Dominican Life is a Mix of Action and Contemplation

Dominican Spirituality

St Dominic embraced the same general elements of the Christian life shared by others in the Church, but blended them into a specific spirituality that is original, balanced, and unique. Dominican Spirituality draws from Sacred Scripture, bases itself on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments, and the liturgy, incorporates principles of traditional asceticism, and drinks from the purest sources of Western mysticism and monasticism.

It is extremely lofty – theocentric, Christological, sacerdotal, monastic, contemplative, and apostolic. It is, in truth, the spirituality of Christ the Preacher and of the Apostles. The primary intention is to elevate the Friar to the heights of contemplation, but going beyond this, Dominican contemplation itself is intended to fructify into the apostolate for souls, especially through preaching, teaching, and writing. Hence this two-fold character of the Order – of contemplation, and of the salvation of souls through preaching – distinguishes the Dominicans from all other Orders.

Dominican Life is Liturgical

From the very beginning, the Order of Preachers was a priestly order, in comparison with many other institutes of its time that were usually comprised of monks and laymen. Years before founding the Order of Preachers, St Dominic had made profession as Canon Regular. Hence, he was a priest whose chief duty was to carry out the Sacred Liturgy in the cathedral of Osma. His life revolved around the Divine Office, for he was obliged by his duty of state to participate daily in chanting the canonical hours. We also know from accounts of St Dominic’s companions that his devotion for the Holy Sacrifice was such that he was always moved to tears during the Canon of the Mass. Even on his extended journeys he attempted to celebrate Mass each day, which may not seem significant in this day and age, but which was certainly regarded as notable feat in the 13th century. The Mass was truly his life. Hence, a love for the Liturgy is a precious heritage that Dominicans owe to their Founder.

We assist at the Mass daily, but thereafter, our chief exercise of prayer and our special means of achieving the end of our Order is the solemn recitation of the Divine Office. As Dominicans, we cherish this official prayer of the Church and, like St Dominic, possess a zeal for its devout recitation, not only because of its intrinsic excellence, but also knowing that almighty God will bless more abundantly the external works of those whom He sees devoted to the work of His praise.

The Rosary

The other devotion also regarded as a treasured heritage in the Dominican Order, and one the most powerful weapons in the spiritual warfare is the Rosary. Let us recall that the conquering of the Albigensian heresy was in great part due to the Rosary that Our Lady had asked St Dominic to pray and to make known. This was but the first of many victories that Our Lady would obtain through the Rosary.

Mental Prayer

The prayers of the Preachers were not just at set times throughout the day or merely to ensure the success of their external works. More than that, it was necessary that their own lives be constantly permeated with the spirit of prayer and that their souls be continually elevated to God so that they themselves should become holy. How could they draw others out of the darkness of heresy, sin and immorality, how could they set fire to the world, how could they draw others to true holiness unless they themselves were holy, unless they themselves were true lights and flaming torches thanks to constant prayer?

The Necessity of Silence

While silence is one of our practices of penance, it is an important element of Dominican life for several other reasons. We have already mentioned the necessity of contemplation as the foundation for all Dominican activity, and also the importance of maintaining a spirit of prayer or recollection throughout the day. Both of these demand an atmosphere of silence. Furthermore, the needs of study also require the rigorous observance of silence within the enclosure.

Dominican Life is Doctrinal

We have just mentioned study, which is a distinguishing mark of the Dominican order. We know that at the time of St Dominic, the secular clergy were lacking not only in zeal and morals, but also in solid theological training, and that this, too, was greatly to blame for the growth of heresy. St Dominic realised that he needed to strike at the root of the evil of heresy by raising up learned priests, strong in the faith. He sent them out to all over Europe, zealously to defend the faith and to preach the truth – Veritas, our motto.

How were the Preachers to become champions of the faith and true lights of the world? By means of intense study. In drawing up their Customary, St Dominic and his companions insisted that the preachers “were to apply themselves to study, day and night, at home and abroad”, and they even left the religious free to prolong their night vigils for the purposes of study. The rule of dispensation was introduced to facilitate the exercise of study, and it was also dictated that the choral office should be recited rapidly in order not to detain the brethren from study.

Intense study has always been of particular importance to the Dominicans, for while it is true that study is not the aim of the Order, it is necessary for the attainment of our special end. We cannot give what we do not have; we cannot instruct others in the truth, unless we ourselves possess the truth.

Dominican Life is Penitential

Besides prayer, there are also two other characteristics of the Dominican Order – penance and poverty. At the time of St Dominic, the common people were particularly scandalised by the lack of holiness among the clergy and the manner in which many of them were absorbed in the administration of temporal properties and goods. Hence, St Dominic decided that although the Order could receive revenues, it would not possess property, firstly because the administration of property would hinder the friars in the exercise of their apostolic mission, but equally because the example of their detachment from the goods of earth was a condition for the efficacy of their preaching.

Our holy Father St Dominic also recommended the practice of penance to his children, not merely by word, but by his own radiant example. Although ever joyful and ready to smile, we know from the comments of his close companions that our holy Father’s own life was replete with austerities of every kind and that he bore suffering in a spirit of faith and with serenity of soul.

Dominicans must therefore look upon penance as an essential part of their own lives. On them, as on all, presses the obligation of daily self-denial. The apostolic spirit, also, will urge them to seek added efficacy for their work by uniting themselves with the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. For these reasons, they are zealous in sustaining the austerities commanded by their Rule and Constitutions: silence and enclosure, early rising, fasting, abstinence, community life, and other observances.