Dominican Rite: Introduction
The liturgy occupies an important, nay, even an essential place in the scheme of Dominican life. This is only what we should expect to find in an Order whose Founder was a Canon Regular of Osma. For the Canons Regular were officially charged with the due maintenance and solemn celebration of the liturgy. During a period of eight or nine years our holy Father took part in the choral worship of God that was offered up in the cathedral of Osma; and it is not difficult to imagine how the memory of those years of melodious praise of God in the Courts of the Most High would remain with him in after-life as a sweet comfort and a strong inspiration. When, therefore, he came to found his Order he decided to make the liturgy one of the means to be used for saving of souls; and this not only because he knew and loved it, but also because he realised how much the teaching and preaching of the brethren depended for their effectiveness on the unending stream of prayer that ascended daily from the choir stalls of each Dominican home.
As we know that in the life-time of S. Dominic the liturgy celebrated with solemnity at S. Romain in Toulouse and S. Sisto and S. Sabina in Rome, it is but natural to suppose that when he dispersed the Friars Preachers throughout Europe he would bid them remain faithful to the liturgical usages with which they were familiar. On reaching destinations, however, practical difficulties would arise in the carrying out of this duty. They would find local liturgical customs in the different dioceses in which they settled. And when we remember that even in the time of S. Dominic the Order was scattered through eight countries, the conclusion is forced upon us that no small number of local practices would have been encountered. In those days the liturgy was a more fluid thing than it is in our own time. Many of the principal dioceses, such as Lyons, Paris, Rouen, Toledo, Trier, Cologne, Salisbury and York were famous for their variations of the Roman rite. So in the natural order of things variations of form or ceremonial would creep into the Dominican offices. Such a happening would not create any local difficulty; but when for reasons of study, teaching, preaching, or attendance at General Chapters, the fathers were compelled to travel to, or reside in another province, the local customs would cause confusion.
Hence the need of some scheme of unification soon became evident. Though we can feel sure that our holy Father interested himself in this, no official record of his activity has come down to us. It was Left to Blessed Jordan, who ruled the Order from 1221 until 1237, to present a plan whereby some sort of uniformity was secured. Apparently, however, the plan was too hurriedly devised to please everyone; hence the chapter of Cologne, in 1245, appointed a commission of four fathers, belonging to the provinces of France, England, Lombardy and Germany, to revise what had already been done. The work of the commission was approved in the chapters of 1246, 1247 and 1248. Two years later, however, the chapter of London decided that the work of the four had not been thorough enough, and charged them to perfect their labours. The resulting emendation was accepted by the chapter of Metz in 1251 and proposed for embodiment in the Constitutions by the chapter of 1252. For some unknown reason nothing further was heard of the proposal. In the year 1253 no chapter was held; but in the following year Blessed Humbert was elected Master General in the chapter of Buda. This is perhaps the most important event in the history of our liturgy. For by his work in revising the liturgical books of the Roman province, Blessed Humbert had gained no small reputation as a liturgist. The capitulary fathers of Buda begged him to undertake the task of the definitive revision of the Dominican liturgy. He accepted the charge and submitted the fruits of his labours to the chapters of 1255 and 1256, by which they were welcomed and ratified. Under Blessed John of Vercelli this version received the official approbation of the Church from the pen of Clement IV in 1267. From that moment the Dominican liturgy became one of the official liturgies of the Church.
From this it is clear that Blessed Humbert was not the first nor the only author of our liturgy. But he did apply the finishing touches to the work, begun by our holy Father, confirmed by Blessed Jordan, and then corrected by the four unknown brethren. That is to say he worked on the material which he found at hand. But whence came the material? That it was essentially Roman in character is proved by the fact that the whole order and arrangement, and all the important parts, were identical in the two rites. How, then, are the differences to be explained?
The history of the liturgy offers us a general answer. We know that in the fourth century there was in use in the Western Church a rite known as the Gallican, which spread from Milan to Gaul, Spain, England and even to Ireland. In these countries it retained its sway, more or less, until the eighth century, when, owing to the efforts of Pope Adrian and Charles the Great, it was superseded by the Roman Rite. In England, the Synod of Cloveshoe, held in 747, ordained that the Roman rite should be used to the exclusion of every other. Nevertheless, though the Western churches discontinued the use of the Gallican rite they retained some of its practices. In this there was no disloyalty; for those to whom was committed the task of conforming the Gallican to the Roman rite did not hesitate to place certain Gallican usages in the Roman books. Whence it came about that in the thirteenth century the Roman liturgy was used throughout the whole Latin Church, but not to the complete exclusion of the peculiar customs of the older rites, by which particular churches were known. In these matters Rome had always been liberal minded and had not imposed her own liturgy as the sine qua non of communion with herself. She therefore accepted the compilation without troubling too much about infiltrations, which, sanctioned by their antiquity, had crept in. Hence the liturgical books of Gaul and the adjacent countries, even after their Romanisation, retained many local practices. Thus is explained how it was possible to speak of the Paris, Sarum and other rites. Fundamentally these rites were Roman; they contained, however, certain regional customs, which, because they were sanctioned by the Roman Church, were looked upon, and rightly so, as Roman.
Certain similarities between the Dominican and the Sarum rites are of interest, when we remember that one of the four brethren chosen to draw up a scheme of uniformity was a member of the English province. Thus in the Sarum rite the chalice was prepared before Mass; the priest began by saying a verse of the psalm Confitemini, with a shortened Confiteor, followed by Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini. The Introit was generally called Officium; no response was made to the Orate Fratres: the offering of the bread and wine was made by one act; after the Elevation the celebrant stood arms outstretched in the form of a cross; the Particle was put into the chalice after the Agnus Dei. The Sarum rite counted the Sundays as after Trinity.
But these, after all, are slight differences and are connected with those parts of the Mass in which there was variety during the middle ages. One thing seems highly probable, viz. : that as Blessed Humbert was living in Rome at the time when he revised our liturgy he would make use of the Roman rite as be found it in that city as the foundation of his work. Hence when Pope Pius V carried out the reform of the liturgy in 1570 he found our rite so essentially Roman that be had no difficulty in confirming it. One noteworthy change in the Dominican missal had, indeed, to be made at the beginning of the following century: namely, the substitution of the Pian series of epistles and gospels for the Season, in place of the series enjoined by Blessed Humbert and followed from his time. The Brethren, who looked to the epistles and gospels for the inspiration of their sermons, found the differences between the two series troublesome, especially during Lent. Hence in the General Chapter of the Order held at Rome in 1601 (a Chapter at which Cardinal Baronius, who presided, expressed the Pope’s desire for the change), the Capitular Fathers voted that the Pian series be adopted, and committed to the Master General, Father Xavierre, O.P., the work of alteration. Clement VIII approved and sanctioned his work in a Bull dated the 2nd of April, 1602. This alteration did not affect the rite of the Order.