Cloistered Dominican Nuns Corpus Christi Monastery

Liturgy and the Dominican

Alleluia!  He is Risen!!  Indeed He is Risen!  Alleluia!!

That is the traditional greeting between Christians during the Paschal season.  It is one of many customs and expressions that comes from the liturgy and which fills and shapes our daily life.  Liturgy is the official prayer of the Church.  It is offering God the worship and prayer the way He has asked us to offer Him worship and prayer.  It is not something to be simply observed, an obligation for Sunday mornings and then we can go back to “life as usual.”  It’s not something just for priests, nuns, or other religious.  Liturgy is meant to be breathed, to teach and shape the life of every Christian.  When we take the time and effort to plunge into the depths of the liturgy, the prayers, readings, and actions, there are riches untold waiting for us there.

Liturgy done well is graceful and beautiful.  It has the greatest potential to raise our minds to heaven and direct our attention to God.  It reminds us of who God is and of our dignity as persons in Christ.  It is orderly, as our God is not a God of chaos.  Our actions and the actions of the priests and ministers, down to the smallest detail have meaning.  And though we use earthly materials and human voices to celebrate the liturgy, they should come together in such a way to be transformed and raised above the things of earth and give us a foretaste of the life to come.

From our founder, St. Dominic, we inherited a sense of the primacy of liturgy.  St. Dominic was first a canon in his diocese.  In all his travels, he never failed to pray the Divine Office or celebrate Mass.  It taught and shaped him.  Whereas his contemporary St. Francis discouraged his friars from seeking priestly ordination, St. Dominic encouraged it.  Celebrating the sacraments and offering liturgical prayer were to be a primary part of Dominican life.

Shortly after St. Dominic’s death, it became apparent that the Order needed one form of liturgy.  At the time, for many reasons, the form of Mass celebrated from one locale to another differed.  It would be similar to attending Mass or Divine Liturgy in a different rite today (for example, if you’ve only experienced the Latin Rite and then you attend Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine parish).  You could likely pick out certain parts of the liturgy you could identify, but it would be different enough that you would probably have trouble following along.  As the friars of St. Dominic’s new order traveled extensively, they needed to be able to celebrate the sacraments in a uniform way.  And when they came together at assemblies, everyone needed to be able to pray together.  So, over the next several years, the Dominican liturgy came into being.  It even predates the Tridentine form of the Mass by a few hundred years.

Dominican liturgy also reflects Dominican life.  You have heard some of this as we’ve shared a couple videos from our Tenebrae.  You may have noticed the Dominican liturgy calls us to focus on the Lamentations of Jeremiah during the Triduum.  Jeremiah is lamenting the fall of Jerusalem, the heavenly city, and he is imploring the nation of Israel to return to the Lord.  The last words we hear from Jeremiah on Holy Saturday is a prayer to God.  Through the liturgy, we apply these laments, these prayers, to ourselves.  Not just individually, but communally.  Liturgy is the prayer of the Church.  That is, when we pray the liturgy, we pray not just in our individual capacity, but we pray as the Church.  Our lament is not just for our individual personal sins.  It is a lament made on behalf of my neighbor, my community, for people around the world.  The laments in the liturgy are echoed in the prayer of every Dominican, “Lord, what will become of poor sinners?”  Then, on Easter, we share in Christ’s triumph and sing the sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes.  At the end of this post is a video of some pictures from our Easter Vigil and Easter morning Masses, with our schola intoning “Victimae Pascali Laudes.”

From the architecture of our monasteries and chapels, to the prayers, movements, and gestures made in Dominican tradition, our life and spirituality is, or at least should be, reflected and direct a soul’s mind and heart to God.  For a Dominican nun, who spends her life in hidden prayer, her time spent in choir praying the liturgy is her preaching.

In a future post, we will continue the topic of Dominican life shaped by and reflected in the liturgy by looking at solemn high Mass according to the Dominican Rite.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation