A love for each other, a love for the Oratory as a home, is one of the chief characteristics, bonds and duties of the Fathers.
-Blessed John Henry Newman
As the name of our Congregation suggests, our calling is primarily to prayer. Not only are we called to build up a house of prayer, but we are each called to be a place of prayer.
The peculiar characteristic of the Oratorian is to pursue the perfection of religious life without the bond of religious vows. He does not surrender his private property or embark upon a life of rigorous external penance. The perfection of Oratorian life cannot easily be identified by any external sign. An outward display of sanctity or profession of austerity is foreign to the teaching of St Philip, who emphasized humility and the counsel amare nesciri (To love to be unknown).
The Oratory is a Society of apostolic Life, or a community of secular priests and brothers, meaning we do not take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as members of religious orders do. We are bound only by the common bond of charity. Our community life is strengthened by our stability, meaning the Fathers are not moved from place to place, but that we live out our vocation in the congregation to which we have been called quasi natus (As if born to it).
Below you will find some tenets of the OratorIan vocation. For more information, please use the “Vocation Inquiries” form at the bottom of this page to contact the Director of Vocations.
As regards recruitment, St Philip preferred men beyond the immaturity of their youth and so educated as to be able to employ profitably their talents and such leisure as the day admits. Moreover, the Oratory has been a natural home for late vocations and for converts.
The mission attaching to a classical Oratorian vocation remains a timely one, as the activities under the following headings suggest:
The lure of embracing a “spiritual, but not religious” posture betokens the widespread existence of a spiritual hunger which is nonetheless unaware of the conditions of genuine spiritual knowledge, and the need to embody spirituality in traditional practices and a concrete way of life. The riches of the Catholic contemplative tradition and its ascetical preliminaries today must be presented in a fresh and effective way to awaken men to the loving presence of God.
St Philip was an apostle of frequent confession. He saw this sacrament as possessed of its own integrity and importance, even abstracting from its role as preparation for holy communion. This sacrament will be taken up again and demonstrate its full power, when Catholics achieve greater awareness of the effects of virtue and vice in a concrete way of life. The ministry of spiritual direction can serve such an awareness.
The Oratory has maintained a tradition of splendor in the liturgy, not only at Mass, but also at Solemn Vespers on Sundays and feast days. Fine liturgical music continues to be cultivated in Oratory churches. (According to the French Oratorian, Fr Louis Bouyer (1913-2004) the spirit of the original Oratory was best conveyed by the music of Animuccia, who frequented St Philip’s Exercises.) The Oratory can continue to contribute to the contemporary liturgical movement (which resumes and extends the older liturgical movements of the twentieth century) by its care to institute the best liturgical practices.
St Philip and his companions were unusual for their day in the practice of frequent communion and Eucharistic adoration. They were instrumental in introducing the Forty Hours Devotion to Rome—an extended period of continuous Eucharistic adoration, which many Oratories still pointedly celebrate with much splendor. The Oratorian tradition has also been known to mark the entire octave of Corpus Christi with special solemnity. A recent author has spoken of the “sacramental” or “embodied” mysticism of St Philip.
Distributing the daily Word of God is one of the essential works of the Oratory. The biblical scholarship of the twentieth century has enriched our Scriptural knowledge but this acquisition is still seeking its place in the tradition and life of the Church. St Philip’s “daily familiar discourse on the Word of God” can promote the integration of scripture scholarship, patristic exegesis, doctrinal development, and the renewed practice of lectio divina.
Popular interest in the saints has not waned, as an increasing number of compilations of saints’ lives and sophisticated scholarly studies bear witness, not to mention the great number of newly-canonized saints added to the official list of the Martyrologium in recent years. The Exercises of the Oratory provide an appropriate place for making known the witness of holy men and women, not only in their virtues, but in the drama of their lives.
Both philosophers and popular writers have evinced renewed concern with “virtue ethics,” which is part of the patrimony of the Church. The ambience of the Oratory can stimulate the dimension of moral evaluation and reasoning in practical life. The Spiritual Exercises of St Philip were vitally concerned with the acquisition and development of the virtues. Spiritual direction and the counsel of the confessional can weave a discourse of the virtues into reflections on daily life. This is all the more essential when competing discourses such as psychologism and emotivism still largely hold sway in the public sphere.
The “historical consciousness” of contemporary man is a challenge to the proclamation of “eternal truths.” To overcome both a simplistic and unconvincing essentialism, as well as a facile and destructive historical relativism, a deeper knowledge of Church history and the development of doctrine is required. The final (and synthesizing) discourse of the Exercises of the Oratory was drawn from Church history. The Oratory has given the Church many historians, and the father of modern Church history, Cardinal Cesare Baronio, began his great scholarly work with the discourses St Philip set for him in the Oratory.
The Oratory has demonstrated a taste for intellectual and artistic culture, especially in the domain of history and music, “the word as sound, which through the ear reaches the heart.” The contribution of the musicians Palestrina and Animuccia to the Exercises has been mentioned.
We might also note the painters and architects patronized by St Philip and the Oratorians: the baroque architect Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), who created the Roman Oratory; the painter Federico Barocci (1535-1612), who contributed two prominent altarpieces for the Oratory’s Chiesa Nuova and whom St Philip called “my Barocci.” Others painters who carried out artistic programs in harmony with the Oratorian spirit include Cristoforo Roncalli, Rubens, and Caravaggio. The seventeenth –century Oratorian Father Giovanni Severano wrote: “Limiting ourselves, then, to just the usefulness that we gain from images, we could form the opinion that these are of benefit and aid to illuminating the intellect and inflaming the emotions and will help no less than books and the Scriptures themselves.”
The Oratory also has a special intellectual resource in the voluminous writings of Blessed John Henry Newman. The purity of Newman’s quest for religious truth is exemplary in modern times. His analysis of the fruitful tension among tradition, magisterium, and theological research marks out a path for acquiring the true and living mind of the Church. His sermons and essays give many helpful indications for the development of theology. His university writings have not ceased to inspire revivals of liberal education. His Oratory papers document the mediation of the Oratorian tradition to the contemporary world.
The Second Vatican Council ushered in “the age of the laity,” encouraging laymen to pursue holiness in the course of daily life, promoting new lay movements, and enlarging lay participation in the activities of the Church. The Oratory was, at the first, also a lay movement, and this original lay movement has always persisted in the association of the Little Oratory, always under the necessity of being re-thought and re-adapted to the needs and occasions of the times. Moreover, the stability of Oratorian life promotes familiar trust and support between clergy and laity. It is not uncommon for parishioners to be married by the same priest who baptized them.
The crisis of the modern family has inspired the conception of the family as “domestic church.” Oratorian spirituality, too, is domestic. The “holy community” is a special kind of family, and the superior is called simply “the Father.” Among St Philip’s exercises were those including children: picnic pilgrimages to the Seven Churches of Rome, dramatics, singing, recitations, and concerts. The Oratory has a part to play in preserving a “sense of place” in the midst of a mobile, post-industrial society. The Oratory, by its life of voluntary stable community, is a resource for the revival of the communal sense in large cities.
St Philip and his companions were so taken by their reading of the letters of St Francis Xavier from India that they considered mounting a missionary venture themselves. But upon seeking the counsel of the prior of the Cistercian monastery at the Tre Fontane, Philip was told, “Your Indies are here in Rome.” The mission of an Oratorian is to work at “home”; the Oratory is thus an apt instrument of the New Evangelization, re-proposing the gospel in formerly Christian societies. Just so, St Philip was the Apostle of Rome, who by means of the “counter-fascination of purity and truth” reconverted both clerics and laymen in the city at the centre of the Church. This subtle influence is the only mode to which St Philip’s sons would lay claim: