When men are accepted into the Dominican Order, they begin a process of initial formation that normally lasts about seven years. Formation begins in the novitiate community. The novitiate year is a time of probation during which the novice has the opportunity to reflect on his vocation, experience the Dominican way of life, be formed in the Dominican spirit in mind and heart, and to show to those entrusted with his formation how suitable he may be to embrace the Dominican way of life.
The Novice Master, with the help of others, plans a course of instruction as laid down by our laws and customs, through which the novice will begin to learn about sacred scripture, prayer, liturgy, the principles of the Christian life and priesthood.
It is a year in which special attention is given to the spirituality, history and laws of the Order. The reality of living together in community with men of varying ages and backgrounds, with different personalities, expectations and ideals provides the novice with the challenge of looking at his strengths and weaknesses and begin to learn what changes he may need to make in his life in order to grow and mature as a person who wants to follow Christ in the Dominican way.
This requires openness, trust, honesty, risk and a willingness to learn. It is a time of adjustment which can be demanding but it also a time of discovery and enrichment.
A novice, on successful completion of the novitiate, makes simple profession – normally for three years. He takes just one vow, that of obedience, but that includes the obligations of poverty and chastity.
He promises to be faithful to living the Dominican life, entrusting himself to the care and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Dominic.
He leaves the novitiate and then joins the student community, otherwise known as the ‘studentate’.
Here he commences the next stage of his initial formation during which he pursues a course of studies in the disciplines of philosophy and theology.
A Dominican student brother discovers and learns what it means to share everything in common with the other members of his community, what it means to receive direction and to serve the needs of the common good of the Order, and how to live as a celibate person in a way that is human, life-giving and fulfilling.
These years are a time of testing, of ongoing learning and discovering, of discussion and reflection, of discernment and decision. The master of students, with the support of others, helps the student brother to enter more fully into community life, to commit himself more deeply to prayer, to be hard working and assiduous in his studies, and to undertake pastoral activities that will prepare him to be a Dominican preacher.
After three years (or maybe a little longer), a brother makes solemn profession for life when he becomes a full member of the Order.
THE VOWED LIFE
As Dominicans, we live a vowed life.
On the day when a Dominican friar makes his first profession (at the end of the novitiate year) he promises obedience to God. Although only one vow is made, that of obedience, the obligation to observe poverty and chastity are implied by the vow of obedience.
Often, these vows are seen in a negative way – and it is true that we give up part of our lives when we place them in God’s hands and those of our superiors. However, in our tradition, we begin to see the living of the vowed life more in terms of freedom – being able to be free to serve the people entrusted to our care without the limitations that society and the world can place upon us.
Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master General of the Order (1992-2001), speaks of these three vows in a liberating way.
He speaks of poverty as ‘freedom of heart and mind’, making the distinction that material wealth is not the most essential part of our lives, allowing us to identify with those who are poor materially and indeed poor in spirit. On obedience, he prefers to think of this vow as being closely linked to dialogue and fraternity – in order that each friar is acting responsibly in the pursuit and good of the mission of the Order.
Finally, on chastity Timothy explains that the vow of chastity ‘witnesses to the deep love that is friendship’.
In living out our vow of chastity, it is our hope that we are witnesses to the God who is love – all the time acknowledging that other people in different ways show the single mystery of love, by being married, single and as members of a religious order such as the Dominicans. On chastity, Timothy concludes ‘I am convinced that what is the hardest aspect of chastity is not the lack of sexual activity but, much more, the lack of intimacy – knowing that you have a unique importance for one person who has that same importance for you.’
THE DOMINICAN BROTHER
Some men join the Order without feeling called to the ministerial priesthood.
These brothers continue to live their Dominican vocation in the service of the Order and the church.
They are often called co-operator brothers, but traditionally they have been known as lay brothers.
Down through the years the Irish province has been blessed by the presence of co-operator brothers in our communities – most especially by their presence, witness, commitment and faithfulness to the Order and the people they serve.
The co-operator brothers in the Irish province give an essential and powerful witness to all of us Dominicans to be preachers of the Gospel in so many varied ways.
They are one of the great sources of strength and inspiration for our province – and their vocation is highly valued and esteemed.
ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Most of those who join the Order do so with the intention of being ordained priests –members of the presbyteral order.
The identity of priesthood is maintained in our tradition, while all the time being aware that it is our call to be Dominicans first and foremost.
Those who are to be ordained priests must follow a course of studies in philosophy and theology, and after making solemn profession prepare for the orders of diaconate and priesthood.
The Dominican priest always bears in mind the fundamental call of our Constitutions (or rules) that the Order was founded for preaching and for the salvation of souls.
Those who become priests in the Dominican Order share in a special way in the priesthood of Jesus Christ – who came that we might have life, and have it to the full.
Formation in the Dominican tradition does not end with the conclusion of our initial studies.
Every Dominican friar is expected to continue studying theology and other disciplines throughout his life.
Study is, after all, one of the four pillars of the Order.
However, ongoing formation for every aspect of his life and work are encouraged.
Ongoing formation for Dominicans is designed to help a friar to maintain high levels of competency as a preacher of the Word of God. A friar is appointed to co-ordinate the process of ongoing formation in the Irish Dominican province.