Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dominican Rite Lent


We begin with a picture of Fr. Anthony Patalano, O.P., pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Portland OR blessing ashes before the Mass of Ash Wednesday. Father is using the simple form of the blessing of Ashes before Mass, which consists simply of the Benedictio Cinerum itself with no other ceremonies. Observant readers will notice that, as the celebrant of the day, he already wears the alb and stole (but not, of course, the maniple), and is wearing a cope pro causa solemnitatis. The veiled chalice is already on the altar since the Mass at Holy Rosary that day was a Missa Cantata and so there was no subdeacon to carry it in during the Kyrie, which is what would be done in the Dominican Solemn Mass.

Were this ceremony to being done in a large priory, there would be considerably more ceremony. The ministers would come in procession to the sanctuary in this order: acolyte without candle, subdeacon, deacon with missal, hebdomadarian (celebrant of the week), prior. The major ministers would be vested for Mass as on ferial days (alb and stole, no dalmatics) and the celebrant would not be wearing the chasuble. The prior would wear surplice and stole. On reaching the altar, the minsters would prostrate below the altar steps, and the prior would begin the antiphon Ne reminiscaris without chant; the community would then recite, also without music, the Seven Penitential Psalms. These finished, and following the recited Kyrie and silent Pater Noster, the prior recites the usual collect for these psalms. He then gives the absolution Dominus Iesus Christus, with its references to Peter's power of binding and loosing. This absolution has its roots in the bishop's prayers for the public penitents who were still enrolled on this day in the 1200s. Those who want to read more on Public Penance during Lent in that period may consult my book Cities of God, chapter 7.

This rite over, the subdeacon holds the ashes and the acolyte the holy water; the prior blesses the ashes using the usual prayer, which is sung to the melody of collects during Office. The Dominican blessing of Ashes is as follows:

Almighty and ever-living God, who have mercy on all and hate nothing which you have made, overlooking human sins because of penance, we ask you, who raise up all those struggling in need, also to bless + and sanctify these ashes, which, on account of humility and holy devotion, and to reform our failings, you have commanded to be placed on our heads, after the model of the Ninivites. And grant that, through the invocation of your name, all those who have them on their heads and beg your mercy might merit pardon of their offenses; and, as today we begin the fast of Lent, may they also, on the day of the Ressurection, with minds cleansed, merit to approach your Passover Supper, and in eternity become sharers in your glory. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

As the community sings Psalm 68 (69) under the antiphon Exaudi nos, the friars come forward two by two to the altar steps, kneel and receive ashes on the top of the head (historically on their tonsures) from the prior, who sprinkles each with Holy Water. After giving ashes to the ministers, he receives his ashes from the hebdomadarian. After a closing collect by the prior, the ministers then return to the sacristy to prepare for Mass.

The Dominican formula for ashes has an interesting variant from the Roman: Memento quia cinis es, et in cinerem revertéris. "Remember that you are ashes, and to ashes you will return." Mass then follows in the usual way.

Credit to Fr. LaSalle Halissy Hallissey, O.P, for the photo.


The Mass of the Lord's Supper (Missa In Cena Domini) in the Dominican Rite is preceded by a penitential rite in choir very similar to that before the Mass of Ash Wednesday. In this way just as the first Mass of Lent began with a penitential liturgy and the Mass of Holy Thursday of the Triduum Ante Pascha also does. After None, attended by the deacon, subdeacon, and acolytes, the prior came to the sanctuary. The ministers wore only albs, amices, and cintures, not colored vestments. The prior intoned (without music) the antiphon Ne reminiscáris and then he and the ministers prostrated themselves on the sanctuary floor, as they had on Ash Wednesday. The cantor intoned, and the choir sang the Seven Penitential Psalms. The penitential rite closed with the same prayers and collects that I described in my post on Ash Wednesday.

During this penitential rite the friars in choir took the position called "prostration on the forms." In the photograph above you can see this posture, so I will not describe it. This photo is not actually of the ceremony of Holy Thursday, as the friars would on that day be wearing their black cappas. My guess is that this is probably one of the penitential liturgies during an Ember Day outside of Lent. But the friars' posture and the postion of the three ministers would be the same. At this point the minsters have not yet prostrated. This chapel, by the way, is that of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C., about the year 1909. The chapel looks very similar today except for a mural on the altar wall showing the Dominican Saints before Christ and his Blessed Mother in Heaven, a freestanding altar, and carpet in the presbytery. The old altar with its Mysteries of the Holy Rosary Retable is still there.

After return to the sacristy, the ministers returned in procession for the Mass. As was and is still the practice, no private Masses were celebrated on Holy Thursday, which was traditionally one of the days of general communion for the friars during the Solemn Mass--something I have explained in my post on the Dominican Mass. In the 1200s there were about 10 of these a year, by the 1950s the number of general communions was closer to 20. Otherwise communion was taken by brothers at the priests' private Masses in early morning.

After Holy Thursday Mass, the friars, in procession, took the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. Priests when went, each accompanied by two acolytes carrying cruets of water and wine, for the stripping of all the altars in the monastery. The priests then washed of the altars (or altar stones) with water and wine. Symbolically, this recalled Christ's stripping and the preparation of his body for burial. In this photo you can see Fr. Eugene Sousa, O.P., washing the stone of the altar in the Lay Brother's Chapel at St. Albert the Great Priory in Oakland about 1958. He is assisted by Bro. Peter De Man, who holds the cruet of wine and wears an alb, rather than a surplice, as this is a major feast. During the rite of washing the priest and ministers recited the Psalm Miserere. As this ritual was not part of Mass, and considered "paraliturgical," we continued to perform it even after the general adoption of the Roman Rite in 1969. I remember as a novice ministering the wine for my novicemaster, Fr. Martin de Porres Walsh, O.P., as he washed the main altar in St. Albert's Chapel in 1977.

As was typical of medieval monastic rites and others, the Mandatum, the washing of feet was not performed publicly in the Dominican Rite. It followed the Holy Thursday main meal in the refectory. Here, in a photograph of about 1958, we can see Fr. Fabian Stanley Parmisano, O.P., washing the feet of Bro. Mathias Locket. He is assisted by his deacon, Brother Ambrose Toomey. Both wear albs, as was customary for this rite. That Fr. Fabian was performing this rite suggests that he was filling in for the normal celebrant of the Mandatum, the prior, who was then Fr. William Lewis, O.P. This was probably because Fr. Lewis was very elderly at that time and could not kneel to perform the ceremony.

I have to admit that the washing of feet in a private ceremony after the clergy's Holy Thursday dinner appeals to me more than the current practice with all the controversies it seems to generate. Christ washed his Apostles' feet, not those of the crowd. Just my personal taste, perhaps. The next installment of this series, will focus on Dominican practices of Good Friday.

I thank the Rev. Bro. Pius Pietrzyk, O.P. of the Eastern Province for the photo of D.H.S. Chapel.


Among the most famous ceremonies of Holy Week in the pre-1970 Roman Rite was the vigil service known as Tenebrae ("Shadows"). In the Dominican Rite, although it had been previously been "anticipated" and celebrated in the evening, by the late 1950s, we had restored Tenebrae to its medieval position, early morning. It consisted of Matins, with its nine psalms, and Laudes, with its four psalms, Old Testament canticle, and Gospel Canticle (the Benedictus). This made a total of 15 psalms and canticles. As the psalms of the Office were sung, a candle was snuffed for each psalm or canticle. In this picture you can see the great fifteen-candle "hearse" in use on Good Friday morning in 1958 at St. Albert the Great Priory in Oakland CA. A lay brother in cappa is snuffing the candle of the seventh psalm of Matins, which is the first psalm of the third nocturn.

The readings of the first nocturn of Tenebrae are from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and have, in our rite, a special and distinctive "funereal" chant. We also have a special, very elaborate chant for the Oratio Jeremiae, the "Prayer of Jeremiah," which was, and may still may be, sung at the service on Holy Saturday. The rituals of Tenebrae are well known to our readers, so I will restrict myself to mentioning only a few Dominican variants: we do not have a special ritual for the 15th or "Jesus" candle, it is neither left burning or hidden. We simply snuff it. And the famous "clamor" made by pounding on the choir stalls with books or other objects is not done. There was great variety in the medieval rite of Tenebrae, and our Office is typical of our Rite in its sobriety of symbols. I understand that in some places the Jesus Candle and the Clamor had been introduced into the Domincian service, but they are not in the Ceremoniale and we never had them in the Western Province. In contrast, however, we have a complex series of invocations and responses in place of the Preces on these days, which can still be used with the Liturgy of the Hours today.

The Dominican rite for Good Friday begins by the sacristan dressing the altar with a cloth and two candles. A cantor then chanted the prophecy from Hosea 6, during which the ministers entered and prostrated before the altar steps, as you can see in this photo. The priest is Fr. Blaise Shauer, O.P. (R.I.P), a well-known liturgist of the Western Province, who was substituting for the elderly prior, Fr. William Lewis, O.P. You can see that the ministers wear albs with black stoles and maniples. The choir sings the Tract from Habacuc 3, after which, the priest ascends to the altar to sing the Collect. After the subdeacon sings the lesson from Exodus 12, and the choir the Tract from Psalm 139 [140], three deacons sing the Passion from John's Gospel. Our melody for this differs from the Roman, especially for the section treating the Deposition from the Cross and Burial of Our Lord where we use the "funereal" tone of the Lamentations at Tenebrae. The Passion is followed by the Great Intercessions, which differ from those of the 1962 Roman Rite only in occasional choice of words.

Perhaps the most famous part of the Dominican Good Friday rite is the ceremony for the Veneration of the Cross. As the Intercessions end, two priests and two deacons (in alb, stole, and maniple) arrange themselves before the altar. The deacons will sing the Agios after each of the "Reproaches." The priests take up a covered cross from the altar on its Epistle side during the first Reproach and hold it up. The deacons and choir sing the antiphonally the Agios. The whole community and the ministers genuflect three times, once during each Agios. The Agios is then sung again in Latin, and the same three genuflections are made. This veneration ceremony is also repeated after both the second and third Reproaches. At each Reproach, the cross priests move the veiled cross a step closer to the center of the altar, until it is in the center at the last Agios. By the 1950s, however, in many places, this procession with the cross was restored to its original form. Beginning in the back of the choir (or parish church) the priests brought the cross up by three stages to the altar, a variant that made the procession of the cross more dramatic.

The prior or celebrant then went to up to the priests holding the still covered cross, took it, unveiled it, and turned to display it to the community. He then sang the antiphon Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pepéndit: veníte adorémus, during which all genuflected. As the cantor repeated the antiphon all rose. The prior then gave the cross to the two deacons who had sung the Agios, who then reclined on the steps of the altar holding it between them. The community removed their shoes and, in order of religion, came in procession, two by two, up the aisle of the choir to the cross, stopping to genuflect at the two places where the cross had been at each Agios. Finally, at the altar steps, each genuflected and prostrated on the floor to kiss the cross held by the two reclining priests. In this photo you can see the celebrant, Fr. Blaise Shauer, O.P., venerating the cross held by Fr. Eugene Sousa, O.P., one of the deacons of the cross. The other has his back to us.

This ceremony was choreographed so that each set of three pairs of friars in medio chori genuflected and moved at the same time. A series of antiphons and the hymn Crux Fidelis were sung during this rite. When the last of the friars had venerated, the prior took up the cross, mounted the altar steps, displayed it to the community and sang the antiphon Christus triumphávit, et mors mortem superávit in ætérnum. He then sang the collect Respice while holding the cross. After he had placed it in a suitable place (usually the altar), the veneration ceremony ended. I will not describe the Communion Rite of Good Friday as, after our reform of Holy Week in 1956, it was virtually identical to Pius XII's reformed Communion service.

As one commenter as already mentioned, I should note that the rite of veneration described above can be used by Dominicans with the Novus Ordo service as explained in the 1985 Proprium Ordinis Praedicatorum 2: Missale et Lectionarium. We have used this ceremony each year at our university parish in Charlottesville VA where I live. The people find it very impressive. Also, various elements of Tenebrae may also be used with the new Liturgy of the Hours as explained in the 1982 Proprium Ordinis Praedicatorum 1: Liturgia Horarum.

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