Preaching about the Incarnate Word is central to Dominican spirituality

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“If you want to be a Dominican, you need to start attending Mass every day.”

When I attended a Dominican vocation weekend, this advice was given to me at least a dozen times. On one level, it made all the sense in the world to me: If I want to be a priest, I should go to Mass. On another level, it seemed odd, because Dominicans do not have a particular claim to the graces of the Eucharist.

I was left to ponder in my prayer and discernment what special role the Eucharist plays in the vocation of a Dominican friar.

Father Patrick Hyde
Father Patrick Hyde

In most religious communities, the spirituality of the founder plays a unique role in the ongoing life of the community and a means by which those attracted to a particular community discern. For instance, the Spiritual Exercises and spiritual practices of St. Ignatius of Loyola are a great means to discern becoming a Jesuit. St. Francis of Assisi lived an austere life in solidarity with the poor. Consequently, living a simple life in solidarity with the poor and marginalized is a great way to discern being a Franciscan.

For us Dominicans, the personality and spirituality of St. Dominic do not take as central of a role in our lives. Yes, he was a preacher of grace and truth. He lived the evangelical counsels, loved the brethren and immersed himself in the word of God. What he left us, then, was not his own spirituality. He left his sons and daughters a way of life that always pointed the brothers to our mission — preaching for the salvation of souls — our common life, and the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

For St. Dominic (and subsequent Dominicans), our life and ministry became not so much the manifestation of the particular spirituality of one person. Rather, Dominican life is about continual conversion through grace. Our primary sources of grace are God’s word and the sacraments. Therefore, as Dominicans, we immerse our lives in the word of God and in the sacraments so that we can be renewed constantly by the superabundant graces that flow from these sources.

Because the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, the Dominican life of grace and virtue requires the Eucharist, both our fruitful and faithful celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy and our continual meditation on the graces and mysteries flowing forth from the Eucharist.

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St. Dominic, for instance, was known to spend his days preaching and teaching the truth, with his evenings spent in the chapel praying and staying close to the Eucharist.

Our brother, St. Thomas Aquinas, combined a brilliant mind with outstanding piety. He was able to write some of the best explications of Eucharistic doctrine while writing poetic prayers and hymns in honor of the Eucharist. He was also known to celebrate a private Mass and attend the community Mass daily, often celebrating or praying through tears.

In the life of a friar preacher, the Eucharist, therefore, is the source of the graces we receive for the study and preaching of the word of God. In order to share fruitfully and faithfully the word of God through our preaching, our lives must be fed and nourished daily by the Eucharist. Additionally, the Eucharist, because it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, serves as the end toward which all of our study and preaching leads.

Put simply, the Eucharist provides our life and our mission a purpose and a fundamental orientation. We live this life not simply to grow in holiness but also to preach clearly and effectively the Good News.

In the Fundamental Constitution of our order, we are told: “We do our best to live of one accord the common life, observing faithfully the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist and the divine office, diligent in study and constant in regular observance. Not only do these things contribute to the glory of God and our sanctification, they also bear directly on the salvation of humankind, since together they prepare and impel us to preach; they give our preaching its character, and in turn, are influenced by it.”

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Mass is its simple, awesome power. One Mass, one faithful reception of holy Communion, has the power to change our lives completely. Transformed by the graces of the Eucharist, our hearts, minds and bodies become vessels of grace. Every moment is filled with boundless opportunities to share those graces.

God’s love for us is such that all of the faithful have this opportunity. God’s love for us Dominicans is such that our entire lives are dedicated to the mystery of incarnating and preaching these particular graces. And it all starts with a simple “yes” to attending Mass.

Father Patrick Hyde is a member of the Dominican Order. He serves as a chaplain at the St. Paul Catholic Center at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Father Patrick Hyde

Father Patrick Hyde, OP, is pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, Indiana.