I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘purpose’. Being a Lay Dominican (note the term Third Order was abandoned many years ago, we are all part of the same order not first, second and third class citizens) is a vocation, it is what we are called to do, therefore our ‘purpose’ is to be who God calls us to be. In terms of how we actually do that, see below.
I’m told they are supposed to hold the same sort of charism as the Dominican’s, but what does that mean?
Yes, because we are Dominicans. We have the same charism as the entire Domincan family. It’s not like the friars are fully fledged Dominicans and we’re Dominican-lite or something, we’re all Dominicans together following the same charism.
Preaching, evangelisation? I’ve never seen any talks by them, no papers, no books, no reflections of any sort (God or anything about their vocations), nada. Are there any? If so, where?
I’ve linked to some examples online:
here, here and here
Yes, we preach, that’s what defines us as Dominicans, and yes, we evangelise. How each person and fraternity does it is different, just as friars preach in many ways other than at the pulpit. Some people give talks, write books etc., some preach in a formal way in their local communities (various ministries within the church), some have a job which envolves preaching (many of us are involved in education for example), all of us also try to preach as our Holy Father Francis taught us by example first. The what of what we do is no more or less than any lay Catholic may do, it’s the spirituality behind it that sets us apart. We want everyone to come to God and, for us, we do that by following St. Dominic.
Do they help out the Dominicans in any way? Do the Dominican’s help them? If so, how?
See above, we are all Dominicans. However, to answer your question, yes. Many Dominicans have a strong bond with other members of the Dominican family (nuns, friars, sisters and laity) and help each other out in lots of ways, often undertaking joint projects. The sisters are autonomous but all others are led by the same Master (elected from the friars). A Dominican religious will often be the chaplain to a Lay Dominican fraternity, as one example of interdependence.
I am assuming that they don’t go about preaching like the friars, but one might think they had some role somewhere with regard to sharing the faith. I’m assuming their first duty would be to develop a relationship with God, and come to a better understanding. Study and prayer would probably be important too,… but what else?
From the Lay Dominican Rule, this might help:
- Life of the Fraternities
They do their best to live in true community in the spirit of the beatitudes, and they give expression to this in regard to other members of the fraternity, particularly the poor and the sick, and as circumstances require, by doing works of mercy and sharing with them what resources they may have, and by offering prayers for the dead, so that all may be united in heart and soul in God (Acts 4:32).
- Together with the brothers and sisters of the Order the members of the fraternities take part in the apostolate; they are to share actively in the life of the Church, and be ever ready to work with other apostolic groups.
- The principal sources from which the Lay Dominicans draw strength to go forward in a vocation
which combines the contemplative and the apostolic in the closest union, are the following:
a) hearing the divine word, and reading sacred scripture, especially the New Testament;
b) as far as possible daily liturgical celebration and participation in the sacrifice of the Mass;
c) regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation;
d) celebration of the liturgical hours in union with the whole Dominican family, as well as
private prayer such as meditation and the rosary;
e) conversion of heart through the spirit and practice of the repentance demanded by the gospel;
f) sustained study of revealed truth, and constant reflection on the problems-of the day in the
light of faith;
g) devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the Order’s tradition, and to our holy father
Saint Dominic, and to Saint Catherine of Siena;
h) spiritual retreats from time to time.
The Rosary, which leads to a familiar contemplation of the mysteries of Christ under the guidance of Mary, is a traditional devotion in the Order. Dominican Laity are strongly encouraged to pray it daily.
Or are they sort of a fan club?
No; athough I personally am a fan of many of the friars, Dominican friars in general and, of course, St. Dominic, that is not what makes me a Lay Dominican. We don’t make lifelong promises and commitments just to be groupies!