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On the morning of Saturday, 25 September people from across the Diocese gathered with Bishop Ralph at Blessed Trinity, Wickersley to hear the Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, give a meaningful and entertaining talk about the spirituality of the Dominican Order, of which he is a member.

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon

Archbishop Malcolm said that spirituality is a very broad subject and it is wonderful that the Church has so many religious orders, each with their own approach to spirituality. This diversity is to be welcomed because it allows us a choice of spirituality practice but we must also remember that all spirituality is founded in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever spirituality we adopt, its purpose must be to take the ember that the Holy Spirit has planted in each of us and fan it into a flame of faith, love and trust in God the Father and Jesus.

St Dominic, Founder of the Dominican Order

Archbishop Malcolm then talked about St Dominic who was born in 1170 in Spain. He was the son of minor gentry and went to the Cathedral School in Palencia where he was taught by the Canons of the Cathedral.  Later he joined the Canons and followed the simple rule of St Augustine.  He went north to France to work with the Cathars, who had given up the practice of religion.  The Cathars saw everything in very simple terms, in particular they regarded flesh as evil and the spirit as good.  In 1206 Dominic and a colleague offered their services to Pope Innocent III with the specific purpose of saving souls and the offer was accepted.  From then on Dominic did all his work on foot and roamed villages in France and Spain.  He had nothing of his own and begged for food.  Other men were drawn to him and the embryonic Dominican Order was formed.  Eventually, Dominic and his small community moved to Toulouse in France and formally established the Order on 22 December, 1216.  Dominic’s approach differed from most religious orders of that time.  These lived in monasteries and people came to them but Dominic interpreted Matthew’s Gospel as indicating a need for an order that had vitality and went out into the world rather than calling people in.

In 1217 Dominic followed the example of Jesus and sent his friars out in pairs to preach the Gospel. This practice is still followed by Dominicans who even today travel in pairs if they are on business connected with the Order.  Dominic continued to travel between Rome and Spain increasing his Order as he did so.  In 1220 Dominican brothers gathered at Bologna to approve the Order’s constitution and laws and the operation of colleges run by the Order.  Dominican friars first came to England in 1221 and established themselves in Oxford.

Dominic died on 6 August, 1221 and was canonised in 1234.

The Four Pillars of Dominican Spirituality

Archbishop Malcolm said that since the days of St Dominic, the Order has been founded on four pillars which make a significant contribution to Dominican Spirituality. These are:

  • Prayer
  • Community or common living
  • Study
  • Preaching

Prayer

This is at the centre of the lives of members of the Dominican order which comprises both male and female communities. Friars and sisters celebrate the Word by meeting as a community at least three times a day and reading and/or singing the Office of the Church.  Even when the Order was formed St Dominic was particularly keen that each friar should have his own cell rather than sleeping in a dormitory.  He saw the privacy of the cell as essential not just for sleeping, but also for private prayer and study.

Community or Common Living

Dominicans take a vow of poverty which means they undertake to live a simple life shared with the other members of their community and free from the need to possess things so that everything is held in common. This is an attempt to imitate the apostolic poverty of Jesus.  Archbishop Malcolm said that to live like this is a challenge but it is important because it changes you as a person in that it redirects your values and allows you to witness to the unlimited love and grace of God.  The vow of obedience puts Dominicans at the service of the Church.

Study

When the order was formed in the 13th Century most clergy were uneducated, consequently their ability to preach the gospel was limited. St Dominic sent his friars to the great universities of his time so that they could study, preach and eventually establish places of learning.  This emphasis on study continues to this day with the primary object being study of the ‘Word’ which comes to us through Holy Scripture and Tradition.  Creation reflects the light of the Gospel and is accessible to us through the intellectual development of our minds and reason.

Preaching

Dominicans do not study for their own benefit but so that, when they preach the Gospel, they can draw on the knowledge they have acquired and be all the more effective. In this way they play a part in the salvation of others by teaching the truth that saves.  Preaching is at the heart of Dominican life and every Dominican answers a call to be a preacher, hence the initials OP (Order of Preachers) which they put after their names.  Their preaching can be the conventional homily at Mass but also, it can be through the writing of religious books and articles, teaching and good works.

The aim is always to bring the word of God to those who are suffering or deprived.

Dominican Saints

Archbishop Malcolm then talked about the many members of the Dominican order who have been beatified and canonized, stretching from the Order’s earliest days up to the 20th Century. Many were unfamiliar but some, such as St Catherine of Sienna and St Martin De Porres, are household names for Catholics.

Dominican spirituality gathering s

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon enthrals the gathering with his talk about Dominican spirituality

The Nine Ways of Prayer

Finally Archbishop Malcolm talked about St Dominic’s teaching that because our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit we should use it in prayer. Dominic taught nine ways of prayer which include bowing humbly before the altar of Christ, prostrating oneself, repeatedly standing and kneeling, holding arms stretched out forwards or sideways in imitation of Jesus on the cross, standing upright and stretching the whole body up towards Heaven, and/or walking alone whilst reflecting on Scripture or the Gospel.

Archbishop Malcolm said that whilst lay people may not wish to follow these practices in full, they should at least consider trying aspects of them as a recognition that God in Jesus took on a human body and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should, therefore, form an integral part of our spiritual development.