Catholic Encyclopedia – Dominican Rite


A name denoting the distinctive ceremonies embodied in the privileged liturgical books of the Order of Preachers.

(a) Origin and development

The question of a special unified rite for the order received no official attention in the time of Saint Dominic, each province sharing in the general liturgical diversities prevalent throughout the Church at the time of the order’s confirmation (1216). Hence, each province and often each convent had certain peculiarities in the text and in the ceremonies of the Holy Sacrifice and the recitation of the Office. The successors of Saint Dominic were quick to recognize the impracticability of such conditions and soon busied themselves in an effort to eliminate the embarrassing distinctions. They maintained that the safety of a basic principle of community life unity of prayer and worship-was endangered by this conformity with different diocesan conditions. This belief was impressed upon them more forcibly by the confusion that these liturgical diversities occasioned at the general chapters of the order where brothers from every province were assembled.

The first indication of an effort to regulate liturgical conditions was manifested by Jordan of Saxony, the successor of Saint Dominic. In the Constitutions (1228) ascribed to him are found several rubrics for the recitation of the Office. These insist more on the attention with which the Office should be said than on the qualifications of the liturgical books. However, it is said that Jordan took some steps in the latter direction and compiled one Office for universal use. Though this is doubtful, it is certain that his efforts were of little practical value, for the Chapters of Bologna (1240) and Paris (1241) allowed each convent to conform with the local rites. The first systematic attempt at reform was made under the direction of John the Teuton, the fourth master general of the order. At his suggestion the Chapter of Bologna (1244) asked the delegates to bring to the next chapter (Cologne, 1245) their special rubrics for the recitation of the Office, their Missals, Graduals, and Antiphonaries, “pro concordando officio”. To bring some kind of order out of chaos a commission was appointed consisting of four members, one each from the Provinces of France, England, Lombardy, and Germany, to carry out the revision at Angers. They brought the result of their labours to the Chapter of Paris (1246), which approved the compilation and ordered its exclusive use by the whole Order. This same chapter approved the “Lectionary” which had been entrusted to Humbert of Romains for revision. The work of the commission was again approved by the Chapters of Montepulciano (1247) and Paris (1248).

But dissatisfaction with the work of the commission was felt on all sides, especially with their interpretation of the rubrics. They had been hurried in their work, and had left too much latitude for local customs. The question was reopened and the Chapter of London (1250) asked the commission to reassemble at Metz and revise their work in the light of the criticisms that had been made; the result of this revision was approved at the Chapters of Metz (1251) and Bologna (1252) and its use made obligatory for the whole order. It was also ordained that one copy of the liturgical books should be placed at Paris and one at Bologna, from which the books for the other convents should be faithfully copied. However, it was recognized that these books were not entirely perfect, and that there was room for further revision. Though this work was done under the direction of John the Teuton, the brunt of the revision fell to the lot of Humbert of Romains, then provincial of the Paris Province. Humbert was elected Master General of the Chapter of Buda (1254) and was asked to direct his attention to the question of the order’s liturgical books. He subjected each of them to a most thorough revision, and after two years submitted his work to the Chapter of Paris (1256). This and several subsequent chapters endorsed the work, effected legislation guarding against corruption, constitutionally recognized the authorship of Humbert, and thus once and for all settled a common rite for the Order of Preachers throughout the world.

(b) Preservation

Clement IV, through the general, John of Vercelli, issued a Bull in 1267 in which he lauded the ability and zeal of Humbert and forbade the making of any changes without the proper authorization. Subsequent papal regulation went much further towards preserving the integrity of the rite. Innocent XI and Clement XII prohibited the printing of the books without the permission of the master general and also ordained that no member of the order should presume to use in his fulfilment of the choral obligation any book not bearing the seal of the general and a reprint of the pontifical Decrees. Another force preservative of the special Dominican Rite was the Decree of Pius V (1570), imposing a common rite on the universal Church but excepting those rites which had been approved for two hundred years. This exception gave to the Order of Friars Preachers the privilege of maintaining its old rite, a privilege which the chapters of the order sanctioned and which the members of the order gratefully accepted. It must not be thought that the rite has come down through the ages absolutely without change. Some slight corruptions crept in despite the rigid legislation to the contrary. Then new feasts have been added with the permission of the Roman Pontiffs and many new editions of the liturgical books have been printed. Changes in the text, when they have been made, have always been effected with the idea of eliminating arbitrary mutilations and restoring the books to a perfect conformity with the old exemplars at Paris and Bologna. Such were the reforms of the Chapters of Salamanca (1551), Rome (1777), and Ghent (1871). Several times movements have been started with the idea of conforming with the Roman Rite; but these have always been defeated, and the order still stands in possession of the rite conceded to it by Pope Clement in 1267.

(c) Sources of the rite

To determine the sources of the Dominican Rite is to come face to face with the haze and uncertainty that seems to shroud most liturgical history. The thirteenth century knew no unified Roman Rite. While the basis of the usages of north-western Europe was a Gallicanized-Gregorian Sacramentary sent by Adrian IV to Charlemagne, each little locality had its own peculiar distinctions. At the time of the unification of the Dominican Rite most of the convents of the order were embraced within the territory in which the old Gallican Rite had once obtained and in which the Gallico-Roman Rite then prevailed. Jordan of Saxony, the pioneer in liturgical reform within the a order, greatly admired the Rite of the Church Paris and frequently assisted at the recitations of the Office at Notre-Dame. Humbert of Romains, who played so important a part in the work of unification, was the provincial of the French Province. These facts justify the opinion that the basis of the Dominican Rite was the typical Gallican Rite of the thirteenth century. But documentary evidence that the rite was adapted from any one locality is lacking. The chronicles of the order state merely that the rite is neither the pure Roman nor the pure Gallican, but based on the Roman usage of the thirteenth century, with additions from the Rites of Paris and other places in which the order existed. Just from where these additions were obtained and exactly what they were cannot be determined, except in a general way, from an examination of each distinctive feature.

Two points must be emphasized here: (1) the Dominican Rite is not an arbitrary elaboration of the Roman Rite made against the spirit of the Church or to give the order an air of exclusiveness, nor can it be said to be more gallicanized then any use of the Gallico-Roman Rite of that period. It was an honest and sincere attempt to harmonize and simplify the widely divergent usages of the early half of the thirteenth century. (2) The Dominican Rite, formulated by Humbert, saw no radical development after its confirmation by Clement IV. When Pius V made his reform, the Dominican Rite had been fixed and stable for over three hundred years, while a constant liturgical change had been taking place in other communities. Furthermore the comparative simplicity of the Dominican Rite, as manifested in the different liturgical books, gives evidence of its antiquity.

(d) Liturgical books

The rite compiled by Humbert contained fourteen books: (1) the Ordinary, which was a sort of an index to the Divine Office, the Psalms, Lessons, Antiphons, and Chapters being indicated by their first words. (2) The Martyrology, an amplified calendar of martyrs and other saints. (3) The Collectarium, a book for the use of the hebdomidarian, which contained the texts and the notes for the prayers, chapters, and blessings. (4) The Processional, containing the hymns (text and music) for the processions. (5) The Psalterium, containing merely the Psalter. (6) The Lectionary, which contained the Sunday homilies, the lessons from Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints. (7) The Antiphonary, giving the text and music for the parts of the Office sung outside of the Mass. (8) The Gradual, which contained the words and the music for the parts of the Mass sung by the choir. (9) The Conventual Missal, for the celebration of solemn Mass. (10) The Epistolary, containing the Epistles for the Mass and the Office. (11) The Book of Gospels. (12) The Pulpitary, which contained the musical notation for the Gloria Patri, the Invitatory, Litanies, Tracts, and the Alleluia. (13) The Missal for a private Mass. (14) The Breviary, a compilation from all the books used in the choral recitation of the Office, very much reduced in size for the convenience of travellers.

By a process of elimination and synthesis undergone so by the books of the Roman Rite many of the books of Humbert have become superfluous while several others have been formed. These add nothing to the original text, but merely provide for the Addition of feasts and the more convenient recitation of the office. The collection of the liturgical books now contains: (1) Martyrology; (2) Collectarium; (3) Processional; (4) Antiphonary; (5) Gradual; (6) Missal for the conventual Mass; (7) Missal for the private Mass; (8) Breviary; (9) Vesperal; (10) Horæ Diurnæ; (11) Ceremonial. The contents of these books follow closely the books of the same name issued by Humbert and which have just been described. The new ones are: (1) the Horæ Diurnæ (2) the Vesperal (with notes), adaptations from the Breviary and the Antiphonary respectively (3) the Collectarium, which is a compilation from all the rubrics scattered throughout the other books. With the exception of the Breviary, these books are similar in arrangment to the correspondingly named books of the Roman Rite. The Dominican Breviary is divided into two parts: Part I, Advent to Trinity; Part II, Trinity to Advent.

(e) Distinctive marks of the Dominican Rite

Only the most striking differences between the Dominican Rite and the Roman need be mentioned here. The most important is in the manner of celebrating a low Mass. The celebrant in the Dominican Rite wears the amice over his head until the beginning of Mass, and prepares the chalice as soon as he reaches the altar. The Psalm “Judica me Deus” is not said and the Confiteor, much shorter than the Roman, contains the name of Saint Dominic. The Gloria and the Credo are begun at the centre of the altar and finished at the Missal. At the Offertory there is a simultaneous oblation of the Host and the chalice and only one prayer, the “Suscipe Sancta Trinitas”. The Canon of the Mass is the same as the Canon of the Roman Rite, but after it are several noticeable differences. The Dominican celebrant says the “Agnus Dei” immediately after the “Pax Domini” and then recites three prayers “Hæc sacrosancta commixtio” “Domine Jesu Christe”, and “Corpus et sanguis” Then follows the Communion, the priest receiving the Host from his left hand. No prayers are said at the consumption of the Precious Blood, the first prayer after the “Corpus et Sanguis” being the Communion. These are the most noticeable differences in the celebration of a low Mass. In a solemn Mass the chalice is prepared just after the celebrant has read the Gospel, seated at the Epistle side of the sanctuary. The chalice is brought from the altar to the place where the celebrant is seated by the sub-deacon, who pours the wine and water into it and replaces it on the altar.

The Dominican Breviary differs but slightly from the Roman. The Offices celebrated are of seven classes:—of the season (de tempore), of saints (de sanctis), of vigils, of octaves, votive Offices, Office of the Blessed Virgin, and Office of the Dead. In point of dignity the feasts are classified as “totum duplex”, “duplex” “simplex” “of three lessons”, and “of a memory”. The ordinary “totum duplex” feast is equivalent to the Roman greater double. A “totum duplex” with an ordinary octave (a simple or a solemn octave) is equal to the second-class double of the Roman Rite, and a “totum duplex” with a most solemn octave is like the Roman first-class double. A “duplex” feast is equivalent to the lesser double and the “simplex” to the semi-double. There is no difference in the ordering of the canonical hours, except that all during Paschal time the Dominican Matins provide for only three psalms and three lessons instead of the customary nine psalms and nine lessons. The Office of the Blessed Virgin must be said on all days on which feasts of the rank of duplex or “totum duplex” are not celebrated. The Gradual psalms must be said on all Saturdays on which is said the votive Office of the Blessed Virgin. The Office of the Dead must be said once a week except during the week following Easter and the week following Pentecost. Other minor points of difference are the manner of making the commemorations, the text of the hymns, the Antiphons, the lessons of the common Offices and the insertions of special feasts of the order. There is no great distinction between the musical notation of the Dominican Gradual, Vesperal, and Antiphonary and the corresponding books of the new Vatican edition. The Dominican chant has been faithfully copied from the MSS. of the thirteenth century, which were in turn derived indirectly from the Gregorian Sacramentary. One is not surprised therefore at the remarkable similarity between the chant of the two rites. For a more detailed study of the Dominican Rite reference may be had to the order’s liturgical books.

MLA Citation

  • Ignatius Smith. “Dominican Rite”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 June 2012. Web. 11 May 2021. <>