June 05, 2006

What's an "oblate"?

One of my visitors has asked about "oblates".

Benedictine monasteries have "oblates": people who spiritually enroll with a particular monastery, but don't actually become monks or live at the monastery. Oblates usually attend periodic group meetings (with other oblates) at the monastery lasting an hour or so, or they may spend a few days as guests of the monastery from time to time. Oblates of a monastery are men and women, single or married, who try to observe in their own lives, jobs and relationships some of the priorities and practices of monks.

The first priority is the practice of daily worship in the form of the "Liturgy of the Hours" (or "Divine Office"). St. Benedict calls this the "work of God" that is to take priority over everything else.

The published "Liturgy of the Hours" is available as a four-volume set. There is also a much-abridged version in one-volume entitled "Christian Prayer". Unless you have someone to physically guide you in the use of these books, it can be quite a challenge to learn how to use them. (Much flipping of pages in various sections of the book!) One very convenient alternative is to subscribe to "Magnificat" magazine which offers daily parts of the "Liturgy of the Hours" in an easy-to-follow format.

No matter which of these publication you may use, two of the daily services of worship are the "hinges" of the entire day: Morning Prayer (about sunrise) and Evening Prayer (around sundown). Each of these can take just about 10 minutes without rushing. For a sample:

"The Liturgy of the Hours" is observed as an OBLIGATION by all of the world's monasteries, convents, and religious orders, but also by the Pope, all bishops, priests and deacons. Offering up the "Liturgy of the Hours" is seen and proposed by Church teaching as the primary form of prayer and worship immediately after the Mass itself. Even when someone prays the "Liturgy of the Hours" by himself, he does so in union with the entire Church.

The second priority is what St. Benedict calls "lectio divina", literally "divine reading". This is the reflective reading of Scripture first of all and above all, but does not exclude other "spiritual reading". St. Benedict includes the reading of the Fathers of the Church; however, much of the writing of the Fathers focuses on Scripture. Lectio divina does not aim at academic familiarity with the Scriptures. It aims instead at familiarity with God. I think of it as an ongoing, daily conversation. Sometimes there are even arguments. Lectio divina does not aim at quantity of text. If one phrase strikes you, then stop and let it strike you ... hard. St. Benedict schedules between 2 and 4 daily hours of lectio divina (depending on the season). That doesn't work for non-monks. The "Magnificat" publication offers some convenient selections that non-monks could use for daily spiritual reading.

Other Benedictine Principles for the Daily Lives of Oblates.

St. Benedict names the abbot (superior), guests and visitors, fellow monks and the sick as persons to be revered as Christ himself. For people living outside a monastery, I'd say the Ten Commandments and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy take care of much of the same reverence in relationships. (See my previous blogpost below on spiritual direction.)

Work--whether at one's place of employment or in one's housework--is likewise to have a spirit of reverence. St. Benedict says the physical tools of the monastery should be treated with the same respect as the Eucharistic vessels of the altar. For the glory of God and the good of the world!

Food. St. Benedict aimed for simple sufficiency and for frugality; he also regulated the days and seasons of fasting according to the disciplines of the Church of the sixth century. A Catholic today would do well to maintain Fridays throughout the year as days of self-denial in matters of food.

Clothing. In the sixth century, the items of a monk's clothing were not very different from that of laypersons. The one distinctive item was the monk's hood. St. Benedict did not prescribe any one color for the clothing of monks. He did say that the clothing should be made inexpensively. Nonetheless, St. Benedict wanted the clothes to physically fit, and, if the monk was out of the monastery on business his clothes were to be somewhat better than what he wore at the monastery--I would offer my opinion that his aim was simple decency and dignity.

There isn't much that is complicated about Benedictine spirituality, either for the monk inside the monastery or the oblate living out in the world. Searching for a few final words to stick onto my description of Benedictine spirituality, I come up with: clarity, regularity, practicality.


Blogger dilexitprior said...

As usual, one step ahead of my questions Fr. Stephanos. Thanks for this clarification on Oblates.

Is there a discernment process for people who want to become oblates or can pretty much anyone who wants to just sign up?

p.s. No post on St. Boniface today?! Wasn't he Benedictine? :-)

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you Fr. for these info. I'm just wondering if you can explain about the vow of Stability and how it exactly works. thank you

10:59 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Anyone who wants to become an oblate simply asks at a monastery.

I'll put up a blogpost about the vow of stability.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

Thanks Father!

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Deacon DW said...

Regarding the Divine Office, I've found universalis.com to be a great help when I'm short on time. Also, in the past I depended heavily on liturgyhours.org until it turned into a subscription service. However, they offer Spanish language prayers without charge. Still overall, nothing beats having the book in hand. The St. Joseph guide makes it as easy as a breeze. Thomas Merton's "Bread in the Wilderness" offers an excellent spiritual window into the blessings and benefits of praying the office.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Deacon DW!

I'm sure you've met people who are unable to make heads or tails of how to use the physical books for "Liturgy of the Hours". I find that such persons need someone to sit down with them and physically go over how to use the volumes.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Deacon DW said...

Your're right. I doubt that I would have been able to learn to use the book myself without someone's assistance. In my case it was my spiritual director, a veteran permanent deacon and third order Carmelite.

In deacon formation we used the single volume "Christian Prayer," which is, in my opinion, much easier to navigate than the fuller four volume set. The advantage of the larger set is that it contains the hagiography used in the office of readings.

As I recall it took several months during formation for most of the men to get the hang of using their breviaries, but I had an advantage with my spiritual director's guidance. Still, it's not impossible.

In my parish (in the Austin, Texas area) I make myself available to help anyone who has an interest in learning to use the Liturgy of the Hours in print; however, and unfortunately, there aren't all that many people that I know of outside of clergy and religious who pray the office regularly.

Still, I can't recommend enough that one make it a daily practice. It may be that the best solution, at first anyhow, is to go online for the prayers. My recommendaton is liturgyhours.org - at least the weekend prayers are available there without charge.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Dunmoose said...

I have put together a list of resources regarding the Liturgy of the Hours. its called the Liturgy of the Hours Resource Page.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Kim said...

I've been contemplating becoming an Oblate for a little while..thanks for the information, I do appreciate it. :D

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Candi said...


I wish you a blessed day on the feast of our holy father St. Benedict.

As an oblate, I undertake to prefer Christ above all things and to live the Rule as best I am able, especially chapters 4 - 7, and as you say, Father, the liturgy is the priority in that undertaking. The liturgy gives me the fuel to live our Benedictine motto, 'ora pro labora'. Oblates live the vow of conversion along with the monks/nuns of their monastery, but they do it in the secular world instead of in the monastery.

God bless us all,
Candi the Oblate

7:12 AM  

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