GOWER, Missouri (LifeSiteNews) — As pilgrims descend upon the Gower, Missouri convent of the Benedictines of Mary in order to view the apparently incorrupt body of its foundress Mother Wilhelmina, the sudden attention given to the order and its charisms is also highlighting the traditional Latin Mass and the ancient liturgy.
On April 28, the body of Sr. Wilhelmina of the Most Holy Rosary, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, was exhumed and discovered to be apparently incorrupt, the current abbess of the community, Mother Cecilia, OSB, told EWTN.
The many pilgrims now flocking to view her body are also encountering a community of nuns devoted to the traditional Mass, and the traditional form of the Church’s Divine Office. Not yet 30 years old, the young community – both in its age and age of its vocations – is over 50-strong, and has now opened its first daughter house, bringing the combined total to over 60 religious. The key to the flourishing order – the traditional Mass, which as the nuns themselves state is “at the heart of our charism.”
A new community built on tradition
Mother Wilhelmina died on May 29, 2019, at the age of 95. At the time of her death she had spent 75 years as a nun, having made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the age of 20 with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in 1944.
In 1993, after many years of witnessing the gradual modernizations sweeping through the order, she gained approval from the community for a “traditional house” of nuns to be established. From the outset, Wilhelmina’s new initiative was linked to the traditional priestly group of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and built off the 1988 motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, which outlined the proscriptions for provision of the traditional Mass.
In 1995, her fledgling community was born. Called the “Oblates of Mary, Queen of Apostles” at first – and later changed to the “Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles” in 2006 – the group went from strength to strength, passing through the various stages of diocesan approval to culminate in the consecration of the first Abbess of the community in September 2018.
As the community itself notes, the nuns follow St. Benedict’s traditional monastic daily schedule, “chanting the traditional Divine Office in Latin as prescribed.” Accompanying this is the Church’s traditional liturgy, as known by saints for centuries:
We are privileged to daily partake of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (1962) in accord with Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, the liturgy which the Church has jealously guarded for centuries. Bound up inextricably within this ancient liturgy, is a great reverence for the sacredness of the holy priesthood, which is at the heart of our charism. The fitting worship rendered to Almighty God in the Holy Sacrifice spills over into the chanting of the Divine Office.
In addition to the traditional life of ora et labora, the nuns also adhere to the traditional style of St. Benedict’s monastic life, including the penitential fasts of Lent and so-called monastic Lent running from September through Lent. This means that only one full meal per day is taken during these times, with smaller meals available instead.
Such rigor only serves to aid the community, the nuns write. “We have found fasting, when undertaken with prudence, is a real utility toward prayerful recollection, and a joyful expression of our dependence upon God. We know that God receives this gift and takes the fruit to feed the souls of His priests.”
While some with more modern sensibilities, used to comfort and luxury, might balk at such practices, the convent’s adherence to the Church’s rich tradition of monastic life is not serving as a preventative measure, but rather an attraction. Last fall saw continued growth in the community, with solemn vows for four nuns, first vows for five, and the investiture in the habit of seven postulants. The newly established daughter house – Monastery of St. Joseph in Ava, Missouri – also saw a first profession and an investiture in the habit.
Another part of this traditional monastic life is the nuns’ commitment to tending and making linens for Catholic priests to use for Mass: “all other works of our hands are directed toward the glory of the altar in the making of vestments and altar linens.” This work is performed by the community alongside the more practical work of tending the monastic grounds.
The traditional life of the Church is thus at the very core of the convent which has blossomed so beautifully since its foundation, and which now is marked by the distinction of a foundress who looks to be incorrupt. All this, the nuns note, is done in emulation of the Blessed Virgin:
Having received our call to emulate Our Lady in her final, hidden years, we offer our lives in prayer and sacrifice for priests. These are the new apostles of the Church who bear her truth to the world. We anticipate the coming of the Lord as Our Lady anticipated her Assumption, singing the psalms as she did, until we are admitted into the life of endless praise that is to come. In the meantime, we extend customary Benedictine hospitality most especially to priests, our spiritual sons, and strive to offer them the spiritual refurbishment so often denied them in their zealous work. We hope to see them return to the vineyard with renewed ardor to win souls.
Traditional chant captures hearts and minds
With nearly three decades of singing the Church’s Divine Office several times a day, the nuns of Ephesus have released several CD’s with recordings of the various liturgical chants for different periods of the liturgical year. With now 12 CDs released, the sacred music has proven an international success, not just with Catholics but with non-Catholic customers also.
Amassing 5-star reviews on large online websites such as Amazon, which also styles some of the albums as “Amazon’s choice,” the nuns have been producing the content for 11 years. So popular have they proven, that the first four albums from the cloistered community topped the classical charts.
In a first for a religious community, they also won the Billboard’s Classical Artist of the Year Award in 2013. The music is a mixture of the Church’s wealth of Gregorian chant, along with some original compositions by the sisters themselves.
Speaking about one of their latest CDs, Christ the King at Ephesus, Sister Scholastica explained the theme underlying the nuns’ chant. “We draw our strength from being set apart from the world with God and the sisterly support of one another, the music seems to be a perfect means to reach out to the world that we are always holding up in prayer. There is no compromise of our life, but we can share what we have, and we are happy to do so.”
Indeed, what is notably clear in the sacred chants now being offered to a wider audience is how honest and authentic the singing is – since it is a normal part of the community’s daily life. As the nuns’ note:
we use the 1962 Monastic Office, with its traditional Gregorian Chant, in Latin, the official language of the Church, and continue the rich legacy of our predecessors. Since the monastery is the “vestibule of heaven,” we anticipate the life of praise to come through the Divine Office. The verses of the psalms are sung antiphonally, (back and forth from one side of the oratory to the other) to imitate the choirs of angels in heaven, in their incessant praise.
With the Benedictine community of Ephesus now suddenly in an unexpected spotlight, what is on display for all to see is a community striving so earnestly to live the fullness of the Church’s timeless, traditional monastic life – and flourishing by doing so.