Along with many Benedictine monasteries, Prinknash enjoys the privilege of accepting external oblates, that is to say, men and women, married or single, living outside the monastery, who wish to offer themselves to God in the Benedictine way, and conform their lives to the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict as lived at Prinknash, insofar as it is possible for them to do so in their circumstances.
Most of our Oblates are Roman Catholics, but baptised Christians of any denomination, in good standing, are welcome to apply to become Oblates. The decision about whether to accept or not a certain person rests with the Abbot and the monastic community.
Chapter 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict speaks of the offering of the sons of the rich and poor, who become monks in the monastery right from their infant years, and seemingly without having any choice in the matter. The parents are to offer the child cum oblatione – with the oblation or offering, that is, at the Offertory or Preparation of the bread and wine to be consecrated for the Eucharist. It is thought that the word “oblate” derives from this Latin phrase. There have been Benedictine external oblates for centuries.
A Benedictine Oblate today offers him or herself to God in association with a particular monastery with the intention of directing their lives by the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict. At the ceremony of their oblation (offering) they are told that they will henceforth share the spiritual goods of the monastery. This phrase contrasts with what is said to monks on the day of their solemn profession, namely, that they will henceforth share in the material goods of the monastery.
At the oblation ceremony it is customary to receive a token symbolising what is taking place in the life of the Oblate. The symbol may be one or more of the following: a monastic habit or part of a habit such as the scapular (oblates would normally only wear this when visiting or staying at the monastery, in some cases oblates choose to be buried in their habit when they die.), a patch of material to be hung around the neck symbolising a habit, a medal of St Benedict to be hung around the neck and the Rule of St Benedict. All of these symbols are meant to support the promise to offer themselves to God as oblates of St Benedict in association with the monks (or nuns) of a particular monastery. Henceforth they will live their lives as best they can in conformity with the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict. The words ‘spirit of the Rule’ are important because it is difficult even for full-time monks and nuns to live the Rule to the letter.
The oblate is then to discern, with the help of the monk Oblate Master, what for him or her are the essential elements of the spirit of the Rule. Generally these essentials include the following: prayer, spiritual reading and an annual retreat at the monastery.
By prayer is meant both an attempt to structure the day with at least morning and evening prayer. Some oblates like to say the divine office from the three-volume “Divine Office” used by priests and others as the official Catholic prayer book. (there is also a one-volume version called “Daily Prayer”). Private prayer is also included in the concept of living by the spirit of the Rule.
By spiritual reading is meant regular reading of the bible and other Christian literature in a prayerful and quiet manner.
By annual retreat is intended a period preferably at least once a year when the Oblates can return to the monastery of their oblation and renew their resolve and commitment.
Someone who becomes an Oblate of St Benedict will have been searching inwardly for a deeper relationship with God and will most probably have been attracted to the life of a particular group of monks or nuns. The Oblate may not be able to articulate exactly what the attraction is, but it will be felt deep within. In reality the oblate is developing and deepening the offering of him/herself which was made at baptism and has grown and matured. Oblates who are married or who are ordained priests will be deepening the sacraments they have received because there is no conflict between the Oblation as Benedictines and the married state or that of the priesthood. The commitment in all three areas is to Christ.
Oblates share too in the one single offering of Christ to his Father which was performed for our salvation on Calvary. In this sense the Oblate is walking a mystical path, chosen and called by Christ to share in his work of salvation.
Many oblates live busy lives in the world and are involved in their own parishes. What is required of an Oblate is always, for these and other reasons, a matter of discretion and discernment. Some Oblates can enter into the spirit of the Rule with more time and energy than others. The Oblate Master is always happy to help in this discernment process.
There is usually a period of about one year in which people who have expressed the wish to become oblates can discern, with the help of the Oblate Master, whether or not it is right for them. The first stage on the way to becoming an oblate is to contact email@example.com