The Oratory of
St Philip Neri
The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri is a congregation of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community bound together by no formal vows but only with the bond of charity. They are commonly referred to as Oratorians.
Oratorians have what is called ”stability; they are committed as members of the community of a particular Oratory. An Oratory is a “house of prayer” and the community consider themselves “contemplatives in action”. Prayer and the community life is of the utmost importance, but this interior life is lived out in various apostolates. Although some oratories may have a dominant mission, in general the members of the Oratory spend the day involved in various ministries: teaching, parish work, spiritual direction, chaplaincies, administration or maintaining the fabric of the community house. Most oratories are specifically connected with parishes and thus its members serve as the parish staff.
This way of life originated from St Philip Neri’s efforts to make the word of God and the life of virtue accessible and attractive to the laity and, in fact, to all people of Rome in the sixteenth century.
The foundation of the Oratory was laid at San Girolamo, Rome, where St Philip’s disciples gathered for spiritual instruction. Gradually these conferences took definite shape, and St. Philip constructed an oratory over the aisle of S. Girolamo, where they might be held. In 1564 he took charge of the church of the Florentines, where his disciples who were priests said Mass and preached four sermons daily, interspersed by hymns and popular devotions.
St Philip said, “Let each house live by its own vitality, or perish of its own decrepitude.” Each Oratory is therefore an autonomous community. There is no central authority – the Congregation of the Oratory functions more like a monastic federation than a religious order. Each oratory is established by the Holy See.
The “rule”, an embodiment of St. Philip’s mode of governing, was not drawn up until seventeen years after his death, and was finally approved by Paul V in 1612, but it is the Spirit of St Philip that is most important.
The object of the congregation is threefold: prayer, preaching, and the sacraments. Particularly the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an important work of the Oratorian priest. St Philip was known as a great confessor, gentle rather than severe. “Once let a little love find entrance to their hearts”, said St. Philip, “and the rest will follow”.