Kevin Francis Donlon considers the historical roots and future potential of the Oratory Movement for Anglicans

In the early part of the sixteenth century the development of the a renewal movement for the Church known as the Oratory was inaugurated for people from all walks of life who wanted to pray and live a life that was focused on God while living in the secular world, and in that vocation discover a call to Christian service. The person who shared this vision was a priest by the name of Philip Neri. Neri spent half of his life as a layman, very actively engaged in Christian service. Philip Neri and his friends met in churches for prayer study and formation and from these informal gatherings they went about their work.

Over time Philip became known for two effective ministerial gifts: intercessory prayer for healing and evangelizing the indifferent. Despite this ministry he admired missionaries like St Francis Xavier and desired to become one, but it was discerned that his mission was staying home and forming Christians out of the community in Rome. In that moment, the DNA of the Oratory movement was birthed, thus beginning a 400- year history which has had its impact on the Anglican Communion.

Effects on local parishes

In certain periods of time Oratories in the spirit of Philip Neri have influenced Anglican spirituality and common life. ‘Oratories’ such as the Community of Little Gidding led by Nicholas Ferrar in the seventeenth century, or the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, begun in 1913 as a group of Cambridge (England) chaplains, who were looking for some form of disciplined holy life, have had an effect on the local church where they were formed. Typically as in the RC model these communities were made up of laity who are served by secular priests. These priest as Oratorians are not members of a religious community but bound by mutual regard. It is not a cloistered community even though it fosters contemplative prayer. It is not separated from the world around it, but it does call people aside for prayer and study and helps form them in spirituality and service.

An Oratory is a ‘house of prayer’ based in the common life of a local parish. The lay and clergy of each oratory 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 particular to each place, usually consisting of Christian formation, parish work, spiritual direction, service, etc. As Oratories are typically based in a parish, its clergy serve that community of faith.

Aims of the Oratory

The Anglican Oratory Movement as a renewal movement for clergy and laity seeks this by: (1) promoting true community amongst those whom God has called to the practiced the catholic faith in the Anglican Tradition; (2) promoting Anglican catholic spirituality amongst the members and together to grow in the sanctification of their lives; (3) promoting and practising ongoing formation in the lay and ordained ministry by sharing experiences, knowledge and skills; (4) promoting prayer and to foster vocations to the lay and ordained ministry in each oratory community; and (5) expressing both inwardly and outwardly true Christian fraternal charity with each other and the wider Anglican Faithful. (6) Congregations of the Anglican Oratory, in respect to their common lives and their internal governance, are governed by a Constitution, approved by the Episcopal Consultors. These Constitutions are supplemented by General Statutes to regulate the relations among the various congregations, which are put forward by the Anglican Oratory in convocation.

Characteristic autonomy

Oratory congregations, faithful to the autonomy that is customary in the Oratory movement, are particularly linked to the reality of the particular Churches and to local situations. But the importance in the life of the communities and their members of the bond of fraternity with the other congregations that make up the Confederation is essential to the cohesion ofthe movement. It is through this bond that the characteristic autonomy of the individual houses is opened to the gift of active charity and the confederated communities find effective help to grow in fidelity to the Oratorian charism.

It is the expectation that each Oratory congregation will devote special care to the initial and continuing formation of individuals and communities, in order to assimilate the ideals and values within the Oratory Movement and purposed by the General Statutes, for the sake of a growing spiritual vitality and effective apostolic presence.

The specific aim and mission of the Congregation of the Oratory is the birth and growth of genuine Christian communities, the light and salt of the earth.

Oratorians in the Anglican tradition draw inspiration from their example of simple community prayer, spiritual reflections and pastoral ministry. In this perspective, the Oratory sees its identity in ‘the practice of discussing the Word of God together in a familiar way, as mental and vocal prayer, in order to foster a contemplative spirit in the faithful, as at a school, and the love of divine things’. ND