“The term ‘laity’ is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church. That is, the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world. “-Lumen Gentium* (no 31)
If the notion of a Lay Dominican is new to you, you’re in the right place.
What does “laity” mean?
First, let’s define the word “lay.” Lay is the adjective form of the word “laity,” which is the distinctive title for people who are not ordained or otherwise consecrated religious. So, we have ordained Catholics (bishops, priests, and deacons); we have consecrated religious (brothers, nuns, sisters); and we have those (a vast majority) who fall into neither category. If you are not a priest, brother, nun, or sister, you are a member of the laity.
Background on Third Orders
The Dominican Laity is one of many lay groups attached to a religious order, which, in some orders, are called “Third Orders” or “Tertiaries.”
(Sidebar: Why “third?” Good question! Usually, the “First Order” would be priests, while the “Second Order” are cloistered nuns and hermits. Since the third group to be formally added to the spiritual family would be the lay people, they are referred to as the “The Order.” Third Order members can be religious (“regular”), that is, sisters who live in community but have an apostolic mission; or, they can be secular, that is, members of the laity who live and function in the world. Lay Dominicans are of the latter variety.)
According to Canon Law (canon 702), secular or third orders are “associations whose members, while living a secular life, strive after Christian perfection by observing a papally approved rule, under the direction and spirit of a religious order” (canon 702).
The Lay Dominicans no longer refer to themselves as “Third Order Dominicans;” we include this background for reference.
Other Examples of Third Orders
There are several religious orders that have a Lay component. Here is a short list of examples:
- Carmelites: Third Order Secular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- Franciscans: Third Order Secular of St. Francis
- Benedictines: Benedictine Oblates
Why Join a Third Order / Lay Order?
People join these orders for several reasons. These are some examples of motivators that put people on the road to discerning whether a third order is right for them:
- The spirituality and charisms of the order resonate with them.
- They desire (even crave) community, especially with other Catholics with whom they are simpatico.
- They want to add structure and accountability to their prayer lives and their apostolic work.
- They believe in power in numbers, so to speak. They see the synergy of the order’s work, and they wish to add their efforts to the order’s.
- They feel called by God to pursue the order.
All third orders involve a formal commitment to the respective order. In the case of the Lay Dominicans in the Central Province, we call that commitment “promises” (as opposed to vows).
Other Possibilities: Lay Associations
These lay orders that are attached to religious orders are different from lay associations. For those looking to deepen their spirituality and do specific apostolic work, lay associations are another possible route. Examples of lay associations include the Knights of Columbus and the Society of St. Vincent DePaul.
…Back to the Lay Dominicans
What, then, is a Lay Dominican? A Lay Dominican:
- Can be male or female
- Is living and working in the world (but not of it!)
- Loves the charism and spirituality of the Dominicans
- Lives the 4 pillars of the Dominican Order: prayer, study, community, and apostolate (specifics below)
- Discerns ways to preach in their everyday lives (and there are many ways)
- Is committed to working for social justice
- Spends a significant part of their life in formation (study)
- Attends Lay Dominican meetings regularly (usually monthly)
- Prays the Divine Office daily (usually Morning and Evening Prayer) and says the rosary daily
- Attends Mass as often as possible
This lifestyle of prayer, study, preaching, community, and apostolic work is irresistible to some Catholics. For those who live in driving distance of a Lay Dominican chapter / group, they begin attending meetings and discerning whether they’re called to life as a lay member of the Dominican Family.
One Lay Dominican recently described her vocation as “being a nerd for Christ.”
The Next Step
If you are beginning the process of discerning becoming a Lay Dominican (or any order), the process is simple, but it can be long. First, read up on the order. Read about the spirituality and charisms of the order. Talk to other members. Read about their founder and other significant members of the order. It might even be a good idea to look into other orders as a sort of “gut check” to make sure you’re digging in the right place.
Then, try out several meetings, as it’s not always illuminating to attend just one. Talk to the leadership there to inquire about pursuing a deeper commitment.
The biggest test of your readiness to join a particular is to start practicing the spirituality. Try it on for size. Does it fit your personality? Does it feel natural? Do you feel inspired? If so, you might be in the right place!
If you’d like to check out a Lay Dominican meeting and you live in the Central Province, go here to find a community.
Finally, there are myriad resources on this site (such as the FAQ) to help you on your journey, should you feel so called to continue your discernment with the Lay Dominicans. May God bless you as you pursue the distinctively Dominican flavor of Catholic life!
*Lumen Gentium (Latin for “Light of the Nations”) is a post-conciliar document of the Second Vatican Council. You can find its text here.