Are you looking for a way to deepen your faith? Do you feel called to promote the mission of the Church? Do you have a desire to conform your life to Christ through a formal commitment to prayer, study, meeting and sharing in community and ministry? One way to do this is through a lay apostolate. There are a number of orders that accept lay vocations, one of which is the Dominican Order of Preachers. The Dominicans take their name from their founder, Dominic Guzman. Saint Dominic lived during the 12th century in Spain. Notable among his accomplishments was making preaching commonplace in the Church and bringing apostolic activity out of the cloister and into the public square. The Dominican Order balances the need for liturgical prayer with the needs of study and preaching. The Dominican Family includes cooperator brothers, nuns, sisters, secular institutes, young adults and associates.
Lay Dominicans are men and women; single, married, divorced, widowed. They are committed to sharing the mission and charism of the Dominican Family wherever they find themselves: the home, parish, neighborhood, workplace. Above all, they are devoted to the Truth, veritas, because God is Truth. The Dominican is to live that Truth, be converted and sanctified by it, and bring that Truth to others by both example and word.
The Dominican way of life informs the life of Lay Dominicans. The elements of Dominican life are fivefold: (1) Community; (2) Prayer and Liturgy; (3) Study; (4) Discipline; and (5) Apostolate. Through a Community of brothers and sisters, the Lay Dominicans strive to support one another in life’s struggles as well as encourage each other along life’s journey as each lives out their respective vocation. A commitment to prayer life – Liturgy of the Hours, daily reception of the Eucharist if possible, personal prayer and meditation, devotion to Our Lady – provides strength for a life of service. Lifelong study helps to form spirituality and prepare individuals to preach the Word whenever and wherever possible. Discipline in the form of personal penance, simplicity of life and charity to others are ways in which Lay Dominicans give example by their lives. Finally, as an Apostolate, Lay Dominicans are called to witness publically to the faith, to preach whenever possible by Word or through activities and initiatives.
The Second Vatican Council, in the Decree on the Apostolate of Laity (Latin, Apostolicam Actuositatem), addresses the laymen’s right and duty to be apostles. Brought into the Mystical Body of Christ through Baptism and strengthened by the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, the laity is no less obliged to deliver the divine message of salvation than those ordained into the priesthood. The Lay Dominicans offer a pathway for the laity to fully live this apostolate in the context of a Religious Order.
Lay Apostolates are found throughout the world. In the United States they are divided into four regions or provinces: Eastern Province of St. Joseph, Western Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, St. Albert the Great Central Province and the Southern Province of St. Martin de Porres. These provinces are further divided into Fraternities (or Chapters). Each Fraternity is led by a Prior or Prioress (some chapters call the leader a Moderator).
To obtain membership in this Family, one must undergo a formal process of formation. Becoming a Lay Dominican is not to be taken lightly. One makes a solemn commitment and joins a Religious Order, not a club or confraternity.
The initial discernment process is approximately 6-18 months long, followed by a temporary commitment of 2-3 years. Following generally a 3-5 year process, one may make their final lifelong commitment to the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic as well as any particular rules to which their Province adheres. This is a serious commitment as Dominicans make a promise to live out their two pronged vocation (contemplative prayer and apostolic activity) in the fullest possible manner. Dominicans draw their strength from the following as written in the Rule:
a) hearing the divine word, and reading sacred scripture, especially the New Testament;
b) as far as possible daily liturgical celebration and participation in the sacrifice of the Mass;
c) regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation;
d) celebration of the liturgical hours in union with the whole Dominican family, as well as
private prayer such as meditation and the rosary;
e) conversion of heart through the spirit and practice of the repentance demanded by the gospel;
f) sustained study of revealed truth, and constant reflection on the problems-of the day in the
light of faith;
g) devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the Order’s tradition, and to our holy father
Saint Dominic, and to Saint Catherine of Siena;
h) spiritual retreats from time to time.
Most Chapters have at least monthly meetings for the purpose of building community, discussing business, prayer and study. Lay Dominicans preach by prayer and example and with their voices when the opportunities arise. They often have advanced degrees in theology, thereby preparing themselves to be more effective preachers of the Word.
If this sounds appealing to you, the first step is to locate a Chapter. Initially, one enters into a discernment phase of approximately six months. Each province differs somewhat in how they undertake the formation process, although the same essential information is included in all regions. According to the Rule, the following components should be included for a complete Dominican formation:
a) the Word of God and theological reflection;
b) liturgical prayer;
c) history and tradition of the Order;
d) contemporary documents of the Church and of the Order;
e) understanding the signs of the times.
In the Eastern Region the first phase is referred to as the Postulancy (other regions refer to it as Inquiry). A potential member completes six modules at the rate of one per month. These six modules address the following topics: (1) The Life of St. Dominic; (2) Laity in the Church: Our Call to Action; (3) Prayer; (4) Our Chapter, Our Community; (5) Study; (6) Apostolate.
Should you decide to continue beyond the Postulant phase, the Novitiate phase of formation follows. In the Eastern Region this second phase is undertaken over a period of about a year and is divided into three topic areas: Then and Now, Pillars of the Lay Dominican, and The Sacramental Life. Each of these three topical areas is further divided into individual modules for more directed study.
Following study and discernment, a temporary commitment of three years is made following the Novitiate period. At any time during this process, one may choose to opt out of the apostolate. However, once a final commitment is made (generally after a total of 4-5 years), one is not free to simply leave the Rule. Generally, it would require a dispensation from one’s Bishop to formally leave the Order.
If you want to learn more about Dominican life, a good place to start is the newsletter Dominican Life.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.