The Life of St. Philip Neri, Part 3
This week, we take a look at two central aspects of St. Philip Neri’s ministry as a priest: the Eucharist and Confession.
The celebration of Mass was the center of Philip’s priestly life. He offered Mass every day, and exhorted his confreres to do the same. His fervor during Mass is well-documented; at times, his trembling would be such that he had to rest his elbows on the altar to avoid spilling the chalice. He was also observed levitating, his feet several inches off the floor. Towards the end of his life, the outward effects of his devotion led him to celebrate Mass only in private.
Philip encouraged frequent reception of Holy Communion, an unusual stance that some at the time viewed with suspicion. He also promoted frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament as well as public Adoration. He is credited with popularizing the Forty Hours Devotion in Rome.
Connected with Philip’s love for the Eucharist was his emphasis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not only as a remedy for sin and a source of peace, but also as a powerful means for growing in holiness of life. He encouraged frequent confession, through which it becomes ever easier to persevere in conquering vices and in developing virtues. Philip backed up his words with actions, making it known that he was available for confession at practically any time. In a manner similar to St. John Vianney and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Philip would spend countless hours hearing confessions. Rather than becoming weary, he experienced it as a kind of recreation.
Philip’s ministry as a confessor was a central piece of his very personal approach to the mission of evangelization. It is said of Philip that he reconverted Rome to the faith one person at a time. As he did this, he gathered young people around him, forming the nucleus of the community that came to be known as the Oratory. The genesis of the Oratory will be the focus of next week’s article.
Note: This article is part of our ongoing series on St. Philip Neri and the Oratory, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Philip.
Please direct any questions or comments to Fr. Jeff.