Priestly ordination is often seen as the climax of one's life as a Dominican friar. But actually it's the profession of solemn vows which unites a man to the Order of Preachers until death.
For many people it's easier to understand when explained in terms of a marital relationship. The novitiate (first year of formation) is a period of courting, during which a man learns more about Dominican life. First vows, sometimes referred to as simple vows and made at the end of one's novice year, are an occasion of engagement, at which a man makes a commitment to our way of life for a certain number of years. Solemn vows is the time at which a man professes his commitment until death, as one would in marriage.
The profession of solemn vows usually takes place within the context of Mass. After the proclamation of the Gospel, the brothers are called forward and asked to declare their willingness to live in accord with the evangelical counsels. After the homily, each brother approaches the altar, kneels and then places his hands in the Provincial’s hands atop the Book of Constitutions of the Order of Preachers, while making his profession of obedience until death.
When one thinks about the vowed life of a religious brother or sister, the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience usually come to mind. So many are surprised to learn that Dominicans only take one vow -- the vow of obedience.
According to the Constitutions of the Order of Preachers, it is “by obedience [that] a person dedicates himself totally to God, and his actions approximate to the goal of profession, which is the perfection of charity. Everything else, too, in the apostolic life is included under obedience” (LCO, 19).
Obedience -- the offering up of one's very self in service to God -- gives unity to the life of the brothers, and it is the means by which they grow in charity and love. Along with obedience, poverty and chastity are expected.
Poverty means renouncing the possession of private goods and the power to acquire new ones. Like the first apostles, Saint Dominic and his companions held everything in common. This kind of poverty frees a friar from a desire to have more than what is necessary. It also allows a brother to grow in his sense of dependency on the Lord. The friar learns to trust in God’s providence and care.
Chastity, in the case of a Dominican, refers to a life of celibacy. Without the responsibilities of family life, a friar is able to devote himself ceaselessly to the life of preaching and the proclamation of the Gospel. But this is not a lonely endeavor, for the brethren have one another. They work, pray, study and live together, supporting each other in all things.
Along with this lifelong commitment, the transition from simple to solemn vows means that a brother now enjoys certain responsibilities, such as voting rights in chapter and the possibility of being elected to various offices. But more than that, a brother's religious consecration allows him to grow in love of God and neighbor. Thus he is driven to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world.
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