THE DOMINICAN HABIT
Members of the Dominican Lay Fraternities and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic (previously called Dominican tertiaries) are privileged to wear the white Dominican scapular. As priests of the Priestly Fraternity are not Dominican friars, the use of the full Dominican habit is limited to specified occasions by the Prior Provincial and his Council in order to avoid any possible confusion among the faithful. As the lay Dominican Mary Sheehy explains, the personal holiness of a Dominican, be it a priest, nun, sister, or lay person, is of deep significance. St. Paul tells us in Romans: From the visible things around us we learn of the invisible things of God. If there are so few looking for Jesus in our world today, perhaps it is because there are too few attracting them to Him. Blessed Humbert of Romans, OP (the fifth Master General of the Order) provides us with the text (De Vita Regulari) regarding the purpose of the habit. He sees two things specifically to be taken into consideration: (1) the exterior appearance and (2) the interior affection.
According to Dominican tradition, the Dominican habit was given to Blessed Reginald of Orléans, OP by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sister Mary Jean Dorcy, OP, in her book Saint Dominic, introduces us to Reginald. Reginald, dean of the church of Orléans was a canonist, and had the chair of canon law at the University of Paris. He went to Rome on his way to visit the Holy Land with his bishop, and it was there that he met Saint Dominic. Hardly had Reginald and Dominic met—and Reginald resolved to enter Saint Dominic’s Order—when Reginald was stricken with one of those swift and deadly Roman fevers against which there was so little help in the thirteenth century.
We read that Dominic, grieved at the thought of losing Reginald when he was scarcely born into the Order, earnestly pleaded with God to spare his life. Tradition relates that while Dominic was praying, the Virgin Mary came to the sick man to answer the prayer in person. Reginald lay awake, burning with fever; but there was no question of his imagining the vision of the Virgin and her two companions. Blessed Humbert of Romans, tells the story best: “He fell sick, so that the physicians despaired even of saving his life. The blessed Dominic, grieving at the thought of losing a child ere as yet he had scarcely enjoyed him, turned himself to the divine mercy, earnestly imploring God (as he himself has related to the brethren) that He would not take from him a son as yet but hardly born, but at least to prolong his life, if it were but a little while. And even whilst he yet prayed, the Blessed Virgin Mary, accompanied by two young maidens of surpassing beauty, (some say these were Saint Cecelia and Saint Catherine of Alexandria) appeared to Master Reginald as he lay awake and parched with burning fever; and he heard Mary speaking to him saying, ‘Ask me what thou wilt, and I will give it to thee.’ And as he considered within himself, one of the maidens who accompanied the Blessed Virgin suggested to him that he should ask for nothing, but should leave it to the will and pleasure of the Virgin Mary, to which he right willingly assented. Then she, extending her hand, anointed his eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, hands, reins, and feet, pronouncing certain words meanwhile appropriate to each unction of his reins and feet: the first were, ‘Let thy reins be girt with the girdle of chastity:’ and the second, ‘Let thy feet be shod for the preaching of the Gospel of peace.’ Then she showed to him the habit of the Friars Preachers, saying to him, ‘Behold the habit of thy order.’ And so she disappeared from his eyes. And at the same time, Reginald perceived that he was cured, having been anointed by the Mother of Him who has the secrets of salvation and of health.”
The scapular was traditionally the most important article of the habit, signifying one as definitively a member of an order. It was originally a kind of apron. It is precious to the Dominicans because it was given to the Order by the Blessed Virgin Mary through Blessed Reginald of Orléans. It is identified as the breastplate or shield—with the Rosary as the sword—of the Dominican. Pope Honorius III described the Dominicans as “unconquered athletes of Christ, armed with the buckler of Faith and the helmet of salvation who will draw the sword of the Word of God upon the enemies of the Faith.”
In the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Dominic, the scapular is blessed before it is given during the Rite of Vestition (Clothing). The prayer of blessing is either of the following two prayers:
Lord, Jesus Christ,
you deigned to be clothed
with the flesh of our mortal condition.
Begging your infinite kindness,
we ask you to bless + this habit
which our holy forebears established to be worn
as an expression of innocence and holiness.
Make the one who wears it worthy to be clothed in you.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
the author and perfecter of all holiness,
you call all who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit
to the fullness of the Christian life and
the perfection of charity.
With the aid of Mary, the Mother of Mercy,
look with kindness on your servants,
who devoutly receive this scapular of our Order.
Let them become sharers in the image of Christ your Son
and, after they have fulfilled their mission on earth,
with the help of the Virgin Mother of God
and Patron of the Order,
may they be worthy to enter into the joy of Your house.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then in the Rite of Vestition, the Prior Provincial places the scapular on the candidates saying:
Receive this habit whereby,
with the help of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy,
admission into the Dominican Family is granted to you,
and membership in our Fraternity is expressed.
Act in such a manner that,
through the intercession of the Mother of God,
that you may always strive,
for the glory of the Trinity
and the good of the Church and humankind,
to clothe yourself in Christ
and to manifest him living in you.
Then the Prior Provincial, turning toward the new brothers, says:
Having been clothed with this scapular of our Order,
you have been accepted into the
Priestly Fraternity of Saint Dominic,
so that you may be able to more eagerly
serve Christ and His Church,
in the spirit and charism of this Order.
So that you may more perfectly attain this,
I, by the power invested in me,
admit you to participation in all the spiritual goods
of the entire Dominican Family.
From that point on, the Dominican scapular is put on while saying this prayer:
Show yourself a mother,
He will hear your pleading
Whom your womb has sheltered
And whose hand brings healing.
The white color of the scapular suggests to members of the Priestly Fraternity the same purity of mind as to the vowed brothers and sisters in the Order. The scapular speaks continually of the regulation of character to the interior man in the same way Saint Augustine intended it to for his saints.