The general meaning of congregation refers to a gathering of people. In the Catholic Church, congregation can have a specific meaning: men and woman living together and practicing the Evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience may be called congregations, orders, societies or communities. Most of these groups take public vows, oaths or promises; the Fathers and Brothers of the Pharr Oratory of St. Philip Neri do not. In their actual living together–like the early Christians – they promise each other to remain poor, chaste and obedient, simply because they love God. The word congregation, then, within the context of Oratorian life, takes on a special meaning. If one were to ask: “Do the Fathers and Brothers of the Pharr Oratory practice the Gospel counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience?” the answer would be “yes”. If, however, one were asked, “Do the Fathers and Brothers of the Pharr Oratory take public vows, oaths, or promises?” the answer would be “no”, but each member of the Congregation does promise to be poor, chaste and obedient as Christ has commanded us.
The term oratory–commonly understood to mean rhetoric–within our context means a place where people gather together to pray. The Oratory comprises the people who, under the spiritual guidance of St. Philip and of the Fathers of the Oratory, come together regularly to pray, to meditate, and, as result, to do Christian works in the community at large. The priests who guide the laypeople of the Oratory belong, not to the Oratory, but to the Congregation that takes spiritual care of the faithful in the Oratory.
Institutes or communities of the Catholic Church can be of pontifical right or episcopal right. The former come directly under the authority of the Pope–sometimes refer to as coming under the Holy, or Apostolic, See; the latter come under the authority of the local bishop.