More information is available on the sites I quote. It’s interesting, indeed, to read about how the Oratories work today.
There are eight Oratories of St. Philip Neri in the US today. Five of them have websites, linked to here. Some useful information is on them.
- The Pittsburgh Oratory
- The Rock Hill Oratory
- The Pharr Oratory of St. Philip Neri
- The New Brunswick Oratory
- Secular Oratory of Philadelphia
The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri is a congregation of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community bound together by no formal vows but only with the bond of charity. They are commonly referred to as Oratorians. Unlike the members of a religious order, Oratorians are not bound by a rule to pray in common, though this is something that Oratorians consider important.
Although some oratories may have a dominant mission (e.g. London which runs a school), in general the members of the Oratory spend the day involved in various ministries: teaching, parish work, spiritual direction, campus ministry, administration or maintaining the fabric of the community house.
As the Oratory is a confederation, there is no central authority such as is found within the Dominicans, Franciscans, or Jesuits. Technically, each oratory is established by the Pope, and thus it has appeal to the Holy See in serious matters.
From Catholic Encyclopedia:
The foundation of the last was laid at S. Girolamo, Rome, where his disciples gathered for spiritual instruction. Gradually these conferences took definite shape, and St. Philip, now a priest, constructed an oratory over the aisle of S. Girolamo, where they might be held; from this probably the congregation was named.
The object of the institute is threefold: prayer, preaching, and the sacraments. “Prayer” includes special care in carrying out the liturgical Offices, the Fathers being present in choir at the principal feasts, as well as assisting at the daily popular devotions. The “Sacraments” imply their frequent reception, which had fallen into disuse at the foundation of the Oratory. For this purpose one of the Fathers is to sit daily in the confessional, and all are to be present in their confessionals on the eve of feasts. The mode of direction as taught by St. Philip is to be gentle rather than severe, and abuses are to be attacked indirectly. “Once let a little love find entrance to their hearts,” said St. Philip, “and the rest will follow.” “Preaching” included, as has been said four sermons in succession daily, an almost impossible strain upon the hearers as it would now appear, but the discourses at the Oratory had an attraction of their own. Savonarola had already compared the inability of the preachers of his day to awaken dead souls…
The “exercises”, as the Oratory services were called, aroused bitter opposition. The preachers were denounced as teaching extravagant and unsound doctrine, the processions were forbidden, and St. Philip himself was suspended from preaching. He submitted at once and forbade any action being taken in his favour. At length Paul IV, having made due investigation, sent for him and bade him go on with his good work.