A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Dominican Habit: Style and Symbolism



Ever been to a wedding, black-tie gala, or other occasion where everyone is supposed to wear only black and white? Despite the pain of having to shop for a dress in one or both of those colors, the end result is that everyone looks fabulously chic. Similarly, when I visited the public chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery of Dominican Nuns in North Guilford, CT last summer, the nuns there looked beautiful. So do the Nashville and Ann Arbor Dominican Sisters that I’ve seen during the course of my travels.

Aesthetics were one of the ideas that St. Dominic had in mind when he designed the habit for the Order of Preachers and the Dominican nuns. He also had in mind a beautiful and prayerful symbolism surrounding the black and white habit. For instance, one of the goals of Dominic’s Order was to reconcile seemingly contradictory philosophies and Gnostic heresies with Catholicism. Hence, the black and white of the habit represents the reconciliation of apparent opposites in a greater unity.

One of the salient features of the Dominican habit is the black cape, or “cappa,” that surrounds the basic white habit. The black color of the cappa is why the Dominicans are traditionally known as the “Blackfriars” and symbolize a spirit of repentance. Dominicans traditionally wear the cappa all during Lent, and take it off during the Easter Vigil - symbolizing the shaking off of death during the glorious Resurrection!

The following text is taken from the West Coast Dominican Friars’ website and features prayers that are said when putting on the habit. These prayers should give you a good idea of what the different parts of the Dominican habit symbolize. Keep in mind that the friars’ habits are very similar to the nuns’ habits. In lieu of a hood, the nuns wear a long veil. The veil is white for novices and black for fully professed Dominican nuns. Most of the nuns don’t wear wimples anymore, but the veil fits over the head kind of like a headband.

Below are the prayers. It might help to refer to the website so you can also look at the picture of the friars’ habit along with the text.

Tunic- Clothe me, O Lord, with the garments of salvation. By Your grace may I keep them pure and spotless, so that clothed in white, I may be worthy to walk with You in the kingdom of God. Amen.

Cincture & Rosary- (The Cinture is the leather belt worn around the waist)-Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of justice and the cord of purity that I may unite the many affections of my heart in the love of You alone. Amen.

Scapular- (The scapular is the long white panel worn down the front of the tunic)-Show thyself a Mother; may the Word Divine, born for us an infant, hear my prayers through thine. Amen.

Capuce- (The Capuce is the little white capelet that the nuns/friars wear over their shoulders)- Lord, You have set Your sign upon my head that I should admit no lover but You. Amen.

Now before I start a Catholic urban legend, I’d like to say that this is simply hearsay and that I had heard this from a friend of a friend a couple of years ago….This person told me that when the Dominican Sisters were redesigning their veil so that they could drive more safely and still see the road, the international designer Armani offered to take on the redesigning project! Could someone who knows more about the Dominicans verify whether or not this is true? If it is, it simply goes to show how stylish the Dominicans are!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Candice said...

This has been very interesting! As we begin Holy Week (how quickly that happened!), I wish you many blessings.

Candice

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Tertiary, I can't help feeling a certain sense of pride - our friars must have one of the best looking habits among all the religious communities - belt with Rosary, scapular, capuce' and tunic. Unfortunately I only get to see my brothers in the community wearing their traditional black cappas during Holy Week - and with good reason .... it is soooooo hot here in the Philippines during the Holy Week! Wearing one must be one major major penance!

10:41 PM  

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