Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Friars Preachers, also knows and the Order of Preachers, or more commonly, the Dominicans. Much is known about this twelfth century powerhouse, and although he is not a Doctor of the Church, three Dominicans are: St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Catherine of Siena.
There are a few cool tidbits that I never knew before I started writing this post. As I always get a charge out of such things, I thought I’d pass them along. They start with his mom…
- St. Dominic’s, mother, Blessed Joan of Aza, and father, Felix Guzman, a man of Spanish nobility, had difficulty conceiving a child. Blessed Joan prayed to the patron saint of pregnant women, Saint Dominic of Silos, for his intercession. His powerful intercession blessed the couple, which is how St. Dominic (de Guzman), whose feast we celebrate today, received his name. While his mother was pregnant with Dominic, she had a vision that her little baby was a dog who would set the world on fire with a torch carried in his mouth. A dog with a torch in its mouth became the symbol of the Dominican order – the Order of Preachers.
- When baby Dominic was baptized, legend has it that his godmother saw a star shining from his forehead. This became a symbol he used in art pertaining to St. Dominic and led him to be declared the patron saint of astronomy.
- It is said that St. Dominic raised four people from the dead, and “legend says that Dominic received a vision of a beggar who, like Dominic, would do great things for the Faith. Dominic met the beggar the next day. He embraced him and said, ‘You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us.’ The beggar was Saint Francis of Assisi.” (source, source)
That being said, however, St. Dominic is a giant in the Church. Having begun his priestly life as a cloistered Augustinian, Dominic ended his life having started his own order. His bishop requested that he travel to France on behalf of the King of Castile to bring back the King’s betrothed. En route, St. Dominic witnessed first had the Albigensian heresy, which, in quick summary, teaches that the spirit is good and the body is bad, each having different creators, and that Jesus was only a spiritual being, contrary to Church teaching that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.
While in Languedoc, France, he successfully preached and taught the Truth of the Faith and returned many to the fullness of Faith. This experience convinced him that God’s call in his life was to preach and to teach in order to save souls and bring them back into the fold. It was from this call that he founded the first convent and monastery and established his order in 1215.
In the year 1214 Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, was in anguish because he was failing in his attempt to convert the Albigensian Cathar heretics. St. Dominic attributed this to the deepness and gravity of sinfulness of the heretics and the poor example of Catholics. He went alone in to the forest and wept and prayed continuously for three days to appease the anger of Almighty God. He flogged his body and scourged his flesh. From the fasting, pain, and exhaustion, he passed in to a coma.
Dominic experienced an apparition of Blessed Mother Mary while in the coma, which forever links Saint Dominic and the Rosary. The Immaculate Mary with three angels appeared and asked St. Dominic, “Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?” Dominic’s response was Blessed Mary knew better than he because she is a part of our salvation.
Mary responded, “I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter* which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.”
Shortly after this apparition he preached the Holy Rosary to the unconverted Albigensian heretics. To modify the Paternoster (150 Our Father’s) and in compliance with the instruction in the apparition, the design of the Saint Dominic Rosary came in to being. He set apart fifteen mysteries of the rosary, grouped them in to three sets of five decades each.
The groupings were designated as Joyous Mysteries, Sorrowful Mysteries and Glorious Mysteries. This design helped the Albigensian heretics to better understand and to imitate the virtuous life of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Immaculate and Blessed Mary.
* The “Angelic Salutation” is the “Hail Mary” prayer and the Psalter is the 150 Psalms. Thus, she wanted 150 Hail Mary’s – which is what the Holy Rosary is – 15 decades of Hail Mary’s with 15 corresponding mysteries to contemplate.
Two recommended books on the sweet and Immaculate Mary: one by Saint Louis de Montfort, the other by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. You can’t go wrong with either…or both! (source)
We still need to use the same “battering ram” today to reach hardened souls and win them over to God.
If you don’t already pray the rosary, I encourage you to start. Do what you can, not what you can’t, but commit – once a week? Twice a week? On Fridays? I have a good friend who started praying the rosary one Lent, because, in her words, “I couldn’t stand praying the rosary, so I thought I’d pray it because it would make a great penance.” Prayer of the rosary has transformed her life, even to the point of having gone to Fatima. It only takes 15-20 minutes to pray; all you need to do is, like Our Lady, say, “Yes!”
If you already pray the rosary, but don’t do so daily, I encourage you to start. I too, like my friend, started praying the rosary daily during Lent when challenged to do so – just for Lent – by a preacher at a parish mission. I already prayed it, but not regularly. Lent helped me to make it a habit. That parish mission was about 20 years ago. I started then and never stopped. I exhort you to choose a time of day that works, and stick to it. It takes about 3 weeks to form a habit. If you commit yourself to praying the rosary daily for 3 weeks, it will become the foundation of a transformation in your prayer life. Even if it’s in the car while you drive, Our Lady will scoop up that prayer and put it the feet of her Son.
If you already pray the rosary daily, take time to go deeper into the meditation of its mysteries. I pray the rosary daily, and I can’t tell you how many times I apologize for the scattered nature of my prayer, so this call is to me as well as to you. Nonetheless, I know Our Lady takes my meager crumbs and makes them something beautiful for God!
“One day, through the rosary and the scapular, I will save the world.”
St. Dominic, pray for us! Anne