instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

For me, to live is Christ

A common question asked of those in the Dominican Family is, "What's the difference between a Dominican nun and a Dominican sister?"

The Dominican nuns are cloistered, and would be considered the "Second Order" of Dominicans, with the friars the "First Order" and secular layfolk and diocesan priests in various communities of the "Third Order." (The "First," "Second," and "Third" terminology has been deprecated in recent decades, for reasons with which I have no sympathy.)

The Dominican sisters aren't cloistered. They belong to congregations that have historical ties to, but are canonically separate from, the Order of Preachers. There was a time when Dominican sisters were also professed members of the Third Order, but I don't know of any congregation of sisters for which that's still true (not that I necessarily would know).

Since Vatican II, the Dominican Order has been trying to align its various parts to more effectively and cohesively attend to its mission of preaching and the salvation of souls. A side-effect (which I trust was unintended) has been a certain confusion of terms. We speak of the "branches" of the "Dominican Family," including the friars, the nuns, the laity, the sisters, the sisters' associates, the secular institutes, the Dominican Youth movements, and so on. Sometimes, we even remember the priestly fraternities, the diocesan priests who would once have been called "Third Order Regular."

It's all very confusing, of course, a bit shamefully so, you might say, considering the care and precision that illuminates the thought of our great doctor, Br. Thomas.

In practice, though, the key distinctions are often not difficult to make.