The Oxford Oratory is a vibrant centre of Catholic life. Our church is open every day: join us for Mass, pop in for some quiet prayer, or come and discover more at one of our groups. Our historic church of St Aloysius has been a key feature in the lives of the city’s Catholics for 150 years, attracting people of all ages and from every walk of life. We use beauty to raise hearts and minds to God, faithful to the traditions of St Philip Neri and St John Henry Newman.

Saturday 25 June 2022

Devotions to Our Lady of Oxford on the feast of her Immaculate Heart.

These devotions take place every Saturday after the 10am Mass.

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

The Feast of God

One of the most iconic images of the Catholic Church has to be St Peter’s in Rome and the square in front of it. When a news article needs a photo to accompany a story on the Church, that’s the picture they use. So even if you’ve never been to Rome, we can all imagine that scene: the façade of the basilica, with the colonnade surrounding the square, drawing you in with the two great ‘maternal arms of Mother Church’ as their architect Bernini called them. And forming the welcoming committee, the friendly face of the Church, are the saints — 140 statues of them on top of the colonnade, all facing inwards, welcoming visitors to the square into their company. All, that is, except one.

As you enter the square, the first saint on your left isn’t paying any attention to what’s going on there. He has his back to the basilica, and is looking out over the city of Rome. That saint’s name is Norbert. And the reason he’s not interested in what’s going on behind him is that he’s holding up a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament and showing it to the world. Before you even step foot in St Peter’s, it’s been made pretty clear: this is what it’s all about. If you want to know what the focus is of the Church’s life, here’s the summary. Or rather, not what, but who. It’s all about Jesus Christ, who gives himself to us under the appearance of bread.

It’s at this point we realise we also have to admit something quite shocking: the French have got it right. They call Corpus Christi Fête-Dieu — the feast of God. It says something about what an important day it is. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost — all of these days celebrate the most important events in salvation history. But Corpus Christi celebrates one of the greatest mysteries in salvation history. We couldn’t celebrate those feasts — at least not properly, not in the way that we do — without the Mass. Corpus Christi is the celebration of what makes every other feast day possible, what makes it possible to encounter the Word made Flesh when we come to Church at Christmas. This is what makes us able to meet the risen Christ ourselves on Easter Sunday. Corpus Christi is the celebration of our own encounter with Christ, not in some vague and abstract way, but in a real, objective, and simple way. Christ makes himself present, under the appearance of bread, and gives himself to us.

At the Last Supper, shortly after giving his Body and Blood to his disciples for the first time, Jesus said to them, ‘No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.’ (John 15:15) This is one of the most important things that Christ ever revealed to us. God calls us friends, he calls us into a relationship with him not of slavery, but — and we wouldn’t dare to say it unless he had said it first — a relationship of equals.

Human beings are not purely spiritual beings like angels. We struggle to form purely spiritual relationships with other people. It’s unlikely that your best friend is someone you’ve never met in person. It’s through this gift of his Body that Christ opens up the possibility of a real, human relationship with him. We don’t have to imagine that he’s there, we don’t have to convince ourselves that he is close to us. We know it, we can be sure of it, because of this sacrament.

Just as this feast comes as a high point after so many other great feasts of the Church’s year, so this sacrament is the high point of all the sacraments. The feast of Corpus Christi couldn’t take place if Christmas and Easter had never happened, and similarly, we would never receive Holy Communion if we hadn’t first been baptised, if we didn’t have access to confession, if there were no men ordained as priests to celebrate the Mass. But, of all the sacraments, Holy Communion is the greatest because, as St Thomas Aquinas pointed out, the other sacraments all use some kind of instrument to do God’s work. When we baptise a person, the water doesn’t become God. When we are confirmed, the chrism isn’t turned into the Holy Spirit. But in the Eucharist, Christ is not working through bread and wine. Those material things are turned into him. Holy Communion is actually him himself. God works through all of the the sacraments, but only the Eucharist actually is God.

That encounter with Christ that each of us undergoes when we receive Holy Communion is hidden and private — so hidden that most of what he does in that moment is unseen even to ourselves. But the effects are not to be hidden. We can’t touch God and remain untouched by him. That image of St Peter’s in Rome is an image of what we are called to. We enter the church, we receive God, we enjoy the company of all those saints, but like St Norbert, our task is then to show Christ to the world, to draw them into his friendship as well.


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Wednesday 22 June 2022

The procession ended with Benediction at the University Chaplaincy.

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

We stopped at Blackfriars for a sermon.

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

We were joined by Catholics from all the churches and religious houses in Oxford.

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Wednesday 22 June 2022

Our Corpus Christi procession returned on Sunday after a two year break.

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Tuesday 21 June 2022

Today is the solemn feast of St Aloysius, the patron of our church.

As well as this relic of his displayed on our sanctuary, his relics were also placed in the high altar when it was consecrated, together with a relic of St Alban, whose feast we celebrated yesterday.

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Wednesday 15 June 2022

Getting out of the way

I was given today a beautiful gift: a copy of the prayer journal of the American novelist Flannery O’Connor, which she kept from January 1946 to September 1947. O’Connor was not quite twenty-one when she started it and only twenty-two when she wrote her last entry. It is essentially a book of prayers, heartfelt and utterly sincere. Because the first pages are missing, the slim volume (the original was only an exercise book) launches in directly, sharing something of the young woman’s desire:

‘Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.’ She understands clearly enough the reason why we cannot ‘see’ God. ‘I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.’

‘I am in the way,’ she says. If we take a moment to ponder that admission, we might well find it fittingly our own too. I am in the way. Time and again we make claim to want what God wants and to do what God wills, but again and again we signally fail on either count. It could be most discouraging, but since we are in Christ, we should not let it be so.

The truth, which as Mr Wilde said ‘is rarely pure and never simple’ — and that goes for the truth about ourselves — has to be borne, though we can, and indeed must, make changes where we can, allowing the Lord’s grace to permeate our lives and bring about a gradual conversion of heart and mind. For us, it really is a work of Divine Grace. God alone knows who we are; it is His will that we should become this or that beloved person, and He alone can enable it. We are work in progress — how can we know ourselves, since we are not yet complete? Please God, we have at least enough self-knowledge to make the lives of others less impossible. To see ourselves as others see us is not always a very pleasant sort of revelation, even when a kind, if exasperated, friend has sat us down and told us our faults and of the impact they have in their lives and those of others. It is a mortifying and a humbling experience.

But might it not also be a grace, an opening for real change? Our capacity for self-delusion is enormous, and the joke (or is it the pity) of it, is that though we see this so clearly in our friends, fellow parishioners and colleagues, we don’t see it quite so obviously in ourselves. It must take a lot of self-knowledge and honesty to see the ways we get in the way of God, blocking His action, grace and love in our lives, preventing us from doing anything we might do for Him, choosing to blame everything that goes wrong, or that we don’t like, on our families, friends, our clergy etc.

Next week we celebrate, a day earlier than usual, the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, a model of true integrity of character, who approached his mission with the simple and clear understanding: ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ John was ready to take the lower place, to see his disciples go off and follow his kinsman, Jesus, while he preached in the desert. He was willing to give himself totally for the cause of Christ, content to surrender the front rank in the battle, ready to decrease that Christ might increase. The Baptist knew the truth about the Lord and about himself. Centuries later, St Charles de Foucauld, the Parisian playboy who turned desert mystic, unearthed the secret, which, you will not be surprised to learn, is Love. ‘When one is in love, one is humble, one sees oneself as very insignificant, as nothing besides one’s beloved.’ Is this how we feel beside our Lord?


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Saturday 11 June 2022

Today we celebrated the first of our three First Holy Communion Masses.

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Wednesday 8 June 2022

The Silence of the Spirit

It is not often that the whole country takes four days off to celebrate — and what celebrations they were! All the Queen’s Jubilee events were designed for maximum spectacle, maximum effect and maximum emotion, everything from Trooping the Colour to Paddington Bear, to stir up feelings of gratitude, jubilation, national pride, and even to bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. But in the midst of all the cannon-fire, cheering and music, we celebrated another, more important Person this weekend: God the Holy Spirit.

In Scripture the Holy Spirit generally prefers to remain hidden, silent. He acts, of course, but does not claim a leading role — although he has one. He acts, but not to draw attention to himself. The Spirit directs us to the Son, and through him to our Heavenly Father. The Father speaks in the Scriptures, the Son says much, the Holy Spirit never speaks. Rather, he enables and empowers: he allows us to cry “Abba, Father”, and “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit who infuses our souls with the grace of Christ, and he does this primarily through the sacraments. The Holy Spirit washes away our sins in Baptism and makes us part of the family of God. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit who restores us to a state of grace in the Confessional. All of this he does discreetly — objectively and effectively, but silently rather than with pomp and noise.

We are uncomfortable with silence and discretion nowadays, even in the Church, and think that for the Holy Spirit to be present and to be at work we have to feel him. We must experience a feeling of joy, or even euphoria. If we do not, then we obviously do not have the Spirit in us. That is the trap of sentimentality — good for moments of national importance, but dangerous in the spiritual life. If we look to our feelings and emotions as evidence of God’s presence then we make it about ourselves. It would no longer be the Holy Spirit who “blows where he wills”, but rather he is supposed to blow where and when we will. The Spirit can certainly give an intimate feeling of peace and joy, and many times he does so. But he does so when and how and where he wills, when he sees that this is good for us. Sometimes he also acts in us in the form of desolation or emptiness, as the great Carmelite mystical tradition teaches us. Not only in spiritual joy, but also in the dark night, can the Holy Spirit show himself to us and act in our lives.

In our path to God we must not seek sensations or certain emotions, but rather follow the spiritual motions of the Holy Spirit as he leads us towards the good, the true and the beautiful, to Christ himself; and we must do this whether movement occurs in joy or in moments of discouragement or desolation. Holiness is not a mood or a state of mind, but something objective and is seen in right thinking and right action. The Spirit may choose to make his presence known, although this is rarely in tongues of fire or the sound of a mighty wind; but regardless, we believe he is always present and active. Such is the certainty of faith, rather than the fickleness of human feelings.


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Saturday 4 June 2022

June Music

Sunday 5 June Solemn Mass 11:00
Pentecost
Mass for five voices Byrd
Dum complerentur Victoria
Factus est repente Byrd
Fantasia super Komm, Heiliger Geist BWV 651 Bach

Sunday 12 JuneSolemn Mass 11:00
The Most Holy Trinity
Missa in honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis KV 167 Mozart
Tibi laus, tibi gloria Philips
Honor, virtus et potestas Tallis
Fugue in Eb BWV 552ii Bach

Sunday 19 June Solemn Mass 11:00
Corpus Christi
Missa Lauda Sion Palestrina
Sacerdotes Domini Palestrina
Hoc corpus Isaac
Pange lingua de Grigny

Tuesday 21 June Solemn Mass 18:00
St Aloysius Gonzaga
Missa Or combien est Clemens non papa
O quam gloriosum Victoria
Ego sum panis vivus Palestrina
Prelude in C BWV545i Bach

Friday 24 June Solemn Mass 18:00
The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Leroy Kyrie Taverner
Mass for four voices Tallis
Improperium exspectavit Palestrina
Sancte Deus Tallis
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland BWV 665 Bach

Sunday 26 June Solemn Mass 11:00
13th Sunday of the Year
Missa Vulnerasti cor meum Morales
Sicut in holocaustis Palestrina
Salve Regina a4 Josquin
Con moto maestoso (Sonata III) Mendelssohn

Wednesday 29 June Solemn Mass 18:00
St Peter and St Paul
Missa Caça Morales
Tu es Petrus Morales
Janitor caeli Ortiz
Scherzoso (Sonata VIII) Rheinberger

Thursday 2 June 2022

Cardinal Pell’s Sermon for St Philip’s Day

Philip Neri was born in Florence in 1515 at the start of a tumultuous century; two years before Luther posted his theses at Wittenburg, which eventually started the Protestant Reformation and shattered Christendom, the turbulent marriage of Church and state which had predominated in the West for more than a thousand years, and still continued in the Orthodox East after 1054. Islam was an active and ambitious military power still keen to expand despite the loss of Spain. And the western naval victory in Lepanto in 1571 and the lifting of the siege of Malta still lay in the future. The printing presses were turning out more and more books. Literacy was starting to spread from a low clerical base and the national languages of the outlier states of England and Germany were developing, spurred on by the Reformation and the use of the vernacular in the liturgy.

The pope was ruler of the Papal States, the middle third of the Italian Peninsula, which was large enough to defend itself against the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons. During the lifetimes of Thomas More and John Fisher, executed by Henry VIII in 1535, there was scarcely a Pope who was religiously respectable, although they were often capable princes and patrons of the arts. Pope Julius II, one of Michelangelo’s sponsors, was the last pope to lead personally his troops into battle. But with the Counter-Reformation and the loss of whole peoples from the Catholic community, the popes became deeply religious, often in quite different ways. The free-spirited Philip Neri was in trouble: not only with the fierce Paul IV, the terrible Carafa pope, but once again with the Dominican hardliner Pius V. 

Despite centuries of Protestant propaganda to the contrary, religious life in England in the 16th Century, when 800 monasteries were closed and so eliminating the only sources of social welfare, the religious vitality was widespread and persisted here for generations. Elsewhere in Europe this was not equally true, and especially in Italy there was a lot of corruption, ignorance and official indifference. When Charles Borromeo went to live in Milan as archbishop against the wishes of the pope, he was the first resident archbishop in Milan for nearly 80 years. Philip was 20 years old when he came to Rome and eventually he did more than anyone to revive genuine faith and devotion among all classes of Roman society. Northern Europe and England saw an exodus from the Church, which was unequalled until our own post-conciliar period. With the difference that today those departing generally fall into the new paganism, whereas then they moved into another serious form of Christianity — Protestantism. This wasn’t to be the case in Italy but while the poor were often ignorant and superstitious, the educated and elite, and especially Philip’s fellow Florentines, were heavily influenced by the 15th Century Renaissance: a rediscovery of the pagan classics, which according to Louis Bouyer produced, and I quote, “a paradoxical union of idealism and carnal passions, a languishing mysticism, which can never be satisfied.”

What was the contribution of Philip Neri to this difficult world? What does he say to us? First of all, Philip was a saint, a man of God, a mystic driven and transformed by his love of Christ. He was not the typical wise man praised in the reading of today from the Book of Wisdom. He was not a man of letters in the conventional sense, or a social commentator, or a philosopher — and in fact he destroyed most of his writings. 

There are saints and saints. The great saints who are mystics, miracle workers, founders of immense movements which have continued for centuries. And there are other saints, so encouraged by Saint John Paul II with his many canonisations, who are less spectacular but models of perseverance for us.

Philip is among the greats, the giants. But he is one of the most interesting and encouraging of the saints: very human, with a great capacity for friendship; eccentric; sometimes irritating to his fellow workers; and sometimes tough and demanding. He was very hard on the brilliant young preacher, who obviously was a bit too full of himself, too proud of his work, whom he commanded to repeat the same sermon to his congregation seven times in a row.

We don’t have to learn to be frightened by danger, but we do have to learn the fear of God to develop an accurate concept of holiness, a loving awareness of the immense difference between us and the all-knowing compassion of our transcendent Creator. And of course, that Christ enables this connection. At least in Australia, where I come from, and probably more widely, we need to be reminded we Australians by the example of saints like Philip: that you cannot have religious revival without God or striving for godliness. Social justice, social work, ecology, gender equality — and the list could go on — are good, but are not the whole of Christianity or even (I think) the heart of Christianity. 

My mother was an Irish Australian and she taught me that to be with a saint in heaven is bliss and glory, but to be with a saint on earth is quite another story. Now Philip is an excellent example of this, but a happy example, who would have avoided my mother’s disapproval. 

The Catholic revival then in many places and in the New World of the Americas, was led by the new Society of Jesus, founded by the ex-soldier Ignatius of Loyola. And in those days it was a militant, closely-organised and focused missionary movement. Philip encouraged many young men to join them, but he was too much of a rebel for such an army. And being according to Fr Bouyer a combination of “primitive asceticism and humanistic freedom”. Newman put it beautifully when he wrote that, “Jesuit rigour would have had the same effect on the free-spirited Florentine as Saul’s armour had on David”.

The Gospel of today explains the central element of Philip’s message for us. He had a gift for friendship, he loved beauty, good music — the great Palestrina composed quite a number of his Masses for his Roman congregation. But Philip understood that to produce life we must remain attached to the vine; remain faithful to Christ’s teaching and to Catholic practices. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. Now we’re all dismayed by the exodus of Church members, by the decline of practice. But the remedy doesn’t lie in the German “Synodal Way”. For example by rejecting explicitly the sexual teachings of the Church as they were taught by Saint Paul and by Christ himself. Philip understood that we are servants and defenders of the apostolic Tradition, which alone gives life, and not the master of the Tradition, with a capacity to change it or abolish some of its hard teachings. Recent experience in the Catholic or Protestant and Anglican worlds show that the closer we move to secular models, the faster the decline. We have evidence of many dead and dying branches.

And a final word of thanks to Saint Philip for the stories which his extraordinary biography, preaching, buffoonery, have produced — some of them true and well-founded, perhaps some of them less so. The story of his enlarged heart and cracked ribs caused by his mystical experiences in the catacombs, is a consolation for all those with heart trouble today. Less well-founded, I suspect, is the story that when Philip was undecided about how to proceed, he would often go to Ignatius of Loyola, seek his advice, and then do the opposite. This reeks of anachronism, of the contemporary love-hate relationship of the orthodox with some of the elements of the Jesuit tradition today. But we must never forget that Ignatius was cut from a different cloth.

And I can’t really resist repeating the often repeated story of his penance of the woman who confessed to gossiping. He asked her to pluck some feathers from a fowl and throw them to the four winds. And then when she again confessed to gossiping, his penance for her was to collect the feathers she’d let go. She protested strongly that this was impossible. “Exactly”, he replied, “just like the progress of your gossip.”

Philip knew of the Catholic Church in England, as that extraordinary succession of martyrs from the English College in Rome would regularly visit him before they returned home to preach the Catholic faith. That enterprise which Campion saw as coming from God and as being impossible to withstand. Over 40 of them were martyrs, year after year, and they went to their fate with Philip’s blessing.

So we ask Saint Philip Neri to bless us also, bless our efforts in these troubled times, which always remain rich with the promise of fruit; rich with the promise and possibility of repentance and conversion.

Thursday 2 June 2022

“My mother was an Irish Australian and she taught me that to be with a saint in heaven is bliss and glory, but to be with a saint on earth is quite another story. Now Philip is an excellent example of this, but a happy example, who would have avoided my mother’s disapproval.”

Visit our website to read Cardinal Pell’s full St Philip’s Day sermon.
https://tinyurl.com/SPNSermon2022

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Wednesday 1 June 2022

Our own Personal Pentecost

Some of the Fathers refer to this time of year as “Philip-tide” on account of all the joyful preparations for his feast day, one of the highlights in the Oratory calendar. It is a happy gift of Providence, no doubt, that as soon as we have celebrated St Philip we look to celebrate his dearest Friend, the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the greatest turning point in our Holy Father’s life was the Vigil of Pentecost 1544, when, as he prayed in the catacombs of St Sebastian on the Via Appia in Rome, the Holy Spirit appeared to him as a ball of flame, entered into him and remained within his heart, a Pentecostal Fire, for the rest of his life. Philip was changed — physically, his heart was enlarged so much his ribs remained broken his entire life too — but most significantly he was taken over by the Spirit.

The Vigil of Pentecost was significant for another priest, one who could not have been more different to St Philip, a Cistercian, who wrote an extensive prayer on the Holy Spirit and solitude, the same Spirit who called Philip to the heart of Rome. That monk, Thomas Merton, addressed the Holy Spirit, writing, “In me the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere.” In us, the Charity which is poured into our hearts at our Baptism works on us. We become the centre, the locus of God’s action in the world by grace, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and by that action we become a link in the chain of bringing his light to the world.

Our own personal Pentecost, at our Baptism and Confirmation, was likely not as spectacular as St Philip’s, nor accompanied by tongues of fire, by glossolalia, and other wondrous signs which were so clearly seen in the early Church. Still the desired effect is the same. The Holy Spirit comes to us to be for us a paraclete, an “along-sider,” a friend for the campaign of life. Whereas an evil spirit, should it take over a poor soul, de-humanises that person, controls them, and turns them into an automaton, the exact opposite is true with the Spirit of God. When the Holy Ghost takes possession of us we become more the person God wants us to be, we become even more truly ourselves, we become freer. The Spirit gives us a taste for the things of God, he tunes us into God’s wavelength and makes us more amenable to the commands of the divine will, which seeks to bring about our good and the good of those around us. He makes us holy.

And whilst we pray our ribs remain unbroken, perhaps we might pray that on this Vigil of Pentecost coming in a few days time, our hearts will be enlarged once again with God’s own charity, and that the pentecostal fire given us years ago might burn a little brighter, might warm our hearts and those of our friends around us, and that God might surprise us yet, whether in solitude or in the midst of the world, with what he wants us to do with it.


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Tuesday 31 May 2022

Congratulations to Benjamin who was baptised today.

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Tuesday 31 May 2022

The 10am Mass on St Philip’s day was not without a solemnity and beauty of its own.

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