From your Pastors
What exactly is an Oratory? What makes it different from other religious congregations in the Catholic Church? Thanks to a lead from parishioner Brenda Becker, we are including an excerpt and a link to an article by Elizabeth Scalia that appear recently in “Word on Fire Blog.” The article was occasioned by the Feast of the founder of the Oratory, St Philip Neri, Wednesday May 26.
The article is entitled Philip Neri, John Henry Newman and the Idea of the Oratory. There is a delightful reference to the Brooklyn Oratory that captures well the charism of the Oratory and its local incarnation in our own community.
Over time, I have grown to love Neri as a true friend and teacher, but I still struggled with the idea of the Oratory; a place for Mass and for the performance of plays and political debate? Was the sacred being profaned, or the secular being sacralized? How exactly did that work?
It was only after participating in a symposium at the Brooklyn Oratory of St. Boniface that I came to see what a powerful and prophetic gift Philip Neri had given to the Church.
The Oratory is powerful because it is beautiful. Philip Neri always argued for beauty as the necessary attraction that leads us to the good and the true. Before the symposium, there was celebrated a High Mass, and it was everything the Mass should be: holy, reverent, mindful, warm, and welcoming. Like Neri, it was a liturgy both serious and full of joy. It was beautiful in participation; beautiful in homiletics; beautiful in its spare simplicity; beautiful—heartstoppingly so—in its music, which was facilitated by a splendidly-voiced organ and a professional-grade choir of which Neri’s other great friend, Palestrina, would doubtless have approved.
The Oratory is prophetic because Philip Neri understood that while the Church needs its gorgeous buildings and sanctuaries to give us instruction and delight through our senses, and while she needs the ballast of rules and rubrics to keep a universal barque in balance, what is additionally (and as importantly) required is a laity that understands its faith and has learned how to thoughtfully integrate the ways of heaven with all of our earthly encounters. A laity that can engage with the times without becoming absorbed by them because it understands that—despite trends and polities and movements—“the true servant of God acknowledges no other country but heaven.”
The Oratory is the fruit of Neri’s vision of the Church coming out to meet the world, and the world willingly stepping inside.
This is what I saw at the Brooklyn Oratory. After the liturgy, which had truly been a “taste of heaven,” the Oratory prepared for earth. As people removed to another space and shared “potluck” breakfast, the Presence was reverently (and discreetly) reposed elsewhere and the Oratory became that place of talk and gathering and mind-meeting that Philip intended. Invited speakers shared their thoughts; guests in attendance asked questions, agreed or disagreed; there was some laughter, some tension, even a few tears. There was head-on engagement and, at the parting, sincere and respectful good wishes, and expressed hopes to meet again, “perhaps at next week’s concert,” or the following week’s class.
This has been the Oratorian mission for the last five hundred years. Long before Pope Francis suggested that the Church open its doors and go out to meet the world, Oratorians have been stepping outside and bringing people in, meeting for the simple sake of community and Christ—making everyone feel like they really do have a place in the Church and in the pew—and then giving room for the Holy Spirit to work thingstoward God’s purposes, an idea which Philip endorsed completely, saying, “All of God’s purposes are to the good; although we may not always understand this we can trust in it.”
The full article can be found here:
Fr. Mark Lane, c.o. and Fr. Michael Callaghan, c.o.