St. Dominic recognized the importance of prayer and insisted that his religious and lay followers practice a rigorous daily prayer schedule. Only through putting Christ first each day and by taking adequate time to pray to Him and contemplate Him can Dominicans have lasting fruits to give the world. We see, then, why one of the Dominicans’ greatest mottoes, taken from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is “to contemplate and to share the fruits of your contemplation.”
Lay Dominican life offers an answer to the basic human yearning for balance. For Dominicans, balance begins with several different forms of prayer.
The first type of prayer which Lay Dominicans practice is private prayer. Praying alone usually means simple, spontaneous conversation with God, much like a conversation between two best friends. In personal private prayer, we come to God with all of our thoughts, needs, and questions. We praise and thank Him for everything He gives to us, we offer adoration to Him, we petition Him for our needs, and we seek His forgiveness for our offenses. Private prayer is an on-going conversation with our Creator. The fruit of this conversation is communion with God.
A beautiful aspect of St. Dominic’s communion with God is helpful to note here. St. Dominic’s prayer life was so filled with reverence and awe before God and an emptying of himself that he often wept. “He could not come to God nor be mindful of Him that he did not weep. He wept when he offered Mass. He wept when he prayed. He wept for his sins. He wept for the sins of others. He wept and even sobbed out loud when he thought of God’s fidelity which continues in spite of our indifference, truculence even, or negligence.” Far from being sentimental, St. Dominic shed these tears because God had blessed him with a deep knowledge of Himself and all that He had done for mankind.
In addition to this private prayer, Lay Dominicans pray in common with the universal Church through a means called the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office. The Liturgy of the Hours are the prayers of the Church, centered around the Psalms, that sanctify all the hours of the day. In addition to Psalms, they contain Old and New Testament readings, prayers, petitions, and meditations from saints, scholars, mystics, doctors, martyrs, popes, and apostles throughout the Church’s rich and extensive history. The Liturgy of the Hours can be purchased at our Dominican Bookstore. Lay Dominicans are obligated to pray Morning and Evening Prayer.
The benefits of praying in common with the universal Church are vast. This type of prayer is vital to Dominican life, especially since most of us are not literally living in community with other Lay Dominicans, but are instead living at home as a single or married person, as most lay people do. Every person has a need to be connected to others, to be “in community.” Praying these fixed prayers of the Church answers this need by putting us in touch with the entire body of Christ spread throughout the world. For example, when we open the Liturgy of the Hours to do morning prayer, we can reflect that religious communities, priests, and laity worldwide – even the Pope himself meditate on the same Psalms, readings, and prayers of the day as we are. The Liturgy of the Hours intimately unites the Church!
Praying the Divine Office is a way of reading the Scriptures in a meditative, lingering way. We do not read the Divine Office for information. We stop on certain words or phrases. We contemplate. We use our imaginations to fill in the details of Scripture. We allow Scripture to work on our souls and to transform us.
When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the quality of our prayer is not dependent on our own words and emotions that day. We employ the very words of the Church to give praise to God and to sanctify our day. In private prayer we speak our own words, and in common prayer we utter the ever-ancient truths of Scripture to God our Father. Vitality in one’s living a Dominican life hinges on maintaining a healthy balance between these two types of prayer.
Lay Dominicans attend Mass as much as they are able, daily if possible and Sunday by obligation. The Eucharist is the crown of Christian life. As much as we are able to partake of Christ’s Real Presence at Mass, we need to. Communion with Christ is a privilege that is treasured and pursued faithfully.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
In addition to frequent attendance at Mass, Lay Dominicans are encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a monthly basis. Confession strengthens one’s prayer life, purifying the heart and helping a person to know himself clearly. Confessing one’s sins on a regular basis strengthens a person’s trust in God’s love and mercy. In a refreshing way, the Sacrament of Reconciliation sets everything aright and restores balance to the soul.