There are many ancient Rites still in use in the Church today which gives us a beautiful glimpse into the spirituality of our ancient forebears. The Dominican Rite is one of the most fascinating. I was prompted to look more deeply into it today because at morning mass on this Feast of St. Dominic, the priest said that it is a tradition for Dominicans to process with the processional cross facing backwards. This allows the friars and the priests to “gaze upon the cross.”
The Dominican Rite came about due to the rapid growth of the Order and the need for a uniform liturgical spirit to bind the preachers together. Today, we are used to the Roman Rite being the norm for most of Catholicism. You can imagine as the local churches were built up in the early Church and communications were lacking, that many geographically-oriented and community-unique rites came into existence and flourished.
The Dominican Rite was codified in 1256 and remained in use until 1968, when the Roman Rite of Mass and of the Liturgy of the Hours was adopted. Today, the Dominican Rite may be used with the permission of the master of the order or the local provincial. Other orders have their specific rites with the same stipulations such as the Carmelites, Cistercians and Norbertines. The Carthusian Rite, however, is different and is celebrated as the norm by this congregation.
The Eastern Province of the Order of Preachers (Dominican Province of St. Joseph) has this beautiful reflection on the unique place of this Rite in their spirituality and rich heritage:
The Dominican Rite’s relative sobriety and simplicity likewise gives evidence of the antiquity of its sources. It has nourished the greatest saints of the Order, many of whom – including St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Vincent Ferrer – have written extensively of the Dominican Rite’s unique beauty and theological depth. It is therefore a genuine source of the tradition of the Order, and a privileged means by which to enter into the original spirit of St. Dominic’s friars.
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