Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Feast of the Translation of Saint Dominic

Our thanks to Mr Calder Claydon for sharing with us this article about one of the proper feasts of the Dominican Rite.

On the Dominican Calendar, May 24 is the feast of the Translation of St Dominic’s relics, the only such feast remaining after the revisions of the early 1960s. Previously, the Dominicans also kept feasts of the translation of St Catherine of Siena on the Thursday after Sexagesima, and before the reforms of St Pius X, of Ss Peter Martyr and Thomas Aquinas. (These latter two were relegated to proper calendars of specific provinces of the Order.) Many other orders have similar feasts, e.g. the Franciscans, who celebrate the translation of their holy founder’s relics tomorrow.
The translation of St Dominic took place in 1233, twelve years after his death at the age of fifty, and only sixteen years after he had officially founded the Order of Preachers at Toulouse in France. The event is described as follows in the Dominican Martyrology:
“At Bologna, the transferal of the body of our Father Saint Dominic. At the time of Pope Gregory IX, his sacred body was transferred to a worthier place. In addition to the other miracles which occurred, his body gave forth an aroma of such great fragrance that all who were present were filled with a wonderful joy. Thus did God beautifully indicate how pleasing to Him was the excelling sanctity of His apostle.”
The tomb of St Dominic in the church of his order, which is also named for him, in Bologna, Italy. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.
And in the proper Matins lesson (1967) for the feast:
“…there came a delightful perfume which, when the casket was opened, issued forth to gladden the people of Bologna with its all-pervading perfume.”
The second master of the Order, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, wrote thus about this event:
“Present were the venerable Archbishop of Ravenna, surrounded by bishops and a large number of prelates, as well as by a vast multitude of people of different languages who gave remarkable witness to their devotion. Present also was the Bolognese militia, which would not let this holy body, that they considered to be in their safekeeping, be snatched from them. As for the brethren, they were anxious: although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings lest the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to water and heat for such a long period of time, should be found eaten with worms and giving off a foul odor in the same way that might be expected with other corpses, thus destroying the devotion of the people for so great a man. Nonetheless the bishops approached devoutly. The stone that was firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed with instruments of iron. Within the tomb was a wooden coffin, just as it had been placed there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. The body had been buried there, and a small hole remained in the top of the coffin. The upper part of the coffin was moved a little bit.
A reliquary of St Dominic’s skull, made in 1338, now kept at the back of the altar shown above. It is still taken out every year for a procession on his feast day.  
As soon as the stone was taken away, the body gave forth a wonderful odor through the opening; its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts. We ourselves also smelled the sweetness of this perfume, and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Eager with love, we remained devotedly near the body of Dominic for a long time, and we were unable to sate ourselves with this great sweetness. If one touched the body with a hand or a belt or some other object, the odor immediately attached itself to it for a long period of time. The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest—it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ.”
Fr Simon Tugwell, O.P., notes that Blessed Jordan knew St Dominic personally, and began to write his “Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum – Little book on the beginnings of the Order of Preachers” in the same year that the translation occurred, to preserve the memory of St Dominic’s life and legacy.
The Pope Gregory mentioned above testified to the holiness of St Dominic by saying, “I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.”
As is generally the custom, the feast of the translation of the relics takes most of its liturgical texts from the Saint’s principal feast. The Mass is almost identical to the main feast, except for the following:
The Collect for both feasts of St. Dominic:
O God, who were pleased to enlighten Your Church with the merits and teaching of blessed Dominic, Your confessor and our father; grant, by his intercession, that she may not be wanting in temporal help, and may always increase in spiritual growth: Through our Lord.

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