Lay Dominicans are men and women, singles and couples living a Christian life with a Dominican spirituality in the secular world. They find inspiration following the same spiritual path taken by many saints, blesseds, and other holy men and women throughout the 800-year history of the Dominican Order. 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. There are Lay Dominican Provinces all around the world.
This was one of the earliest developments of the ancient Ordo de Poenitentia (Order of Penance). This was a status which developed in the ancient Church, in which those faithful who sought a more dedicated way of life embraced the lifestyle of a penitent then in effect in the Church. It was not the organization from which the Friars Preachers evolved, but rather represents that portion of the Order of Penance which came under Dominican influence. At first vaguely constituted and living without system or form, its members gradually grew more and more dependent on their spiritual guides.
Friar Munio of Zamora, the seventh Master General of the Friars Preachers, formulated a definite Rule for these lay penitents in 1285. By this the Ordo de Poenitentia was to be ruled in each local center by a Dominican priest:II, 35 and was to be subject to the obedience of the Dominican priors provincial and Masters General. Henceforward this branch was linked to the fortunes of the Friars Preachers and wore their habits of black and white (with few minor differences varying according to time and country). They were not specifically called a third order until after papal recognition in 1405. but continued to be known as the "Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic".
A military order, called the Militia Jesu Christi (soldiery of Jesus Christ), also became a part of the third order. It owed its origin to Bishop Foulques of Toulouse, Simon de Montfort,:I and probably to St. Dominic, then a canon regular. This connection with the founder of the Friars Preachers is first discussed in documents relating to the Blessed Raymund of Capua, who became a Dominican about 1350. As early as 1235, Pope Gregory IX confided the Militia to the care of Friar Jordan of Saxony, second Master General, by a Bull of 18 May;:10 and in the same year he decreed a habit of black and white for the knights.:14 Further, when the Militia was brought across the Alps and established in Italy, it is found to be always connected with some Dominican church.:I, 13 Lastly, it was very largely influenced by a famous Dominican, Friar Bartolomeo of Braganza, or of Vicenza, as he is sometimes called.:I, 12, 42, etc.
Originally working side by side and independent of each other, because both received the same spiritual administration of the Friars Preachers, they appear to have been merged at the close of the 13th century. So too their ultimate merging is hinted at by Honorius III in 1221 when he designates the Militia "nomine poenitentiae", and a comparison also of the rules of the two institutions: that of Pope Gregory for the Militia in 1235:12–16 and that of Munio de Zamora for the Order of Penance of St. Dominic in 1285:28–36 would lead one to the same conclusion. The only considerable difference that could be cited against this identify is that Munio of Zamora expressly forbids the carrying of arms. But this is in reality but a further proof of their approximation, for he allows for the one exception which could possibly apply to the Militia, viz. in defence of the Church.:32 This amalgamation is admitted by the Bollandists to have become general in the 14th century.
From this double movement therefore, i.e. from the Ordo de Poenitentia S. Dominici and the Militia Jesu Christi, was born the modern Third Order of St. Dominic. Though its source is therefore anterior to the First Order, its full perfection as an organized society, with a distinctive habit, a definite rule, and a declared ethos or spirit, is due to the genius of the children of St. Dominic. They took an ancient institution, and, with their characteristic love of order and systematic arrangement, brought it into something compact and symmetrical. From them this idea of subjection to a First Order was taken up by the Franciscans and has been adopted by all subsequent Third Orders
Only for one period in its history was there any real fear of suppression. Many held that the condemnation passed on the Beguines and Beghards at the Council of Vienna in 1312 applied no less to the Orders of Penance. In consequence the master-general petitioned Pope John XXII in 1326 to settle definitely the difficulty. As a result, he answered by a Bull of 1 June 1326 (Cum de Mulieribus), which is a long eulogium on the work of the Dominican Third Order.
After the plague of 1348, a great deal of laxity and disorganization crept into the Third Order, but a wonderful throng of saints soon caused its rejuvenation. The influence of St. Catherine of Siena gave a powerful impetus to the movement in Italy and her work was carried on by Bl. Clara Gambacorta (died 1419) and Bl. Maria Mancini (died 1431). This new spiritual vigour reached across the Alps to the sisterhoods of Germany, where the effect was almost abnormal (Heimbucher, "Die Orden und Kongregationen der katholischen Kirche", Paderborn, 1907, II, 169-177). But there has never been any reform in the sense of a separate organization with a change of rule or habit. As in the First Order, there has been a peculiar gift of unity which has enabled it to last undivided for seven hundred years.
The work of the Third Order is to engage laypeople to help in reform of church discipline. Its initial purpose was the preaching of penance; but under Dominican influences it leaned to the intellectual aspect of the Faith and based its message to the world on the exposition of the Creed; it was to reform Church discipline by the more widespread knowledge of the mysteries of faith. It also helped to defend the Church, and to develop the communion of prayer. The medieval ideal of Christ's Mystical Body which has captivated all spiritual-minded people implies a harmony of prayer. To achieve this end the contemplative and monastic orders were begun; and the Third Order of St. Dominic endeavours to link pious souls to this great throng of religious (Proctor, "The Dominican Tertiary's Daily Manual", London, 1900, 15-20).
The Third Order as it exists to-day can be divided into two categories: regular, i.e. comprising Tertiaries, whether men or women, who live in community and wear the habit externally; and secular, i.e. whether married or single, cleric or lay, who live their lives like others of their profession, but who privately take up practices of austerity, recite some liturgical Office, and wear some symbol of the Dominican habit.
The origin of the conventual women Tertiaries has never been very clearly worked out. It is usual to trace them back to Emily Bicchieri, about the year 1255. But if the view taken above of the origin of the Third Order in the Ordo de Poenitentia be correct, we are forced to the conclusion that the communities of women established by St. Dominic at Prouille, S. Sisto, etc. were really of this Third Order. Their constitutions, approved first for S. Sisto, though previously observed at Prouille, expressly speak of the nuns as "de Poenitentia S. Mariae Magdalenae". It would seem then that the Ordo de Poenitentia did not exclude convents of enclosed nuns from its ranks, and this was due probably to St. Dominic himself.
Very much later came a conventual order of men, originated by the genius of Père Lacordaire. He considered that the democratic spirit of the Dominican Order fitted it especially for the task of training the youth. But he knew how impossible it was for his preaching associates to tie themselves down to schoolwork among boys; as a consequence, he began, in 1852, a Third Order of men, wearing the habit, living in community yet without the burdens of monastic life. The rule was approved provisionally in 1853 and definitely in 1868.
But by far the greatest portion of the Third Order consists of secular Tertiaries. These are of every rank of society, and represent the old Ordo de Poenitentia and the old Militia. In certain countries they are grouped into chapters, having a lay prior and sub-prior or prioress and sub-prioress, and hold monthly meetings. Since the Rule of Muñon de Zamora (1285), they have always been subject to a Dominican priest appointed by the Dominican provincial. For the actual reception of the habit, the master-general can give faculties to any priest. The full habit is the same as that of the members of the First and Second Orders, but without the scapular (granted, however, to communities since 1667). Though the habit is not worn during life many procure it so that they may be buried in the recognized dress of St. Dominic's children.
It is practically impossible to obtain, even in a vague way, the number of the secular Dominican Tertiaries. No general register is kept, and the records of each priory would have to be searched. From the time of St. Louis — who wished to join the Dominican and Franciscan Orders (Acta Sanctorum, August, V, 545), and is represented in old illuminations, sometimes in the habit of one, sometimes in the habit of the other (Chapotin, Histoire de dominicains de la province de France, Rouen, 1898, p. 497), but probably never joined either— to our own time, it can be stated only that with the rise and fall of the First Order's greatness rose and fell the number of the Tertiaries. In England during the 13th century very many are said to have become Tertiaries. But of this nothing for certain can be specified.
At the time of St. Catherine of Siena, the Mantellate (women secular Tertiaries) made difficulties about receiving her to the habit as they included at the date only widows (Gardner, St. Catherine of Siena, London, 1907, II), and there were no men at all in the Third Order in Italy at that date (Acta Sanctorum, April, III, 1881). Under Bl. Raymond of Capua, her confessor and, after her death, twenty-third master general, attempts were made to re-establish the order and no doubt much was done (Mortier, "Maîtres généraux", III, 605-606). But by the time of St. Antoninus (died 1450) the numbers had again dwindled down to insignificance ("Summa Moralis", Verona, 1750, III, 23, 5, 5, pp. 1291–2). Just previous to the Reformation there are a few isolated notices; thus Bl. Adrian Fortescue, the martyr, notes in his diary: "Given to the Black Friars of Oxford to be in their fraternity 12d" ("Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII", London, 1883, Rolls Series, VII, 101). But these give us no ground at all for any surmise as to statistics. In the Americas, the first canonized saint (St. Rose of Lima, died 1617) and the first beatified person of mixed-race (St. Martin de Porres, died 1639) were both Dominican Tertiaries, and later in France were men like M. Olier and St. Louis de Montfort.
In the United States, Lay Dominican Provinces include the Southern Province, Central Province, Western Province, and Eastern Province.
Then came the influence of Lacordaire, from whose time there dates a new enthusiasm in the Third Order ("Année Dominicaine", Paris, 1910, 149-65). Of the regular Tertiaries it is easier to speak more definitely. The numbers of all the sixteen approved congregations existing in 1902 are given, and they amount to some 7000 nuns ("Analecta Ord. Praed.", Rome, 1902, 389). To these must be added another 7000 of congregations not yet definitively authorized by Rome. But many fresh convents were opened and the numbers continually increased. In England they began under Mother Margaret Hallahan (died 1868) in 1842, and now in all the separate groupings there are 22 convents with some 500 sisters; in the United States their success has been remarkable. Founded in 1846 by Mother Amalie Barth (died 1895), the congregation in 1902 included 34 convents and over 2000 nuns. In 1876 they passed into California, where they are rapidly increasing. In Ireland they have many establishments, especially for educational purposes, for their work is as varied as the needs of humanity require. Some are enclosed, others teach, visit the sick, nurse the lepers, look after old people, take care of penitent girls, work among the poor in the slums, etc. As for the congregation of teaching men, they have been greatly disorganized since their expulsion from France. At present they comprise but a half-dozen colleges in Fribourg, San Sebastian, and South America, and do not amount to more than 100 members in all. Finally, a citation from Faber's "Blessed Sacrament" (2nd ed., p. 565) may be made: "Those who are conversant with, indeed who find the strength and consolation of their lives in, the Acts of the Saints well know that there is not a nook in the mystical Paradise of our heavenly spouse where the flowers grow thicker or smell more fragrantly than this order of multitudinous child-like saints. Nowhere in the Church does the Incarnate Word show His delight at being with the children of men in more touching simplicity, with more unearthly sweetness, or more spouse-like familiarity than in this, the youngest family of S. Dominic."