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— praedicare —
By our hidden life, we proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true happiness to be found.
in the image of
our holy father dominic
Probably no saint in the Church's calendar brings the work of apostolic labor for souls more vividly to our mind than does St. Dominic. He appears as the very personification of activity and zeal. He is the great preacher, the doctor of truth, the herald of the Gospel, the champion of the Church. Even his name has something stirring about it, suggestive of the clash of arms. For the good of souls God willed him to don spiritual armor, to wield the sword of His Word; but in other circumstances, it is easy to picture Dominic as a second Simon de Montfort, battling for the Lord. He is a Knight by excellence, and is quite impossible to imagine him anything else.
Yet this man was likewise a great contemplative. Attention has many times been called to Saint Dominic's resemblance to Our Lord; nor was this physical alone: like Jesus, he had long years of silent, hidden preparation for a short period of apostolic ministry; like Him, St. Dominic's days were given to preaching and ministry and his nights were passed wholly in the "prayer of God."
The Order of Friars Preachers founded by St. Dominic "is known from the beginning to have been instituted especially for preaching and the salvation of souls." According to the command of St. Dominic, we must conduct ourselves honorably and religiously as those who want to obtain their salvation and the salvation of others, following in the footsteps of the Savior...speaking among ourselves or our neighbors either with God or about God. In order that we may be perfected in the love of God and neighbor through this following of Christ, we are incorporated into our Order by profession and consecrated totally to God, and in particular we are dedicated in a new way to the universal Church, "being appointed entirely for the complete evangelization of the Word of God."
The members of the Order undertake as sharers of the apostolic mission the life of the Apostles in the form conceived by St. Dominic. The structure of the order as a religious society arises from its mission and fraternal communion. Since the ministry of the word and of the sacraments of faith is a priestly office, ours is a clerical Order, whose mission those not ordained to holy orders, exercising in a special way the common priesthood, also share in many ways.
Since our Order in union with the entire Church has been sent to all nations, it has a universal character. In order that its mission may be fulfilled more suitably, it is strengthened by a sound unity in its head, the Master of the Order, to whom all the friars and nuns are bound directly by profession, since study and evangelization require mobility of everyone.
Every Order has its own characteristics; these go to form that which is in itself indescribable, namely, its spirit.
first mark of a Dominican: zeal for souls
The first distinctive mark of a Dominican is a zeal for souls. St. Dominic breathed into his first sons and daughters the ardor of his own apostolic zeal; so much so that, by common consent, the nuns were called "Sisters Preacheresses." To labor by prayer and penance for the salvation of souls, the end for which the Order was instituted, has always been, and is regarded by the nuns, as a primary duty.
second mark of a Dominican: joy
A bright, happy spirit is another Dominican characteristic. Many of the saints of the Order have possessed a keen sense of humor, such as Blessed Jordan of Saxony and Blessed Humbert of Romans. "What astonishes me is that you should be so lighthearted and happy, leading such a hard life behind these grilles," is a comment heard often enough by the nuns. Yet there is nothing astonishing in it. Given a true vocation, the cloistered life is an ideally happy one.
third mark of a Dominican: simplicity
Simplicity is likewise a marked feature in the Dominican character. "Truth" is the motto of the Order, and truth is one and simple. The Rule and Constitutions upon which the religious is formed are remarkably straightforward and simple. There is no vestige of poetry - they are perfectly easy to understand.
fourth mark of a Dominican: respect for the individual and community
When Pere Lacordaire was asked why he elected to become a Dominican rather than anything else, he replied: "St. Dominic binds the body, but he leaves the mind free." In the Dominican Order, ther eis a breadth and freedom which makes it possible for widely different characters to retain their personality, and yet be thorough and loyal Dominicans. The Dominican stamp is unmistakable; but it serves to accentuate rather than to conceal individuality. Yet this by no means implies the absence of obedience or lack of submission to the common good. For a Dominican, respect for authority is perhaps more necessary for a Dominican than for a religious of other Orders.
The Order of Preachers is the great creation of Dominic's sanctity; and its genius necessarily reflects the spirit and the life of its founder; it might even be described as himself still living, praying and working in the world. St. Dominic was both a great contemplative and a great apostle: contemplation and apostolic action are the two fundamental principles of his Order, closely entwined and dependent on each other.
religious consecration and vows
Obedience, by which we conquer the deepest part of ourselves,
aids greatly in attaining that interior liberty which belongs to the children of God
and disposes us to the free gift of ourselves in love.
– Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers
In the first days of the Order, St. Dominic asked the brethren to pledge fellowship and obedience to him. He subjected himself humbly to the decisions of them, especially the laws which the general chapter of the brethren made after mature deliberation. But in governing the Order outside the general chapter, he kindly, reasonably but firmly required voluntary obedience from all in whatever he himself enjoined after due consideration. Indeed, for a community to remain faithful to its spirit and mission it needs the principle of unity which obedience supplies.
Therefore, in our profession we promise obedience to the Master of the Order according to our Constitutions, and thus preserve the unity of the Order and of our profession which are dependent on our common obligation of obedience to one head. By this profession, we imitate Christ in a special way, for he always submitted to His Father’s will for the life of the world. In this way we are more closely united to the Church. Together with our brothers and sisters, and under the leadership of superiors who represent God in their human ministry, we are dedicated to working for the growth and common good of the Church and of the Order.
The vow of obedience is preeminent among the evangelical counsels, because by virtue of this vow, a person consecrates herself wholly to God; its acts approach more closely the goal of our profession, which is perfect love. By this vow, the nuns in their own way cooperate in the work of redemption, following the example of the Handmaid of the Lord who “through her obedience became a cause of salvation both to herself and to the whole human race.” Furthermore, since obedience binds us to Christ and the Church, the labor and renunciation which it entails continue Christ’s self-offering and take on the character of sacrifice both for ourselves and for the Church, in whose fulfillment the whole work of creation is being accomplished.
In promising chastity “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” the nuns walk in the footsteps of St. Dominic: out of love for God he kept his virginity unsullied throughout his life and was so on fire with love and zeal for souls that “everyone was swept into the embrace of his charity. In loving all, he was beloved by all, spending himself in caring for his neighbor and in showing compassion to the wretched.”
By our profession of chastity, we adhere more readily, with undivided heart, to God who first loved us, and we are more intimately consecrated to Him. Those who seek to make profession of chastity in the Order should have a proper appreciation of the dignity of marriage, which is a sign of the love between Christ and the Church. They must understand that by God’s free gift they are called to a higher manifestation of that same love. Thus, renouncing earthly marriage but loving what is prefigured in it, we follow the Lamb who redeemed us in His blood, so that by our self-offering we may cooperate in the work of human regeneration through spiritual motherhood.
In practicing chastity we gradually and more effectively attain purity of heart, freedom of spirit and depth of love. Consequently we achieve a greater control of mind and body, and a fuller development of our whole personality, by which we are enabled to give ourselves up to God with greater energy, serenity and fruitfulness. The life of chastity which the nuns profess constitutes an effective service and outstanding witness to the kingdom of God already present, and at the same time appears as a special sign of the future heavenly kingdom in which Christ will present the Church to Himself in splendor, adorned as His bride.
In imitation of the apostles who without gold, silver or money proclaimed the kingdom of God, St. Dominic and his brethren proposed to preach the gospel while begging their daily bread. Although they themselves renounced property and income, they wished the nuns to have these, and strove to procure them on their behalf. Nevertheless, “they exhorted the nuns to practice voluntary poverty.” The same spirit should animate us today, in forms adapted to different times and places.
We heed the words of the Lord, “Go sell what you have and give to the poor and come, follow me”, and are determined to be poor in fact and in spirit. While in our own way we cooperate in the ministry of our brethren who strive to draw people from the tyranny of riches and turn them to higher things, we must conquer greed in ourselves by conformity with Christ, “who for our sake became poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.”
The spirit of poverty impels us, with lively confidence in the Lord, to place our treasure in the kingdom of God and His righteousness. It means freedom from enslavement to worldly affairs and even from anxiety about them so that we may bind ourselves more fully to God and devote ourselves more readily to Him. In our own regard, it means frugality, which associates us more closely with the poor to whom the gospel is to be preached; in regard to our brethren and neighbors it also means liberality when for the sake of the kingdom of God we freely spend what we have “so that in all the needs of this life, which pass away, that charity which abides forever may prevail.”
In our profession, therefore, we promise God to have no personal possessions but to hold all things in common and to use them under the direction of our superiors for the common good of the monastery, the Order and the Church.
...sharing the fruits of our contemplation
Whatever may be the varying opinion of the world at large, the Catholic Church holds today, as she has always held, that the contemplative life is, in the words of Christ Himself "the better part." She knows full well that the first and highest duty of a creature is the worship of the Creator, and for this reason she imposes the exercise of prayer on her children. But this is not enough. With her perfect comprehension of what is befitting God's infinite majesty, the Church has organized a vast choir wherein the song of praise is continually chanted. In union with the Sacrifice of the Lamb which is offered from the rising of the sun to its setting, there rises to the throne of God the sweet incense of human prayer and praise, mingled with the myrrh of voluntary sacrifice. And the Church charges the contemplative Orders to watch that the incense and myrrh do not fail.
The contemplative life is lived simply and solely for God. It is not embraced by way of preparation for active works, as with apostolic communities who engage in service or works of mercy. It is embraced for its own sake, and the reason is not hard to find. The worship of God is sufficient to occupy all the energies of His creatures. What, after all, is the end for which we were created? "The Lord has made all things for Himself." Our Lord said to Mary that her chosen better part will not be taken from her. The need for active work will pass away, but the work of the contemplative belongs to eternity as well as to time.
This then is the first and chief aspect of the contemplative life: those privileged to lead it are above all and before all devoted to God; they endeavor to grow in close union with Him, and their usefulness in the Church depends upon this union.
The second great aim of the cloistered life is the work of intercession for the Church and for souls by prayer and constant self-sacrifice. All contemplatives are bound to this work, but it is more especially the work of Dominican contemplatives since that is the mission of the Order. This is our life, and in truth our glory. We may glory in divine things, says our brother, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and what more divine than to be offer oneself with Jesus? What more divine than to work with the Son of God made Man, to ransom souls and to build up the heavenly Jerusalem?
Consider our Lord's words: "The harvest is indeed great, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into His harvest." As the harvest is abundant and the laborers are too few, the natural conclusion at which we should arrive would be: "Hasten, therefore, to busy yourselves about the harvest." But God's conclusion is "Pray, therefore..." There is much work to be done, and for that reason, there is much need of prayer. Our Lord means prayer is to be a work of apostolic devotion, the first and foremost of such works. Prayer comes first and the laborers follow; and they will not come at all if there has been no prayer.
A hidden life of prayer has an extraordinary and far-reaching influence. Father Faber has said that a cloistered life may embrace the whole world if it be also a life of adoration. The glory of God and the interests of the Church require that contemplatives should be multiplied upon the earth. They are in Christ's mystical Body what the heart is in the human organism.
And yet, whatever talents or natural gifts a Dominican nun may possess, they are cultivated and turned to account. Thus we find amongst the nuns writers, artists, linguists, musicians, and many more. Whether asked to assume leadership or administrative roles in their communities or the Order, to produce written or artistic work or products to support the community, to serve the sick and infirm sisters in the infirmary, or to simply work diligently in the kitchen or laundry, Dominican nuns, past and present, use their knowledge and talents to share with their communities and the world the fruits of their contemplation.
Adapted from the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers and "Dominican Contemplatives" by a Dominican of Carisbrooke (Burns and Oates Ltd., 1915).