Why am I a Lay Dominican?

A couple of people have asked what this means, so I’ll try and explain. Badly, and in no great depth (there have been books and books written about Dominican spirituality, this is only a blog post), but there we go.

I’m sorry, this really is ridiculously long. Go and get a cup of coffee (as strong as you dare). Go on. It’ll wait. It’s not going anywhere, apart from possibly to Rome as evidence in my heresy trial.

Are we sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.

Also, it goes without saying that this is my own, personal view. As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one Dominican, you’ve met one Dominican.”

There are several parts to the Dominican family. The friars, the cloistered nuns, the apostolic sisters*, and the laity are the main ones. The first three groups make the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the laity do not – we are free to marry or not, and are called, like all Catholics, to fidelity within marriage and chastity outside it. Lay Dominicans have secular jobs, and the Order as a whole has no call on my salary, other than such donations as charity deems prudent.

All Dominicans follow the same Rule (written by St Augustine), with variations according to style of life.

As the church is made up of many parts, but we are all one body, each religious order has its own charism (mission), and the Order of Preachers’ particular charism is the preaching and teaching of Truth – one of our mottoes is “Veritas.” This charism is expressed in a four-fold way, under what are referred to as the four pillars of Dominican life – Prayer, Study, Community and Preaching.

It is said of our founder, St Dominic, that he spent all his time talking to people about God, and talking to God about people.

We are all Dominicans, with the same charism (mission), but different ways of following that. We all strive to live by the four pillars of Dominican life, prayer, community, study and preaching; but according to our state in life – a Dominican friar will express the charism differently to a cloistered nun, who will express it differently to an apostolic sister, who will again be different to a lay Dominican.

Prayer

Another of the Dominican mottoes is “Contemplata aliis Tradere” – to contemplate, and to pass onto others the fruit of that contemplation. The Divine Office is the golden chain of grace that binds all the members of the order together, whether it is prayed in the stillness of a Monastic chapel or at the kitchen table of a flat in London with a cup of coffee in one hand and pigeons peering in the kitchen window**. And by praying, contemplating the Divine Word, we can, like Mary, who “pondered these things in her heart,” pass on to others the fruit of this contemplation.

There is also a requirement to attend daily Mass, where possible, so that, strengthened by receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we can go out and be His hands and feet in the world.

And the Rosary. You can’t be a Dominican without the Rosary. The order has always had a deep devotion to the Mother of Christ, and that devotion is expressed in a variety of ways, through the rosary and through various prayers and traditions. Our Lady said to Blessed Jordan of Saxony that every time the Dominicans sang the Salve Regina, she prostrated herself before her Son, asking His blessing on St Dominic’s poor and lowly band.

And personal prayer.

It is from prayer that everything else flows, the community life, the study and the preaching.

Community

Dominican life is a communal life. Each fraternity regularly meets as a group (the Fraternity I belong to meets once a month). We share a common life as far as we can, by praying, studying and discussing together. In this way, the different gifts of each member enrich the group as a whole, and in turn, the whole Order and the world. Each member of the fraternity has different talents and responsibilities, and those gifts are offered to God through the community. Many of the Order’s greatest saints have seen this community life as an echo of the friendship and love that God has for all of us, and the community is the school of love whereby we learn to show that love to all.

It’s not easy, and can in fact be the hardest part of the life, because we are all fallible human beings. Someone will send you demented with some habit or other, it’s inevitable, but the school of love helps us to see past the way that someone drives you up the wall, and instead see the image and likeness of God.

Study

Finally, an excuse to buy my own body weight in books. You cannot preach without studying first – “first the bow is bent in study, before the arrow is loosed in preaching.” As part of our communal life, we have a theme for our study for the year, and all members are expected to take a full part in the discussions, which are led by a different member of the community each month. Every member has something to offer the study, whether it is knowledge of Biblical Hebrew (not me) or knowledge of how the Ancient Israelites made bread (me. What can I say? I know weird stuff). By sharing the fruits of our knowledge, all are enriched.

Preaching

As lay Dominicans, it would only be very rarely that we would preach in church, and we would not give the sermon at Mass – per Canon law, that is a privilege reserved for Deacons, Priests, and, under certain circumstances, the superior of a female religious order.

However, St Francis said that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, using words if necessary,” as the grace that flows into us through prayer, and community life, and study, should, inspired by the Holy Spirit, flow out through our lives, which should be a continuous preaching of the Gospel.

All that said, it doesn’t answer the question “Why am I a Lay Dominican?”

When I was first thinking about converting, I went to the Catholic Truth Society bookshop in Manchester, and said “what do I need to read? Sell me books,” and they did. Bless the girl on the till, when she rang it all up and I turned a little pale, she grinned and said “convert’s discount,” and knocked 25% off. So, I went back to the student chaplaincy with my arms a couple of inches longer than when I left, with a stack of books and a list of questions. Someone there took one look and said “she’s going to be a Dominican,” a comment which I didn’t understand at the time.

In the summer of 2005, everywhere I went, I was being stalked by strange people in white tunics. Every time I turned around, there was a Dominican. I was starting to get a bit perturbed.

First it was Fr Timothy Radcliffe, who at the time was Master General of the Order. He gave a talk in which he said “if my faith is true, it is the most important thing in my life,” and I thought “hmm, he’s got a point.”

Then it was a Dominican sister, and one of the friars, at the Youth 2000 festival in Walsingham. And after I got home, and I’d dried my tent out, and decided that I didn’t have trench foot after all, (in the middle of the muddiest field I have ever had the misfortune to be standing in, when every other Religious had feet that were blue with cold where they weren’t brown with mud, the Dominicans were all wearing immaculate, shiny shoes), I started Googling.

“Don’t wanna be a nun, don’t wanna, I don’t wan-oooh, lay Dominicans… And they have a London thingy.” So I sent an e-mail to the contact listed on the page, and went down to the Catholic Truth Society bookshop in London (anyone spotting a pattern, yet? Splendid), and got them to sell me books, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I do not consider myself worthy of anything in this Order, for I have been nothing but pleased with it.” Blessed Reginald of Orleans, OP.

Right, any questions?

*Pedantic note – all nuns are sisters, but not all sisters are nuns. There are a variety of differences, but as a rough rule of thumb, nuns are cloistered, sisters generally have some work as part of their mission – teaching or nursing, for example.

**Go on, guess who. I am astounded that my copy of the Office isn’t one big coffee stain.

[As an aside, why do I never spot the total howlers in terms of spelling, broken HTML, or anything else until after I hit publish? I’ve made a couple of minor corrections].

16 thoughts on “Why am I a Lay Dominican?

  1. “St Francis said that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, using words if necessary””

    Ah, but did he? My inner pedant wants to know!

    And anyway, one of the Good things about Dominicans is that they don’t have to put up with all that Franciscan fluffiness.

    And what Simon says.

  2. Thanks for that Rosamundi, it’s really useful.
    One slightly strange question, but as a lay Dominican are you considered “a religious” or is that just the other three types? Only ask because I have become aware that it’s a term used with a specific meaning in Catholicism, but I’m still getting used to the specific meaning.

  3. tractor girl – a Religious with a capital R is someone who has taken vows, so the friars, nuns and apostolic sisters. Lay Dominicans make promises, rather than vows, so we are not considered Religious. And a priest would only be a Religious if if was also part of an Order.

  4. So pleased to read this history of your journey, had so many questions for you. Rather much in despair at the moment and wishing I hadn’t lost my faith…you have made me think along new lines..thank you. And I’m so pleased for you!!

  5. Fluffiness, Ken? Really! We Franciscans like to think of it more as spontenaity, organised chaos, perfect joy. 😀 It’s not all birdbaths and tree-hugging, you know.

  6. Thank you so much Rosamundi; a joy, blessing and education to read. May God, through the prayers of our Blessed Lady Mary, St Domimic, and all the Saints, continue to bless your journey as a Lay Dominican.

    “It is from prayer that everything else flows…” struck me particularly.
    [As did the “excuse to buy my own body weight in books” :)]

  7. Well that answers -that- question quite comprehensibly, I think 😉

    No the more difficult question: what attracted you to religion in the first place?

    P.S. There’s an uncapitalised ‘a’ in there too!

  8. I had to log off last night, something wrong with my keyboard. Meant to say, thank you so much, Rosamundi for your post. Not many people (self included!) have been able to explain the topic so clearly and with humour. (I,too, have bought my body weight in books over the years; something of which Francis, I suspect, would not have approved!) 🙂

  9. Thanks Rosamundi – this is really interesting, reading about your faith journey, & What It All Means. Some thought provoking statements too…(shifts uncomfortably in her chair…)

  10. I’m so pleased you’ve found it useful. There’s loads of stuff I forgot to mention, and I’m sorry it’s so long, but I honestly couldn’t cut it down.

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