Friday, May 22, 2009

Hanceville, AL

More to follow here

052409 update:

Looking towards the side entrance, into a small courtyard, through grill work.

 Dennis inside the courtyard, just outside that side entrance.

In the middle of the monastery's humongous piazza is a statue of the Infant Jesus, holding out His heart.

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Looking across the piazza towards the Shrine and the attached monastery.

The Shrine, a Temple honoring the Most Blessed Sacrament adjoins Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a cloistered contemplative religious order, dedicate themselves to adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament day and night.

We entered the convent chapel around 6 AM to the sound of the nuns singing the Divine Office. Unable to see these hidden Poor Clare Franciscan nuns in the cloister, the high, light voices floated through the church. Occasionally a microphone was used, such as for the readings. The few laity in the congregation followed silently along in their LOTHs [Liturgy of the Hours], as well as what may have been extern nuns [those working outside the cloister] in the front pew. On the other side of the aisle were a few Franciscan brothers also joining in the Office.

Following that, the Mass in Hanceville was a singular experience. This 7 AM OF [Ordinary Form] conventual Mass [the nun's convent Mass] was said in the spectacular Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a vaulted Gothic convent chapel reminiscent of a European cathedral lined by columns and high arches, interspersed with stained glass windows. The visual impression is light, white and gold. The walls and ceilings are white. The Italian white marble floor is inlaid with darker marbles. Gold surrounds the side altars, the sanctuary, even the altar rail appears to be gold. A gold reredos, a 55-foot high gold-leafed screen hand carved from exotic Peruvian cedar, stands behind the altar, across the church from wall to wall. This spired Gothic gold screen hides a quarter of the church. Atop this high sanctuary screen is a gigantic gold monstrance exposing the Blessed Sacrament for constant worship, surrounded by statues of adoring angels clothed in gold. This 24-hour exposition is covered by a painted screen of angels during Mass. The large gold Tabernacle is formed like a spired Gothic church. The effect brings oneself mentally into the presence of God, being made mindful of both His terrible power and enlightening love, amidst a mortal vision of heaven filled with light. Towards the rear of the chapel are very large wooden spired confessionals like you see in old cathedrals, the kind where the priest sits in a booth in the middle, hearing hidden confessions on either side.

Mass began as the clergy and servers processed in solemnly holding crucifix and candles as the nuns sang an Easter-season polyphonic Latin hymn of Mary. I caught the words 'laetare Maria' and 'gaude Maria' [rejoice Mary].
One of the Franciscan priests, familiar to viewers of the EWTN station Mass said this Mass. The familiar Deacon Bill read the Gospel. Said Ad Orientem, the sung Mass was all in Latin, except for the English Propers. The congregation, of which most of the women were in veils, responded readily to the priest with the sung Latin responses. The ethereally-singing nuns were accompanied by a lovely smooth-sounding organ. I saw no pipes but it sure was nicely played. The impression was truly heavenly - I could feel the prayerful songs rising straight up to God the Father. The sopranos were light and airy, the altos were strong, and the two lower parts were clearly heard, holding their own. At the a cappella 'O Sacrum Convivium' of such precision and beauty, I had to hold back tears.

No Exchange of Peace disturbed the recollection and focus expressed by all. At Holy Communion, a white cloth was draped over the filigree communion rail and all recipients knelt to receive, as much as I noticed, all on the tongue. At the rail, I caught a glimpse of the full habits and white wimples of the nuns behind their screen.

At the end of Mass, "I know that my Redeemer Lives" was sung.

The overall impression was an OF Mass said as well as it could be said, with every solemn reverence, regal and recollected, permeated with a lightness borne of internal joy.

After the Mass, we went downstairs to the crypt chapel where the nuns who have died are entombed. This low-ceilinged chapel is understated, encased in white marble with a dark marble trim. There is a statue of the Virgin and a large Crucified Jesus. The wall surrounding the Tabernacle is gold with a statue on each side.

Leaving the building and crossing the enormous piazza centered by the Infant Jesus proffering His heart in His hand to humanity, we entered "The Castle" that holds a gift shop and large rooms. Inside there are suits of armor and heavy 13th century era-style tables and chairs, and tapestries.


  1. Beautiful, Tina. I've been to the Shrine in Hanceville several times, but your description, especially of the Mass, makes me want to run out and jump in the car for another pilgrimage. However, no can do right now, because a couple of the folks you met recently and some others like-minded, clergy and lay, are due at my place tonight for a bit of conviviality and the conspiracy that's inevitable when folks like us meet in the night.

  2. Thanks Henry! Have a great time tonight, sounds like a lotta fun.