The Dominican Blessing

Body, Blessing, Healing, and Light:
A 13th Century Dominican Prayer

May God the Father bless us.
May God the Son heal us.
May God the Holy Spirit enlighten us,
and give us
eyes to see with,
ears to hear with,
hands to do the work of God with,
feet to walk with,
a mouth to preach the word of salvation with,
and the angel of peace to watch over us and lead us at last,
by our Lord's gift, to the Kingdom.

This wonderful, ancient prayer has all the markings of the great Dominican heritage it represents. It is theologically sound, easy to learn and teach, and flows—just as every good Dominican life does—from contemplation to action and back again.

The naming of God in the traditional Trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Spirit reminds us that God is a community of persons into which we, too, are call when we are baptized. The prayer begs many gifts from God.

Blessing, healing, enlightenment

The first three—blessing, healing, and enlightenment—are necessary for everyone who wants to carry the Gospel to the world. If we have God’s protection, and the wholeness and holiness that comes from knowing who we are as members of the body of Christ, and the light that enables us to discern the truth, then we are ready to preach—almost!

What else could we need?

The Word of God became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth so we could grasp the tremendous love God has for us creatures. If we are going to be truly, fully, human beings, then we need eyes and ears and hands and feet and mouth, as the prayer says. We need first to see and hear—to pay attention to the cries of the world and the cries of our own hearts. For what does the world hunger? For what does the world thirst? These are things we can only learn by paying attention to the people and events around us.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony
Blessed Jordan of Saxony

Where did the Dominican Blessing come from? Most U.S. Dominicans first encountered the blessing in Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, a collection of original sources from Dominican writers of the  thirteenth century edited by the British Father Simon Tugwell, OP. The Dominican Blessing appears there, and the source for the text is given as a fifteenth century collection of English hymns. The text is attributed to Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who followed St. Dominic as Master of the Order of Preachers in 1221 and who died tragically in a shipwreck in 1237.

Propelled toward compassionate action

But we are still not ready to preach. Through contemplation of the mysteries of a loving God, we are prepared to be attentive to the way God is calling out to us in the world. In the best Dominican tradition, attention now requires action. The Dominican saint, Catherine of Siena, once told a confidant that Jesus said to her, “On two feet you must walk my way; on two wings [love for God and for one another] you must fly to heaven.” It is not enough to be caught up in a deeply spiritual private relationship with God. We are propelled toward compassionate action for justice, just as Catherine was.

Relationship, reality, service

Now. We are ready to preach. When we can do so out of the strength of a relationship with God, an attentiveness to the realities of the world around us, and through the experience of authentic Christian service, then we have a word of grace to share with the world. In fact, if we have all these things, and we share them in common with others, we become what Dominic intended when he referred to the order as the “Holy Preaching.” To be the Holy Preaching means that everything about our lives communicates the great gift of God’s love for the world whether we ever step into a church pulpit or not.

Messenger of peace

There is this final need for the preacher: a messenger of peace. There is much suffering that waits for a preacher of God’s word, because preachers sometimes feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. So God calls us back to the center of our being with a messenger who brings peace to our bodies, and blessing and healing, and light.

What’s happened to the Dominican Blessing?

Our Springfield Dominican Sister Mary Jean Traeger, OP, seems to be the first contemporary Dominican to set these wonderful words to music. Father James Marchionda followed with his setting in 1987, and most recently Filipino Dominican Father Giuseppe Pietro Arsciwals composed this beautiful anthem.

This story was written by Sister Beth Murphy, OP,  and first published in JUST Words, Fall 2005.