IN THE WORDS that Jesus spoke on earth, three resonated in the soul of St. Dominic that must resonate in ours. These words are: “Misereor super turbam”, I have mercy on the crowd (Mk. 8:2). St. Dominic transposed them, saying: “Quid fient peccatores?”“What will become of sinners?” This pity for souls and the salvation of souls—is the secret of St. Dominic’s vocation, the fundamental impulse that moved him. That is why he is called: “Apostolicus Pater Dominicus”, the Apostolic Father, the father concerned about souls, who saw how far men are from the divine Truth, how much they ignore or despise this Truth; who therefore wore himself out in the service of the Truth, in order to contemplate it, and then to communicate it to souls and to organize an Order whose purpose would be to preach it.
These three things, in fact, summarize the life of Saint Dominic. This life, at first sight, is complex, but in reality it is simple. It is one because it rests entirely on a single principle: the Truth. The principle of unity in the life of St. Dominic and his Order is Truth. Therefore, we must grasp the life and work of St. Dominic in truth, starting from this fundamental inspiration of his apostolic soul, in the light of the principle which has become the motto of the Order which appears on his halo: Veritas.
The life of St. Dominic has three phases:
‑ The first is that of maturation in Osma, Spain;
‑ The second is that of the external apostolate, in Languedoc, in the middle of Cathar country;
‑ The third, which is the most fruitful — of a more hidden fruitfulness than the previous one, but more lasting — is the foundation of the Order. Each of these phases lasted about a decade. Each one, above all, was placed under the patronage of the Truth.
The first phase is that of maturation in Osma, in silence, strict observance of the religious rule, prayer, and study; it is the stage of knowledge and contemplation of the Truth.
Saint Dominic, in fact, began by drinking from the source of divine Truth for many years, by filling himself with its light, before communicating it to others. For, in order to be able to preach the Truth, to become “champions of the faith and true lights of the world”, as Pope Honorius III would say of the first Dominicans, one must first be deeply imbued with the faith and the first Truth, which is God
Faith makes contact with the divine Truth. Saint Thomas says with his usual precision:
“There is for us, even in this life, a certain participation and assimilation to such a cognition of divine truth, inasmuch as through the faith which is infused into our souls we adhere to the very First Truth on account of Itself. – fit nobis in statu viæ quaedam illius cognitionis participatio et assimilatio ad cognitionem divinam, in quantum per fidem nobis infusant inhæremus ipsi primæ veritati propter se ipsam”1
St. Dominic, therefore, began by living by faith, by knowing the first Truth in and for itself, without any utilitarian aim. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, says of St. Dominic that since his birth he married the Faith, just as St. Francis married Poverty(Paradise XII, 61).
This phase of our holy father’s life is essential, and we too must reproduce it with extreme fidelity, embracing faith in our turn through contemplation and silent and assiduous study of the First Truth. How, in fact, can we serve this divine Truth and preach the faith, if we are not intimately filled with it? We would fall into that inconsistency which, under the pretext of life and action, sinks into activism and sacrifices the absolute for the contingent that passes away; the divine for the human. Those who give in to this tendency, if they do not deny God or the reality of Revelation, are logically led to believe that God is conditioned by His creation and to erase from the Gospel the very idea of the divine attributes. They subordinate the primary Truth to passing truths or even to the opinions of the world, and become incapable of giving God to souls.
The second phase of St. Dominic’s life is that of the apostolate, of the preaching of the contemplated faith, of the expansion of the Truth. For about ten years, the saint traveled throughout Languedoc and preached to the heretics.
For truth is communicable. “Credidi propter quod locutus sum” – I believe, and that is why I have spoken, says St. Paul (2 Cor. 4:13): the evidence of faith irresistibly inclines us to communicate its content; hence these apostolic accents of St. Dominic, accents of tenderness for sinners, which recall those of Jesus: “What will become of poor sinners?” Not that these men are simply miserable or starving, but they do not know the Truth. This is the real misery, the most serious.
Jesus said of himself: “I am the Truth” (Jn. 14:6). He was moved by the desire to communicate the Truth that he had to proclaim, because he himself was the Truth in action in the bosom of the Father. In the same way, St. Dominic preached the Truth because he was filled with it, because he had espoused it, because he had made it his own. He had not forgotten the first phase during the second: the preacher must remain a contemplative, on pain of no longer preaching the word of God, but of preaching himself: “Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere – to contemplate and transmit to others the truths contemplated.” Preaching must be nothing but the overflow of contemplation; what is preached must be nothing but the fruit of contemplation. And so, in the very structure of St. Dominic’s life, we find the economy of the life of Jesus: thirty years of silence and preparation, three years of preaching, and finally the sending of the Apostles on a mission throughout the world. This shows with what supernatural spirit the preaching of the Truth must be considered. It is grafted onto the faith; it is itself an act of faith, and this is what ensures its victory.
This second phase had all the hazards of a battle, with alternating failures, tribulations, and successes. For preaching is an adventure, so to speak: there is the Holy Spirit who instructs souls from within, there is the one who speaks externally, and there are those who listen – the agreement is not always easy. St. Dominic himself experienced the failure and hardness of souls who rebel against the Truth. But this, too, is part of the divine plan. And precisely in the hour of failure he saw souls close up to his word, he made a pact with the Virgin Mary, a pact that lasts for eternity. The Mother of Preachers, “the one who believed”, as the Gospel calls her, then gave St. Dominic an invincible weapon to touch souls and effectively communicate the Truth to them. This weapon is the Rosary – the Rosary, which transmits the substance of the faith and is both a prayer and a sublime means of preaching the great divine truths.
The third phase of St. Dominic’s life was the foundation of the Order of Preachers and the sending of the friars to the whole world.
After having hoarded the Truth and after having proclaimed it, the Saint organized its preservation, fruitfulness, and diffusion in time. For this he founded an Order. If the grain remains piled up, it dies; but if it is sown, it produces fruit.
An Order is the fruit of an act of wisdom (sapientis est ordinare); it is an organic whole of which one element is the principle of the others. One is part of the Order only if one is connected to the principle. The principle of our Order is St. Dominic; but more primitively, it is the Truth. To the extent that we guard and carry the Truth, we are part of the Order of Preachers, rightly called “the Order of Truth”; this is its trademark, its essential note, so to speak.
This third phase, like the second, was marked by success and trials. And this has continued in the history of the Order. There have been, there are, especially in our days, betrayals and defections within our Order. This is the crucial proof given by Our Lord himself: “You will know them by their fruits.” (Mt. 7:16,20). The fruits are the works of the Truth; where they are lacking, it is a sign that the Truth is no longer served; or, as St. John says: “They went out from us but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us.” (1 John 2:19). They were not of us because they did not serve – or did not fully serve – the Truth.
These three phases of St. Dominic’s life are certainly successive, but one does not replace the other; they are linked and remain one in the other; there is penetration of the first into the second, and of the first two into the third.
And it must be so. For it is the depth of contemplation that preserves from activism in the apostolate; so it is necessary that the first phase penetrate the second. And it is also necessary that the first two phases unceasingly inspire the third. For only the contemplation of the Truth and zeal in the service of the Truth can preserve one from the sclerosis and decadence that threaten any work on this earth, even if it is holy and inspired by God, as a religious Order is. In short, we must carefully keep the principle: Veritas!
Saint Dominic left us his testament. This testament can be summed up in three words: “This, my brothers, is what I leave you as an inheritance: have charity, keep humility, possess voluntary poverty.”
But we can say that these three words are summarized and merged in this small word of seven letters which constitutes the motto of the Order: Veritas, Truth. For Dominican charity is above all the charity of truth; and the preaching of truth can only bear fruit if it is founded on humility and poverty.
This is what God revealed to the most illustrious daughter of St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena:
“St. Dominic wished to make the light of Truth the principal object of his Order. […] This why he appeared in the world as an apostle and sowed the seed of my word, full of light and truth, dispelling the darkness and distributing the light. […] Dominic is thus in harmony with my Truth, not wanting the sinner to die, but to be converted and live.”
“Veritas de terra orta est.” Truth springs forth out of the earth. Our earth, our roots, our father is St. Dominic. He bequeaths to us the Truth, thirst for the Truth, love of the Truth, and asks us to be faithful to the Truth. Let us strive, by our three vows, by our contemplative life, by our prayers and studies, by our doctrinal preaching, by our whole life, to be TRUE.
Holy Mary, Mother of Preachers, pray for us!
1 ‑ Expositio in libro Boetii de Trinitate, Proemium, q. 2, a. 2
The 150th anniversary of Vatican I didn’t get much attention in our de-Christianized world, nor even within the Church. Yet Vatican I was fundamental, for many reasons:
1- The history of the first Vatican Council — as agitated as it is fascinating — represents one of the summits of the combat opposing Revelation and Revolution, for over two centuries. In the presence of Pope Pius IX, mighty bishops, including figures as different as Bishops Manning, Darboy, Dupanloup and Pie, come face to face in battle.
2- The first document of Vatican I, the constitution Dei Filius, on the notion of Faith, exposes the relations between Faith and reason in a particularly balanced fashion. It condemns not only the excess of refusing any Faith (rationalism), but also the error of belittling reason (fideism). In defining the foundations of Faith, it defines at the same time the true methods of Catholic apologetics. Before our simplistic world, which only admits mathematical science on one hand, and subjective, unverifiable opinions (left to the free choice of each person) on the other, the Council affirms the authority of Christian Revelation, which falls under neither category.
3- The second document, the constitution Pastor aeternus, on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, clearly and definitively indicates the goal of the Church’s magisterium, which is not to reveal any new doctrine, but simply to maintain and faithfully proclaim the Revelation handed down by the Apostles (the “deposit of the Faith”). In defining precisely the conditions of an infallible declaration ex cathedra, the document allows us to safely resist the neo-modernist “magisterium” of recent Popes, without relativizing the traditional magisterium of the Church.
4- The unfinished Council, having the time to promulgate only two constitutions, left a certain amount of preparatory work that is still useful today. (For more developments, see the summer 2020 issue of our review Le Sel de la Terre.)
Contrast with Vatican II
Since 1965, the striking contrast with Vatican II provides even more reasons to study Vatican I.
Vatican I was the theatre of a mortal struggle between two types of Catholicism: one that attacks error, and one that dreams of reconciliation with the world, avoiding what Bishop Dupanloup called the “irritating questions.” Whereas Vatican I was, according to Bishop Manning, the Council of Authority in opposition to triumphal Revolution, Vatican II was the Council of the Surrender of authority, drowned in collegiality, manipulated by the politically correct, and humbly submissive to all the orders of the international press.
By its constitution Dei Filius, Vatican I was the council of the clear distinction between the natural and supernatural orders. To the contrary, Vatican II, which obstinately refused to use the word “supernatural,” was the council of the blurring of the two orders. Vatican I was the council of apologetics, clearly exposing and defining the reasons to believe in Catholic doctrine. Vatican II, however, handed over the Catholic Faith to all the sophisms of the modern world.
By its constitution Pastor aeternus, Vatican I was the council of the Magisterium. Vatican II, in refusing to define and condemn, is the council of “dialogue” with the world.
By its unfinished documents, Vatican I clearly traced the path that the following council should have taken. The preparatory texts of Vatican II actually did follow traditional lines, but were quickly discarded. Vatican I, in continuity with the Council of Trent from its very outset, was a council of fidelity; Vatican II was a council of rupture.
The Grave Problem of Invalid Baptisms
The liturgical anarchy that has been raging for over 60 years can have some very grave consequences. Two recent examples:
1) On June 24th, 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith officially issued a reminder of the traditional doctrine, according to which the Baptism formula, “We baptize you, in the name of the Father, etc.” is invalid. (This formula, using the plural rather than the singular, is in vogue in modernist circles, as it allows the “People of God” to usurp the role of the priest.)
Hearing of this decision in August, a priest in the archdiocese of Detroit, Fr. Matthew Hood, decided to watch the video of his Baptism… There he saw the deacon using the invalid formula! Invalid Baptism, invalid priesthood… as well as the invalidity of all the sacraments he had himself administered since his “ordination” in 2017.
2) In Brittany, last September, a young girl was preparing for her First Communion. In questioning the parents, the priest realized that the girl had not validly received the sacrament of Baptism: indeed, the God-mother had poured the water while the priest pronounced the words!
August 11th: Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of Mr. Okuniewski, the father of Fr. Hyacinthe-Marie. Providentially, Father was in Poland just a few days earlier, and was able to administer Extreme Unction and Holy Communion to his father before his departure for eternity.
August 14th: Reception of the habit for a new lay brother, Br. Mannes (after the name of Saint Dominic’s brother, who was one of his first companions in the Order).
August 15th: Feast of the Assumption: solemn High Mass celebrated by newly-ordained Fr. Alain, followed by first benedictions, conference on Maximilian Kolbe, and procession.
August 26th: Fr. Marie-Laurent leaves for the Czech Republic to lead a pilgrimage and preach a recollection for a group of faithful.
August 29th and 30th: Fr. Hyacinthe-Marie and Br. Agostinho participate in the pilgrimage at Puy-en-Velay, presided by Bishop Faure.
September: A momentary lifting of the lockdown permits the Fathers to organize a few meetings for our tertiaries at Lyons, Paris, Chartres… in Alsace, Auvergne…
Adoration of the Cross
September 14th: Feast of the Holy Cross: solemn High Mass, followed by the benediction of a new Calvary at the entrance of the property. The next day: benediction of a new outdoor statue of Our Lady, sculpted by our Br. Bernard-Marie.
October 20th: First vows of Br. Antonin, who now starts his studies of philosophy and theology in view of the priesthood.
November 12th: Fr. Prior is at Nimes for the funeral services of Fr. Raffali, a fighter for the Faith since the beginnings of Tradition, and founder of the Stella Maris community for the education of boys.
On the same day: Br. Louis-de-Gonzague (Anthony Scmidt, from Wisconsin) makes his perpetual profession in the Third Order, as an oblate brother living in the Friary.
(see picture below)
Late November: It’s the season for plantations! Thanks to a friend of the Friary, we now have a professional orchard next to our vegetable garden (which has more than doubled in size since last year): pears, plums, cherries, apricots, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, will now (God-willing) be available to the community, even if the economy takes a turn for the worse.
December 8th: Feast of the Immaculate Conception: in lieu of the traditional procession in the streets of Angers (prohibited because of the Corona madness), Fr. Marie-Laurent leads the faithful in a public Rosary in front of the Cathedral.
December 18th-20th: Fathers Marie-Laurent and Hyacinthe-Marie are in Riddes Switzerland preaching an Advent recollection.
December 31st: The Church is full for the Solemn Te Deum sung after the office of Compline.
News From Our Worksites
The Construction permit for the new Parish Hall has finally been granted! The work is planned to start after Easter.
Parish Hall Project
A new gate has been installed at the South entrance of the property, in order to limit access to “passers-by”, who have become more and more numerous these past years.
The work on the East wing façade is finished. After the parish hall is built, the restoration of the West wing (crumbling stone and leaky roof) will be undertaken.
Thank you, as always, for your continued support, without which none of this would be possible!
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If you are not familiar with the Dominican Third Order of Penance, the article below will explain the nature of it. If you are ready to request entrance now, please follow the request form below. Thank you!
« It is well known that our Order, from the beginning, was especially instituted for preaching and for the salvation of souls. That is why our efforts must tend principally towards making us useful to the souls of our neighbors. To this specific end are intimately united the teaching and the defense of the truth of the Catholic Faith, both by the spoken word and by numerous writings. It is necessary, then, that we pursue this end by preaching and by teaching out of the abundance of our contemplation, according to the example of our Father Saint Dominic who in order to save souls, spoke only to God or of God.”
-Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers
“What shall become of poor sinners?”
-St. Dominic at prayer
Saint Dominic (1170-1221) was a canon regular in Osma, Spain. During a trip in 1203 in the South of France, infested at that time with Albigensian heretics, he realized that the keeper of the inn where he was spending the night was a heretic. Immediately he endeavored to convert him and, after a night of discussing, succeeded. The historians will mark this episode as a turning point in the life of St. Dominic. Soon after, Providence will lead the saint to dedicate himself to the conversion of heretics, and in 1216 he will found the Order of Friars Preachers, instituted from its birth for the preaching of doctrine against heresy. His burning desire was to save souls by liberating them from the principal cause of their perdition: error.
For almost eight centuries, the sons of St. Dominic had continued to live this mission of spreading the truth in a world full of errors, exposing the mysteries of the Catholic faith and defending them against heretics and unbelievers. However, in the wake of Vatican II, this heritage was largely abandoned. Our community was founded in France in 1975 with the goal of preserving the traditional Dominican life with all the monastic observances that have been the strength of our order since the beginning. In particular, the liturgy is celebrated according to the traditional Dominican rite. With regard to the crisis in the Church, the community holds firm to the prudent policy of Archbishop Lefebvre: refusal to cooperate in any way with the modernist destruction of the Church, without falling into the [too] “simple solution” of sedevacantism. In 1981, it was Archbishop Lefebvre himself who received the solemn vows of our Father Prior.
Today the community has members from Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
We are based in Avrillé, France (near Angers, 90 minutes southwest of Paris), in a former monastery of the Grandmontain Order (suppressed in the late 18th century).
Our friary is a busy center of parish life, with an elementary school for over 60 boys and girls, and a boys’ high school with about 70 students. A few hundred feet away is the monastery of our cloistered contemplative sisters.
True to the Dominican ideal, our apostolate is not limited to the little town of Avrillé. The fathers are regularly called upon to preach retreats and recollections, organize pilgrimages or participate in symposiums. In recent years, our fathers have made their voices heard throughout Western Europe, Poland, India, Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States. We also run a publishing house for the diffusion of books on doctrine and spirituality, as well as our quarterly review “Sel de la Terre” (Salt of the Earth), which treats of doctrinal issues, current events in the Church and in society, religious art and culture.
An essentially apostolic order
St Dominic’s rediscovery of the apostolic ideal in the thirteenth century is the stroke of genius that allowed him to re-launch mission activity in all of Christendom and beyond. What is this apostolic ideal? Modern authors often refer to this ideal as being a “mixed life” (that is, a “mix” of active and contemplative life), but this term misleads many into thinking that it is a question of a mere juxtaposition of mental prayer and preaching. The real apostolic life is nothing other than the life led by the Apostles, a life in which the interior contemplation of divine truth “overflows” into an apostolate of preaching which draws others to the same contemplation.
This is very different from the mental prayer of an active religious before he goes off to care for the sick, teach, or even preach. In this case, contemplation is just one of the many means of personal sanctification subordinated to the particular goal of the institute: care of the sick, teaching, etc… It’s simply a preparation for the works of an essentially active life.
Nor is this apostolic life the same as that of a purely contemplative religious, whose contemplation never leaves the cloister, so to speak. The Dominican “shares the fruits of his contemplation with others”, as St. Thomas Aquinas says.
In other words, the Dominican ideal is a summit between these two types of religious life: the primary aim is contemplation, but contemplation that necessarily bears fruit in exterior works. In order to attain this ideal, St. Dominic adopted all the traditional monastic observances so conducive to meditation: the cloister, silence, penances, fasting, and the recitation of the entire divine office in common. However, he replaced the manual labor of the monks with the study of theology. What’s more, he incorporated the aforementioned practices into the rather flexible rule of St. Augustine. Thus, this truly apostolic life may be interrupted when it’s time to help our neighbor by preaching or teaching1.
This particular way of life produces a specific apostolic activity: firmly rooted in a monastic atmosphere of prayer and the study of Catholic doctrine, the apostolate can never consist of anything other than the divine mysteries that we have contemplated in the silence of the cloister. Like St. Paul, the Apostle par excellence, we only profess to know “Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified”, not mathematics, chemistry or any other profane science.
The Dominican motto is “Veritas” (“truth”). This signifies that our preaching concentrates first of all on enlightening the mind, rather than trying to convince the will. The goal is to explain and to help others understand Christian dogma. Once the intelligence sees what is true, the will is naturally attracted to what is good, and accomplishes it with joy.
Here a certain myth must be dispelled regarding the spirit of the Dominican order. While it is true that the order has counted among its members a very large number of extremely erudite and learned scholars (for example, St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian Our Lord has ever given his Church), the Dominican order is not an order of intellectuals, and much less an order of “brainiacs”. Obviously, those gifted with a high capacity for learning will be naturally drawn to the order, given the fact that the Dominican life offers greater opportunities for study, but the Dominican habit is not exclusively reserved for them! Such an idea is contrary to the history and even the legislation of the order. A Dominican friar must prepare for a life of preaching with thorough and serious studies, but the intellectual requirements for a friar preacher are no more exacting than those for other orders or for secular priests.
A priestly order
The boys of the school serve a solemn Mass
By the very fact of its preaching mission, the Dominican order is a clerical order, because such a mission in the Catholic Church is only confided to clerics. Therefore, entering the order usually means joining the priesthood. “Your Father Dominic, my beloved son”, God said to St. Catherine of Sienna, “willed that his brothers have no other thought than that of my honor and the salvation of souls, by the light of knowledge. It is this light that he willed to be the principal object of his order […] in order to extirpate the heresies that had risen up at his time. HIS ROLE WAS THAT OF THE WORD, MY ONLY SON…”. The Dominican life embodies the most complete imitation of the life led by Jesus Christ during the time of His stay among us.
The Dominican is:
Priest, in order to imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Sovereign High Priest.
Religious, in order to accomplish his priestly functions more perfectly, and in order to imitate more closely Our Lord Jesus Christ poor, chaste, and obedient. The rule (and especially the deep community life of the friars) is an efficacious protection from the dangers inherent to the inevitably solitary life of many secular priests.
Contemplative, in order to nourish himself on God, known through faith, just as Our Lord nourished Himself by the contemplation of His Father, face to face.
Preacher, in order to carry out the mission of the Word.
This does not mean, however, that lay brothers are excluded from membership in the Dominican family. Who has never heard of St. Martin of Porres, the great Dominican lay brother? Like the fathers, the lay brothers are full, first order members, and even “preachers”, albeit in a different way. First of all, their humble religious life is already a powerful preaching in today’s proud and naturalistic world, and a means of procuring many graces for the preachers and those to whom they preach. In addition, they have the important task of taking care of all the material aspects of friary life, which allows the fathers to devote themselves entirely to their studies and to their apostolate of preaching. Last but not least, they often accompany the fathers on their missions, for the same reason. In this way, every mission is truly a group effort on the part of the entire friary.
The life of a lay brother is never dull. There are always things to be repaired, books to be translated, guests to greet, laundry to be done, car maintenance, gardening, carpentry and masonry, not to mention accounting and secretarial work! And of course, feeding a community of two-dozen brothers requires a certain amount of preparation in the kitchen. The monastery is even equipped with a traditional bread bakery to provide fresh, home-baked bread for us and for our contemplative sisters.
In view of these duties, the lay brothers are exempt from the recitation of the divine office (except for the morning prayers of “Pretiosa”, and the office of Compline, which serves as evening prayers for the whole community). Their day is punctuated by the meditation of the Rosary and other private prayers that vary according to each brother. They also benefit from a weekly course in spirituality or doctrine.
A day in the life of a friar at Avrillé
After having examined the spirit of the order in general, let us now take a look at the everyday life of a friar preacher at the friary of La Haye-aux-Bonshommes in Avrillé. Afterward, we’ll see what a typical preaching mission entails.
The community rises at 4 o’clock (which is not so early when one goes to bed at 8:30!). Each has 20 minutes to dress, wash up and do a bit of gymnastics before going off to “work”, that is, the “opus Dei” or divine office, which starts with Matins. This is the most important of our monastic observances and a powerful aid to the contemplative life. This last point is especially true in the beautifully conserved 12th century church where we have the blessing to live our liturgical life day-in and day-out. Its solid, simple architecture and acoustic qualities create a very prayerful environment.
The Divine Office
The recitation in common of each canonical hour of the breviary constitutes the “backbone” of our daily schedule, as we shall see.
The Dominican breviary is essentially the same as the one used in the Roman rite, but there are a sufficient number of differences to surprise (and exasperate?) more than one visiting priest! The choice of psalms recited is generally identical, but often the antiphons and responses are particular to the Dominican order. Other particularities highlight the specific character of Dominican life. For example, the fathers do not sit down during the recitation of all the psalms, as in the purely active congregations, nor do they stand the whole time as in the purely contemplative orders. They sit and stand alternatively with each psalm: it’s a reflection of the apostolic “mixed” life!
Matins are immediately followed by the office of Lauds and a half-hour of mental prayer. This brings us to about 5:45. After the recitation of the Angelus, most of the fathers descend into the oratories of the crypt to celebrate their daily Mass. After Mass and about 15 minutes of thanksgiving, the fathers and brothers may take a quick breakfast in the refectory.
Around 7 o’clock, most of the fathers and brothers are found in the community room named “The Most Holy Rosary” (thus named because of the antique portrait of Our Lady presenting the Rosary to St Dominic that hangs on the wall). There, they will see if there are any notices for the day on the bulletin board. They can also check their mailboxes. As silence is the general rule in the friary, these mailboxes get a lot of use. Writing notes is a way to communicate without disturbing the peace and quiet of the monastery. These precautions are a rigorous obligation until the bell rings at 7:30 to signal the end of the “grand silence”, during which it is strictly forbidden to talk. During the day (until the office of Compline, which marks the beginning of the grand silence), when two brothers need to speak to each other, they may go to a “locutorium” which is a room set aside for this purpose (from the Latin “loqui”, “to speak”).
From the end of the grand silence until the Conventual Mass
The bell at 7:30 is the official start of morning activities. For the professors and the clerical brothers studying for the priesthood, that means philosophy or theology classes. The course of studies is based primarily on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, as exposed by the great commentators approved by the Popes and Tradition. In particular, much use is made of the monumental works of Reverend Father Garrigou-Lagrange o.p. (1877-1964), the illustrious anti-modernist defender of thomistic theology.
For the postulants and novices, the classes are concentrated mostly on spirituality, liturgy, Gregorian chant, and the history of the Dominican order. They also have a class on the Acts of the Magisterium, taught by Archbishop Lefebvre himself – on cassette.
For others, it’s time to work on an article for our doctrinal review Le Sel de la Terre, write a sermon, or prepare a spiritual conference for an upcoming retreat or pilgrimage. For yet another, this time will be used for his daily study of the Summa Theologica, which, far from being finished at ordination, must continue throughout the whole life of a friar preacher. This time may also be spent on spiritual reading, or to finish the daily half-hour of “lectio divina” (scripture study) that one was unable to finish before the bell. In any case, these two hours are spent quietly working or studying in our cells, a classroom, or the newly completed three-story library behind the convent. This life of study nourishes our contemplation and prepares us for our mission of preaching.
May it be said in passing that the course of studies in preparation for the priesthood lasts at least six years. During this time (at least until the solemn obligation to recite the breviary which starts at the profession of perpetual vows), the clerical brothers are dispensed from part of the divine office. This provides them with the time necessary to pursue their studies without neglecting the other obligations of the religious life. For example, they do their scripture reading while the fathers recite Matins.
From the Conventual Mass until Sext
At 9:30, the bell calls the fathers once more to the church for the recitation of the divine office. The canonical hours of Prime and Terce are recited, followed immediately by the Conventual Mass (or Mass of the community), at 10:00. The clerical brothers assist at this Mass, as well as the fathers if it’s a sung Mass. This is always the case on Sundays and, as much as possible, during the week.
Life in the friary is truly centered on the Liturgy. By the attendance at daily Mass and the recitation of the divine office, we’re able to participate as fully as possible in the admirable succession of different feasts and liturgical seasons celebrated throughout the year by Holy Mother Church. This liturgical life is the most powerful means of sanctification at our disposal, and an infallible guide in our meditation.
In the Dominican rite, many feasts are celebrated with greater solemnity, due to the fact that several processions have been conserved which are no longer in use in the Roman rite (for example, Easter, the feast of the Ascension, and many feasts of the Saints). This is especially true concerning the liturgy of the dead, which is held in great honor in the Dominican Order. Not only is the Mass of All Souls Day preceded by a procession in the cloister, but also once a week (except during Lent and Easter time) the ceremonial provides for a Requiem Mass followed by a procession. (Devotion to the Poor Souls in Purgatory is one of the three principal devotions of the order, along with the devotions to the Most Holy Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary.)
The community at the cemetery
At the same time that the Conventual Mass is celebrated at the friary, one of the fathers goes to St. Joseph Monastery to celebrate the Conventual Mass of our contemplative sisters.
After Mass, all return to their studies.
From Sext until Vespers
At 12:15, the friars find themselves together again in the church for the office of Sext, followed by a short examination of conscience, the Angelus, and a procession in the cloister all the way to the refectory.
During lunch, a brother reads from a book for the instruction of the whole community. As St. Augustine says in his rule (which is the rule of the Dominican Order): “Let not your palate be alone in receiving nourishment, but may your ears as well be hungry for the word of God.” How many books has this holy practice allowed us to enjoy, that we would never have been able to read otherwise? What’s more, the community aspect of this reading bonds us closer together and provides our recreations with ample material for thought-provoking subjects of conversation. Most often, we read from the lives of the Saints or Church history. Once a week we read the rule of St. Augustine, and on Sundays and feast days we listen to conferences and sermons of Archbishop Lefebvre.
After lunch, the fathers process to the church chanting the “Miserere”. There, they recite the office of None while the lay brothers and novices finish the dishes. When these respective activities are finished, the community is reunited in the cloister for recreation; it’s about 1:30. If it’s necessary, the cantor leads a short repetition for the antiphons to be sung at Vespers, after which we leave for a half-hour walk in our woods. The friary is located just on the edge of town in a very quiet, natural setting, and yet we are only ten minutes from the train station.
The walk usually includes a visit to the cemetery in the middle of the woods, where we can accomplish one of the devotions that characterize our order: prayer for the souls in Purgatory. Once a week we stay in the cloister in order to help out with peeling apples, cracking walnuts or any other work the brother chef has prepared for us. On Sundays, we leave the property to go pray at the nearby sanctuary of the “Field of Martyrs”, where 2,000 men, women and children were murdered in hatred of the Catholic Faith during the French Revolution.
At 2:10, a brother rings the bell to signal the end of recreation, and all conversation stops – even if one is in the middle of a sentence. It’s time for another very important monastic observance: the midday siesta! Each one is free to retire to his cell to recuperate his forces for the second half of the day, to read, to write, to pray, etc… Others prefer to go to the church. Whichever way one chooses to spend this time, there is one necessary condition: silence.
Study in the cell
At 3:00, the familiar sound of the bell lets everyone know that it’s time for the recitation of the Rosary in the church. If it’s the month of May or October, each of the five decades is preceded by an antiphon sung in Gregorian chant.
From 3:30 on, the afternoon is often spent in much the same way as the morning. The fathers work on the classes they are teaching or they continue the articles, sermons and conferences they must prepare. The clerical brothers study for their classes. However, this is also the time of day for sick calls, confessions, spiritual direction and other appointments. There may also be work to do in the library, the sacristy or elsewhere in the friary.
One of the fathers is specially designated to oversee the work done by the lay brothers and outside workmen. It’s not a small task when one considers the many buildings on our property. Apart from the friary itself, there’s the library, guesthouse, elementary school buildings, garages, workshop, storehouses, and the “Priory”, a large 17th century building located next door that houses the boys’ high school.
The elementary and high schools are another source of activity. The fathers provide the students with the sacraments and catechism classes (philosophy and doctrine for the high school boys), but as mentioned above, they are not directly involved in any other teaching. The friary’s role in these two works of education is one of spiritual direction. The fathers direct the two institutions “from above”, and orient them toward their goal (a truly Christian education), but the classes are taught by lay people.
Once a week, the clerical brothers go walking for a couple hours in the country. It’s necessary to take a break once in a while from their studies. It’s also a good way to get to know the region and its many beautiful churches, especially for those who have left home and country to enter the friary. Such outings (and even longer ones) are more frequent for the postulants and novices. The lay brothers also have a monthly outing.
The afternoon comes to a close at 6:00 with sung Vespers, followed by the Angelus. We then go in procession to the refectory for supper. However, twice a week, a half-hour before Vespers, the community comes together for a “chapter meeting”. Assembled in the “chapter room”, all the fathers and brothers recite special prayers for our benefactors, and then sit down to listen to Father Prior give his spiritual counsels or announcements concerning life in the friary. It’s also the time for each one to recommend prayer intentions to the community. At the end, each brother takes his turn confessing any exterior faults that he may have committed since the last chapter meeting. It is not a sacramental confession, but simply a way of making public reparation for public faults that have disrupted the life of the community, for example, making noise during the grand silence, spilling water in the refectory, an error in singing the divine office, breaking a tool, or other such things. In former times, the religious insisted on having such chapter meetings every single day, so as not to deprive themselves of the precious graces that come from even the smallest act of humility.
From Supper to lights out
Supper is taken in the same manner as lunch, that is, while listening to a brother read from a book. However, the subject of the evening lecture is generally more spiritual in nature.
After supper, there’s a recreation for the postulants and novices, and once a week, the fathers do the same. Otherwise, each brother takes care of last minute details for the day before going to Compline at 7:15.
Like Vespers, the office of Compline is sung. In perhaps no other canonical office is the beauty and richness of the Dominican rite more prominently displayed. Unlike the Roman rite, there are a large variety of antiphons, hymns and responsoria according to each liturgical season. These pieces of music represent some of the most sublime religious poetry and melodies ever produced by Christian civilization. One has only to consider the “Media Vita” sung during Lent, an antiphon that brought St. Thomas Aquinas to tears every time he heard it. (The “Dies Irae” sung at Requiem Masses is also a product of the Dominican liturgy, composed by Fra Latino Orsini op, in the 13th century.)
At the end of Compline, the community processes from the choir stalls to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary while singing the “Salve Regina”. At the words “Turn then, most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us”, all turn and kneel down while the hebdomadary (the father charged with officiating the divine office for that week) passes by to bless all the brothers with holy water.
For the return to the choir stalls, an antiphon is sung in honor of St. Dominic: “O light of the Church, doctor of truth…”. There is then a half-hour of mental prayer before the brothers go off to bed. Lights out is at 8:30.
Our preaching mission
Up until now, we have considered the friar’s peaceful life of study and contemplation in the cloister. What awaits him on the outside?
Despite the specific doctrinal character of Dominican preaching (as explained above), the apostolate is surprisingly varied.
First of all, without even leaving Avrillé, there’s an incredible amount of work to: weekly sermons for the parish; catechism, sermons and various religious activities for the school students (including the congregations of the Most Holy Sacrament and of the Blessed Virgin Mary); days of recollection for our third order members. There’s also a steady flow of visitors, whether it be university students come to study for their exams, old friends from around the world, or our neighbors from around the corner, curious to learn about the friary and the Traditional Mass.
Outside of the region, we are often invited to preach retreats or parish missions in the schools and priories of the Society of St. Pius X, or to fill in for the Society priests when there’s a need. To give just a few examples from this past year, one of our fathers has been engaged for several months in a busy apostolate in the Society’s German district, another preached a series of Lenten sermons at the church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet in Paris, and still others have preached parish missions or replaced priests in various chapels of Brittany.
In addition to the third order meetings at Avrillé, twice a month there’s a meeting for our third order members in other parts of France (Paris, Strasburg, Lyons, Dinan).
In the summertime, the fathers organize various activities. Because of the insufficient size of our guesthouse, these summer activities are usually held at the “Rafflay”, the convent of The Little Servants of St. John the Baptist, near Nantes in the West of France, and only an hour away from the friary. These devoted sisters put their conference rooms and beautiful chapel at our disposal, and do a wonderful job taking care of all the material aspects.
First of all, there’s the doctrinal session called the “Journées Jean Vaquié”. It’s named after the late Jean Vaquié (1911-1992), a prominent anti-gnostic author praised by Archbishop Lefebvre, and who was a friend and collaborator of the friary until his death. Its purpose is to study the causes of the current crisis in the Church and in society, in order to find the right solutions. These sessions involve the cooperation of many other lecturers engaged in the same combat for the Faith: priests from the Society of St. Pius X and other traditional religious communities, professors, and professionals from various fields of expertise.
Next, there are the retreats: Rosary retreat, retreat for couples, on Christian life, etc. Let it be noted that the Dominicans do not preach Ignatian retreats. The spiritual exercises were given by the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Ignatius, but to Our Blessed Father St. Dominic, She gave the Holy Rosary! One could not find a more complete compendium of all the moral and doctrinal theology of the Catholic Church. It’s a sort of summary of the whole liturgical year and of our Faith. That’s why the Rosary is the general theme and inexhaustible source of our preaching material.
Of course, we cannot forget the summer boys’ camp each year. It’s an occasion especially for the incoming students of the high school to get to know each other and some of the fathers from the friary.
The month of August finds all the friars back in Avrillé for our annual community retreat, which usually takes place from the Feast of Our Holy Father St. Dominic (August 4th) until the Feast of the Assumption. In this way, we finish the year in honoring Her whom we invoke as the Patroness of our order, and the “Mother of Preachers”, ever since the famous vision of heaven that St. Dominic had one night in the friary of St. Sixtus in Rome, as reported by a contemporary chronicler:
“…He saw the Lord and the Blessed Virgin seated at His right; and it seemed to him that Our Lady was covered with a mantle the color of sapphire. And the blessed Dominic looking around saw the religious of all the Orders before God, but not finding any of his own he began to weep most bitterly, and standing off at a distance dared not approach Our Lord and His Mother. Our Lady made signs to him with Her hand to come, but he still did not dare to approach until the Lord Himself called him. The blessed Dominic then came and prostrated himself before them in tears. The Lord told him to rise, and when he was standing, asked him: “Why are you weeping so bitterly?” He responded: “I am weeping like this because I see here the religious of all Orders, but of mine I see none.”
And the Lord said to him: “Do you want to see your Order?” He replied trembling: “Yes, Lord.” Then the Lord, putting His hand on the shoulder of the Blessed Virgin, said to blessed Dominic: “I have confided your order to My Mother.” And he said to him again: “Do you absolutely want to see it?” He replied, “Yes Lord.”
Then the Blessed Virgin opened the mantle with which She appeared to be clothed and spread it out before blessed Dominic. The mantle was so large that it seemed to cover all of heaven; and, under it, he saw a great multitude of brothers. Then blessed Dominic, prostrating himself, gave thanks to God and to Blessed Mary, his Mother, and the vision disappeared.
How can I become a Dominican?
Those interested in the Dominican life are most welcome to come for a visit. It’s much easier than many think, because it is not necessary to know French before coming (most of the fathers speak English). Female family members may be lodged at the monastery of our contemplative sisters, which is just next door. If one decides to stay for an extended period in order to try out his vocation, the boys’ high school provides ample opportunity for learning enough French to get by rather quickly.
[footnote 1]These innovations were already characteristic of the life of canons regular assembled in diocesan “chapters”, such as the one in Osma, where St Dominic had received his formation. He took the innovation (or rather, the return to the Apostolic model) one step further by extending the field of action of each of his friars beyond the limits of a particular diocese.
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