The choir prayer remains central

Schwester Gabriela Hesse

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

The choir prayer remains central

Schwester Gabriela Hesse

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

Honoured, dear attendees!

I really was very astonished when I received a request from Mr. Paul Wennekes to come here in Maastricht for a kind of faith congress. In September 2018 we had an extended conversation in my St. Marienstern monastery. But I have to honestly say: I’m not a big travel fan. I love my monastery very much, the place where it is, the people who live there. I don’t leave the monastery very often.

And yet it appealed to me to drive over 700 km to come here and to tell you something about our life, prayer and work.
Marienstern, located near Dresden in the Bautzen district, located far in the East of Germany, is a very old monastery with an uninterrupted tradition.

Marienstern is located in the middle of Lausitz in the Slavic settlement area. The Sorbs have lived here with their own language and culture since the 6th century.
In 1248 the monastery was founded as a Cistercian abbey by the von Kamenz family, who were ‘Reichsministeriale’, civil servants responding directly to the emperor.
The story is varied and exciting.
When I joined in 1981, there were over 30 sisters living in Marienstern.
There were still choir-sisters and lay sisters.
And 1981 was the deepest GDR time. The cloister was kept strictly.
There were good contacts with the people who lived around the monastery and who came directly to the monastery with their worries and needs.
But there was no contact with the political community.
Almost 90 percent of the residents of the small community is Catholic. This is a huge advantage for us. We are embedded in a nest. But a very secular world begins not far from the monastery. But that is also the amazing thing: Many people come to us in the monastery because it is somehow different here than outside of the monastery gates.
When they come into the monastery courtyard, something seems to fall away from them. The atmosphere is so completely different.
For us sisters this is more like everyday life.
Of course, we experience this completely different.

We are a very lively community that sees its central task in the worthy celebration of sung choral prayer.

The many external tasks don’t seem to fit to that well.

At the beginning of the 19th century, various schools were founded in Marienstern, including the St. Josephs Institute in 1826, a girls’ school with boarding school. The Nazis closed all Catholic schools and the building burned down in the middle of the war. For many years the sisters have prayed and considered how this building could be used again. In the GDR there were two possibilities for the church to do charitable work: work with the handicapped or care for the elderly. In 1973, 80 mentally handicapped girls between the ages of 4 and 18 were looked after. Within GDR conditions, the best possible living and working conditions were created.

After 1989 we as a community made a completely new decision to continue this work. This meant that extensive construction work was carried out with the help of subsidies and various other grants.

There are now 112 mentally handicapped men and women living in the dormitories and apartments, we have a workshop with 126 handicapped employees and a school with 38 students, all of whom come to us on an outpatient basis.

The monastery includes agriculture and forestry, a guest business, a monastery shop and a treasury and a nutrition and herb centre.
Several thousand tourists come to our monastery every year.

In total, the monastery employs around 190 people.
A great challenge and task for a community of 11 sisters between the ages of 31 and 91.
How can this be mastered if the central task of prayer is not to suffer as a result?
On the one hand we have capable, willing sisters and on the other hand we have good employees.
Choral prayer is extremely important to the sisters. The people who come to us and take part feel that too.
In the mid-nineties, young women entered our monastery who had a great deal of zeal for the celebration of the sung liturgy and began to work out the choir books again and to transcribe sheet music in painstaking detail. This project is still ongoing.

There is now a liturgy commission in the Cistercian order that has taken on this task and is preparing the printing of new books. We are very actively involved in this.
For the Order itself a testimony of unity.

But all of this only makes sense when I am in a living relationship with Christ. If I have zeal for God and worship, as St. Benedict demands in his rule.
I am always fascinated by the Cistercian chorale in its simplicity and urgency.
In the melodies the word finds expression and comes to life.
The Easter Sunday introit is such an example for me: “Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum, alleluia”
“I have risen and am always with you. Alleluia. You put your hand on me Alleluia. How wonderful this knowledge is for me. ”- It is the dialogue of the risen Lord Jesus with his Father. The melody is simple and haunting, without any frills.
There you can feel intimacy and love.
I also remember the invitation of St. Benedict:
“Heart and voice should be in harmony!”

Our choir prayer is sung in full from 4.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Compline, alternating between German and Latin. I confess: it’s not just a pleasure, but sometimes really hard work. But it is our work that we like to do and not, when we feel like it. That is why we try to plan rest periods for ourselves as a community in order to maintain our strength.

Singing the praise of God, our prayer as a substitute, the praise, bringing people’s concerns before God, is priceless and simply cannot be fathomed.
Our monastic community life is also intense.

We not only pray a lot together, but also celebrate, go on excursions and other activities.

Several times a year fasting courses for healthy people are offered. A sister accompanies each of these courses with spiritual impulses and discussions. During fasting in particular, people are much more receptive, also for the spiritual and

existential things in their lives. We do not know how much blessing has already come from it.
Where we were unable to work with the political community during the GDR era, things are completely different today.

Many large events, such as fi. the monastery – and family festival of the district of Bautzen are planned and organized together with the community and other organizations.
St. Marienstern has a stable place in the region and also in the diocese of Dresden-Meißen.

I am always amazed at what external effects there are. For example, a young church musician is inspired to compose an oratorio, by our monastery, its architecture, its embedding in the landscape.

It premiered on November 24th, 2019 in southern Germany.
People in a wide variety of situations entrust themselves to our prayer. And it is not uncommon for them to come to say thank you – when an illness has been overcome or a difficult situation was mastered.
Many people are searching, but many are not aware of this.
A monastery can be a point of direction and a stopping point for them.
This year we have started to invite young women on 4 weekends under the motto “His Word is meant for you!” To look for their calling and their path. We’re not exactly overrun, but the encounters and conversations are very informative.
We trust that God is calling people in our day and times, that women enter the monastery in order to devote themselves completely to God.
An existence of over 770 years is no guarantee of this.
But we try to live in such a way that people feel drawn to God through us, that Christ shines through us.

Then also our monastery can have a future.

Thank you for your attention!

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About the author

Schwester Gabriela Hesse

Abbess of the Cistercian Abbey of St. Marienstern Panschwitz-Kuckau