Writings from the Unabridged Rule of St Magdalene of Canossa

RULE II – Mental Prayer

Each morning before Mental Prayer they will recite together the Offering which is found in the Sacred Manual of Blessed Leonard of Port Maurice. Every day at the time laid down in the time-table, those who are not bound to be in the ministry of Charity at that time recite, at seven different times, a brief Commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady.

Those who are engaged by obedience and charity will recite them when they can. From Vespers of Holy Saturday until the Sunday after Easter, as well as the Octave of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven, they will recite instead, at the same times, the Seven Joys of Our Lady.

Magdalene was a woman who understood the value of devotional prayer. Her experience in their use in the deepening of her own desire for the things of God led her to realize their importance in the life of every Daughter of Charity.

The Morning Offering composed by Saint Leonard of Port Maurice was included in the daily prayer of the Canossian Sister from the time of our Foundress, until Vatican II. It has been substituted with the shorter offering (shown here) prayed by many Apostles of Prayer. The intentions of these prayers share the same themes:

  • Offering of the day’s prayers, works, joys and sufferings;
  • in union with the Sacrifice of the Mass;
  • for the intentions of Jesus and Mary;
  • for reparation for sins; and
  • saving of souls.

The Apostolate of Prayer includes a unification with the intentions of all Bishops and includes the monthly intentions of the Holy Father. The Offering of St. Leonard is a worthy substitute to use from time to time. It points to the spirituality and devotion of St Magdalene. She thought well enough of it to include it in the Rule of the Institute.

The Offering of Saint Leonard of Port Maurice (Actually, of Porto Maurizio, Italy):

Eternal God, and my God, behold me prostrate before Thine immense Majesty, and humbly adoring Thee. I offer Thee all my thoughts, words, and actions of this day. I purpose them all to be thought, spoken, and done entirely for love of Thee, for Thy glory, to fulfill Thy Divine will, to serve Thee, praise Thee, and bless Thee; in order also to my own enlightenment in the mysteries of the holy Faith, for the securing of my salvation, and out of hope in Thy loving mercy; for satisfaction, too, of Thy Divine justice, for my so many and most grievous sins; as supplication for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and for the grace of a true conversion to all sinners; in fine, I wish and intend to do everything in union with the most pure intentions of Jesus and Mary during their lives on earth, of all the Saints who are in Heaven, and of all the just who are on earth: and I would willingly subscribe to this my intention with my own blood, and to repeat it from a loving heart, as often as there are moments in eternity. Receive, O my dearest God, this my good intention; give me Thy holy benediction with efficacious grace to keep me from mortal sin through all my life, but particularly this day, in which I desire and purpose to receive all the Indulgences which I am capable of receiving, and to assist, were it possible, at all the Masses which are celebrated this day throughout the whole world, applying all in supplication for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, that they may be freed from detention in its pains and come quickly before the face of God. So be it (Amen).

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The next point speaks of a timetable, and the prayers to be said. The timetable written by St Magdalene in the Unabridged Rule is quite demanding:

06:00 – Rise
06:30 – Pray the Offering of St Leonard of Port Maurice and first Commemoration and Meditation
07:30 – Mass, followed by the second Commemoration
08:30 – Breakfast
09:00 – Work
11:30 – Third Commemoration, Examine of Conscience and fourth Commemoration
12:00 – Lunch
12:15 – Recreation
13:30 – Spiritual Lesson
14:00 – Work
18:00 – Doctrine
19:00 – Fifth Commemoration, Meditation and sixth Commemoration
20:00 – Supper
20:15 – Recreation
21:15 – Seventh Commemoration and Examination of Conscience
22:00 – Retire for the night

An example of the current schedule of the day as lived by the community in Sacramento, can be viewed here.

One obvious difference between the two timetables is, the source of the Sisters daily prayer. In Magdalene’s day, the Liturgy of the Hours was not widely used outside of the cloister. It is interesting to note Magdalene’s desire to keep seven moments of prayer, commemorating the seven sorrows of Our Lady of Sorrows. This intention, in comparison to the Divine Office is beautifully explained by the former General Superior of the Canossian Sisters, Antonietta Monzoni (1944):

The Divine Office is the prayer par excellence. It is the voice of the Church that returns to the Father like the Spouse of Jesus Christ in the name of all humanity, to adore Him, to praise Him, to thank Him, to please Him, to obtain divine favors, to show Him one’s love and the perfect adhesion to his will.

The Canossian Sister, faithful to her Rule, does all of this, through the seven Commemorations, divided into seven moments and marvelously adapted to the business of the day.

In addition, she does more than all this. In the Holy Gospel, Jesus admonishes us that its not enough to honor God with the lips. It’s not enough to contemplate the mysteries of his life, passion and death; there is the need to live it throughout the day.

This would be the main point of the Foundress in the Rule “Seven Commemorations”.

(Spiritualità Canossiana – 1944 – Feast of the Purification, p.11-12)

The Canossian Sisters have dropped this practice of the seven commemorations. Maybe it will again be a time to revive them?

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RULE I – Prayer

Prayer is the exercise by which the soul draws close to the Lord. By thus learning to know him in some way, she becomes ever more disposed, and enkindled with the desire, to love Him. Hence, in order to imitate Jesus Crucified who showed His love for the Fath­er in a special way by accepting death and death on the Cross, and in order to carry out more easily the first great Commandment of Charity, the Sisters are recommended the practice of Mental Prayer of the Heart, certainly not less than half an hour in the morn­ing and half an hour in the evening.

Saint Magdalene writes in the Preface to her Rule, “Since God Himself is Charity, being His Children, we owe Him a reverent, tender, filial love.” For her, this is the starting point for every Canossian Daughter of Charity, to come before the Lord in quiet prayer. She understood, if a Sister fails to spend time before the Lord, in prayer and contemplation of the love shown on the cross, “nothing would be achieved in our neighbors.” It is to this degree she saw the two precepts of charity – the love of God and love of neighbor – intertwined.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta confirms this need for prayer in her own experience of working with the poorest of the poor:  “Without prayer I could not work for even half an hour. I get my strength from God through prayer” (A Simple Path, M. Teresa of Calcutta, 1995).

Actually, Saint Magdalene wasn’t satisfied with the sisters having an hour of meditation a day; she thought the time was too little. She wanted her Daughters to have big hearts full of love, which comes from spending time before the King of Love. And only then, fueled by the Love found in prayer, is the Canossian properly ready to meet the needs of her brothers and sisters, loving them with the heart of Christ on the Cross.

Preface to the Rule

To the Daughters of Charity – Servants of the Poor,

My dear Sisters, God has given you a great gift by giving you a vocation to this Holy Institute of Charity and you have the duty of responding worthily to such a big grace. This makes it very necessary to consider well the aim of this Institute in order to understand Its Spirit and be imbibed by it, as well as its objectives which must be particularly contemplated in order to carry them out. Hence, with humble thanks to the Lord and with a generous and constant heart you may then practise faithfully all the means that you will find prescribed in the following Rules through which to reach the happy accomplishment of your aim.

There is no doubt that all the Holy Institutes have proposed the assiduous contemplation of the Life and Passion of Jesus Christ or a more perfect imitation of His life in their Holy Institutions. This Institution too, therefore, which is the last and least in the Church of God, would be off the path if we wanted to propose any other aim but this.

It is true, in considering our name of Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, it would seem, and in effect  it  is, that  our  principal  aim  should  be  the fulfilment of the two great Precepts of Charity: to love God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. Since God Himself is Charity, being His Children, we owe Him a reverent, tender, filial love, and as Servants of the Poor, we owe them our attention, labour, care and thoughts. However, the fulfilment of these two Precepts is not the entire scope of this Institute, it involves more: to fulfil them by reproducing, as far as is granted to us poor creatures, the Holy Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, imitating Him in the interior and exterior virtues of which He deigned to give us a particular example, by leading even ourselves a submitted, humble and hidden life, totally engaged in looking for the Divine Glory and the Salvation of Souls. Further, it means animating all our actions and work with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, a spirit of charity, gentleness, meekness and humility, a spirit of zeal and fortitude, a most amiable most generous and most patient spirit.

In order to achieve these things, here are the objectives contemplated in the Institute: the particular sanctification of each individual Sister and the constant exercise of the works of charity. My dear Sisters, there is no doubt that the first objective is so bound to the second that little or nothing would be achieved in our neighbours when one is failing in the primary aim. This is so, not only because, as St. Paul says, even martyrdom would be useless without charity, that is, love of God, the Source and Substance of Holiness, but also because the first fruit produced in our neighbour is all work of Grace. The saying of St. Joseph of Cupertino is good for us here: He says that as man uses a trumpet which is useless without sound. in the same way how would it be possible for God to deign to make use of us for others when we render ourselves unable to hear His voice ? Besides, no matter how much we respond to the Lord, we always tarnish by our poverty His Divine Grace that passes through our hands to our Neighbours, what would happen then, if we were to close the way to the Divine Source? Moreover, if what the Saint said is true, and without any hesitation we can affirm it is, that one who is not burning with zeal herself cannot set others aflame, then what kind of fire do we need in order to train, educate, console and talk to our neighbour in the Holy Works of Charity?

My Sisters, do not be frightened at seeing the height of the aim proposed to you or in considering the Holiness of the Spirit that is asked of you and the greatness of the objectives contemplated God who always chooses the weakest and most unsuitable instruments in order to confound the wise and the strong, wished to start this Holy Institute Himself alone. He who has deigned to lead us, will complete the work of His Mercy as long as on your part you acknowledge your unworthiness, weakness and ignorance, but at the same time and abandon yourselves entirely to Him. You must put into practice, however, the necessary means that are suggested to you in order to reach the happy attainment of your aim and these are the strict observance of the following Rules In these Rules the Lord has provided the means both for your own personal sanctification and for the general sanctification of the Institute and likewise for the sanctification of your Neighbour in the various Branches of Charity embraced by your Institute.

However, before beginning the Rules, I must let you know who it was that obtained the carrying out of this work from the Lord and who has directed it up to now. It is Our Lady of Sorrows who was constituted Mother of Charity under the Cross when, at the words of her dying Divine Son, she gathered all of us, sinners though we are, to her heart. I beg all of you to regard her always as your one and only Mother, as a duty of justice, truth, gratitude and humble, devout affection.

Everything that has been done up to now is her work and you must never make the mistake of thinking that someone else might have done anything. Hence, behave as true Daughters of Our Blessed Lady of Sorrows, consoling her in her sorrows with the holiness of your life, mak­ing ourselves a shield and protection for her afflicted heart by trying to prevent it being pierced by new wounds, that is, endeavouring, as your vocation requires, to prevent sins. In order to obtain all these things, it is necessary that you observe strictly the Rules that follow below. I would like to bring to your notice that you will find these Rules divided and, so to speak, applied to the Virtues of which our Great Model gave us a special example on the Cross in order to render it easier and clearer for you to carry out the great and global objective con­templated in the Institute, that is, the fulfilment of the two great Precepts of Charity according to the Spirit and imitation of Jesus Christ Crucif­ied The first of these virtues was His most ardent love for His Divine Father for whose glory He consumed the great Sacrifice. Therefore you will find that the first of your Rules will be those judged necessary to give you the means kindling within yourselves Holy Charity towards God.

Hence, the Rules which follow are concerned with other virtues especially practised and re­commended by Him. It is intended only to give some principles, as Holy Charity in substance includes not only the fulfilment and fullness of the Law but also the Life and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ and all His teachings.