The Canticle of the Passion is a Dominican tradition with a long history. The following passage recounts how after the first time St. Catherine experienced her mysterious ecstasy (which she did for a number of years on each Friday) that united her so closely to Jesus Crucified, Our Lady appeared to her and revealed to her what have come to be called the ‘Verses of the Passion’, a series of Scripture passages that refer to Our Lord’s sufferings.
These verses are solemnly chanted in the Dominican Order every Friday during Lent: may they help you to foster in your soul this devotion so dear to the Order and so extremely important for the whole Church and the whole world.
From the Life of Saint Catherine de Ricci
Père Hyacinthe Bayonne, O.P., Vie de Sainte Catherine de Ricci de Florence, religieuse du Tiers Ordre régulier de saint Dominique au monastère de Saint Vincent de Prato, en Toscane, (1522=1590), Paris, 1873, p. 163-167.
The Blessed Virgin herself wished to consecrate all these testimonies of the authenticity of this grace by a singular favour which would henceforth serve to nourish the piety of the faithful. Immediately after the first ecstasy of the Passion, she appeared to Catherine in order to congratulate her on the perfect resemblance she now had to herself in the mystery of the Compassion at the foot of the cross of her Son. Content to meet, after sixteen centuries, a worthy imitator in this magnanimous path, she was pleased to encourage her with her sympathy and to increases the holy ardours of her love. She taught her to celebrate this mystery in a form that is fitting for the great emotions of the heart, in the form of a sacred canticle. This canticle, composed exclusively with words from Holy Scripture, she had no doubt composed originally for herself, after the death of her divine Son, as a sustenance for her dolour, a bouquet for her love, during the remainder of her life. And now that Catherine had taken her place at the foot of the cross, the Virgin Mary made it pass from her heart into the heart of the saint, so that she, in her turn, might make it the object of her meditations and the sustenance of her love. Who wouldn’t love to hear the Mother of dolours reciting the dolours of the Bridegroom to the new bride crucified with Him, and singing in her virginal voice the nuptial-song of the heroic wedding of Calvary ?
This canticle is composed of two parts. In the first part, the divine Redeemer Himself passes in review the principal phases of the Passion, taking all His words from the prophets and the Evangelists. This representation of the holy victim by Himself has about it something profoundly moving. While we hear the plaintive cries of His love, we embrace, in thought, the whole bloody drama in each of its acts, counting all His wounds, one by one. The heart, softened, is penetrated by vivid compunction and gives itself up to the feelings inspired by gratitude and love for a God who so loved us first. Let everyone judge for himself :
1. My friends and my neighbours, have drawn near and stood against me.
2. I was delivered up and came not forth, my eyes languished through poverty.
3. And my sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.
4. For many dogs have encompassed me, the council of the malignant hath besieged me.
5. I have given my body to the strikers; and my cheeks to them that plucked them.
6. I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spat upon me.
7. For I am ready for scourges, and my sorrow is continually before me.
8. The soldiers plaiting a crown of thorns, placed it upon my head.
9. They have pierced my hands and my feet, they have numbered all my bones.
10. And they gave gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
11. All they that saw me laughed me to scorn; they have spoken with their lips, and wagged their heads.
12. They have looked and stared upon me, they parted my garments amongst them, and upon my vesture they cast lots.
13. Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth.
Here the soul that has meditated on the words of the divine Saviour, seeing Him about to expire, addresses to Him, in the name of all the faithful, the prayer of the Good Thief :
14. Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy servants; when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom.
Then this first part concludes with this final word of His account of His Passion :
15. Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy servants; when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom.
The second part is consecrated entirely to the reflections this great mystery inspires in the soul, always in the beautiful language of Scripture, which says so much in so few words. It is first of all a cry of gratitude for the mercies of the Lord that rings out even into eternity. It is followed by a regretful look back on all that we have cost our sweet liberator. Then, after a clamorous call of alarm to His goodness for us and an act of unlimited confidence in Him who called Himself our Saviour, the canticle concludes with a humble prayer to Jesus Christ that the merits of His blood be applied to us.
16. The mercies of the Lord, I will sing for all eternity.
17. Surely He hath borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows.
18. He was wounded for our iniquities; He was bruised for our sins.
19. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way.
20. For the Lord hath placed upon him the iniquities of us all.
21. Arise, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? arise, and cast us not off forever.
22. Behold, God is my Saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear.
23. We beseech Thee, O Lord, help Thy servants, whom thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
On transmitting this canticle to Catherine, the Blessed Virgin ordered her to propagate it in the monastery, as a form of contemplation and prayer sovereignly pleasing to her divine Son. (Her confessor) submitted it to the approval of the Order. The Master-General, who at that time was Father Francesco Romeo de Castiglione, did not just permit its usage in the monastery of Saint Vincent. By a circular letter to all the Provinces, he inscribed it among the devotional practices of the Order of Saint Dominic. It has become known as the Canticle of the Passion, as a monument to the piety of Saint Catherine de Ricci for her Jesus Crucified. It is still today the general custom in the Dominican Order to sing it publicly on certain occasions, and especially all the Fridays of Lent. It always produces a profound impression of piety in recollected souls.