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Beware the Litanies of the Dominicans!

Thursday, October 29, 2009
On the twenty-first of February 2009 an email was circulated from Father Augustine Di Noia OP, then under-secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking all Dominicans to pray the Litany of Dominican Saints from February 22 (the Feast of the Chair of St Peter) through March 25 (the Solemnity of the Annunciation) for an at-the-time undisclosed intention. On the twenty-first of October this email was sent by Archbishop Di Noia (as he is now):

Today there was announced -- at press conferences in Rome and London -- the forthcoming publication of an apostolic constitution in which the Holy Father allows for the creation of personal ordinariates for groups of Anglicans in different parts of the world who are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. The canonical structure of the personal ordinariate will permit this corporate reunion while at the same time providing for retention of elements of Anglican liturgy and spirituality.

When I asked the members of the Dominican family to pray the Dominican litany from 22 February to 25 March earlier this year, the intention was that this proposal would receive the approval of the cardinal members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which was necessary if the proposal of some structure allowing for corporate reunion was to go forward. Our prayers at that time were answered, and now that the proposal has become a reality we can tell everyone what we were praying for then.

+Abp. J Augustine Di Noia, OP

This is not the first time that the Dominican Litany of the Saints has proved a powerful prayer. In 1254 the Order came into conflict with Pope Innocent IV, after it would not give up the Priory in Genoa for the Pope's family to build a fortress on the site. The Pope was angered by the perceived ingratitude of the Order, as he had defended it against attacks from certain members of the secular clergy of the time and had entrusted it with missions to the Mongols. Encouraged by some anti-mendicant Cardinals, the Pope began to restrict the work of the Order in France, including removing friars from the University of Paris. Fearing the suppression of the entire Order, the friars began to pray the litany for the protection of the Order and its work.

On November 21, 1254, Innocent IV signed a decree rescinding all the privileges of the Order of Preachers, and instead forbidding all Dominicans to receive any lay person in their churches on Sundays and holidays, to preach in their churches on other days before the Solemn Mass in the local diocesan parish church, to preach in an episcopal town if the bishop was to preach there that day, or to hear anyone's confession without the permission of the penitent's pastor.

On that same day, one of the Cardinals, who had been instrumental in the formation of the decree and sought further restrictions, fell down some stairs and died of his injuries. That night Pope Innocent IV suffered a stroke and was paralysed. He died sixteen day later and was succeeded by Alexander IV, who on December 24, the 38th anniversary of the Order's approval by Honorius III, removed all of the restrictions on the Order.

The Friars had been obedient to the Pontiff throughout this trial, yet they put their faith in the Lord and continued to pray the litany. The rather sudden demise of their opponents and the fast reversal of policy, led to the emergence of the following expression: "Beware the Litanies of the Dominicans!" The Litany is recommended as a Novena in especially critical circumstances and can be found here.

Mark Davoren


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