While the Personal Ordinariates have been recently celebrating the canonisation of St John Henry Newman, including his work of establishing the first Oratory of St Phillip Neri in Britain, I wonder whether anyone has thought of establishing an Ordinariate Oratory?
While doing research I discovered that in order to establish an Oratory a minimum of four men is all that is needed: two ordained and two either seminarians or Lay-Brothers. I believe this is more than possible in any Personal Ordinariate.
What is an Oratory?
Although the structure is centuries old many are unfamiliar with the Oratory as a Congregation, rather than just being another name for a chapel. The innovative structure of the Oratory was created by the great Counter-Reformation saint Philip Neri to be a self governing community of clergy and brothers, who did not need to take vows and dedicated themselves to prayer, preaching and the sacraments. Much like the Benedictines, Oratories are self-governing and have ‘stability’: it’s members are committed to a community in a specific location and cannot be transferred to another Oratory or community. The Congregations of the Oratories of St Philip Neri are a confederation with no central authourity.
Oratories are different from Religious Orders where the community takes vows to each other, and Religious Institutions which take vows to a central authority: while Oratorians live under a rule they take no vows and their priests remain secular clergy like all Ordinariate priests. As they do not take religious vows, members of the community are free to resign their membership of an Oratory at any time without canonical impediment, and as they have no vow of poverty are able to retain possessions. While the community lives under a rule they are not committed to gathering for communal prayer so retaining a degree of freedom and flexibility. However, Oratorians place a strong emphasis on community life, praying together daily and sharing in at least one communal meal.
It takes a number of years for an Oratory ‘in formation’ to be declared stable enough to become an actual foundation. The granting of this official status is given directly by the Holy Father erected by ‘Pontifical Right.’
The next question is whether an Oratory is conducive with the Anglican Patrimony? Although St Philip Neri is an Italian saint he was part of the Counter-Reformation: a period not insignificant to our history. I think one of the most interesting answers to this question is not just that Newman founded the first Oratory in England, but that the first English Oratories were founded by, and became a hub for former Anglicans who entered into the Catholic Church. For an Oratory to be founded with in an Ordinariate would be to follow a path already established by former Anglicans who came into union with Rome.
Oratorians share the quasi-monastic and Benedictine aspects of the Anglican Patrimony, especially with a focus on stability, community and common prayer, while maintaining decentralized authority and greater freedom of life. Many Oratories have lay associations which meet for common prayer and a teaching, in the same vein as our communities that meet for Evensong. An Oratory administrating an Ordinariate parish would blend quite well. The great Anglican convert Fr Frederick William Faber, who founded the London Oratory on Newman’s suggestion, described the Oratorian charism as ‘a spirituality of everyday life,’ and ‘everyday lives’ are what our priests and parishioners live.
Would an Oratory attract vocations to the Ordinariates? An Oratory can recruit new community members that are seminarians who wish to be priests, or Lay-Brothers, for their congregation.
As well as the founding 4 members they are joined and overseen by an experienced Oratorian who acts as a moderator. There might be one or more former Anglican Oratorians who might be willing to assume the role of formator in order to guide Ordinariate members to establish a new congregation.
There are quite a number of former Anglican Catholic diocesan priests who have not seen a place for themselves in the Ordinariates- perhaps the chance to live in an Oratory community might make them think again.
There are also those Catholics who have made their spiritual home in the Ordinariates and be interested in a priestly vocation within one.
Lastly there is now no Ordinariate religious communities for men, as clergy or to fulfill a vocation of a Brother. Many men discerning their vocations feel called to a life in community, not providing such an option would mean no community vocations for the Ordinariates as such men look outside of them to fulfill their calling.
The only way the Personal Ordinariates will establish an Oratory is if those men who would like to explore this vocation, as either clergy or Lay Brothers, make themselves known by writing to the Ordinary and the vocations director expressing interest. Interest could also be solicited on the Ordinariate websites and forums. I believe the Ordinariates are capable of gathering sufficient vocations to establish at least one Oratorian community in formation. I belief that such an Oratory would be a great blessing for the Ordinariates, bringing them and God much honour and glory. But with all these things “Whoever dares wins”.
St John Henry Newman of the Oratory, Pray for Us
If you are interested in an Ordinariate Oratory vocation, I suggest trying to find others who are also interested including on Ordinariate forums: you might be surprised who is interested. I say this as such things are movements of the faithful, although if you are interested in some form of male Ordinariate community vocation do inform your vocations director.
An abridged version of this article first appeared in the UK’s Ordinariate Portal Magazine