Holy Silence according to Mother Margareta
Some religious communities have in their regulations rules regarding the observance of silence. The silence introduced by Mother Margareta into the new community was twofold.
- The so-called rigorous or Holy Silence began after Compline and lasted until after breakfast the following day. It was observed every day of the year, unless some special event lasted well into the evening hours, or began early in the morning. In such cases it was necessary to quietly advise the superior or another sister in charge. During the holy silence sisters were permitted to talk with the superior only in the case of urgent matters.
- There was also a silence prescribed during the rest of the day. It was a silence whose purpose was to avoid all useless speech during work, on the stairs, in the halls, when leaving the convent, and at other inappropriate times or places. In fact, there were signs in the schools which read SILENCE. Clearly this did not refer to the teachers while they were teaching, nor to the sisters who had to deal with the laity for various reasons, nor was it called for in community work or when it was necessary to reach an agreement.
The sisters said that Mother Margareta was very consistent in regard to silence during the day, and especially so for the holy silence during the night. She often suggested that we should ask ourselves during the noon and evening examination of conscience how we had conducted ourselves in regard to silence. We tried to be aware of the precious hours and time that had been irretrievably lost, and how many beneficial thoughts we had omitted, thoughts that could have been turned to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to our Mother Mary, for the souls in purgatory, for sinners, for the children for whom we care, or even for ourselves. How many graces had we lost because of our lack of observance of silence?
Just as the time for silence was prescribed in the convent, so also was the time for relaxation and recreation. Mother Margareta was firm about this. Every day after dinner there was an hour of recreation. Since recreation was inserted into the daily schedule, no sister was to absent herself, not even the superior. Everyone was to actively participate and be present at every recreation. In addition, everyone was to contribute to making the recreation a lively and happy occasion. Absence from recreation was only justified for an important reason, and the permission of the superior was necessary.
I was an aspirant in 1916 and I remember with what avid interest we used to observe the liveliness, joy and humor of this large group of 50 or 60 sisters gathered after the midday meal for recreation. If weather permitted they gathered in the garden or in the courtyard under the large chestnut tree. When the clock indicated the end of recreation, the sisters immediately got up, put their needlework (embroidery, crocheting, knitting, etc.) in order, and in complete silence entered the church to adore the Blessed Sacrament. Then without a word they returned to their daily duties.
In the evening, once the evening prayer and adoration of the Blessed Trinity were over, we aspirants were also greatly edified to see the older sisters, some of whom had important positions in the Congregation, get up at once, and without exception obediently go to retire.
A marvelous peace settled over the convent which gave us a feeling of joy and tranquility and even devotion. In fact, we were still not completely detached from the hustle and bustle and noise of the world from which the Lord had called us. We too retired, praying to the Lord for the grace to enter as soon as possible into this group of exemplary sisters.
Sometimes in the evening one could hear a few words when someone would ask permission to work after night prayers. It happened that at times a teacher had a lot of work to do in preparing her lessons for the next day, or someone had assignments to correct which they were not able to finish in the afternoon. Generally the sisters requested these permissions before evening prayers. In any case, working late into the night was discouraged so as not to damage the sister’s health.
We younger ones did not receive permissions to study late at night. We were told to make good use of our study time during the day. Certainly our directresses had their reasons for such restrictions.