Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum.
Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell as one.
- Psalm 133
Fraternity among priests is essential for the well-being of the Church. Indeed, a priest is never a stand-alone. I remember being told in college seminary in Winona that "no priest is a Lone Ranger." As well, though I've never verified this myself, I have been told that only rarely does the Second Vatican Council's document on the priestly (presbyteral) order refer to a priest in the singular. A priest is always ordained into an Order or Society of priests or into a particular (i.e., Diocesan) presbyterate. At an ordination, though only the bishop's laying on of hands is required for validity, all the priests present lay on their hands as well, partially signifying the fact that he is being ordained into a community and not merely as an individual.
In some areas, various fraternities are formed to help priests be priests. In other areas (like the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis) there is an association of priests which is formed and they even live a common life - SPM's being the Companions of Christ. The Church even recognizes the importance of fraternity among priests. The Code of Canon Law states,
Can. 533 §1. A pastor is obliged to reside in a rectory near the church. Nevertheless, in particular cases and if there is a just cause, the local ordinary can permit him to reside elsewhere, especially in a house shared by several presbyters, provided that the performance of parochial functions is properly and suitably provided for.
Notice that word: especially.
Well, though they don't live in one location here in Rochester, nonetheless the pastors have the habit of coming together weekly for an evening of fraternity. This time, "Common Table," begins with socialization for about half an hour, then the Church's Evening Prayer is prayed, sooner or later after that (usually depending upon whether one of the priests has an evening appointment to get to) dinner is served. Sometimes the conversation focuses on completely mundane topics. Sometimes it involves the informing of brother priests of an ill brother priest or ill family member. Sometimes pastors will share wisdom or briefly float an idea by the rest. There's no solid and specific rules to constrict the evening.
Each parish in town takes its turn. If one is to be absent, he simply e-mails the host-priest/parish and lets his regrets be known. The priests gladly welcomed me each week, even calling me when my pastor was gone to make sure I knew I was yet welcome. As I begin to wrap up the summer (I have but a week and a half left), I find that this gathering of the priests was one of the events that I most looked forward to each week. As one not yet finished with seminary and not yet living the priestly life, it is satisfying and reassuring to know of the fraternity and charity shared among priests. In any other setting, you would never find this particular group of men gathering. Their interests are so diverse and their personalities so very different. Yet, there is something that brings them together, something that is greater than each of them individually, and all of them combined. It is the very charity of our Lord and the gift of the priesthood.