The Lives of the Brethren, which chronicles the experiences of the first Dominican Friars, relates how before the foundation of the Dominican Order a good monk was caught up in ecstasy:
[He] saw the Lady Mary Mother of God kneeling with her hands joined and begging her Son to wait for the human race to do penance. He put his faithful Mother off many times, but finally answered: ‘My Mother, what more can or should I do for the world? I have sent them prophets and patriarchs for their salvation and they did little to reform; I came myself and sent out apostles, and these evil people killed me and them; I sent so many martyrs, doctors and witnesses, and they would not listen to them. But, because it is not right for me to deny you anything, I will give them preachers to enlighten and correct them.
Years later, when this monk had seen and heard the preaching of two Dominicans, he recognized that the Order of Preachers was indeed the band of preachers sent by Christ at his Mother’s request. The Dominican Order has always had deep Marian roots, and today we celebrate the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary over the whole Order.
The patronage of Mary has profoundly shaped the Order’s character. The Dominican habit, complete with a rosary worn on the belt, was not constructed solely by our founder. Its scapular was given by our Lady to a Dominican of the first generation, Bl. Reginald of Orleans. Many of the Order’s greatest saints, following St. Dominic, were sustained by devotion to the Queen of Preachers. Our most beautiful chants and hymns, some of the great treasures of the Order, are dedicated to Mary.
The Order’s Marian devotion has in turn helped shape that of the whole Church. For 800 years, Dominicans have preached and promulgated the Rosary throughout the Church. Special mention here goes to St. Pius V, the “Pope of the Rosary.” Furthermore, the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary was developed by the Third-Order Dominican, St. Louis de Montfort.
As wonderful as all that the Dominicans have done for the Church in Mary’s honor may be, our patronage under Mary isn’t about what we do. Rather, what we do is a consequence of our patronage, of Mary’s intercession on our behalf. She requests for us graces that we could never dream of, protects us with her constant prayers, and blesses our apostolic work.
Late one night, St. Dominic was walking through the dormitory checking upon the brethren, as was his custom, when he saw three beautiful women enter. The middle woman, far more beautiful and dignified than the others – or any other – walked from bed to bed sprinkling the brethren with holy water and blessing them. She identified herself to St. Dominic, saying “I am the one you call upon in the evening. When you say, Turn, therefore, most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us, I prostrate myself before my Son and ask him to preserve the Order.”
Every night at the conclusion of Compline, we Dominicans sing the Salve Regina, kneeling in the chapel in veneration of our Lady; at the same time Mary prostrates herself before her Son. We are only kneeling, but she lowers herself that much more to protect her sons. And this is the true meaning of Mary’s patronage – she bestows the Lord’s blessings constantly, even while we sleep, enabling us to preach the grace of God who “willed that the Order of Preachers be founded for the salvation of souls under the special patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that the Order be filled with her unfailing gifts.”
In this same spirit, St. Pius V reflected on the power of Mary’s intercession in words as relevant today as they were 500 years ago:
The inspired Blessed founder of the Order of Friar Preachers, in circumstances similar to those in which we now find ourselves, when parts of France and of Italy were unhappily troubled by the heresy of the Albigenses, which blinded so many of the worldly that they were raging most savagely against the priests of the Lord and the clergy, raised his eyes up unto heaven, unto that mountain of the Glorious Virgin Mary, loving Mother of God.
For she by her seed has crushed the head of the twisted serpent, and has alone destroyed all heresies, and by the blessed fruit of her womb has saved a world condemned by the fall of our first parent. From her, without human hand, was that stone cut, which, struck by wood, poured forth the abundantly flowing waters of grace…
Christ’s faithful, inflamed by these prayers, began immediately to be changed into new men… The darkness of heresy began to be dispelled, and the light of the Catholic Faith to be revealed.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Our Lady Blessing the Sleeping Friars