What Is the Dominican Rite?

Editor’s Note: The Ask Father episode, ‘Why Dominicans Offer Mass Differently” with Fr. Albert Kallio, also addresses this topic. It was released on April 24, 2023. [Video] [Audio Only]


How Does the Dominican Rite Differ from the Roman Rite?

Beyond the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Lyon, and Bragan Rites are also all part of the Western liturgical tradition. So too are the various Rites for Religious Orders (e.g., the Carmelite Rite, the Dominican Rite, etc.). The Dominican Rite, a Roman Catholic liturgical rite, is one of the various liturgical rites that have developed over the centuries within the Catholic Church, alongside the more widely known Roman Rite (the Latin Rite) and other regional or Religious Order-specific rites.

The Dominican Order, formally called the Order of Preachers, was founded by St. Dominic in the early 13th century. In those days, when communication was slow and laborious, there were minor liturgical variations across Christendom’s many regions. Religious Orders, centered about their monasteries, often developed their own particular liturgical practices over centuries. Yet, this did not cause confusion or disunity among Christians because few people travelled extensively and those who did travel understood different regions had their own local liturgical customs.

The Dominicans, however, were a different kind of Religious Order. Benedictines, Augustinians, Carthusians, Cistercians and Norbertines, for example, all had the vow of stability. These Religious stayed in the same location all their life, except when a group was selected to establish a new monastery.

The Dominicans, on the other hand, worked among the populace and traveled continually, taking up temporary residence in one of their many convents.[1] As traveling mendicants, moving through many regions, they could not possibly learn or practice all the local liturgical variations. Thus, they standardized their rite according to the practice prevalent in Paris, where they had their major university. This rite was similar to the ancient Roman Rite with some Gallican influence. The Dominicans received papal approval for their Rite, and all Dominicans then practiced this Rite no matter where they went in the world.[2]

When Pope St. Pius V issued Quo primum in 1570 to order the use of the Roman Missal, he allowed only those rites that were at least 200 years old to survive the promulgation of his 1570 Missal. The Dominican Rite is one of those rites. Interestingly, Pope St. Pius V was himself a Dominican.[3]

Key Differences of the Dominican Rite

Chant: The Dominican Rite has its own form of Gregorian chant melodies and notation, which is distinct from the Gregorian chant used in the Roman Rite.

Liturgical Calendar: While the general structure of the liturgical year is similar to the Roman Rite, the Dominican Rite has its own calendar of feasts, with some unique observances and variations. For instance, the Dominican Rite will feature many more Dominican saints. You can learn more about the Dominican Calendar at Brevarium SOP.

Liturgical Books: The Dominicans have their own liturgical books, including the Dominican Missal and the Dominican Breviary, which contain the texts and rubrics for the Mass and the Divine Office. Sadly this, including the Dominican Rite Missal, were altogether virtually dropped after Vatican II. It is still used by some Dominicans who persist in offering the traditional Dominican Rite.

Variations in the Mass: The Dominican Rite has some variations in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. While the Mass is quite similar to the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Rite, there are key and notable differences, which should not scandalize anyone attending the Dominican Rite for the first time. You can view the entire Ordinary of the Mass in the Dominican Rite by clicking here.

Differences in the Dominican Rite of Mass

Amice: The celebrant in the Dominican Rite wears the amice over his head until the beginning of Mass. In the Roman Rite, the amice is worn under the other vestments.

Prayers at the Foot of the Altar: The priest in the Dominican Rite says neither the “Introibo ad altare Dei” nor the Psalm “Judica me Deus“, instead saying “Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus“, with the server responding “Quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus” (“Praise the Lord for He is good; For His mercy endureth forever”).

Confiteor: There is a specific form of the Confiteor that is shorter than the one in the Roman Rite and which references St. Dominic by name.

Preparation of the Chalice: One of the most striking differences is that the priest prepares the chalice at the beginning of Low Mass, before even saying the prayers at the foot of the altar. For a High Mass, the priest prepares the chalice after the Epistle; and at a Solemn High Mass, the chalice is prepared before the signing of the Gospel.

Cruciform Position: The Canon of the Mass is the same as the Canon of the Roman Rite, but the priest holds his hands and arms differently than in the Roman Rite (e.g., for some parts of the Canon, his hands are folded). Immediately after the consecration, for the “Unde et Memores“, he holds his arms in a cruciform position to represent Christ on the Cross.

And there are other slight differences as well. To see these and more, you can view a video online of the Dominican Rite with commentary.

Conclusion

It was Our Lady Who said that one day She will save the world by means of the Rosary and the Brown Scapular, and we have the Dominican Order to thank for the Rosary. If we ever have a chance to experience a Dominican Rite Liturgy, I encourage you to take the opportunity to attend it. The traditional Dominican Rite, Ambrosian Rite, Carmelite Rite, and the others that continue to exist show how subtle differences can nevertheless persist amid unity of doctrine and in an atmosphere of the utmost reverence and piety.


ENDNOTES:

[1] The difference between a monastery and a convent is not based on sex, as is commonly assumed. Religious in a monastery are secluded from the world. Religious in a convent work in the world. Male Religious can inhabit a monastery or a convent, and the same for women Religious. For example, the Carmelites only have monasteries because their Rule requires them to live behind the double grate. In the United States, there were many groups of Sisters who worked in Catholic schools, hospitals, and doing other works of charity. These were the Religious Catholics encountered most frequently and they all lived in convents. For this reason, many Catholics came to think of a “convent” as the home of female Religious.

[2] In 1267 Pope Clement IV approved the Dominican’s liturgical work.

[3] As Protestant heresies sprung up all over Europe, they each introduced their own liturgical variations. Heresy and liturgical aberrations always go hand in hand. It is quite possible that St. Pius V understood how important it was to have a uniform liturgical rite for the Roman Catholic Church because he knew how well the standardization of the Dominican Rite had served his Order.

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