The Souls of Dominicans

November 8, 2011

On 8 November, the Dominicans commemorate our deceased members in the Order, those who, having completed the tasks of this life, have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. The video below shows the annual tradition of the student brothers who visit the nearby cemetery of our deceased brethren and pray for them. Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, O.P. wrote the following article about todays’ memorial. I remember hearing once a description of the relative advantages of the various religious orders. The Carmelites were the Order you wanted to pray in, the Benedictines were the Order you wanted to sing in, the Jesuits were the Order you wanted to work in. But what about the Dominicans? Well, the old saying was that that the Dominican Order was the one you wanted to die in. To answer the obvious retort, this was not because the Order was so difficult to live in. Rather, the Order has always had a reputation for its solicitude for its dead. We Dominicans have long had customs and practices that turn our prayers to those who have gone before us. In our houses we still have the custom each day of gathering in the “cloister of the dead”-the place in our Priories where in the early days of the Order the Friars would have been buried-to pray the Psalm De Profundis for the Friars whose anniversary of death falls on that day. This is in addition to our great many “Suffrages” for the dead. When a brother dies, all of the priests of the Province offer Mass for his soul. Our convents say Mass weekly for our deceased brothers. We even have our own All Souls’ Day – November 8 is “Dominican All Souls,” in honor of our deceased brethren. But our concern for the dead extends beyond the Friars Preachers, to regular Masses said and prayers offered for our Dominican sisters, our families, and our benefactors. Even some of the practices of the Church regarding the dead can be traced to the Dominicans. Priests today may offer three Masses on All Soul’s Day. This was first a practice of Dominicans in Spain, which the Pope eventually extended to the whole Church. The oldest known version of the great All Souls’ Day Sequence Dies Irae is found in an early Dominican Missal. Some even speculate that it was written by a Dominican Friar. To be a Dominican is to cultivate a great love and care for the dead. It is-to use the modern term-a part our “Spirituality”. As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, we Christians are bound together not simply by faith, but also and especially by charity, by the grace-given virtue of love. As members of Christ’s body, our actions in charity are not just about ourselves, but redound to the benefit of the whole body. In death that bond of charity is not broken-life is changed, not ended. It is changed in that those who spent their whole lives building up and handing on what we know enjoy, now rely on us. They wait for our prayers and works of charity to aid in the purification of their souls. It would be a great exaggeration to say that All Souls Day is a major feast day of the Order of Preachers. But perhaps that is because we do not need a special day to pray for the dead. It is something we do every day. [youtube]      

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