Wanted: Your Experience and Knowledge of the Dominican Blessing

Ella Gerloff gets a blessing.

The Dominican Blessing is one of the great treasures of the Dominican family. Since its debut in Simon Tugwell’s book Early Dominicans, it has become a common text for Dominican prayer. Several musicians of the order have set it to music; it has been integrated into the office book used by a great number of Dominican sisters in the United States, and, as far as I can measure, is commonly used within circles of Dominican youth. For four decades the Dominican Blessing has been formative for a significant number of Dominicans—professed and lay, associates, and affiliates of our schools and institutions.

The publication of Early Dominicans in 1982 coincided with my own period of initial formation. As a novice, I discovered the prayer on page 153 in brother Simon’s treasure book and fell immediately in love. Now, after nearly forty years, like a dog with a bone (or a torch?) in its mouth, I’ve reached the moment to slake my curiosity. And I beg your assistance.

After months of sleuthing, including some correspondence with Brother Simon, I have been unable to move my inquiry beyond the one source he cites in the footnote to the blessing, English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century by Carleton Brown, published in the 1932. As far as I am able to ascertain, Mr. Brown’s book introduced the blessing to the 20th century. It appears in Latin in his introduction, not as an object for study, but as evidence of the provenance of the manuscript.

Imagine the thrill when my search turned up this digitized facsimile of the ancient source! There it is on the parchment page, nestled at the bottom of the second column by someone, presumably a Dominican friar, who wanted, at the very least, to remember and make it available to his brothers in the local convent.

The presence of the prayer in this manuscript led Mr. Brown to conclude it belonged to a convent of English mendicant friars, probably Dominican. The manuscript contains mostly catechetical materials used for the instruction of the laity.

Would this beautiful blessing, so important to our modern Dominican spirituality, have been lost to us if not for the scholarship of Mr. Brown? Is it truly a Dominican prayer? How widespread was its use in the 13th Century?

Seeking your help

Crowdsourcing research has become a trend. Scientists often rely on the generosity of citizen-scientists to produce and process their research data. Why should I not do the same, and make this a global effort of common Dominican study? If you would like to help unravel the mystery of our common prayer, I welcome your assistance.

What I don’t know

Among the many things I do not know about the Dominican blessing are these three:

  • What are the medieval origins of the prayer?
  • Was the prayer in common use anywhere in the Order at any previous time, including the 13th Century?
  • How widespread, really, is the appropriation and integration of the blessing into Dominican prayer and spirituality since its inclusion in Early Dominicans?

Anyone affiliated with the Dominican family can help (or any interested person, for that matter)  whether they have ever heard of the Dominican Blessing or not. Answers to this brief survey will help map the flow of the blessing around the globe.

I count on those with some expertise in the medieval history of the Order, or some expertise in medieval manuscripts in general, to help with the other lines of inquiry. This may be a fool’s errand, but I’m not ready to give up on it just yet.

Here is a link to a brief survey about the Dominican Blessing. Please complete it yourself and share it with others you think might want to participate. Thanks!

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