La Procura Generale si congratula con la Dr.ssa Ulrike Wick-Alda, grande amica e profonda studiosa di San Filippo Neri e dell’Oratorio, per il suo recente articolo su “Saint Philip Neri and the extraordinary Holy Year”.
Saint Philip Neri and the extraordinary Holy Year
– Jubilee of Mercy 2015/2016 –
It is a special coincidence that the year marking the 500th birthday of St. Philip Neri (* July 21, 1515, Florence + May 26, 1595 Rome) and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy coincide with each other.
This is an occasion that invites us to think about how important the Divine Mercy is for the spiritual way of St. Philip.
It is astounding that the papal bull with which Pope Gregory XIII officially erected the Congregation of the Oratory on July 15, 1575 has the title “Copiosus in misericordia Dominus” which means: “Rich in Mercy, the Lord wanted. …”. The word “misericordia”, “mercy” appears three times in the first section of the papal bull.1 The congregation is thus closely connected with, borne by, and intent on mercy.
To what extent did St. Philip place himself in the service of God’s mercy? Or rather: to what extent was his service to this mercy used?
Naturally we first think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, which St. Philip Neri was devoted to, especially in the special attention he gave each person – in his specialization in the pastoral ministry towards individuals. The Prayer of Absolution during the Sacrament expresses God’s mercy. According to the, albeit later, rubrics in the Rituale Romanum of 1614, it begins with the words “Miseratur tui omnipotens Deus”, “May the almighty God have mercy on you”, and it continues with “et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen”, “and may he lead you to everlasting life by having forgiven you your sins.”2To sum it all up, this is the mission of the Oratory: bringing God’s mercy to the people.
Philip also mentions in his writings and maxims mercy. In a letter to his niece, Sr. Maria Vittoria Trevi, he advices her to keep her thankfulness towards God awake and to remember the benefactions she receives daily so as to recognise the greater gifts which God’s mercy has in store for her.3
Remembrance in the Holy Mass (Mass Intentions) is a powerful tool with which to move the Almighty Father to grant us His grace and mercy. Thus writes Philip in a letter to an Oratorian with whom he feels a spiritual connection: P. Giovanni Giovenale Ancina.4
There is a real danger that one will postpone one’s own conversion, because God is merciful anyway. So says one of Philip’s maxims.5 It is a warning not to think that one could always convert at some other time, because this does a great injury towards God. One heaps up sins, and it might happen that one doesn’t know one’s own time of death. This would be a problematic situation.
Philip meditates in one of his short prayers the “miserere mei”, “have mercy on me”. Often he would repeat the name of Jesus: “Iesu mio”, “my Jesus”. This prayer that reminds one of the Jesus-Prayer of the Eastern Church, which Philip probably learnt from the Scala Paradisi by John of Sinai (Climacus)6, was close to his heart. He would meditate the name of Jesus along the string of beads of the rosary. The estimation of the name of Jesus was already known to Philip due to his Tuscan homeland. Bernardino of Siena spread the veneration of the name of Jesus in Tuscany with the initials IHS. Blessed Giovanni Colombine of Sienna recommended to opportunely or inopportunely talk of the name Jesus or Jesus Christ and to preach and praise it loudly.7 Philip correlates the “miserere mei” to the Trinity. He says in one of his short prayers: “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus, miserere mei.”, “Holy Trinity, you, the one God, have mercy on me.”8It is an invitation to live in a lasting communion with the Trinitarian God.
The seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy were practiced by Philip. His biographers report of them and it would be too much to list them all here. One mustn’t forget the prayers of the hours of the day: the Divine Office. Therein Philip prayed during Lauds and Vespers the Lucan canticles: the Benedictus and the Magnificat (Lk 1, 46-55 and 1, 68-79). Both literally praise God’s mercy. Therein it says: “Ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris”, “To show mercy to our fathers” and “Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri”, “because of the tender mercy of our God” (Benedictus). Also: “Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.”, “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.” (Magnificat). The Salve Regina during Compline reminds one of God’s mercy. Mary is venerated as queen and in relation to her son she is named “mother of mercy”. May our eyes, like her own, also be merciful. Thus the day is liturgically reminded and framed by thoughts of mercy.
In summary one could say that the Lord’s mercy can be found in the beginning of the erection of the Congregation of the Oratory (comp. with the papal bull) and in the Extraordinary Holy Year with its call to conversion into the arms of the Father. All this points to one of the main ministries done by the Oratory: the pastoral ministry towards individuals, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the intercessions for the living and the dead (Indulgence).
It is a nice indication that several oratories of St. Philip were able to open a holy door during the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy in their churches. The Oratories of Vienna (Austria), Oxford (UK), Gostyn (Poland, Sanctuarium Maria – Rosa Mystica), Rock Hill (U.S.A.), Port Antonio (Jamaica), Villa Alemana (Chile) and Aufhausen (Germany) received permission from their diocese to do so.
May we be innovative in the footsteps of St. Philip Neri to show and tread with others on this way to the Divine Mercy of God and into the loving arms of our loving Father.
University of Hildesheim
Associated Member of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri / German Federation
Translation by Cand. Mag. Theol. Charles Christian Cannon BA, AKC
1 The entire text of the Latin text of the papal bull: Bulla fundationis Congregationis Oratorii in ecclesia Sanctae Mariae in Vallicella de Urbe (ASV, Secr. Brev., 82, ACR, A.V. 1, n. 1), in: Collectanea vetustorum ac fundamentalium documentorum Congregationis Oratorii Sancti Philippi Nerii. (Testi e Studi Oratoriani), A. Cistellini collegit, Brescia 1982, 10-16.
2 Rituale Romanum, editio quinta juxta typicam, Ratisbonae 1937, 70. cf. Rituale Romanum Pauli V, Romae MDCXVII, 55.
3 Philipp Neri, Schriften und Maximen, ital.-dt.; lat.-dt., hg. v. U. Wick-Alda u. P. B. Wodrazka, (TDS QS 1), St. Ottilien 2011, 122-123. (=PNSM).
4 ibid. 155.
5 ibid. 305.
6 cf. His private reference library, in: Cistellini, A.; I libri e la libreria di San Filippo Neri, in: Memorie Oratoriane 18 (1997), 7-43.
7 Wick-Alda, U.; Um gut zu beten braucht es den ganzen Menschen. Philipp Neri und die Spiritualität seiner Kurzgebete, (Theologie der Spiritualität, Beiträge, Bd. 6), Münster 2005, 128ff.
8 PNSM 339.