In the Roman Catholic Church, an oratory is for all intents and purposes another word for what is commonly called a chapel. Previously, canon law distinguished several types of oratories: private (with use restricted to an individual, such as a bishop, or group, such as a family, and their invited guests), semi-public (open under certain circumstances to the public), or public (built for the benefit of any of the faithful who wish to use it). (Code of Canon Law, canon 1223). The term is used for instance in the Rule of St Benedict (chapter 52) for the private communal chapel inside monasteries.
The distinctions between public, semi-public, and private have been eliminated in the 1983 Code in favor of new terminology. Oratory now means a private place of worship for a group or community which could be opened to the public at the discretion of the group's superior. This definition corresponds with the semi-public oratory of the 1917 Code. The private oratory of the 1917 Code corresponds very closely with the 1983 Code's chapel, as they are both places of worship for specific individuals.
Oratories seem to have found their origin in chapels built in the sanctuaries of martyrs, for the faithful to assemble and pray on the spot. The oldest extant oratory is the Archiepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna (c. 500).
Saint Joseph's Oratory is the name of a Roman Catholic basilica in Montreal.
The term can also refer to the local house of the "Oratorians", the congregation of priests founded by St Philip Neri in Rome, Italy in 1575.
- Oratory of the Holy Face in Tours, France
- Gallarus Oratory in Ireland
- The Oratory of Our Lady & St. Francis of Assisiin Warndon Villages, Worcester, England.
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