British archbishops honour lay apostolate pioneers

posted 31 May 2010, 19:38 by Stefan Gigacz   [ updated 31 May 2010, 19:49 ]
British Archbishops Bernard Longley and Vincent Nichols recently noted the pioneering role in relation to the lay apostolate played by 16th century St Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory, and the soon to be Blessed John Newman, who re-established the Oratory in the UK in the 19th century.

St Philip Neri, 1515-1595, the man from Florence, known as the 'Apostle of Rome' became a priest in 1551 and formed the Oratory. Fr Philip gathered together a group of laymen who held services consisting of spiritual readings and hymns and performed charitable works including visiting the sick and poor in Rome, Independent Catholic News notes.

After his ordination as a Catholic priest Fr Newman joined the Oratory of St Philip Neri and on 1 February 1848 he established the English Congregation of the Oratory at Old Oscott, renamed Maryvale, on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Dr Newman and his community moved into the new Oratory House in Edgbaston during February 1852. Cardinal Newman was to die in his room there on Monday 11 August 1890.

The Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman will be beatified by Pope Benedict during Mass at Coventry Airport, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, on the morning of Sunday 19 September 2010. From then on he will be known as Blessed John Henry Newman.

Archbishop Longley said in his homily on the Patronal Feast of The Oratory: "During this Year for Priests it is encouraging to remember St Philip as a wise, joyful and prayerful priest. Many have followed his inspiring example. The Venerable John Henry Newman was so strongly influenced by what he saw in St Philip's way of life that it became the pattern of his own life and priestly ministry for many years here in Birmingham.

"St Philip Neri, too. drew companions to share this life of common prayer, joyful priestly service and the daily search for God's wisdom in the midst of human affairs. As we prepare for Cardinal Newman's Beatification these are still important signposts for the Church's life in this city and for the particular role of the Oratory." 

Earlier in his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley had stated: "There are certain characteristics of St Philip Neri, the Founder and Patron of The Oratory, that brighten this festival and that benefit us as we try to imitate his faith.

"It bore fruit in the way of life he established and is witnessed to by the readiness of his first companions to share that way of life. This happiness of St Philip has continued to inspire those who have joined him and followed his way of life as Oratorians, because it is above all a fruit of the Holy Spirit. He was a joyful priest.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols in his homily at the London Oratory said: "St Philip Neri is known as a saint of great joy. Yet this was not a superficial joy. Such joy flows from our being close to Christ, 'remaining in him', as we heard in the Gospel. The 'sap' of the vine is the life of the Holy Spirit within us, moving and shaping our response to all things. As we said in the prayer of the Mass, St Philip's heart 'was filled and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit' and we ask that our hearts will be, too.

The Archbishop of Westminster continued: "St Philip's vocation began with his work in the lay apostolate, caring for the pilgrims in Rome. This service, or 'diaconia', is always a key characteristic of the Church, and indeed, of the life of every priest and bishop.

"There are some other indicators from the life of St Philip: he always declined ecclesiastical honours; he insisted on a life of chastity, based on humility and lived with joy; we are told that he deliberately cultivated some eccentricities 'in order not to fall victim of the admiration of the people'; he bore criticism and censure patiently."

The French philosopher and theologian, Fr Alphonse Gratry, whose writings inspired the pioneering Sillon movement and YCW founder, Joseph Cardijn, was also an Oratorian and contemporary of Newman. Gratry in fact re-established the Oratory in France more or less simultaneously with Newman's efforts in Britain.


Archbishops compare Newman, St Philip Neri (Independent Catholic News)