When we speak about community in Dominican life, we need first to differentiate between how community is lived among Dominican religious and how it is lived among Dominican Fraternity members. The religious of the Dominican Order-priests, brothers, deacons, nuns, and sisters-live in community and pray in common. Their home is a priory (priests, brothers, deacons), a monastery (nuns), or a convent (sisters). Since the structure of Dominican life calls for a democratic system of governance, the members of each of these religious bodies elect the leadership among themselves. Because St. Dominic created a mendicant order, Dominican religious provide for themselves through begging. They share all of the responsibilities of communal living, from housework to cooking, and they engage in their intellectual formation together, taking classes, attending lectures, and studying together.
All of these activities experienced in common are, of course, crowned by the most important events each day: coming together in the chapel for the Mass and for praying aloud the Liturgy of the Hours. Most Dominican religious communities also allot time, as a community, for silent contemplation and spiritual reading. These communal times of prayer bind the community in Christ.
For most modern fraternity members, living one’s vocation in the Order is much different from the way in which religious live. Most fraternity members work in the world and attend to their vocation of marriage and the responsibilities of family life or to the responsibilities specific to their single state of life. Therefore for most fraternity members, though not all, community life is most directly experienced in the family. For example, a father who has a vocation to the Fraternities of St. Dominic carries out most directly the communal aspect of his vocation with his wife and children. He prays with them, cares for them, and helps them.
In addition, fraternity members, whether single or married, meet with their local chapters and exercise their call to community specifically among this group. The local chapter is a group of lay individuals in a city or area who share in common a vocation to the Order. Much as the early Christians who came together to support one another in the faith, fraternity members try to meet regularly. Each chapter typically gathers once a month for spiritual and intellectual formation; in most cases, a Dominican priest or a professed Dominican tertiary direct this formation. (Most study by a tertiary, then, is done individually throughout the remainder of the month.) In addition to this monthly meeting, the members of the chapter try to see each other as often as possible at daily or Sunday Mass. If the members are able, the fraternity group can meet from time to time to pray the Divine Office aloud together. Any opportunity for coming together as a group, whether for Mass, prayers, or socializing helps to strengthen the unity of the Dominican chapter.
As in Dominican religious life, a chapter of lay Dominicans does not choose its members. The Lord calls individuals to the Dominican vocation and each person responds to the call. Therefore, just as in religious life, Dominican tertiaries experience many opportunities for growing in love, patience, and understanding of their fellow Dominicans. When lived fully, Dominican chapter life refines the edges of each tertiary’s character. Accepting the community into which Christ has placed them humbles and purifies Dominicans in a beautiful way.