Recently, two different people have asked me about what it means to be a Lay Dominican, and what’s involved.
First, to be a Lay Dominican is to be a lay member of the Dominican order. We used to be called the Third Order, or the “tertiaries”; the First Order was the Friars, and the Second Order was the cloistered nuns and active sisters. But the terms First, Second, and Third order are discouraged these days, and we are all just Dominicans together. (Me, I kind of like the term Third Order, but I wasn’t asked).
Every order has its particular charism and focus, and the focus of the Dominican order is preaching for the salvation of souls; the order’s official name is the Order of Preachers. If you see someone write his name with an “OP” after it, you know he’s a Dominican. For us Lay Dominicans, it used to be OPL (Order of Preachers, Lay), and before that it was TOP (Tertiary, Order of Preachers), and now it’s just OP, because we are all just Dominicans together. Which means that if I use the OP after my name I have to say “Mr. Will Duquette, OP”, because otherwise the natural tendency would be to think that I was a friar, which (with a wife and four kids) I am manifestly not.
The Dominicans are a mendicant order, like the Franciscans, and I believe the friars do take a vow of poverty. But the vow of poverty isn’t part of the Dominican identity the way it is for the Franciscans. Dominicans are about four things, the Four Pillars:
Prayer. Everything we do has to be rooted and grounded in prayer. We pray the Liturgy of the Hours (Lauds, Vespers, and Compline) each day, and also the Rosary; and we are to attend mass daily if possible. (For me, it generally isn’t.) Additional private prayer is recommended.
Study. As Dominicans, we study. We study scripture; we study theology; we study the world around us. We study to know God better, and to know His creation better. Truth is what is, beginning with God; and the Dominican motto is Veritas, Truth. Study can flow naturally into and out of prayer; often the times I feel closest to God are when I’ve just been struck by some idea in the midst of study.
Preaching. As I indicated above, the mission of the order is preaching for the salvation of souls. Preaching can take many forms, and the most important thing is that it must be adapted to those to whom you’re preaching. Dominic adopted evangelical poverty because the Albigensians, those he most wanted to reach, were ascetics and much disgusted with the wealth and worldliness they saw in the secular clergy. Dominicans follow St. Paul, in being all things to all men in order to win some. For this reason, Dominic insisted that his rule be revisited over the course of time, so that it would be always fresh.
So different Dominicans preach in different ways. Me, I’m a blogger; and there are other things I do as well.
Community. Dominican friars, nuns, and sisters live in community. Lay Dominicans live in the world, in their own homes, but they come together in their chapter once a month, at least, to pray, study, and (usually) to eat together. You can’t be a Dominican on your own. Dominic sent his friars to the four corners of the world, but he sent them two-by-two. So we pray for each other, and support each other, and learn from each others.
Being a Dominican is a vocation. You have to be called to it, and you have to find a chapter that agrees that you’re called to it. Once you’re professed, you have to make your chapter a priority in your life, just as you do with your family. My chapter meeting is sacred; I’m a lector at mass, but I don’t read at mass on the mornings when my chapter meets.
Before I became a Lay Dominican, I had the romantic notion that the average Dominican chapter would be a group of budding St. Thomas Aquinases. ‘Tain’t so. Dominicans are people, and some are smarter than others, and some are holier than others, and some are sometimes just plain annoying. But as a chapter we have a shared task of growing in holiness together and helping each other along the way.
Lay Dominicans promise to live according to the Dominican Rule (a variant of the Augustinian Rule), and according to the “Particular Directory” of their province. Interesting, unlike other orders the Dominican Rule doesn’t bind on pain of sin: if you do not follow the rule on a particular day, it is not a sin. There are two reasons for this: first, Dominic wanted us to follow the Rule out of love, rather than out of fear of sin; and second, he wanted us to be flexible enough to put the salvation of souls before everything else. Even in the early days, friars were sometimes excused from saying the Divine Office so as to have more time for study; and if I were to be having a fruitful conversation with someone when it was time for Evening Prayer then by all means I should be free to continue it.
Of course, I do sometimes fail to live up to the Rule; and usually for no such good reason as Dominic envisioned. But each day is a new day, and as St. Jose Maria Escriva said, the interior life is beginning and beginning again. With prayer, and study, and (as best I can) preaching; and with community with my chapter. That’s how it all goes.