On the Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, April 30th, in addition to the magnificent and breath-taking ceremony of Sister Mary Madeleine’s Perpetual Profession, there was also added a new member to the community. Miss Martin, the first American in the convent, received the holy habit of St. Dominic and was given the name of Sister Marie Dominique, after our Holy Father Saint Dominic. Preceding the ceremony, a Triduum Retreat was preached by Fr. Cranshaw (from New Zealand) and Fr. Burfitt (from the U.S.), and was very beneficial to the sisters.

The ceremonies on the Feast of Saint Catherine began with the reception of the Dominican habit. The habit of the order is highly reverenced because of its heavenly origins. The Blessed Virgin herself revealed the scapular to her children in the Order and henceforth, Dominicans have always worn this distinctive garb. The holy scapular of our Order is the most distinguished part of our Dominican habit, “the maternal pledge from Heaven of the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary towards us, under whose wings thou shalt find a shadow from the heat and a bulwark and defense in death from all dangers both of body and soul.”

“Blessed are those,” exclaims Theodoric of Apoldia, “who are found worthy to wear this habit, the symbol of grace unspeakable, woven by the hands of the true valiant woman for the members of her household! Let us ever cherish with veneration this royal and virginal garment and never soil its spotless whiteness.” From the fact of the scapular being our Lady’s gift to her children, the custom prevails in the Order of always invoking her on assuming it in the morning with the verse: Monstra te esse Matrem, etc.

At the beginning of the ceremony, the postulant must answer the question of the Church: “What dost thou seek?” Kneeling before the altar of God, and His representatives on earth – the priests, she gently responds: “God’s mercy and yours, Father.” She then confirms that she desires to receive the holy habit and to enter this congregation of Dominicans, and so is given the habit by the Prioress. Once the future-novice has donned the religious habit, she returns to the Church to the harmonies of the Salve Regina, where then she willingly surrenders her hair to the scissors of the celebrant, a sign of her abandonment of the world’s distractions and desires. Once veiled, the new novice returns to the Priests and receives her Crucifix and Rosary. The highlight of the ceremony is at the end – the Crowning and Naming. While the choir chants the chords of Jesu, Corona Virginum, the priest offers the novice two crowns – one of roses and the other of thorns, saying:

“Behold dear daughter, two crowns, one beautiful, the other of thorns. Choose the one with which you wish to be crowned.”

When the novice has chosen the crown of thorns – in imitation of her Dominican patroness, St. Catherine of Siena, who was given this same choice by our Lord Himself – the priest then pronounces the beautiful words:

“Receive dear sister the crown of thorns in memory of the crown of Our Lord, and through this know that it is not fitting that those members be delicate, who are under the thorn crowned head, which is Christ, and if you wear the crown of thorns of tribulation in this life you will be rewarded by your Spouse with a crown of glory for evermore in the life to come.”

Once crowned, the novice is then given her new name in the Order. What a joy to have the patronage of a great saint, and in this novice’s case – the greatest of Dominican saints – our founder himself. After the ceremonies, with much delight, a small reception was held for the sisters. Since then, the newest novice has joined her fellow sisters in the task of preparing her soul for her Betrothed. A great pleasure, she is now able to assist in the Salve Procession after Compline by carrying one of the two candles at the head of the procession. The Novices regularly perform this office, and as the procession makes its way back from the altar of our Lady to the main altar singing the Antiphon O Lumen in honour of our Holy Father St. Dominic, the two novices bearing candles, stand on either side of the altar while the other sisters process in. This image, so close to the tabernacle, brings to mind the words of the Dominican, Mary of Jesus. She used to call the novices the Seraphim of the choir, because they stood nearest the Blessed Sacrament, and so, as she was accustomed to tell them, ought to be the most fervent.

The Novice hears the words of the psalmist: “Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear…and the King shall greatly desire thy beauty. For He is the Lord thy God, and Him thou shall adore.” (Ps 44) The time of Novitiate is principally to separate herself from the world, so that her heart might be Christ’s alone. “…My spouse, is a garden enclosed.” (Cant. 4:12) Please pray for the newest novice, and all the sisters’, holy perseverance.

To conclude, we will quote the description of the outward appearance of a true Dominican, as given by the Venerable Julia Cicarelli of Camerino (1532-1621):

“The custody of the eyes shows the attention we ought to pay to our own defects; the head inclined signifies submission of will; the arms crossed the desire of suffering for God; kneeling the remembrance of our falls and weaknesses; woolen garments the patience and meekness of the lamb; the white habit purity of heart; the black mantle death to the world; the hair cut off the retrenchment of worldly thoughts; the shoes made of the skins of dead beasts the remembrance of death. When the interior is conformable to the exterior, then ‘this is indeed the house of God.'”

(All quotes taken from The Spirit of the Dominican Order Illustrated from the Lives of its Saints)