We are all of us shaped by our environments and our communities. That is especially true with Dominicans.
When St Dominic founded the order he spoke of the sacra praedicatio, or the Holy Preaching. This is not a function to be performed, a work or a mission, but the way in which the brothers live their lives. A common fraternal life is part of any sacra praedicatio, part of our preaching.
We see this in the apostolic brotherhood gathered around Jesus and in the first Christian communities. Preachers are sent to bring to other places the shared life of prayer and charity they have experienced. Each community is ecclesial, a school of Christian life.
Our appreciation of this fraternity extends beyond our own community to include the other branches of the Dominican family, the nuns, active sisters, and laity, as well as the local Church.
The integral nature of Dominican community life lies in the fact that the community continually shapes, supports and challenges each friar.
More than just residences, a Dominican community (priory) is a home – a place where the friar lives, prays, recreates and continually encounters Christ in his brothers. Because of this, it is often the starting point for preaching.
More on the Friarly Life
For further details about our life, click on any of the sections below
Rule of Life
The Rule of St. Augustine and the Book of Constitutions and Ordinations (LCO) are both complements of the fundamental rule book for the work we do as Dominican Friars, and for the friarly life.
The secular world is full of rulebooks. You can bet on any successful corporate entity (Coca Cola, Amazon, Google etc.) having a handbook that lays out expectations and structure for employees to follow. The LCO does this; it tells us, for example, that hearing Confessions and preaching the Eucharist is central to our mission (LCO 105).
But the LCO is not just an employee handbook for Dominican Friars. The LCO marks out the outline of our life and it finds itself fulfilled in the friars themselves. It’s more than a rule book. The
LCO has been written with heavenly profits in mind, both for Dominican Friars and the people we serve, and that it has been written by Augustine – a saint and Doctor of the Church – and by the Friars themselves.
It's the assurance that his Dominican life will bear fruit for the Church and the world.
The Rule of St. Augustine and the Book of Constitutions and Ordinations (LCO) comprises a fundamental rulebook for the work we do as Dominican Friars, and for the life we friars live.
'Supports' for the life
The Dominican Habit
In some ways, the Dominican Habit is the easiest of these to explain: it’s a tunic, a belt (cincture), a rosary, a scapular, a capuce (hood) and sometimes a cappa and black capuce. The individual articles of clothing come together today to form a sign both to us and to the world of what we represent.
The tunic was a common medieval garment when the friars started wearing it, and it was white because white was cheaper than colored fabric. The white color is as a symbol of our desire to follow in the steps of Jesus, the spotless lamb, and to preach him in the world.
Reminds us of the need to ‘gird’ ourselves each day for the challenges of the day, especially in purity, so that we may love and serve God more devotedly.
The Rosary was promoted by the Dominicans from the early days of the Order. The rosary is worn on the left side, where men used to wear a sword. The Rosary too is a weapon.
It is the only part of the habit that is intentionally blessed, and it reminds us, whenever we put it on, that we are under Mary’s special patronage.
The capuce is a sign reminding us of our consecrated celibacy to God for the sake of preaching the Gospel.
The Order was active from its earliest days in Northern Europe, and needed the Cappa as an extra layer. Today, it reminds us of how the whole Order is sheltered under Mary’s mantle.
Much like the Cappa, the Black Capuce was an extra layer, but for us, it explicitly recalls two great figures from the Old Testament, and encourages us to preach boldly and deliver sinners from bondage.
One of the first things I remember being told early in my formation was that friars and monks are not the same thing.
This applies very clearly to the observance of Cloister: Dominican friars’ Cloister is different from a monk’s cloister.
For most monastics, the cloister – the residential living space – is the place where they spend most of their lives, and leaving the cloister is not a very common occurrence.
A Dominican friars’ Cloister is not so restrictive
Cloister gives a place of retreat for the friar who uses and observes it wisely. If we observe Cloister well, we are not running away from the world, but finding and keeping a space where a we can recharge and recuperate.
Like with Cloister, Dominican Silence is not like the other forms of silence that are often observed by religious communities.
For example, it’s a long way off from Carthusian observance of silence, which allows monks to come together and speak once a month. Actually, visitors to our house often remark at how loud it is – especially the laughter – during recreational time.
There is plenty of time for laughter. But there also must be time for Silence.
Our Preaching is meant to be born out of prayer and contemplation and silence helps serve that purpose. Before one can preach the Word, one must hear the Word that is Jesus Christ.
Like all the others, Dominican Penitential Practice has to be unique; it has to serve the preaching character. As with the rest of the supports, though, the preaching mission will always be more effective if the Dominican friar embraces appropriate penances.
If I was to try and go without food for 24 hours before preaching, my preaching would probably suffer.
However, fasting from technology and social media might help me focus more intently on what God was trying to say to me through the Scripture.
The best Dominican Penances, like most aspects of our life, are chosen and practiced communally. Once they’re chosen, and embraced, communal penitential practice helps both the community and people around the community.
Read LCO Paragraphs 39 - 55 for more detail.
The Vowed Life
We make only one vow: Obedience, which for us includes Poverty and Chastity.
Dominican friars profess obedience to the Master of the Order. The Master of the Order is obedient to Jesus, to Mary, to St. Dominic, and to the Pope. He is also obedient to the will of the brothers. So, ultimately, a big part of our vow of Obedience is to our worldwide fraternity. St. Dominic is a shining example for us in this: while he was still alive - in an unheard-of step for a founder - he ceded his authority to the brothers of the Chapter.
If St. Dominic was willing to act in obedience to his brothers, how much more we ought to be willing to do the same?
The obedience we give to the Master of the Order is meant to imitate the obedience that Jesus gave to the will of the Father. Our obedience actually unites us to Christ, who lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father. We are not obedient for the sake of being obedient; we are obedient because Jesus was obedient, and we are trying to follow in his footsteps. Dominic was the first to do it in our Order, and he did so in an exemplary way; may we imitate his example.
The Common Life
Community life is essential to a friarly life, and that is reflected in our daily schedule.
Every day, there is time set aside to recreate together and eat together, and brothers often go beyond the minimum amount of time expected for time together. The main reason we are gathered together in community is so that we might live in harmony of the house, of one mind and heart in God. This harmony, though, is a high bar to clear, and there can be plenty of obstacles. Brothers with different temperaments and personalities sometimes irritate one another, brothers can be jealous of friendships that other brothers develop, and all brothers bear numerous responsibilities.
I read the Constitutions governing Common Life and am painfully aware of how frequently I fail to live up to the high standard that I see in them. This is true for many Dominicans. But if we friars act virtuously, we are not discouraged, but delighted in the knowledge that the life we have chosen gives us such a standard to meet. This motivates us to try all the harder to be excellent in gentleness and communal charity.
A brother said once that community is a school of charity. It’s a school where saints are made. No wonder we have so many.
Cleric & non-Cleric
In founding the Order of Preachers, St. Dominic founded a group of Friars whose mission was essentially tied to liturgical preaching, celebration of the Eucharist, and the hearing of Confessions. This explains what is meant when the Order of Preaching is described as a Clerical Order.
Dominic, however, did not conceive of an order of exclusively priests. Indeed, throughout Dominican history, about one out of every five Dominican Friars have embraced an expression of Dominican life that participates in the friarly mission as a non-ordained friar.
This vocation is not less Dominican than that of the priests, nor is it only incidental to the mission of the Order.
Truly, as the former Master of the Order, Bruno Cadore has said, '(The ordained brother and the non-ordained brother) are two expressions of the same vocation.'
The non-ordained Dominican Brother is compelled to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without the same sacramental responsibilities as the Dominican Clerical Brother.
This means the non-ordained Brother has a greater freedom than a Clerical Brother to engage non-ecclesial ministries, activities, and leadership.
Dominican preaching cannot be done without Dominican Priests, and the preaching of Dominican Priests would be impoverished and less effective if not complimented by the preaching proper to non-ordained Brothers.