Edinburgh Oratory Project
St Patrick’s Church is served by a small community of priests working on the Edinburgh Oratory Project. This means that we live a common life based on the pattern established by St Philip Neri, who founded the Congregation of the Oratory in Rome in 1575.
We are not an Oratory, but a project to establish one in the future. We are in the early stages of formation, as diocesan priests who are beginning to model our common life along the lines of existing Oratories (especially the Oratorian community in York) and to establish a threefold Oratorian apostolate of prayer, preaching and the administration of the sacraments. This period of formation is carried out on the invitation of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh and under the supervision of the Procurator-General of the Confederation of the Oratory in Rome.
It is hoped that, through this process of formation, we may in time be formally instituted as an Oratorian Congregation.
What is an Oratory?
The origins of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri were in the lay apostolate which St Philip himself began, largely among the Florentine community in the city of Rome after his arrival there in 1533. The shape and charism of the institute had taken shape by 1552, when Philip began to collect a circle of men in his room at the Roman church of San Girolamo della Carità, having reluctantly agreed to be ordained to the priesthood on the advice of his spiritual director a year earlier.
In order to keep his circle of young men out of trouble during the afternoons, Philip occupied them with spiritual reading, edifying conversation, and pilgrimages to churches and convents. Visits to the sick and dying in hospitals were part of this apostolate. In the evenings, some of his penitents would return to him in his room at San Girolamo for more prayers. It was only when the group became too large to manage single-handed that he proposed that some of the original lay members should be ordained.
By 1558 Philip’s group had outgrown his own small room, and so a larger space over the church was adapted as an ‘oratory’ for their meetings, which began to take on the more definite form known as the ‘Exercises of the Oratory’. These ‘exercises’ consisted of mental prayer, informal commentary on spiritual readings, vocal prayers, and the singing of hymns and songs. In 1575 they acquired the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, and the Congregation was canonically erected by Pope Gregory XIII. Its status was confirmed as a community of secular priests bound by charity, but not by vows. Members of the Oratory, therefore, remain secular clergy, rather than religious.
Before Philip’s death in 1595, the foundation of other Oratories in Italy was already underway. St Philip viewed these developments without enthusiasm and was insistent that any new foundations should be quite independent of the original Roman house. Today, 87 Oratorian Congregations exist in 19 countries across four continents. Each house operates autonomously under the supervision of the Confederation in Rome.
The Oratorian vocation
The Oratorian vocation is that of the threefold ministry given to the Apostles: prayer in common, the administration of the sacraments, and the distribution of the daily word of God. The virtues especially cultivated by Oratorians are charity, submission of the individual will to the collective mind of the community, and loving to be unknown.
An Oratorian’s main apostolate is to be ‘at home’ to those who come to the house and church for spiritual guidance. He may also be called on to do parish work. In imitation of St Philip, priests of the Oratory are assiduous in visiting the sick, at home and in hospitals.
Oratorians live together in community, but unlike religious, they do not take vows. The bond which keeps all members of the community together, whatever their background, is charity. Just as a member of the community is bound by charity rather than by vows to obey his superior, the superior is obliged by the same bond of charity to govern with discretion, gentleness and prudence. Neither is there any vow of poverty; Oratorians may keep their possessions, and those who can afford it are expected to pay a contribution to the house.
An Oratorian is expected by the same bond of charity to observe most carefully the timetable and customs of his community. In addition to celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments, this means praying together, and taking the communal meal together in the refectory, followed by a brief period of recreation. Oratorians do not sing or recite the Divine Office together in choir, except for Vespers on Sundays and the major feasts.
Although not tied to his house by vows and so always free to leave, an Oratorian chooses to join one house for life, and only in exceptional circumstances would he leave to join another Oratory. Thus there is a ‘stabilitas loci’ in the Oratorian way of life similar to that of Benedictines. Fathers of the Oratory may not accept ecclesiastical dignities. No Oratorian may become a bishop, unless commanded to do so by the Pope. No Oratorian should ever wish for or seek ecclesiastical preferment. He is to live his vocation within the community, humbly loving to be unknown.