When we speak about Lay Fraternities (what used to be called Third Orders) in the Catholic Church, we generally mean lay members of religious orders. The Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Norbertines, Carmelites, and Missionaries of Charity are all examples of orders in the Church who have lay branches: so what makes the Domincans unique?
What We Call Ourselves: every group will have a different way to refer to its members. A hallmark of the Dominican Order is fraternitas, or brotherhood (which includes both brothers and sisters), by which we are called to recognize all of the other members as “family.” Many Dominicans will even eschew the formal “St. Dominic” and prefer to speak with childlike reverence of their “Father Dominic.” Thus, a group of Lay Dominicans is called a “Fraternity,” or a gathering of siblings.
Making Profession: some lay groups are affiliated with an order, but do not make formal profession or promises. Since Lay Dominican life is considered a vocation, it requires a life-long commitment and therefore an intense period of preparation and discernment. At the end of this process, members may be invited to make final profession within the Order, which entails binding themselves to the Rule for life and entails formal incorporation within the Order of Preachers.
The Four Pillars: Dominican life is marked by four pillars, which support one another in the goal of preaching for the salvation of souls. They are: prayer, study, community and apostolate. Of these, study is perhaps the most distinctive element, as Dominicans are constantly called to study scripture, the teachings of the Church, and contemporary issues in the light of Faith. We are life-long learners, who put that thirst for Truth at the service of our preaching. You can read more about these distinctive aspects of the Dominican charism under our pillars tab.
The Rosary: pious legend tells that Our Lady gave St. Dominic the Rosary in a vision, instructing him to use it to combat heresy. Though we know that various forms of a rosary existed prior to St. Dominic’s time, this does not minimize the centrality of this great prayer within Dominican life, nor the message that Our Lady particularly entrusted its care to the Order of Preachers. Dominicans traditionally wear their Rosaries on the left-hand side of their habits, where a knight would keep his sword. It is our weapon against heresy, and is a key part of our prayer and our mission.