This past 21st of October my family took another step in our relationship with the Benedictines: my wife and I were accepted as novice oblates of St. Benedict. With this we start on a path of becoming part of the Benedictine family. Speaking for myself, my path since my return to the Church over 8 years ago has been leading up to this. Though it has been meandering, and many times foggy, through it all the Lord has been a lamp to my feet, illumination just enough to take the next step on the path.
For those not familiar with the reality of the Benedictine Oblate, I’ll let Silverstream Priory’s website explain much better than I ever could:
Oblates are members of the wider monastic community — men and women, married or single, priests, deacons or laymen — who “offer” themselves (make their oblatio, “offering”) to God through a particular Benedictine monastery and seek to conform their lives in the world (as far as circumstances permit) to the pattern of the Holy Rule of the great Patriarch of Western monasticism.
The Rule of Saint Benedict was written for a very specific monastic context, yet because of its spirit of mercy, discretion and flexibility, it can serve as a faithful and sure guide, not only for monks and nuns, but also for Christians living in the world, and families in particular.
The word “Oblate” is derived from the Latin word oblatus, meaning someone who has been offered up, immolated, sacrificed to God. Benedictine Oblates are truly “victims” who offer themselves up, their souls and bodies, to that Immaculate Lamb of God who, in perfect obedience to his Father, was slain from the foundation of the world, for the remission of sins.
The drama of this eternal and most perfect Oblation of the Son to the Father is captured by the Psalmist and repeated in the Letter to the Hebrews (10:5-10):
Wherefore when [Christ] cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God … By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
I think that especially in the life of a lay oblate one can see the reality of Christian life as discipleship.
The rite of reception following only a few days after our son’s Baptism was quite evocative of it. Father Prior, vested with a white stole, received us with the customary Benedictine greeting as found in the Rule: “We have received thy Mercy, O God“. Then followed a prayer asking for the forgiveness of sins, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Mother to help us be united to Christ as branches to the Vine; afterwards another prayer invoking St. Benedict.
Then followed a reading of Sirach 2:1-23. This reading speaks to the heart of Benedictine life. From the outset one is told that temptation is what awaits the soul that is in the service of the Lord. If one is naif enough to think that the Christian life is smooth sailing, think again. At Baptism we have been taken back from the Evil One, but let us rid ourselves of the idea that he has given up on trying to lead us to perdition. The reading speaks constantly of a very Benedictine virtue – humilty. Humiliation is the test for those who fear the Lord: “For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.” It is through humiliations – especially those imposed upon us – that we will be purged of our vices and imperfections, if only we fear the Lord and accept them. The reading also reminds us never to despair of the mercy of God (the “last” of the Holy Rule’s Tools of Good Works”): “Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein.” “My children behold the generations of men: and know ye that no one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.” “For according to his greatness, so also is his mercy with him.”
After, there was, just as at Baptism, an inquiry:
V./ What do you seek?
R./ The mercy of God, and to be welcomed into the household of Saint Benedict as a novice oblate of this monastery under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle.
Then followed the blessing of the scapulars. The first collect was a supplication to Jesus, “who didst deign to wear the garment of our mortal nature” – the scapular is a token of His sweet yolk: just as the Second Person of the Trinity in obedience took on Flesh, so the novice taking on the scapular takes upon themselves the yoke of obedience so that they may one day be fully clothed in Christ. The following prayer asked the Lord to receive the novice into the family of Saint Benedict.
Father Prior imposed the scapular on us with the words “Receive, son/daughter, the yoke of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is meek and humble of heart; thus shall you find rest for your soul, for His yoke is easy, and his burden light. R./ Amen.” The imposition of the scapular comes with a new name for the novice. Just as at Baptism the neophyte receives their name, so in the monastic tradition a new name is given.
The Magnificat was said, and afterwards prayers for the novices. The first prayer, quite Benedictine in spirit, was for strengthening of the novices, that they “may be strengthened with unfailing firmness and grace, so that, with the ear of the heart open to thy Word, and preferring nothing to the love of Christ, they may, at length, become a pleasing oblation in the sight of thy Majesty.”
The second prayer was related to the charism of Silverstream – Eucharistic Adoration in reparation for the sanctification of priests. The prayer also asked that the novices be united to the true Victim.
A third prayer asked for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, in the sanctification of priests.
The fourth prayer asked for the grace of the “solitude of the Cenacle” for our prayers in the “secret places of the heart“.
The fifth and final collect was once again of Benedictine tone, asking for the perseverance of the novices through the year ahead, and the grace never to despair of the mercy of God.
The rite ended with a final benediction; Holy Mass followed afterwards.
We were received as novices in Fatima. Father Prior, in his homily, said he saw this as providential, as a way of Our Lady entrusting herself with our novitiate. To paraphrase a bit of Father Prior’s homily, “just as the Holy Rule is the Gospel distilled, so the Rosary is also a type of distilled Gospel, where not only the Ave Marias remind us of the Good News, but the meditations associated with them also provide for interiorizing it.”
The Holy Rule left its mark in Portuguese history, even if today monastic life is almost non-existent in Portugal; our Lady has always been the Queen of Portugal, the first king D. Afonso Henriques having given to her (under the title of Our Lady of the [Immaculate] Conception) in perpetuity all the domains and Portuguese people. Our history and our faith were both present at our entry into the novitiate.
We were also reminded in the homily that we are now part of a monastic family, and that what we may not be able to do the monks will do on our behalf and vice versa. If we happen to not be able to say a part of the Office (or any of it at all), the monks will offer theirs for us; we, on the other hand, will offer our daily lives and prayers for them. One is not an isolated member. Now we are a family. Now we share one another’s burdens. Now our salvation is connected even more than it was before.