HOMILY for the Memorial of the Patronage of BVM over the Order
Until recently today’s memorial was kept on 22 December because the Order was approved by Pope Honorius III on that date in 1216, but it was moved to this month of May which is traditionally the month of Mary – a special month set aside by the Church to remember the intercession and holiness of Our Lady, and for all of us to honour her. As May heralds the arrival of Spring and blossoms, so we remember Mary because as our Holy Father Pope Benedict said: “She is, in fact, the most beautiful flower to blossom in creation, the ‘rose’ that appeared in the fullness of time, when God, sending his Son [through Mary], gave the world a new spring”. So, today we thank God for Our Lady’s motherhood, for her special role in our salvation, and for her on-going protection and care for each of us, and especially for the Dominicans who were once called the ‘Friars of Mary’.
For one of the earliest Dominican texts, the ‘Lives of the Brethren’, written in the 1250s begins by saying that the Order of Preachers was “the fruit of the Virgin Mary’s prayers”. Because Our Lady desires that all people should come to know the Truth, that is, to know her Son and so, to find that peace which the world cannot give. Thus she prayed that Providence would establish on earth an Order dedicated to preaching the Truth of Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls, that is, so that Man might be at peace and friendship with God. And so he did!
The Order has long had a great devotion to Mary and from the beginning regarded her as our heavenly patroness and protector. St Dominic said that the Lord appeared to him in our Roman priory of Santa Sabina and told him: “I have given your Order to My Mother”. The second Master of the Order, Bl. Jordan established the custom, now commonplace in most religious orders, of singing the ‘Salve Regina’ each night after Compline to invoke Mary’s protection. So, the ‘Lives of the Brethren’ says that on singing the ‘Salve’, “at once the phantoms were put to flight [and] those who were tormented were left in peace”. So, again, through Mary comes the peace which the world cannot give. And another story told in that book says that Our Lady appeared to Bl. Reginald and showed him the habit of the Order which included the white scapular. To this day, the scapular is the only part of our habit that is blessed as a sign of Mary’s gift and protection. It is blessed on the day of our simple profession, when we Dominicans profess and “promise obedience to God, to Blessed Mary, and to blessed Dominic”, and only then to the Master of the Order. So, again we see the pre-eminent place of Mary over the Order.
But we Dominicans are not privileged in such a way because we are especially good, but because we have a particular need of Mary’s care since we are such sinners, such “young ones” as the ‘Lives of the Brethren’ put it, and thus somewhat inexperienced in the way of perfection and unschooled in virtue! The medieval Church were especially fond of the image of Mary sheltering sinners under her mantle; she is “Refuge of sinners”. And so, once when St Dominic was caught up in prayer he had a vision of heaven. But he looked and saw peoples from all walks of lives, and an array of religious habits but not a single black-and-white Dominican habit. So, he wept, and the Lord comforted him, and the Virgin Mary “opened the cloak she was wearing… and under it he saw a large multitude of the brethren”. There, in the place where sinners were accustomed to take refuge, were the Dominicans. May Our Lady continue to “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”. Amen.
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