Mary’s Care for the Order of Preachers
September 8, 2014
Dominicans celebrate today with the Church the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our special patroness. The traditions of Mary’s gift of the rosary to Holy Father Dominic and the Dominican habit to Bl. Reginald of Orleans are well known and preserved in numerous art works and stained glass windows. Less well remembered are the early traditions of Mary’s role in the Order found in the Vitae Fratrum, the Lives of the Brethren. The first part of that work is about the foundation of the Order beginning not with Holy Father Dominic but with the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first story tells of Mary’s prayer for the Order’s founding as revealed to a monk in ecstasy:
“During the time that I was caught up in rapture I saw our Lady, Mary the Mother of God, during those three days and nights, upon bended knees and with clasped hands, pleading with her Son on behalf of mankind, and beseeching him to forbear yet a while that the world might repent. But although during all that time he spoke never a word, at length upon the third day he yielded and made answer: ‘My own Mother, what can I, or what ought I to do further for the race of men? I sent them patriarchs for their salvation, and for a brief space of time they gave ear unto them; I sent them prophets, and for a while they did penance. After that I myself went unto them, and I gave them apostles, but me they crucified and them they killed. I have since sent them martyrs, confessors, and doctors, and many more, yet despite their toil the world has not amended; nevertheless, at thy prayer — for it is not beseeming that I deny thee aught — I will send unto them preachers and men of truth, through whom the world shall be enlightened and reclaimed.”
Another story included in the Vitae relates how a woman in Lombardy, upon meeting the brethren for the first time, despised them for how “fair complexioned they were” and how “good-looking in their comely habit” they appeared. She said to herself: “How can such men keep chaste going thus through the world?” The story continues with Mary’s rebuke of the woman soon after:
“‘Cannot I watch over [the friars] as they go through the world? But that you may understand the special care I take of this Order, let me show you the brethren you saw yesterday.’ Then opening wide her mantle with both hands, she showed her a great throng of our brethren, and those brothers standing in their midst just as she had seen them. ‘See, now, what care I take of them.’”
May Mary, Queen of Preachers, continue to intercede for the Order and keep it under her motherly mantle.
Image: Caravaggio, Madonna of the Rosary (1607), detail.