The history of the Lay Dominicans begins with a rag-tag group of lay persons who attached themselves with piety and great zeal to a new group of preachers. During his life, St. Dominic never wrote a rule for lay members, but so many people were attracted to the Dominicans and began following them that by AD 1285, it became clear that a rule was needed to incorporate this self-made “lay order” into the Order of Preachers.
Thus it was that the seventh Master General of the Order, Munio de Zamora, composed a rule which was known as “The Third Order of Penance of St. Dominic.” Pope Honorius IV granted this new fraternity official Church recognition on Jan. 28, AD 1286.
In the rule written by Munio de Zamora, some basic points are:
- the government of the Dominican Fraternities is immediately subject to ecclesiastical authority;
- in the spirit of St. Dominic, those in the Fraternities should be truly zealous for the Catholic faith;
- Fraternity members visit sick members of the community and help them;
- Fraternity members help others through their prayers.
This newly-established Order of Penance drew many new members into the family of St. Dominic, and flourished especially in Siena– where eventually St. Catherine (the patroness of Lay Dominicans!) would join as a member of a particular group of Lay Dominicans known as the “Mantellate.” As the Order of Preachers grew and spread throughout the world, the lay fraternities grew with them.
CHANGES FOR A NEW EVANGELIZATION
As the name suggested, the original purpose behind the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic was a focus on penance: preaching for repentance, and performing acts of penance. This remains at the heart of our charism, for Dominic himself taught that all of our preaching must be for the salvation of souls. Many of our most beloved Lay Dominican saints are recognized for this spirit of penitence and we must remember it as a hallmark of our vocation.
Yet over time, the Fraternities have also recognized a unique calling as lay persons within the secular world and our Rule has evolved to support that call. In areas in need of the New Evangelization, Lay Dominicans are particularly needed to help form other Catholics so they have a strong, solid formation in their faith. Our commitment to Truth, informed by rigorous prayer and study, equips us to go out into the world so that we can joyfully and competently share the Faith with others: in our workplaces, schools, homes, local communities, and especially in our own churches. St. Dominic calls his lay members in the 21st century to be aware of contemporary issues and not to shy away from speaking about them in the Light of Truth, carrying the torch of Jesus Christ to all of the dark corners of our world– not for our own glory or for the sake of argument, but always for the salvation of souls.