The choir is the heart of the monastery. The tabernacle is the hearth around which we gather to pray by night and day. When we enter the choir, we bring with us the entire household of the Church, and, indeed, all God's children, living and deceased. Two central aspects of our feminine contemplative vocation are especially necessary when we gather for prayer: that of "being" and that of "representing." In the first, we learn to be content in simply being with God and in opening ourselves to God's presence within us. In the second, we come before God representing every person created in His image. A Poor Clare vocation is not a personal project. It is lived in and for the Church, so it is right that the greatest part of our day is spent here as we participate in the Liturgical life of the Church through the daily celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. The seating is such that, when we sing the Liturgy, we form two choirs facing each other, imitating the angels' reciprocity as described in Isaiah 6,3 - "And one called to the other and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
This curved wall holding tall Trinitarian windows marks a small oratory directly behind our sanctuary area. It is a space set aside for quiet and intimate prayer, for spiritual reading of Lectio Divina, or for individual or small group periods of Eucharistic adoration. Our tabernacle has two doors, one opening to the sanctuary and one opening into this "portiuncula," this little portion of Heaven on earth. That curve in the wall marks the place where we pray for the whole world. It shows where Jesus lives.
"Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them." (Gospel of Luke) Monastic tradition has considered this room among the most important to the community. It was our deliberate decision to make it share the same place apart (and the same architectural design) as the sacred spaces of choir and public chapel. Obedient to our Holy Rule, the abbess gathers the community for a weekly chapter assembly. While its primary purpose is spiritual renewal, community chapters vary in scope and expression throughout the year. Central to every chapter is a spiritual conference given by Mother Abbess as she encourages her sisters along the narrow path that leads to life. At chapter assemblies, community concerns, both spiritual and practical are shared in discussion where "it is often revealed to the least that which is best." (Rule of St. Clare).
The chapter room is the favored gathering place for the investiture of a new novice, for special recreations on great feast days, for communal expressions of metanoia before celebrating the Sacrament of Penance. It becomes for us the "upper room" on Holy Thursday, for here the ceremony of Foot Washing takes place. "How good, how delightful it is, when sisters dwell in unity." (cf. Ps.133)
Studies of the floor plans of the oldest
monasteries in Europe almost always show
a stairway leading directly from the dormitory
area to the choir, an apt vehicle of direct
transportation for monks and nuns who rose
for the Night Office or Vigils. Indeed, night watches,
though not as widespread in the Church today, were
common to the early Church and to the Church in
the times of persecution. Our Poor Clare day
begins at midnight. Unceasingly we take our places
for the night-watch, ever hoping this will be
the night of the second coming
and we can cry out to the world:
"Behold the Bridegroom comes, go forth to meet him!"