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Written by Fr. Joseph Ellul OP

Translated by Fr. Dominic Scerri OP

The spiritual tradition of the Order of Preachers is built on these two conclusions.  And Mary is the model which Saint Dominic and his brothers followed.  The presence of Mary in the life of the Order is seen from the beginning of its history.  Blessed Jordan recounts the event that led Blessed Reginald of Orleans to join the Order:


Once, when he ran a high temperature, the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Mother of Mercy, came to visit and appeared to him.  She was holding something like healing oil with which she smeared his eyes, nose, ears, mouth, waist, hands and feet, and said these words: “I smear your feet with sacred oil as a preparation for the Gospel of peace.”  Besides all this, she also showed him the complete habit of the Order.  All of a sudden, he felt cured completely and healthy over all his body...(1).


This story does not only show Mary’s share in the Order’s entrance of this saintly man, but also that which spells out the Dominican identity: the habit.


But that which shows mostly the Marian identity of the Order is the prayer of the rosary.  There is a link going back centuries between the Order and the meaning and spreading of this prayer so dear.  We all know that its roots are found in the custom of 150 Our Father (so called Psalterium Christi) together with 150 Hail Mary those days only consisting of the angell’s salute (Lq 1:28) (so called Psalterium Virginis Mariae).  Saint Dominic and his colleagues used to recite the Hail Mary kneeling down.  It was only in the succeeding century that, with the Hail Mary, Elizabeth’s salutation was added (Lq 1:42).  Later, as we all know, this prayer was pushed forward through Alain de la Roche (+ 1475); we can say that it was him to construct this prayer in its actual form.  He distributed the 150 Hail Mary in groups of ten with the prayer of Our Father in between them and named it Maria’s Psalter (2).       


The Order’s devotion to Mary  was continued and grew in the time of Blessed Jordan of Saxony.  Writing how the tradition of singing the Hail Mary was introduced, starting from the Province of Lombardy, Blessed Jordan states:


How many tears of devotion were shed by the holy praise to the devoted Mother of Christ!  How many people hearing and singing that antiphon feel inspired by love and their heart filled with saintly enthusiasm!  We believe that our Saviour’s Mother is enchanted by this exaltation, that she’s pleased with this homage.  A very religious and credible man told me that, very frequently, while the monks were singing Turn then our advocate, he saw our Lord’s Mother, prostrate in front of her Son, praying him to look after the whole Order.  I am writing this story so that those religious, who in future read it, will increase their devotion of praising the Virgin (3). 


The title of the first chapter of the first part of the work of Gerard Frachet The lives of the Brethren gives us a clear picture of the adoration and love that the Order had always toward Mary and that is found in the core of life and his apostolate: How the Madonna received this Order from Jesus Christ.


Frachet speaks also about the particular custom Blessed Jordan embraced:

He was a great devotee of the Virgin Mary, and he knew her acute wish to enlarge and look over the Order of which he was the leader.


A monk, out of great curiosity, went into hiding to watch what he prayed for in front of the Madonna altar; the Master got to know this and asked whom he was.  The other  replied: “I am your son Berthold.”  The Master told him to have a rest, but as the religious replied that he wished to know what he was praying, the Saint started to explain his way of prayer mostly to the Virgin Mary, and told him that, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, he used to say five psalms according to the five letters of the name ‘MARIA’; (4).  At first he began with the ‘Ave, maris stella’, then reciting ‘Magnificat’, ‘To you Lord, I lift my soul’, ‘Attribute’, ‘When turning’, ‘To you I raise my eyes’, and ends every psalm with ‘Glory be to the Father’,  ‘Hail Mary’  and  a  genuflection.   And,  to the religious, he went on to say: “My son, I give you an example, so that you will be able to understand how well it is to praise the Mother of Our Lord.” (5)


Blessed Humbert of Romans collects briefly the presence of Mary in the life of the Preacher Brothers with these words:


In our Order, when one says his profession he makes his vows to her also and says: “I profess and promise obedience to God and to Blessed Mary”...but the respect and devotion that we have to show to the Blessed Virgin request us to do more than what the Constitution says.  Because she was of great help for the setting up of the Order and we hope she accompanies it to its end (6).


It is an old tradition in our Order that the day begins and ends praising to Mary.  Here, it is important to observe that, in the Order, devotion to Mary is not based on sentimentalism but on the way how Mary is seen in the light of the Order’s identity and mission as an Order of Preachers.  Therefore, the Order has at heart a Marian feast like that of the Annunciation.  And this for two reasons:

  1. Because this event gives the news of the birth of Jesus, the saviour of the world.

  2. Because by means of her answer she generated the Word of God and so the Word became man.  The feast of the Annunciation is the feast of the Incarnation of the Word of God. 


In the light of all this, we can understand the union between the spiritual tradition of the Order of Preachers and the identity and mission it performed.  This is the legacy left to us by Saint Dominic as a founder, leader and father.



1. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, The Beginnings of the Order of Preachers no. 57.

2. As to the roots and developments this prayer went through, see Joseph Ellul O.P. Biblical Rosry,

Dominican Publications, Malta 2003, pp. 4-10.

3. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, op.cit., no. 120; see also Gerard Frachet O.P., Vitae Fratrum. 1 Section, First Part, First Chapter, nn.57-59.

4. Fr. Valentine Barbara adds a note regarding this custom: "In the Dominican Oder, this sort of prayer is known as the 'Salutation to the Name of Madonna' of Blesed Jordan; but it was not Jordan who designed it as it was already known.  The prayer begins with the hymn to the Madonna 'Peace Star of the Sea', then five psalms are recited where the first letter of each, one after another, forms the name 'MARIA'.  

5. Gerard Frachet O.P., op. cit., third Part, Chapter 24, n. 120, p. 66.  See also note 3 in the same page.

6. Humbert of Romans, De Vita Regulari vol.II Edition Berthier, Rome 1888, p. 72, taken from the Proper of the Order of Preachers, p. 485

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