Today's feast of St. Mary Magdalene is special in so many ways this years. The Church is celebrating World Youth Day which opens today in Brazil. For the Order of Preachers today is a special feast because St. Mary Magdalene along with St. Catherine of Alexandria is patroness of the Order. St. Mary Magdalene because she is the "apostle to the apostles" and St. Catherine because she is the patroness of philosophers. According to the legenda she was able to convert 50 pagan philosophers to the True Faith by her learning and eloquence.
This year there is another reason to celebrate. It is the opening day of the General Chapter held in Trogir, Croatia. This is the Chapter of Deffinitors. Instead of trying to explain what this means we'll just share with you what the Order has posted on their site!
The General Chapter, which is the highest authority in the Dominican Order, is an assembly of friars representing the Provinces of the Order, coming together to discuss and define matters pertaining to the good of the entire Order. When necessary it elects the Master of the Order. From the very beginnings of the Dominican Order, one can distinguish two types of General Chapter: Chapters of Provincials and Chapters of Diffinitors. To these is added the General Chapter, comprised both of Provincials and Diffinitors.
The General Chapter is above all a legislative assembly. A proposal becomes law for the whole Order only after having had the favourable vote of the three successive Chapters. These three Chapters thus constitute, in a certain sense, a unity, since it is in this triad of Chapters that, according to the spirit of the Order, the entire legislative power resides. The mechanism of the three successive Chapters is provided for in Dominican legislation with an aim of: a) stopping a new law from taking effect by way of improvisation or as the expression of a tendency of only one assembly; b) providing time for reflection on the opportuneness of the new law; c) avoiding facile and frequent changes which might create "confusion and bring ridicule upon legislation" (Humbert of Romans).
The Chapters of Provincials and those of Diffinitors have equal power and equal rights. Each Chapter, independently, has faculties of proposing a law and for approving or not approving a law proposed by the preceding Chapter. The two types of assembly differ only in composition: one is formed of men of government (the Provincials) and the other of representatives from the grass roots (Diffinitors). The Dominican Order is the only one of all religious Orders that enjoys such a "bicameral" rule and the only one that has given full legislative power to an assembly formed entirely of representatives from the grass roots.
The institution of Chapters formed only of Diffinitors was suggested in order to avoid a situation where men busy with the government of Provinces (the Provincials) would have to undertake long journeys too often and consequently, be too long absent from their proper headquarters. The origins of this institution sprang from the communitarian and democratic spirit of the Order. The Chapter of Diffinitors allows the representatives from the grass roots to participate, in full freedom and autonomy, in the formation of laws of the Order and to bring to it that way of seeing things proper to those not in government. Superior see a norm in quite their own proper way, and people at grass roots level see things in quite their own proper way.
Each friar-priest at the Chapter will be given this beautiful stole:
On the lower left end of the stole there is the Dominican emblem that is depicted as a seed breaking apart in the ground and germinating. The seed is spreading its roots, which symbolize stability and steadfastness, and it is growing into a tree, which is a symbol of strength and endurance, bearing fruit in the end. These fruits are shown as the Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic, all known and dear to us. This image clearly represents the Gospel message and Dominic’s goal in the mission of the Order.
The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic represented on the stole, which is a symbol of apostolic tradition and service to Christ, are a clear presentation of the Dominican ideal and the realization of the apostolic work of the Order.
Fr. Anastazio P. Petri?, OP