In some ways, the Dominican Habit is the easiest of these to explain: it’s a tunic, a belt (cincture), a rosary, a scapular, a capuce (hood) and sometimes a cappa and black capuce. The habit, though, is more than just the collection of the clothes we wear, and I’ll explain this by pointing to each article of clothing. The individual articles of clothing come together today to form a sign both to us and to the world of what we represent.
Tunic: Clothe me, O Lord, with the garments of salvation. By your grace may I keep them pure and spotless, so that clothed in white, I may be worthy to walk with you in the kingdom of God. Amen.
The tunic was a common medieval garment when the friars started wearing it, and it was white because white was cheaper than colored fabric. But the prayer tells us that we can see the white as a symbol of our desire to follow in the steps of Jesus, the spotless lamb, and to preach him in the world.
Cincture: Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of justice and the cord of purity that I may unite the many affections of my heart in the love of you alone. Amen.
The cincture or belt was needed to keep the garment more secure than it would have been otherwise, but the prayer reminds us of the need to ‘gird’ ourselves each day for the challenges of the day, especially in purity, so that we may love and serve God more devotedly.
Rosary:O God, whose only-begotten Son, by his life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rosary was promoted by the Dominicans from the early days of the Order, and its existence in its modern form is mainly due to the influence of the friars. The rosary was worn on the left side, where men of the time would often wear a sword, as a symbol of its potency as a spiritual weapon more effective than any blade.
Scapular:Show yourself a mother, He will hear your pleading, Whom your womb has sheltered and Whose hand brings healing.
A garment like a scapular would have been worn by men of the time as something like an apron, to keep the tunic clean. This prayer, though, makes special reference to the story of Bl. Reginald, one of the first friars, receiving the scapular from Mary as a sign of her special favor. It is the only part of the habit that is intentionally blessed, and it reminds us, whenever we put it on, that we are under Mary’s special patronage.
White Capuce: Lord, You have set your sign upon my head that I should admit no lover but you. Amen.
Dominicans joke that this is the original ‘hoodie,’ and there’s truth to that, but the prayer tells us that the capuce is a sign reminding us of our consecrated celibacy to God for the sake of preaching the Gospel.
Cappa:We fly to your patronage, O Holy Mother of God, do not despise our prayers in our necessity, but free us from all peril, O Blessed Virgin. Amen.
The Order was active from its earliest days in Northern Europe, and needed the Cappa as an extra layer. Today though, the prayer reminds us of St. Dominic’s vision, in which he saw the whole Order being sheltered under Mary’s mantle – a garment much like the Cappa.
Black Capuce: Heavenly Father, Who were with your great servants Moses and Joshua and used them to bring your children out of bondage, fill us with that same grace that we may preach your word boldly and with authority for the deliverance of those under the bondages of sin. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Much like the Cappa, the Black Capuce was an extra layer, but for us, it explicitly recalls two great figures from the Old Testament, and encourages us to preach boldly and deliver sinners from bondage.
The habit is a combination of those garments, but taken together, it’s so much more.