What Is An Oblate?
The secular oblates of Saint Bede Abbey are Christian people, lay or clerical, mostly but not exclusively Catholic, who have chosen to associate with our monastery in order to model their lives upon the teaching of St. Benedict insofar as this is compatible with their life in secular society. They seek to pursue Christian holiness in their chosen way of life with the help of their association with the prayer and work of the monks. By integrating prayer, holy reading, and work in their lives, they manifest Christ’s presence in society. There are presently some seventy secular oblates associated with St. Bede Abbey, and the number continues to grow as current oblates bring others to join. Included among our oblates are about a dozen diocesan priests, who, however, do not usually attend the Sunday afternoon meetings of the lay oblates.
To nourish their spirituality, monthly meetings are held at the abbey from September through June of each year. Usually, these are on the second Sunday of each month, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is one exception to this schedule, usually in October, when the oblates come at 10:00 a.m. for Mass, lunch, and midday prayer with the monks, before going off to their own activities. This meeting usually ends at 2:00 p.m. In addition, they have a day of recollection at the monastery on one Saturday in the fall and another in the spring.
The regular meetings consist of a prayer service, followed by a talk by the oblate director or another monk, by an invited guest, or by one of the oblates, and ends with a social hour. One of the features of each meeting is a practice of group prayer featuring an adaptation of the monastic way of reading the scriptures, called lectio divina. This involves dividing into small groups and praying and meditating over a pre-selected biblical passage in an attempt to discern what God may wish to communicate to each individual that day.
Our oblate group consists of approximately half men and half women. Some of our oblates are invalids or else live so far away from the monastery that they cannot attend meetings. We usually have between twenty and thirty-five at any given meeting. A few of our active oblates are married couples. One of the distinguishing characteristics of our group is that the people really like each other, enjoy being together, and are reluctant to leave at the end of the meetings!
There is a lending library, and several hundred books are available at our meetings for personal loan.
Anyone is welcome to attend! We are an ecumenical group. If, after coming to a meeting, you should decide that you want to try the life of an oblate, you are initiated as a candidate for a year, are given a copy of the Rule of Saint Benedict, and you can see whether it is congenial and practical for you in your present life and work. If it is, at the end of a year, you make your oblation at one of the monthly meetings. From that point on, you are a permanent oblate, subject to your own decision as to how active you wish to remain. There are no commitments other than the commitment that you make for the coming year. There are no fees. The oblate movement subsists on voluntary donations.
An oblate of St. Bede Abbey is a member of the extended St. Bede prayer community of monks and oblates. An oblate is eager to learn about the lives of the monks. It is often the monks who come to speak at the monthly meetings. In addition, the oblate newsletter, which is published five times a year, often features profiles of them.