The Life of a Dominican layperson is all about having a passion for the Word of God. It is about committing one self to a community of like minded brothers and sisters that immerse themselves in the Word of God. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John; 31-32).
Dominican laity seek to be in an environment where they “breathe” the Word of God, in the Holy Scripture; in the teaching of the Church, in personal and liturgical prayer, in study, in every day life experiences. They discern ways, with the help of a community of believers, to deliver that Word according to our abilities and the urging of the Holy Spirit. For some, that may mean a life of prayer; for others, an intense love of study, perhaps leading to teaching; for many, an apostolate that proclaims God’s special love for their families, the poor, the sick and dying, and the imprisoned, much like our Patroness St. Catherine of Siena. All these activities speak a truth to our impoverished, hurting, hungry world. But for a member of the Order of Preachers, of any branch of the family, actual preaching is to hold pride of place particularly in places where the hierarchical ministry of the church is unavailable or ineffective. “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can they preach unless they are sent? Thus faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (Romans 1014-15).
This purpose of the Order of Preachers can be found succinctly stated in the Fundamental Constitutions of the Friars of the Order “The Order of Preachers, founded by St. Dominic, ‘is known to have been established, from the beginning, for preaching and the salvation of souls, specifically.’ (cf. The Book of Constitutions and Ordinations of the Brothers of the Order of Preachers, “The Fundamental Constitutions,” II).
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Vatican Council II proclaimed “The obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his ability.” In Chapter IV of that document we read “Their sacred pastors know how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. Pastors also know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary, they understand that it is their noble duty so to shepherd the faithful and recognize their services and charismatic gifts that all, according to their proper roles, may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart.” The council goes on to state “The laity can also be called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy…(they) have the capacity to be deputed by the hierarchy to exercise certain church functions for a spiritual purpose.” (Lumen Gentium, Chapter II, 9; IV, 30, 33).
Moreover, there are a number of Canon Laws that, following the direction of the Council, express the right and obligation of the Faithful to make sure “…that the divine message of salvation may more and more reach all people of all times and all places” (The Code of Canon Law#211). Other Canons that encourage this position of the Laity can be found in Numbers 204,208, and 225. Moreover, number 766 states “The laity may be allowed to preach in a church or oratory if in certain circumstances it is necessary, or in particular cases, it would be advantageous, according to the provisions of the Episcopal Conference and without prejudice to canon, 767,l.” (Canon 767, l states that the homily at the liturgy of the Eucharist is reserved to the priest or deacon).
The Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican Laity, in turn, states that the Dominican Laity “have a distinctive character in both their spirituality and their service to God and neighbor. As members of the Order, they share in its apostolic mission through prayer, study, and preaching according to the state of the laity” (Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican Laity (The Rule) #4).
Living Dominican Life is about preparing oneself to “be sent”, like the Apostles. Many lay Dominicans are married or have jobs, which mean they can not just get up and go. So being sent means more than just physical mobility. We accept our mission by remaining where we are and being a word of life there. Each one of us is sent from God to those whom we meet. (Manila 2000 Fr. Timothy Radcliffe). Like troops that are trained for a battle that may never materialize, Dominicans give their ears, minds and hearts to God’s Eternal Word in a community dedicated to contemplative prayer and study; allowing themselves to be formed for proclaiming the fruits of that prayer and study. In Dominican Life, all rules and directives are arranged to give flesh to this reality.
In his wonderful letter Freedom and Responsibility Towards a Spirituality of Government, Timothy Radcliffe, OP, the 84th successor to St. Dominic, points out that among the greatest gifts that Dominic left his family was to make “Government“ a holy word; a word that, in Dominican Spirituality, describes the process that frees us to receive the Incarnate Word. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father (John 114). After quoting this verse from John’s Gospel, Timothy states “I wish to show how the challenge of good government is to make flesh among us that grace and truth.“ (Sing a New Song, Pg. 84).
Our brother Timothy points out in this pastoral letter that the Order is not divided into the ‘governors’ and the ‘governed‘. When we accept a brother or sister into the Order, we expect that person to contribute to the government of a chapter (or pro-chapter), enter into the debates that are so much a part of our searching for the truth, help us arrive at fruitful decisions and work at finding creative ways to implement them. (cf. Sing A New Song, p.83)
Our Particular Directives are about Government. Their one purpose is to enable lay men and women to live their lives in the spirit of St. Dominic, committed to the Dominican charism of preaching in the Province of St. Martin de Porres, USA. They are enacted to give flesh to the Fundamental Constitution of the Laity (The Rule), and to free the chapters of lay Dominicans to live the four pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, community, and mission. At their root is always the search for truth, which, following the example of our Father Dominic, we believe arises through the Holy Spirit living and working in all the baptized.
Preface, Rule and Directory of the Southern Dominican Laity, 2006