gospel of justice and peace.
St. Teresa taught a community lifestyle which is that of a small family in which all are evangelically equal, relations are openly sincere (Way of Perfection 27:6; 20:4), joys and sorrows are shared (Way of Perfection 7:5-9), and the members are committed to one another as sisters for their entire lives. “All must be friends, all must be cherished, and all must help one another” (Way of Perfection 4:7), to create a joyful atmosphere that sets everyone at ease, an atmosphere that accords with “the sisterly style of life and recreation that they have in common” (Foundations 13:5; Way of Perfection 7:7; 41:7; Life 36:29.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of community life and the sign of unity and bond of union with Christ. When a community celebrates in common the Liturgy of the Hours, it perseveres in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14).
Communion in the same vocation requires that all of the nuns participate in the life of the community through dialogue, example and personal effort. The task of breathing unity into the community and preserving it is entrusted to the Prioress who must guide it in truth and in love.
The common table is the symbol of family unity. The sisters’ food is both a gift of Providence and a fruit of their labors. The religious will joyfully take their meals together with gratitude to God Who is the giver of all gifts and blesses the work of their hands.
Since the nuns are called to be a part of the family of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they will wear the habit of the Order, for it is a sign of their consecration and a witness to poverty.
The Chapter of each monastery will draw up its daily horarium. In doing so, it will respect the prescriptions of Holy Mother and the circumstances of the climate and customs of diverse regions. Nevertheless, the horarium will keep the faithful balance, which St. Teresa wanted, among the hours of prayer, work, and rest, as well as harmony between times of solitude and of community acts.
Charity does not seek its own advantage, but that of others (cf. 1 Cor. 13, 5; Phil. 2,4); and the communities are founded on bonds that make all brothers and sisters, one in Christ. Therefore, they should not turn in on themselves. On the contrary, in the spirit of Holy Mother, the monasteries will take practical steps to foster communion with one another and with the rest of the Order. All the brothers and sisters of the Teresian Carmel belong to one single family of the Virgin Mary. By virtue of their union in charity, they will help one another by their prayers, by their example, and my mutual collaboration. In this practical way, all will work together for the good of the Church and of the Order.
The ceaseless quest for God in solitude is like an exodus into the desert. God draws and guides us there in order to speak to our heart (cf. Hos 2:16). Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, many have responded to Christ’s invitation to His disciples (cf. Mk 6:31) and have retired to solitude where they adore the Father and listen to His words. They have chosen the one thing necessary, the better part, and it will not be taken away from them (cf. Lk. 10:39-42).
The institutes which are wholly consecrated to the contemplative life of cloistered solitude hold a distinguished place in the Mystical Body of Christ; for they offer a singular sacrifice of praise to God, they enrich God’s people with the choicest fruits of their sanctity, they encourage it by example, and they extend it by their mysterious apostolic fruitfulness.
This kind of life imitates Christ “in contemplation on the mountain” (Way of Perfection 24:4; Ascent of Mount Carmel 3, 39,2). It shares in His paschal mystery, because it is a dying for the sake of rising again. Furthermore, in a special way, it fulfills the contemplative vocation of the Church as Bride which it reveals for all to see. For the Bride, hidden with Christ in God, always seeks the things of above, while she keeps watch for the final manifestation of the Lord (cf. Col. 1:1-4).
Meaning and characteristics of Teresian enclosure
Holy Mother Teresa, from the beginning of her reform, chose the enclosed life as both an expression and a means of following Christ, according to the evangelical counsels, in the original contemplative vocation of Carmel. She did this in order to combat spiritually for the glory of God on behalf of His Church.
According to St. Teresa, the freely-chosen life of enclosure brings about a radical detachment from exterior things that leads to interior detachment, and it involves a life a silence and solitude ordered toward finding in the Spouse the living waters of contemplation. It is also a great aid for reaching holy liberty of spirit (Way of Perfection 10:1; 19:4), in a joyful experience of sisterly union in Christ, of those who are “alone with Him alone.” (Life 36:29; Foundations 1:6; 31:46-47).
Teresian enclosure’s purpose and requirements continue to be valid. They are consistent with radical Christian discipleship and with evangelical self-denial. They safeguard the freedom and harmony of community life and so foster the full gift of self to God in contemplative life for the Church.
(from the Carmelite “Rule & Constitutions,” approved by the Apostolic See in 1991)