St. Nicholas and the Dominican Propers

December 6

St. Nicholas icon image

The feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, is one of those feasts in the Dominican Calendar which is III Class, as in the Roman Rite, but unlike the latter rite the Dominican Breviary contains a complete set of propers, as if the feast were II Class. I was curious about the reason for this, so I did a little research in Fr. Bonniwell's A History of the Dominican Liturgy, and this is what I found.

As the 13th century was drawing to a close, the Order elevated three (3) feasts on the calendar. They were The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, and St. Nicholas. The two former feasts were elevated to totum duplex (the equivalent to a 1st Class Feast). The feast of St. Nicholas was elevated to duplex (roughly equivalent to a II Class Feast). The reason for this is quite interesting.

As Fr. Bonniwell explains it (p. 203):

The last feast to be elevated in the thirteenth century was that of St. Nicholas, which was made a duplex. The reason is interesting: this Saint was the Patron of an extremely popular master-general, Nicholas Boccasino. It was a compliment on the part of the capitulars to their leader, who was destined shortly to become Pope Benedict XI.
Coat of arms
Coat of Arms of Benedict XI

Cardinal Nicholas Boccasino was Master General of the Order from 1296-1303. On October 22, 1303, he was elected Pope and took the name Benedict XI. On the 1962 calendar, his feast is celebrated (as a commemoration) on July 7.

So it was as a favor to the saintly Master General of the Order, the future Benedict XI, that successive Chapters voted to elevate the feast of St. Nicholas to that of a duplex. The office contains many beautiful antiphons, in particular the Benedictus antiphon at Lauds is quite inspiring. A sampling of the propers of his Office are given below:

At Matins

Inv. Let us adore the King of ages * in whom lives Nicholas, glory of the priesthood.
Ant. 1 Born of very noble family, Nicholas shone as the morning star.
Ant 4 By gold, Nicholas, servant of God, freed the maidens from defilement, their father from want, and all of them from shame.
Ant 7 The venerable bishops, rejoiced by a divine revelation, consecrated Nicholas as bishop.

Antiphons at Lauds

1. The blessed Nicholas, while still a little boy, mortified his body by much fasting.
4. When invested with the episcopal insignia, Nicholas, the friend of God, showed himself a friend to all.
Bened. ant. Saint Nicholas, kindliest of bishops, now with God in heaven’s glory, we who are pilgrims still, pray you to show us kindness on our weary way, and when life’s span has ended, to shepherd us to happiness above.

At Vespers

Magnif. ant. O goodness of Christ which should be honored with all praise and which proclaims far and wide the merits of his servant Nicholas! For an oil trickles from his tomb and heals all those who are ailing.


O God, you adorned the blessed bishop Nicholas with countless miracles; grant, we beseech you, that through his merits and prayers, we may be delivered from the flames of hell. Through our Lord . . .

Dominican Diurnal Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas

Text and illustrations from "December 6: St. Nicholas and the Dominican Order" by Dominican Tertiary Brevarium S.O.P., Saturday, December 6, 2014. Used by permission.

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