Somebody’s Knocking At Our Door: The Welcoming Ceremony
By Sister Cynthia S.
One of the fascinating things about ritual is its invitation to participants to see more deeply into the realities that surround us. Every day we can see water as the natural wonder that it is, but in the ritual of baptism we experience it as the waters of the Jordan which we enter with Jesus. We call to mind all that blessed water has come to mean in our Catholic tradition. Every day we smell and feel oil when we cook, but we savor it more deeply in the rituals of anointing that occur at various times in our lives.
At ritual we use ordinary things as symbols to open our eyes and ears to see and hear beyond the present moment and to connect ourselves to the deep traditions that bind us and help us to live faithfully. For the same reason we use ritual language, not our ordinary speak, but words that draw us into the mystery which the ritual celebrates and that hold the weight of its power to change us.
As Sisters of Mercy we celebrate special rituals for young women who are in the process of becoming sisters. The first of these is the Welcoming Ceremony, when a woman who wants to enter comes to the chapel and knocks on the door. At one level you might ask, why would this person, who has been in our chapel many, many times, now find herself arriving to a closed door and having to knock and ask to come in?
It is because in the context of ritual, this is no longer simply our chapel door; it is now the doorway to a new and exciting life as a Sister of Mercy. The door serves as an archetype: it allows us to access the deeper significance of the many doors that open or close for us throughout our lives. We carry in us an ancient knowledge that stepping through a door is a powerful action. We open a door in our welcoming ceremony because we know the power of stepping over the threshold into a new life and it is our best way to formally bring a woman into that new life.
The woman who has joined us countless times for prayer now comes as a seeker with important questions:
Is this the life for me?
Are these the people with whom I wish to cast my lot?
Is God calling me to Mercy?
And so we shift into ritual language, and we ask her:
What are you seeking?
Ordinary day language (Hi, how are you?) isn’t up to the gravity of the moment. To hold the weight of what is happening, we change our way of speaking to remind us to hear more deeply into the woman’s request. We ask what she is seeking, and she responds not with the every-day answer (I want to come into this chapel) but with her deep desire for her life right now: I want to be accepted as a candidate for membership with you; I think I want to spend my life with you and I am coming to find out if this is what God wants for me, too.
Do you have questions? Ask Sister Cynthia in the comments or contact us.