The heart’s élan and a solid theology
As many men and women are beautiful because of the shining forth of their interior life, this chapel owes its beauty, I believe, to the spiritual inspiration born of the ardent faith of Mother Marie Denyse who conceived the project and oversaw its realization. Superior General during a period of missionary effervescence and apostolic innovation, she guided the Congregation in concordance with the Church as she was carried by the inspiration of Vatican II and engaged in a vast « aggiornamento » which was, at one and the same time, theological and spiritual, liturgical and pastoral. Mother Marie Denyse wanted this house of worship to proclaim just who is the God that the Sisters of the Assumption passionately want to love and make known. Its construction was an affirmation of her faith that combined a mystical élan with a solid theology. The novelty of the architecture and the use of a coherent array of symbols made it a gracious witness of a period of intense fervor and passionate research for new ways of expressing the faith.
An inspired work should open up for us a spiritual path and put us on it. This is my way of understanding this chapel.
Greeted by the Trinity
Like a big « tent » set up in the garden of the Mother House, the chapel invites all those who enter the garden to dare encounter the living God. A new Abrahamic Mambré, where the servant becomes the guest of the great THREE, the chapel offers to all the generous hospitality of a space free of any architectural element that might detract from an invitation to prayer, silent listening and contemplation.
The walls form a large triangle, an ancient Trinitarian symbol. The triangle speaks of the God we seek, « in whom we live and move and are » who also calls us to form one body, a living temple. This symbol is omnipresent, found everywhere in the chapel : on the stalls, on the confessionals, in the altar’s design, on the door leading to the garden. It is the shape of the monstrance used for daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The God whose mystery is beyond us in every way, is also a God who is near : God in the depths of our prayer, God who forgives, who accompanies us on our journey, LIFE-giving God adored by all humanity in search of life.
Contemplating Christ the Mediator
On the huge white wall of the sanctuary, supporting wall for the entire edifice, an immense black, wrought-iron Cross stands out. All the architectural lines of the chapel converge towards this Cross, creating an irresistible movement of our gaze towards it. « And when I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself » - Word made flesh, mediator between God and humanity, Savior prefigured by the bronze serpent raised by Moses in the desert Exodus. Who would not be drawn to this God loving us to the end degree, even to the dereliction of a terrible death by crucifixion ? The wasted figure of the silhouette, its rigid, angular form and dark color bespeak the dramatic violence of Golgotha, but also the power of the extreme love of his mission : « All has been accomplished ! ». Jesus exhales his last powerful breath, handing himself over to the Father so that his breath may be spread throughout the world. This is why the Spirit is graphically illustrated by the Dove in stained glass just above the Crucified Christ.
Gift of the Father, the Spirit hovers above the altar as a permanent response to the epiclesis of the Church : « Send your Spirit on this bread and wine ... Send your Spirit on your assembled People. » From this well of light, with its dominant red and green glass, the Dove seems to come upon us and make all things new with gifts of light, life and joy. The altar, stands at the foot of the Cross, where Jesus’ life given for us, becomes our food so that we may have eternal life. Inscribed on the altar, « Petra autem erat Christus » reminds us that Christ is indeed the Rock from which springs forth the water of eternal life- water prefigured by the water which came from the rock and brought life to the Hebrews in the desert. This biblical quotation also evokes that of Marie Eugénie : « There is only one rock, Jesus Christ, on whom we are built. »
Brought into the Paschal Mystery
The Mystery of Salvation, thus soberly symbolized, is revealed in its biblical origin and ecclesial continuation, in its historic reality and transcendental thrust. The sanctuary is not only the brightest part but also the highest part of the building : the contemplation of the Paschal Mystery enlarges our interior vision and draws us towards a love called to become ever deeper and more luminous.
As we cross the threshold of the chapel, the interior expanse of the choir draws our gaze immediately towards the center of the choir with its somber hues. It is the space where the religious community, and those who join it, comes to celebrate the Divine Office, participate in the liturgy of the Eucharist, meditate on the Word and reverently adore. A few steps take us down into the choir. They also are symbolic of Our Lord’s descent into the Baptismal water as well as of the day when we descended with Christ into the waters of Baptism. We are encouraged to enter with Him into the spiritual combat that the Church wages so that hatred and death may be overcome in us and in our brothers and sisters, so that the Kingdom of God may be extended in the world. Daring to encounter God, we descend also into the depths of our own heart so that the Word, like a sharp sword may come to separate the seeds of life from the forces of death, to separate the truth from the darkness of lies and bring joy from sadness, hope from despair and liberty from imprisonment. These are « dangerous » steps, some say, but is not the road to conversion, or any spiritual adventure, fraught with risk ?
Journeying with Mary and the Church
Above the choir, which originally contained only the sisters’ stalls, extends the stained glass of the Assumption. Mary, the woman clothed with the sun, totally filled with the Trinitarian life, watches over us. Mary, the first disciple of Jesus leads us to her Son.
On the way of conversion, we experience the mercy of God, forgiveness and interior healing which renew our heart, making it capable « of an ever freer, more direct and unified gaze on God and the world ». (Rule of Life) The two confessionals along the left-hand wall, recall for us the need to renew continually our desire for reconciliation.
On the right, a huge wall of stained glass symbolizes the Church, the New Jerusalem, where we live our faith and our mission. It is in the Church that we are encouraged and supported by the example and the unceasing intercession of « the cloud of witnesses », the immense crowd of known and unknown saints who, already transfigured by the light of God, live today in God’s presence. The variety of shapes and colors in the window’s glass signify the extraordinary diversity of the People of God, God’s friends, who celebrate with us the marvels of divine grace.
Two women who show us Christ
Against the background of this multi-facetted window, two women, particularly dear to us, emerge : the Blessed Virgin Mary and Marie Eugénie. Each one is backed by one of the two pillars that, with the long wall of the choir, support the weight of the ceiling. Our Lady and Marie Eugenie both offer us places to stop and pray. When we come to kneel before the statue of Our Lady of Consolation or before the tomb of St. Marie Eugénie, we are able to keep in view the choir and the altar ; as if each of them discreetly withdrew to allow Christ alone to draw us and to reveal the Father.
The tomb of Mother Marie Eugénie, the place where we honor her memory, symbolically places our Foundress within the space of celebration, prayer and adoration which nourish our spiritual life. Situated at the back of the chapel, this humble spot allows Marie Eugénie to welcome everyone who comes to pray almost as they enter. Receiving them at her resting place, she puts them into direct contact, not with herself, but with the spiritual heritage that she bequeathed to the Congregation and thus to the Church. And when they leave this historic place, she asks them to venerate, even if at a distance, Christ on the Cross at the chapel’s center which is also the central mystery of our spirituality - the Incarnation. It is her way, perhaps, of reminding us all that : « At the Assumption, everything comes from Jesus Christ, belongs to Jesus Christ and ought to be for Jesus Christ. »
Sister Claire Myriam, ra
Feast of the Ascension 2009