A Brief Introduction
Who are Lay Dominicans?
In 1998, the then Master of the Dominican Order, Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, said at the General Chapter of the Order at Bologna:
Lay Dominicans are a part of the Dominican Family, and are thus true members of the Order of Preachers; however, unlike ‘Conventual’ religious living in communities, its members live in the world, with jobs and homes, husbands or wives, and children, while at the same time following a Rule, with a lifelong commitment to the Order and to the spirit and charism of St Dominic.
The origins of Lay Dominicans go back to mediaeval ‘Orders of Penance’ and Confraternities, founded over 800 years ago to minister to the sick and the poor, and to do penance for sin. They were for centuries known as Tertiaries, or Third Order Religious, the brethren being the First Order and enclosed nuns the Second. We no longer think in what are perceived as divisive terms, such as ‘first’, ‘second’, etc!
There have been many illustrious members, for example, St Catherine of Siena, St Martin of Porres, and St Rose of Lima; the modern congregations of sisters arose from ‘Tertiaries’ who lived in community and went out into the world daily to teach or to do other tasks such as nursing. Lay Dominicans have had their share of intolerance, persecution and martyrdom – and even now they, with other Christians, face these tribulations in various parts of the modern world.
This consists of four ‘pillars’: prayer, study, community, and – most important – the apostolate of spreading the gospel and gospel values. We try to make our own the Dominican motto Contemplata aliis tradere – “Passing on to others the fruits of our contemplation”, whether in words or in actions. We follow the Order’s strong commitment to Justice and Peace, especially Social Justice, wherever we can help others who are less fortunate than ourselves.
The Prayer component means that we try to say the Divine Office daily, or as much of it as we can manage, whether privately or with the brethren at one of their priories; we are also enjoined to attend Mass daily, or as often as we can, not forgetting our own private devotions!
As far as Study is concerned, either by reading or by attending talks and lectures, we do what we can to search out and understand what is Truth, being another Dominican motto. It involves a continual willingness to learn about – and actively explore – the church’s teachings, the scriptures, and the tradition and spirit of St Dominic.
Community, for us, can take various forms: as Lay Dominicans, we support and help one another, while living in charity towards everyone; we listen to others and to the ‘signs of the times’, and share our gifts and concerns for people in all their modern needs and hopes and fears. Above all, we try to live in humility and compassion, letting our commitment overflow into any way of spreading the Word and the love of God and neighbour.
Structure and Meetings
Lay Dominicans are grouped in Fraternities – and there are 15 scattered throughout England and Scotland – which meet once a month, usually at a weekend. The pattern of the monthly meeting varies from one fraternity to another: for example it may consist of a special Mass, or reciting together the appropriate part of the Daily Office; we always say our special Fraternity Prayers and a decade of the Rosary together; there will be a Business Meeting to sort out any problems, make decisions, plan future events, and so forth; then there is usually a study session on a topic within our chosen programme, which may be presented by the Chaplain or a member of the Fraternity, and be followed by discussion; finally we may share a meal – for example, it may be afternoon tea, at which friends or nearby brethren may join us; and, unless we have already heard Mass elsewhere or as part of the meeting, we may go together to the Community Mass or Daily Prayer if we are meeting at our local Dominican Priory.
In November we celebrate a special Mass for our Dead; each Fraternity also holds at least one Day of Recollection a year. We are encouraged to attend some of the many, varied and fascinating study days arranged by the Sisters, often at the new Niland Centre at the Rosary Convent, Bushey, Hertfordshire, while those of us fortunate enough to live in or near a university town are encouraged to attend lectures on theology or philosophy. Every Fraternity has a Spiritual Adviser or Chaplain, who may well be one of the friars. And each Fraternity has a Council, made up of elected members who are finally professed, which is responsible for major decisions; one of the Council is elected President, and we also choose a Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary (usually), and Formation Officer: their tours of office are three years.
At a national level, the Lay Dominican Provincial Council, elected from among Fraternity members with some ex officio members, meets three times a year, plus an Annual General Meeting which is part of the annual Lay Dominican Congress. The latter consists of talks and discussions on a topical theme of interest to the Order, and is at the same time a lively social and prayerful event. The deliberations of the Council are guided by the Provincial Promoter for Lay Dominicans, who is always one of the friars. There is a separate group, called the Lone Lay Dominican Fraternity, for those who live too far from a Fraternity to get to meetings, or who are too disabled: they have a separate formation programme, their own monthly newsletter which gives them news and items of interest as well as keeping them in touch with each other, and a special midday prayer. Thus Lay Dominicans have their own organisation and government under the guidance of the Order and to a large extent run their own affairs, while they are a real part of the Dominican family.
Perhaps you may feel that our Dominican way of life and ideals are no more than Christian ones, and that not much is to be gained by being a Dominican. This is true in part: Dominicans are ordinary Christians, and the Lay Dominican community is not designed to carry out any specific work in the world, although they may feel that their study of the Gospels impels them to do in their spare time such things as care for the needy, give religious instruction, or join groups involved in the search for justice and peace. There are many other forms of apostolate, for example, working as sacristan or cleaning the church, helping to organise the liturgy or provide the music; they may act as ‘extraordinary ministers’, taking Holy Communion to the sick, visiting hospitals or prisons; they may be found in ministry to ‘travellers’ or to poor parishes, or perhaps as catechists, helping to prepare children for their First Communion or Confirmation. In addition, fraternities in many countries have specific and shared missions: e.g. in universities, schools and hospitals, writing and publishing, and in actual preaching. They also do their daily work conscientiously and in a truly Christian manner, really caring for their colleagues and all whom they meet in the workplace and in recreation. But there is no such thing as a special or superior sort of Christian: the commitment of someone with a vocation to the Dominican Laity is expressed by a formal promise to follow the Dominican Way, and this has great value for oneself and the world. The reason for becoming a Dominican is that by so doing you are led to a deeper understanding of Christian life, and are helped in living that life through the support offered by the community of which you become a part, carrying that life to the wider community in which you live and work. By becoming a Lay Dominican you are not a monk or nun, but you hope to learn to live your own life in the world in a more truly Christian way, bringing to it the love of Christ.
As Fr Timothy said, in his keynote talk to the first meeting of all branches of the Dominican Family – nuns, sisters, friars and laity, in Manila, October 2000:
And elsewhere he quotes fr. Luis Muñio de Zamora OP, who drew up the first Rule for Lay Dominican Fraternities in the 13th century:
How to Become Involved
Anyone over the age of 18, who is a practising Catholic and not already a member of any other religious order or fraternity, may apply to join. If you are interested in finding out more about the Lay Dominicans, you can contact the President, Secretary, or Chaplain of your nearest fraternity, or the Provincial President or Secretary: names and addresses are given elsewhere in this website. As an enquirer you will be welcome to come to meetings, and, if you then decide to apply to join a Fraternity, you may be formally admitted at the end of a year of attending and studying. After a further year, you can make a First or Temporary Profession, and 3 years after that, you can make your Final Profession – a commitment which is for life.
Come and see where we are! You will be warmly welcomed.