Chapel at Dominican House of Studies
I had never been to the Dominican House of Studies when Christine invited me to the enrollment ceremony for the Angelic Warfare Confraternity (AWC) on the Feast of the Archangels one year ago. I knew very little about the AWC and had no intention of joining. But the Dominicans, aptly named the Order of Preachers, put on a good show and I rashly decided to just go with it.
According to the AWC website, "the Angelic Warfare Confraternity is a supernatural fellowship of men and women bound to one another in love and dedicated to pursuing and promoting chastity together under the powerful patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary." The main spiritual fruits of the AWC are the protection of chastity and purity, the healing of the stains of sin against chastity and purity, and the protection from the occasion of sin against chastity and purity and from scandal. Some people have reported intellectual benefits attributed to the intercession of the patron, St. Thomas Aquinas. The AWC is centuries old and some of the deceased members have been beatified.
Two of the most obvious qualities of Thomas Aquinas were his superhuman intellect and his childlike innocence, reasons for which he is called the Angelic Doctor. The title Doctor of the Church is given to a Saint whose writing has been especially important to our understanding of theology and doctrine. GK Chesterton speculated that Thomas spent so much time in intense thought that he channeled all of his other energies, including sexual energy, into thinking.
When Thomas was a young man he ran off and became a Dominican which ticked off his parents who wanted him to be a Benedictine. Mom was so upset that she sent Thomas' brothers to drag him home and lock him in the family tower. They tried to wait him out but couldn't get him to leave the Dominicans. So his brothers came up with the fool proof plan of sending a prostitute into his room to tempt him out of celibacy. (No one could possibly turn down SEX!) Well, Thomas chased the poor prostitute out of the room with a hot poker, slammed the door behind her, and burned a cross into the wooden door before collapsing to the floor, probably nearly having heart attack because Thomas was never a slender guy. Then he went into a sort of unconscious ecstasy during which angels tied a cord around his waist that would protect his chastity and purity from any further attack. Supposedly when he woke up there was a cord around his waist.
AWC members wear either a blessed cord around the waist or a blessed medal, in honor of St. Thomas and Our Lady of the Rosary. Fr Brent informed us that, "You should wear it at all times until someone removes it from your dead body."
Fr Brent admitted to removing his before surgery and forgetting to put it back on after. He remembered it when he had unusually unchaste and impure thoughts, but the thoughts went away after putting it back on. He cautioned us that this spiritual chastity belt won't help if we don't take it seriously. One has to actually want to live chastity.
Anyway, Christine and I went into the chapel and sat quietly and I started to feel awkward, not knowing what was going on. Eventually Fr Brent and some dangerously good looking Dominican men showed up to explain the details. There were seminarians and even some priests there to be enrolled and we were told that in some places entire seminaries have joined the confraternity. Our job as members is to pray for each of us to receive the graces mentioned above. The prayers include a prayer of St. Thomas and another prayer asking for his intercession and 15 Hail Mary prayers in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary (after the original 15 decades of the rosary). We were given some time to decide if we could commit to the prayers and the lifestyle.
We went into another room to fill out a form for the records and then we were each given a candle and processed back into the chapel. We entered by twos, so of course we stood by our buddies. But once we were inside the pairs were split up on either side of the chapel. The girl in front of me seemed really confused and tried to complain and follow the older woman she was partnered with but the Dominicans politely guided her to the other side. As soon as I sat down she said to me, "I'm deaf, can you help me?" There was a lot of reading from the booklets they gave us and I tried to follow the text with my finger in case she got lost trying to lip read what Fr Brent was saying. Sometimes we had to read responses, but that wasn't made clear in the text, so she would try to watch me and see if I was talking. It wasn't the best system but we made it through.
The candles were dripping and Fr Brent sprinkled us and our cords and metals with holy water. There was water and wax everywhere! Then some Dominican brothers came in to ceremoniously put the medals around our necks. This took forever because the cords were too small to fit over some of our heads. The deaf girl next to me took down her hair as her Dominican repeatedly tried to force the cord over her head. Eventually some of them gave up and started battling with the clasp. Finally everyone was medalled and we processed out and down the cloister walk with live Gregorian Chant. One by one our names were entered into a huge old book, again very ceremoniously. Then Fr Brent gave some final instructions and I watched the deaf girl ask her companion what he had said. The old lady helplessly shook her head until the girl gave up and asked me. After some pointing and waving around and speaking as clearly was I could she repeated back what I had told her. I wonder if she often has to deal with people who are too afraid even to attempt communicating with her.
A year later, I think it was the best way to celebrate the Feast of Sts. Michael and Gabriel and Raphael, the Archangels.