My family made their first visit to Silverstream this week on the occasion of our oblation, which took place after I Vespers of All Saints Day.
Br. Basil, an oblate of Silverstream who lives on the other side of Ireland, was kind enough to come collect us at Dublin airport. We happened to arrive at Silverstream shortly before D. Benedict, whom we had seen in the distance at arrivals at the airport, just come back from abroad. After visiting Our Lord and settling in, we made our way to Terce and Mass.
It was the Vigil of All Saints, its propers being anticipatory of the upcoming feast. The Epistle reading, which was taken from the Book of Revelation, was full of Temple and veterotestamental imagery. From Daniel we saw the Throne of the Ancient of Days, the Book of Life, “thousands upon thousands” serving about the throne, the Son of Man (but under the appearance of the Lamb), and the Four Living Creatures (which also make their appearance in Ezekiel). The Lamb receiving the Book recalled the Son of Man being given power by the Ancient of Days. The images of “odours” (incense), harps and canticles (psalmody), and blood (sacrifice) were all taken from the Temple, which was an image of the Heavenly Temple.
The Gospel pericope was the Lukan account of the Beatitudes. It started with Jesus coming down from the mountain, to meet the multitude of both Jews and Gentiles. This scene, to me at least, seemed to parallel and juxtapose the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. In both accounts we have God on a mountain giving the Law, and a multitude of Jews and Gentiles waiting (remember that when the Jews came out of Egypt, many Egyptians believed because of the signs and followed them). Yet while in the Exodus account God does not allow the people to even touch the mountain, in Luke’s Gospel He actually comes down among the people to give the new Law Himself.
As the sun set, All Saints’ Day began with I Vespers, after which our oblation took place. That it should be on All Saints, and this on a Thursday, a day associated with the Eucharist, is, as Father Prior is wont to say, “providential”. All Saints is a feast, as the name implies, of “all the saints”, that “great cloud of witnesses” which we hear about in both the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. It is understood generally to be a commemoration especially of those unknown saints who, while not canonized, are enrolled in the Book of Life. I would call these saints, in a general sense, “Eucharistic saints”. Christ is “hidden” behind the veil of the eucharistic species; these saints’ lives are hidden in Christ. These are saints who, suffering humiliations, taking up their cross daily in obedience, never despairing of the mercy of God, laboured in secret storing up incorruptible treasure in heaven. It is to these “eucharistic saints”, especially those who are children of the Holy Patriarch St. Benedict, that we entrust our oblateship. That the oblation took place shortly after the offering of incense at Vespers, which is normally preceded by the responsory Dirigátur, Dómine, orátio mea; Sicut incénsum in conspéctu tuo (one of my favourite responsories), seemed quite apropos, especially in light of the Epistle reading’s reference to prayer and incense.
The rite of oblation mirrored closely that of the reception of novice oblates (omitting, obviously, the imposition of the scapular). During Mass the following day Br. John Baptist made his simple profession (which we were fortunate to be present at) and we could see in it the fullness of our rite of oblation, which the latter is taken from. The Questioning & Admonition is straight out of Chapter LVIII: Father Prior addressed us with a few short words, recalling our novitiate and reminding us that at that moment we were still free to depart:
My children, you have sufficiently learned the Rule under which you wish to serve, not only by reading but also by a whole year of practice and experience as Novice Oblates. You are, therefore, aware, under what conditions you are about to be accepted as Oblates of St. Benedict. If, then, you are ready and willing to observe the salutary teachings of our holy father Father Benedict, according as your state in life permits, and are resolved to persevere in your holy resolution, you may now make your Oblation; if not, then you may still freely depart.
Then followed a couple of questions reminiscent of the baptismal rite. The “making of a monk” is said to be a kind of second baptism, and the questions that followed Father Prior’s admonition, though for oblates, certainly point in that direction :
Prior: Do you renounce the vanities and pomps of the world?
Oblates: I do.
P: Will you undertake the reformation of your life according to the spirit of the Rule of our holy father St. Benedict, and observe the statutes of the Oblates?
O: I will.
P: Thanks be to God! Since he has given you this good will and you trust in his help, you may now make your oblation.
We afterwards read our charter of oblation, which was then signed (to be placed upon the altar during the Offertory at Mass the next day, along with Br. John Baptist’s charter of profession), followed by the recitation of those familiar words of Psalm 118, the Suscipe, which are also said by the monks during their profession:
Receive me, o Lord, according to thy word, and I shall live; and let me not be disappointed in my hope.
We finished with a few prayers already present in the rite of reception of novice oblates, and finally the Memorare was sung.
Concerning the suscipe, Father Prior said some words about our own (which was implicit) on our wedding day. To paraphrase, on our wedding day my suscipe to my wife was that she would receive me as a kind of adamic priest, the father/husband having a kind of priestly role within the family; her suscipe to me was that I would accept her as an offering, to present her “holy, and without blemish” to the Lord – in fine, our mutual suscipe was that we should mirror Christ and the Church.
It made sense then that both my wife and I should make this oblation, this offering of our lives – “living for the altar and from the altar”, together; that both head and body, in unison, should give themselves to the Lord, following the “littlest rule for beginners”, with the “promise to attain eternal life if we persevere in our holy resolution”.
For the short time that we were there my wife was finally able to experience the Divine Office as it is lived in the monastery, participating in as many of the hours as was permissible with three small children in tow. I was glad that the children also got to meet more of the monks (the two eldest had met Father Prior and D. Finnian three years ago, on the occasion of our second child’s baptism) and catch a glimpse of their life. The eldest, who is five, was at last able to meet those for whom she prays both in the morning and at night, always making sure we never forget our fratribus absentibus (curiously, she started praying this as well, of her own accord, when she accompanies us for Holy Communion). If the children will be remembered by the monks for all their running around, I’m sure the chickens and roosters will remember them for the amount of apples they fed them. May God grant us the blessing to one day see them all again.