May 24, August 4 or August 8: Which is the big feast of St Dominic?

St Dominic by Felix Hernandez, op

Since I have been living at the Convent of Santa Sabina in Rome, we have always celebrated August 8 as a “memorial” of St Dominic. Initially, this was a big shock to me and to many in Rome who would always call days ahead to find out the programme for the big celebration of the “feast” of St Dominic on August 8. Many have been shocked and disappointed that we do not celebrate the feast of St Dominic at the motherhouse of the Dominicans on August 8.

I have discovered that this trend is not unique to Santa Sabina. Although some still celebrate August 8 as the big feast of St Dominic, in many Dominican Provinces, that is not the case. Partly because this date occurs at the heart of the summer in some places and many will naturally be on vacation during this period. I guess this is the reason why August 8 is not celebrated at Santa Sabina. During this period, the convent is fairly empty.

Although St Dominic died on August 6, his feast day has been moved around a little. At his canonization, Pope Gregory IX declared August 5 as his feast day because August 6 was already the feast day of Pope St Sixtus II. At this time, the feast of the Transfiguration had not yet been adopted. In 1558, with the institution of the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome on August 5, Pope Paul IV moved the feast of St Dominic back a day to August 4. After the canonization of St John-Marie Vianney who died on August 4, August 9 was proclaimed as his feast day but this was later changed to August 8. In the liturgical calendar, Novus Ordo, the feast day of St Dominic (August 4) and that of St John-Marie Vianney (August 8) were interchanged. That brought the feast of St Dominic to its current date – August 8. However, the Convent and Basilica of St Dominic in Bologna where St Dominic is buried has always retained August 4 as his feast day. Therefore, the friars of the convent and maybe some others celebrate the big feast of St Dominic on August 4.

At the Convent of Santa Sabina, we celebrate the big feast of St Dominic neither on August 4 nor 8. Here, ours is on May 24, the feast of the Translation of St Dominic. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX requested for the translation of the body of St Dominic and the following year, on July 13, 1234, he canonized him. The movement of the body of St Dominic was a very significant moment in the cause of his canonization. According to Blessed Jordan of Saxony, his successor, the friars were initially worried about opening the tomb and transferring his body from the floor of the church choir to a side altar. But when the tomb was opened, sweet aroma emanated from his coffin. This was seen as a sign of sanctity. This could be another reason why some see May 24 as a more significant date - the confirmation of his sanctity. More so, the feast of the Translation of St Dominic is unique to us Dominicans.

Every year on May 24, the Dominican family in Rome gather at the Convent and Basilica of Santa Sabina for their big feast of St Dominic. Traditionally, a Franciscan friar is invited to preside at the Mass and to preach, and there is always festivities after the Mass. Yet, every year, around August 8, we still have to explain to many why there is no big celebration of the feast of St Dominic at the motherhouse of the Dominicans. Whichever date one chooses, the important thing is that our Father Dominic is remembered and celebrated.

Uzomaria, op


(10 August 2017)