Beginning this last Saturday, I took on the role of Hebdomidarian. For those who don't know, the hebdomidarian [hebdom for short] is the leader of prayer during the liturgy of the hours. In the case of our community here in St. Louis, the hebdom is in charge of 1) the call to prayer, 2) the reading of scripture after the three psalms are chanted, 3) the leading of the prayers of petition, the Our Father, and the closing prayer, and 4) praying for God's blessing upon the community. In a real sense, the hebdom keeps the liturgy of the hours "moving", and his posture of prayer greatly flavors the tone of prayer for the whole group.
As we celebrate this feast of St. Martin de Porres, the extraordinarily holy cooperator brother, miracle worker, charity giver, mystic...I could not help but to be conscious of how surprised Brother Martin would be to see a cooperator brother playing the role of hebdom like I have been this week. In his day, if I understand correctly, the "lay brothers" had major exemptions from communal prayer. They prayed, for example, the rosary, and did work while the cleric brothers were in chapel.
Of course, like I have said in previous blog posts on the subject, I think that there is a place for such exemptions for cooperator brothers of today. For example, Brother Richard, who is training to be a nurse, just will not be able to be present at prayer and mass given the schedule of the hospital where he works...but when his schedule does allow, Richard is seated in choir with the rest of the friars.
This unity in communal prayer is a big step forward in the understanding of cooperator brothers as being fully and equally consecrated religious with the cleric brothers. This is because the praying of the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours is one of the quintessential tasks of consecrated men and women in the Church--it's a way they contribute to the Church's mission to bring the world to salvation. When cooperator brothers pray in choir with the cleric brothers, it shows that they are not mere laborers attached to the community, but men called to this same role of intercessor. Further, when a cooperator brother leads his community in prayer, it rightly preaches the message that all friars are equal, and that friars ought to be relating to one another as fellow religious, not ordained or non-ordained, professor or nurse, etc.*
So, while there is still work to do for the renewal of this wonderful vocation within the Dominican family, I can see that we have come far already in the understanding that those called to be cooperator brothers share a common vocation with their cleric brothers in so far as both vocations are rooted in the consecrated life as vowed religious.
Br. Paul, OP
*The following quote from the General Chapter of Bologna is included in my response to a reader's comment below, but I thought I would include it here to show where this particular thought of mine came from. The General Chapter declared: "Because the Order, by reason of its mission, will always have a greater number of priests, the brother is a witness that we are first of all religious and that what binds us together is not our ordination, but our religious profession. Thus, the brother is at the very core of our fraternity and is a constant reminder that even the ordained members of the Order exercise their ministry as Dominican religious brothers" (136).