“The Secular Oratory is the characteristic work of the Congregation of the Oratory; begun in a time of need for radical moral reform, it is a community of Christians open to the most modern charitable, pastoral, cultural and recreational initiatives… after having tempered the spirit with prayer and the sacraments." – Constitutions and General Statutes of the Confederation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, 118-119
Oratories undertake their work and ministry within what St. Philip called the “Secular Oratory.” By membership in the Secular Oratory the laity enter deeply into the spiritual and liturgical life in imitation of the life and charism of St. Philip Neri. The congregation of priests and brothers together with the laity form the “two lungs” of the Oratory. The Oratory began, not as a religious house or even as a community of priests, but as a group of laymen gathered for prayer and spiritual reading, for conversation and recreation, and for the care of those in need. St. Philip was at the heart of the group, of course. Yet how unobtrusive he was! He desired to bring his friends to Christ, not to himself. Christ was to be found in the sacraments, in Holy Scripture, in the lives of the saints and the history of the Church – and also in other people, especially the poor and the sick, to care for whom is to care for Christ. The Oratory was not particularly dramatic or especially demanding. All sorts belonged, drawn simply by their sense that here, from St. Philip, they could learn how to make progress in knowing and loving our Lord.
Those who participate today in the Secular Oratory are among the successors of the early disciples of St. Philip. In addition to daily reception of the sacraments and frequent spiritual direction those who enter into the life of the Secular Oratory often attend one or several of our adult religious education groups. These groups most often follow the form of a group Lectio Divina, with questions and discussion naturally flowing out of what is read or presented by the group leader.
Keeping Philip’s original way in mind, the Secular Oratory is not so much a formal confraternity or third order as it is an association of all those who wish to serve God under Philip’s gentle guidance. No specific commitment is required, other than the desire to attend when one can and to grow in one’s faith. It is also a special blessing for us to receive St. Philip’s spirit from the hands of Blessed John Henry Newman. Newman understood that spirit; he knew that in our relations with God and with each other, we must try to leave behind all that is wrong, false and pretentious, so that, in all simplicity, heart can speak to heart. This is what Saint Philip wants for those who take him as a special patron: simply and intimately, to know Christ. It is the aim of the members of the Secular Oratory, each one as far as he or she can, to seek that knowledge in Saint Philip’s way and Newman’s: in prayer and devotion, through the bonds of Christian friendship and in works of practical charity.