Province of St. Albert the Great, USA

Devotion to Mary

St. Dominic receives rosary from Mary
St. Dominic receives the rosary from Mary, detail of a window in Holy Rosary Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Considering the many saints of the Church admired and promoted by the Dominican Order throughout the ages, one would be tempted to stop such an investigation with those thought to be the greatest of all of the apostolic preachers: Peter & Paul, John the Baptist, or Mary from Magdala. While the Dominicans have always had a special affinity for these great preachers, no one has received more veneration from the Order than the Blessed Virgin Mother. Indeed, she has played a significant role in the development and recreation of Dominican spirituality for every century.

It was Mary who first experienced in her life the movement of grace so powerfully present in the heart of every evangelical preacher. More profoundly than any other, it was she who first received the Word of God into her very self through the unmerited grace of the Holy Spirit. There she contemplated “what this might mean” and from a stance of total self-offering she gave that Word to the world. She unwaveringly said “yes” to God each step of the way. This is the very movement that each friar preacher longs for as he mounts the pulpit of the church and of his life.

A stained glass window in the Dominican priory in Dubrovnik
A window in the Dominican priory in Dubrovnik, courtesy of Fr. Laurence Lew, OP

Thus, it is devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, that is of paramount importance when considering Dominican spirituality. Stories abound throughout the history of the Order of visions and miracles attributed to Our Lady, but the one in the stained-glass window to the left illustrates them. According to Blessed Cecilia, as St. Dominic was praying in the dormitory at Santa Sabina late one night, three women entered. The woman in the center began to sprinkle the sleeping friars with holy water. She explained to Dominic that each evening when they invoked her as the most gracious advocate, she prostrated herself before her Son, asking Him to preserve the Order. The two women who accompanied her were St. Cecilia and St. Catherine of Alexandria. As Dominic continued praying, he saw our Lord with Mary and religious of all the Orders except his own. When our Lord asked him why he was weeping, Dominic explained that none of his Order appeared to be in heaven. The Lord placed His hand on Mary’s shoulder and said, "I have entrusted your Order to my Mother." Then, at Jesus’ request, Mary opened her cloak and Dominic saw many members of his Order. Cecilia reported that the next morning Dominic gave the friars at chapter "a long and very beautiful sermon, exhorting them to love and reverence the Blessed Virgin Mary." He related his experience, as he did later to Cecilia and the other nuns at San Sisto.

Most Orders of the Church founded during the Middle Ages embraced Our Lady as their patroness. While the symbolism of being covered by Mary’s mantle may also be found in the Cistercian tradition, what is significant is the conviction of Blessed Cecilia, one of the earliest members of the Order, that the Order of Preachers was personally protected by Mary. While no one can be sure of the exact details surrounding this apparition, one thing is certain: Dominicans through the ages have made devotion to Mary and the promotion of the rosary a significant part of their ministry and spiritual life.

Mother Mary, Preacher of the Word, fill the hearts of your daughters and sons with the same zeal which you possessed in bringing the Word into the world.