Electronic Prayer Book

A Private Oratory


What is an Oratory?


An oratory is, as the Latin word for prayer, “ora”, signifies — a place we dedicate for prayer and spiritual matters. Ideally we should think of the whole of our home dedicated to God; however, setting aside a space, corner or even a room specifically for worship in its various forms, is a practice which has remained alive in the Church right up into our own era. It is true we see these less often now, but that is not to say the custom is not still widespread. We are, here and now, advocating that you, our reader, look favourably on this wonderful tradition and give thought to setting aside such a space in your home. Our intention, here, is to offer enough support to give you confidence to proceed, no matter what your Christian affiliation.

Note: These notes deal only with informal centres of devotion in one’s home and not in any way with official premises formally approved by appropriate ecclesiastical authority.


Why have an oratory?


We will certainly hear plenty of negative answers to that question from both Christians and atheists. In support of a home oratory, some will offer as their reason the “nice feeling” aspect, or a place one can claim a bit of peace and quiet, and “leave the world outside”. These are understandable, but they are not why traditional Christians (whose Faith has remained intact now for two millennia) dedicate part of their home to be set aside for religious purposes. Nor is the reason to draw God “down” among us, since God already dwells in us. Traditional Christians hold clearly the Blessed Apostle Paul’s reminder to us: “Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6: 18 and 20).

Our Faith teaches us that our Church sanctuaries are extensions of God’s sanctuary in Heaven. Likewise our little space at home dedicated to the worship of God is an extension of the sanctuary at Church where we gather to worship — especially for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, or the Mass, as many of us call it.

We establish an oratory in our homes, therefore to celebrate God’s presence and His drawing us into His Divine Presence. No matter how simple, small or modest, our oratory is (or chapel if we wish to call it that) — it proclaims our belief and faith in Jesus Christ and our commitment to try and live in a manner which befits members of His household: those who have been baptised into His Body, the Church.


Where is it best located?


The positioning of our oratory, as well as all of the decisions regarding it, are choices are for each person to make according to their circumstances, needs and personal preferences. Our clergy can give advice on many aspects, and consulting them will always bring its own rewards. Some of us will opt for a corner in the lounge / sitting room, or at the end of the hallway. Some will be somewhat restricted in what they do and may need to be discreet. Others may have a spare room or a space which can be set aside in a basement. Don’t forget, the first Christians in Rome met in caves or catacombs for their worship. Our suggestion is to take some time to think through where you feel you want this very special place to be located. Do take the time — it is a very important first step.

Talking of the first Roman Christians, it is helpful to remember that the catacombs were the safest places to establish their oratories. From the beginning these were decorated with striking images of our Lord to help them in their worship and Christian education.


Where does the practice of using religious images in Christian Worship come from?


The word “image” is used in the Bible in the first chapter of the first book, Genesis 1:27. “God created man in his own image: in the divine image he created him, male and female he created them.” So all human beings are in some mysterious way, icons of the living God. This reaches its perfection in Jesus, the Son, who proclaimed that be was the full revelation of the Godhead, “To see me is to see the Father” (Jn. 14:10). St Paul reinforces this; “Jesus is the image of the unseen God.” (Col: 1: 15). So God has taken the initiative by revealing himself in visible, material form.

The Bible also reveals how we are to relate to images. In the Old Testament we read that to worship a graven image as a god is forbidden by the first commandment: “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, your God, the Lord Almighty, am a jealous God …”(Exodus 20: 4).

We need to understand this direction in context. The commandment is not saying that the making of graven images as such is forbidden, but the adoration of these is forbidden. How do we know? Moses who gave these commandments from God, goes on to describe the design God gave him for the tabernacle and the ark (Exodus 25). He subsequently built this ark which had the images of two gold cherubim on the top (Ex. 25: 18 – 21; 37: 8 – 9) and arranged for the weaving of the curtains with the embroidered cherubim for inside the tabernacle (Ex. 36: 35). He later made the bronze serpent at God’s direction, to heal the people in the desert. Buildings were adorned with images throughout Jewish history (Solomon’s temple is one example). It seems it was only after the conquest by Greece and Rome that images were banned from Israel’s life. Jesus was challenged one day and asked for the coin of tribute. It bore the image of Caesar. He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22: 19 – 21). Jesus reinforces the truth that we are made in the divine image and, as such, we all belong to God. Images are created, but are never to be adored.

Paintings, frescos, statues and icons when associated with worship are not idols to receive our worship. Their purpose, on the contrary, is to give us a message. The message is always one of the relationship of man with God through God’s revelation of himself to man. Of course anything can become an idol when we use it incorrectly. Christians who cannot, or will not, grasp this truth carry an unnecessary burden. They need not prohibit themselves from responding to beauty and allowing this experience to bring them closer to God. Did not God, at creation, surround Adam and Eve with a vast array of beautiful objects, animate and inanimate, to heighten their sense of God’s presence, and their relationship to him? Surely we would not stop admiring or using a tree just because Satan appeared in one to tempt our first parents. The same applies in our spiritual life. To deny the place of images in our worship or demonstration of respect towards God just because, in some religions, people worship statues, etc, is therefore entirely unbiblical.


Is there any real advantage in having an oratory?


Elsewhere we have drawn attention to the skillfully manipulated annihilation of many aspects of our traditional Christian culture, not only by opponents outside the Church, but also by some of our own members. They almost succeeded in their very focused attempts to steer a new course away from traditional Christian practices towards closer harmony with non-Christian, “New Age”, and all-inclusive one-world movements. However, they have, thankfully, failed and the return to the traditional Christian culture of the past 2000 years is now gathering momentum all over the world. One aspect of this recovery of our tradition and heritage is to return to the venerable custom of setting aside part of our dwelling as a space consecrated for spiritual meditation and worship.

Traditional Catholics, (and no doubt other traditional non-Catholic readers), need to keep in mind constantly that the modern world exerts unrelenting pressure on us, (and especially our young people), to “give it away” and “go with the flow”. This has the effect of an on-going undercurrent diverting us away from the basic fundamentals of the Christian Faith. It is hard to detect this, at times, and it is very difficult not to be influenced by some of the modern forms of atheism in our society, We are immersed daily in a strong tidal flow of materialistic influences — so let’s be realistic about how some are likely to cling to us, unnoticed, and quietly spread like a virus throughout our framework of religious beliefs and practice. In order to counter this unfortunate situation, we need to put very deliberate disciplines in place. The regular use of a private oratory is one such discipline.


What is the real purpose of a private oratory?


An oratory in the home provides us with a dedicated space wherein we can give visual, physical expression to our Faith and develop it as a centre of devotion. This can be a powerful antidote to the lack of Christian cultural expression which used to be more common in our communities. Here we can design, in a very personal way, a Christian cultural oasis where we can rise above the noise and distractions of the world. Carefully chosen Christian articles, whether photographs, statues, posters, icons, crucifixes, candlesticks and other meaningful symbols not only give dignity and prayerful atmosphere; they exert a strong emotional and inspiring influence. They help us to remember and to listen to our Lord Jesus Christ. These two words are vital in the maintenance of Christian culture and vision.

To remember is to re-mind: to regain presence of mind i.e. the state of calmness in which all the powers of the mind are on alert and ready for action. This is like a “spiritual shower”, to clean-up after being engaged in all manner of activities which are part of contemporary life. This freshens the body as well as the soul and prepares us to regain our spiritual composure and return to a consciously chosen focus on the things of God.

To listen, for the Christian, is to obey the commandments of God (Genesis 12: 1 — 8 and Luke 9: 28 — 36). In Luke 9: 35, in the midst of the Cloud of God’s presence, God the Father declares: “This is my beloved Son; Listen to Him”. The Christian needs to take every step necessary to ensure that they listen to their beloved Shepherd, and carry out what He requires of them. A private oratory provides for the human necessity of taking spiritual rest in order to be refreshed and strengthened for the Lord’s service. Jesus said to His followers, “Come to Me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you; I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11: 29)

No doubt you will have noted that we have not talked of retreating from the world just to escape the noise and the hustle and bustle, etc. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and enjoy. However, the principal purpose behind going to one’s oratory is not so much “to escape” or” do nothing” but to be re-freshed, to re-gain presence of mind and a state of calmness in which all of the powers of the mind and soul enable us to turn our whole focus on God. We need the counter-balance an oratory can provide, to help us see and hear inwardly at a higher spiritual level, for which, after all, we were given the faculties to enjoy. It is then that we undertake appropriate devotions to give honour and glory to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is how we respond to our loving Lord who desires us to be with Him.


How does one set up an oratory?


Oratories vary from the simplest of settings in a little corner, with perhaps just a crucifix and / or statue, to much larger and grander examples. They also vary according to one’s culture and local traditions. We therefore lay down no prescriptions but seek instead to offer a few possibilities to help you “get started”.

Step One: Reflect again on the purpose for which we set up an oratory. In essence it is a place where we are re-freshed and where every aspect of our being is re-vitalised so that we become recollected and totally open to God’s presence in order to give Him our whole and undivided attention in worship.

Step Two: Think about where such a blessed space would be best situated as to who would use it (numbers and age range).

Step Three: Consider now the scale of what you wish to set up: a tiny corner with a little statue (or whatever) for one person — or a place which can hold the family and / or a few friends. This will enable you to think about the type of atmosphere you wish to promote and how you would like to enhance it. At this point you may have some ideas about how you would like to arrange the setting.

Step Four: Choose your favourite furnishings and devotional items which are going to constitute the area and define its special character. We have attached an appendix to this paper listing some of the items you may wish to include with a few notes about some of them. Appendix: An Oratory At Home

Step Five: Dedicate your chosen space to God’s glory so that it is forthwith recognised for what it is — a holy place. If you have access to a priest, invite him to visit with a view to requesting a formal blessing of your oratory. An attached appendix offers a simple dedication of one’s private oratory.

Appendix: Prayers of Dedication