Reflections in Holy Week

From an article on Edith Stein, later Sister Theresa Benedicta of the Cross

1928. The liturgical reform movement in Germany is centered in the Benedictine Abbey in Beuron. Edith goes there for a retreat during Holy Week. She briefly meets with Abbot Raphael Walzer. He will become her spiritual advisor for the remainder of her life, apparently coming to know her more profoundly than anyone else. After her death, he will refer to her as “one of the greatest women of our time, gifted with mystical graces in the true sense of the word.”

She makes a Holy Week retreat at Beuron each year until she enters the cloister. She is drawn to Benedictine spirituality and her reaction to the liturgical reforms is warm, but her attachment to interior devotion is deep and unshakable even at public Mass. A Benedictine nun reports: “I was sent as a young religious to attend to community business near Speyer and was thus able to spend some time with Edith Stein. Sunday morning we attended solemn high Mass in the Cathedral together. For almost the entire liturgy, Edith Stein remained on her knees with her eyes closed and her face resting in her hands. To a young, liturgically-minded Benedictine like myself, that made no sense at all. Afterwards, I told her [so]. I don’t remember what she answered.”

Edith Stein would shortly write an essay, “The Prayer of the Church,” in which she provided a detailed answer; she said that “true prayer” can only be “the mutual self-giving of God and the soul.” When this inward, hidden union between the soul and God, “the high-priest love of Jesus living within them,” is not present, all public prayer will degenerate.

Abbot Walzer speaks of Edith’s sense of worship this way: “All she wanted was to be with God in church, and to have the great mystery in front of her. The almost rigid exterior she presented while praying was matched by the interior of a soul enjoying the blessed contemplation of God.”

 

Edith Stein 1934 Kolner Karmel

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