News Archive

Wednesday 21 April 2021

The Early Church

The Acts of the Apostles, which we read at Mass throughout the Easter season, presents us with a somewhat utopian picture of the early Church:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (2:44–47)

The Church grows almost effortlessly, and everyone seems to have had no problems getting along with each other. In the following chapters we are reminded again and again that no one was ever in need because the members of the Church looked after each other. We are told that the Gospel was preached unceasingly by the apostles, who accompanied their preaching with great miracles and signs worked by the Holy Spirit.

From a practical point of view, a lot of this will have been much easier when the Church consisted of a small group of believers living in the same city. Fairly quickly, it will have become impossible for all Christians to gather together in the same place: 3000 were baptised on the day of Pentecost alone (Acts 2:41). Sharing all things in common also became difficult — at the beginning of chapter six the Greeks start complaining that their widows weren’t getting as much as the Hebrew widows. Then persecution broke out, and the Christians of Jerusalem were scattered. It was not long before the idea of holding all things in common became impossible outside monastic communities. But the sign of unity that did remain constant throughout was ‘prayer and the breaking of bread’ — St Luke’s code for the celebration of Mass.

Today it would certainly be impossible to gather all of the members of the Church into a single location. We would struggle to fit the Church in Oxford into our church building — even without social distancing. Yet we are all united with each other, because we are all united to Christ. We are all members of the one living body of the risen Christ. And that unity shows itself when we participate in prayer and the breaking of bread, the celebration of Mass and Holy Communion. Every Mass celebrated anywhere in the world at any point in history  — whether by the Pope with a crowd of thousands or a single priest by himself — is a link to every other Mass, and every other member of the Church, past, present and future.

As we recover more and more of this visible sacramental unity on the way out of lockdown, we should also think about ways in which we can recover the spirit of the early Church. We can’t all gather in a single celebration of Mass every Sunday, and it would not be practical to hold all of our property in common with each other. But we should still strive for the spirit of fraternal charity and generosity that made these happen in the early Church.

Cesare Baronio is one of the more famous of St Philip’s first disciples in the Oratory, and was given the task by him of writing a complete history of the Church. When commenting on the gatherings of the early Church, he wrote:

Certainly it is by the Divine disposition that there has been renewed in our age, in a great part of the city of Rome, the ancient and profitable custom of the Church in the method of discoursing of the things of God to the edification of the hearers. This has been the work of the Reverend Father Philip Neri, a Florentine, who, like a skilful architect, laid the foundation of it… Things being disposed in this manner, and approved by the Pope’s authority, it seemed as if the old and beautiful apostolical method of Christian congregations was renewed.

It is for this return to the spirit, if not the exact practice, of the early Church that Newman dubbed Philip ‘man of primitive times’. But St Philip didn’t set out to re-enact the way of life of a first-century Jerusalem Christian. Like the apostles, he allowed himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit according to the greatest need and benefit of the Church of his day. Recreating the Oratory of sixteenth-century Rome would do us no more good than trying to return to the way of life described by St Luke. Nevertheless, as we approach the feast of the Patronage of St Philip and the anniversary of the foundation of the Oratory in Oxford, we should think about what it means to be members of the Church in 21st century Oxford. And, like St Philip, we should ask the Holy Spirit to guide us according to the needs of our own day, so that our unity — founded on the Eucharist — can display itself in practical charity and holy community with each other.

These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

Thursday 15 April 2021

From the archive: a historic view of the church. #oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 14 April 2021


We have just celebrated the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, the greatest feast in the Church’s calendar. The greatest, because without it there would be no Christianity. “If Christ be not risen, then our faith is vain!” In fact, the whole of our lives would be a massive waste of time. Moreover, we would still be in our sins and there would be no life beyond this for us, nor the New Heavens and Earth promised us by the Lord. It is indeed a depressing thought. Sometimes, in our darker moments, we may find ourselves wondering if it is all true, whether it’s not just a pretty story... or else that it is, perhaps, a huge imposition on the world.

Of course, since the beginning, people have sneered at the idea of the resurrection and, in recent decades, scripture scholars and even some high-ranking clergy in the established church have tried to explain it away as something purely spiritual, along the lines that the disciples were so bereft after the debacle of Good Friday, that they ‘felt’ quite intensely that Jesus was with them, alive in their memories and such like. This we may say of our loved ones, that they live on in our memories and in the things they did which may outlast them, but that is not resurrection as our faith teaches. The different accounts of the event, told from different viewpoints, can convince us that the Apostles haven’t just cobbled together a story, but that each gives his or her account of what they experienced on that third day when “he rose again according to the scriptures”.

The gospels narrate how in the forty days after Easter Sunday, on a number of occasions, our Lord’s friends encountered him, spoke with him, touched him, ate with him. Here was no wishful thinking on their part, no ghost, but flesh and blood, Christ alive and at large in the world. St John’s account of Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples by the lakeshore is testimony that what happened is real and physical. It is not a matter of spiritual survival or physical resuscitation, but of the conquest of death and resurrection to a new phase of existence altogether.

The stories of the disciples’ encounters with the Master are too vivid to be inventions; besides, the transformation of those frightened men, and the tearful Magdalene, bear witness to something tremendous having taken place, something which gave them confidence and courage to speak.

Last Sunday, we read, as we always do on Low Sunday, the testimony of Thomas. For those of us who find faith difficult, Thomas is a gift, since he says quite bluntly what we might well have thought and said had we been in his shoes that day. We, with our scientific world-view, have been programmed to question everything we are told and so, like the Doubting Apostle, we demand empirical evidence, wanting to see and to touch before we commit ourselves to accept the statement ‘He is Risen!’ But since we are most unlikely ever to experience the appearance of the Lord or be invited to touch his wounds, as was Thomas, we can accept his testimony and, like him (and indeed because of him), make the same act of faith, “My Lord and my God!” and earn thereby, the Beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have learned to believe.”

These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Congratulations and welcome to Sara, Mimi and Bea, baptised today. #oxfordoratory

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Friday 9 April 2021

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Thursday 8 April 2021

The blessed water is placed in the font, ready for this year’s baptisms. #oxfordoratory

With thanks to Hannah Chegwyn for the photographs of the Triduum liturgies.

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Thursday 8 April 2021


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Thursday 8 April 2021

The Paschal Candle is lit. “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” #oxfordoratory

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