Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Liturgical Notes on the Feast of Saint Dominic

Saint Dominic died on the evening of August 6, 1221, and was canonized in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX (1227-41) who had known him personally and declared that he no more doubted his sanctity than he did that of Saints Peter and Paul. At the time of his canonization, the feast of the Transfiguration had not yet been adopted in the West. August 6th, however, had long been kept as the feast of Pope St Sixtus II, who was martyred in 258 after a reign of less than a year. He is named in the Canon of the Mass, and was the Pope under whom St Lawrence served as deacon; his feast is part of a two-week long series of feasts associated with the great Roman martyr. One of the very first churches given to the Dominicans, (still the home of Dominican nuns to this day) was the ancient church of St Sixtus; for these reasons, the feast of St Dominic was assigned by Pope Gregory to August 5th, and kept on that day for over three centuries by the Dominicans and others.

In 1558, however, Pope Paul IV ordered the general observance on August 5th of the titular feast of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, and the removal of St Dominic’s feast back one day to August 4th. This change was at first rejected by a general chapter of the Dominican Order held at Avignon in 1561, but was slowly accepted and eventually adopted formally in a revision of their liturgical books promulgated in 1603. St Jean-Marie Vianney, who is still often referred to simply as “the Curé d’Ars”, died on the feast of St Dominic in the year 1859, and was canonized by Pius XI in 1925. His feast was added to the General Calendar three years later, originally on August 9th, but later moved back to August 8th.
The Madonna and Child with St Catherine, and St Dominic Presenting the Donor, by Titian, 1512-16.
In the Calendar of the Novus Ordo, St Dominic and the Curé d’Ars were made to switch places; the idea being, apparently, that since Dominic’s feast could hardly be kept on the actual day of his death, which would involved bumping the Transfiguration out of the way, at least St Jean-Marie could. This seems a case where a basically good principle was applied with more zeal than wisdom, since no account was taken of the fact that the Curé d’Ars himself had celebrated that day as the feast of St Dominic, like centuries of priests before him.

As it also the case with the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, many Dominican houses keep the feast of St Dominic on the more traditional feast day, including the basilica in Bologna where he is buried, and which is now named for him. It was originally known as San Niccolò nelle Vigne, (St Nicholas in the Vineyards), and at the time it was given to the still very new Order of Friars Preachers in 1219, was on the outskirts of the city. The friars were able to expand it rapidly into a large complex to serve one of their most important communities, near one of the oldest and most important centers of learning in Europe. It was here that St Dominic died and was buried, originally laid in the floor of the church’s choir.

Upon his canonization in 1234, a proper Office and Mass were composed for his feast; this was sung for the first time in the choir of San Niccolò on August 5, 1234. At the time of St Dominic’s death, the prior of the Dominican house of Brescia, Guala Romanoni, beheld a vision, which he later described thus to Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s successor as master general. Jordan writes:
He saw an opening, in heaven, by which two bright ladders descended. The top of one was held by Christ, the other by His Mother; on either one, angels ascended and descended. At the bottom of the two ladders, in the middle, was placed a seat, , and on it sat one who seemed to be a brother of the order, with his face covered by his hood, as we are wont to bury our dead. Christ the Lord and His Mother pulled the ladders up little by little, until the one who was sitting at the bottom reached the top. He was then received into heaven, in a cloud of light, with angels singing, and that bright opening in heaven was closed. … That brother who had the vision, who was very weak and sick, realized that he had recovered his strength, and set out for Bologna in all haste, where he heard that on that same day and same hour, the servant of Christ Dominic had died. I know this fact because he told it to me in person. (Libellus de Principiis Ordinis Praedicatrum)
In the Office of St Dominic, the third antiphon of Lauds refers to this event: “Scala caelo prominens fratri revelatur, per quam Pater transiens sursum ferebatur. – A ladder stretching forth from Heaven is revealed to a brother, by which the Father passing was borne on high.” The very first time this Office was sung, it was Guala himself who intoned this antiphon. (He is now a blessed, and his feast is kept by the Order on September 4th.)

The Vision of Blessed Guala, depicted on the tomb of St Dominic in his church in Bologna.
Most of the propers for the Mass of St Dominic in the Dominican Use (the Introit, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel and Communio) are taken from the common of Doctors of the Church. Some of these parts are found in more than one Mass, but here the choice is a deliberate one, to express that St Dominic in his teaching and his life stands in the same position to the Order specifically as a Doctor does to the Church as a whole. (The Cistercians observe a similar custom on the feast of St Bernard.) The Alleluia verse is proper to the Dominicans, and like many medieval composition for both the Office and Mass, is in rhyme.
Alleluia, Pie Pater Dominice, / tuorum memor operum, / Sta corum summo judice / Pro tuo coetu pauperum.
(Holy Father Dominic, / mindful of thy works / stand before the great Judge / for thy gathering of the poor.) 
A leaf of a Missal decorated by Saint Fra Angelico, the famous Dominican painter, from the museum of the Dominican church of San Marco in Florence, ca. 1430.
This is followed by a lengthy sequence, In caelesti hierarchia, which can be read at this link in Latin and English. Both can be seen with their chant notation here. In the 1921, a newly composed proper preface for the feast of St Dominic was added to the Missal.
Vere dignum … Qui in tuae sanctae Ecclesiae decorem ac tutamen apostolicam vivendi formam per beatissimum patriarcham Dominicum, renovare voluisti. Ipse enim, Genitricis Filii tui semper ope suffultus, praedicatione sua compescuit haereses, fidei pugiles gentium in salutem instituit, et innumeras animas Christo lucrifecit. Sapientiam ejus narrant populi, ejusque laudes nuntiat Ecclesia. Et ideo cum angelis et archangelis etc.
Truly it is meet … Who for the glory and defence of Thy Holy Church did will to revive the apostolic manner of life through the most blessed patriarch Dominic. For he, supported always by the help of Thy Son’s mother, put down heresies by his preaching, established champions of the faith for the salvation of the nations, and won innumerable souls for Christ. The nations speak of his wisdom, and the Church declares his praise. And therefore with the angels and archangels etc.
In the Tridentine period, the Dominicans instituted a special feast for all the saints of their order, as did several other religious orders. Ironically, this feast was also bumped from its original location by the dedication feast of a Roman basilica; initially kept on November 9th, the day after the octave of All Saints, it was later moved to the 12th to make way for the Dedication of Saint John in the Lateran. The preface of St Dominic noted above was appointed to be said also on this feast, a fine liturgical expression of the holy Founder’s position as the model for all the sons of his Order.

Fr. Thompson has written previously about the procession that accompanied the singing of the Salve Regina at the end of Compline in the Dominican Use. In many houses, it was also customary to add after it the antiphon of the Magnificat for Second Vespers of the feast of Saint Dominic; it is here sung by the Dominican students at Blackfriars, Oxford.

O lumen Ecclesiae, doctor veritatis, rosa patientiae, ebur castitatis, aquam sapientiae propinasti gratis; praedicator gratiae, nos junge beatis.
O light of the Church, teacher of truth, rose of patience, ivory statue of chastity, freely you gave the water of wisdom to drink; preacher of grace, join us to the blessed.

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