Oblates are Christian men or women, over 16 years of age, who celebrate the Protestant, Catholic or other Orthodox Christian traditions and wish to develop a deeper personal and communal experience of the Risen Christ and share in the important work of the Order.

cistercian oblatesOblates are welcome to participate in Chapter meetings, community life, retreats, seminars and the like. They may have a voice in Cistercian activities but no vote. They do not wear a habit, but may wear the Cross of St. Benedict.

Oblates strive for faith, hope and charity. They also strive for poverty, meaning generosity, chastity according to their state of life, obedience to Our Lord and to His ministers in the Church, obedience to civil law, and stability.

Oblates will be considered as Third Order members.

Introduction for Inquirers and Candidates

Cistercian Oblates are Christian men and women who choose to associate themselves with a Cistercian religious community in order to strengthen their baptismal commitment and enrich their Christian way of life. The life of any Christian is a self-offering to God in gratitude and in loving response to the God who has first so lovingly and graciously offered Himself to us in Jesus Christ. “Oblation” means offering. Oblates seek to offer themselves more fully to Christ and to the Church by pondering the wisdom found in the Rule of St. Benedict and by entering into fellowship with their community of affiliation. By these means Oblates discover ever anew that God calls us to holiness of life and that the Rule and the Benedictine community can be instruments of God’s grace in their vocation to become holy in the world.

Oblates do not take vows or live in a monastery. They continue to live in the world while they strive eagerly to live out the values of the Gospel. On the other hand, they do make promises to seek God more intensely through the principles of the Rule of St. Benedict and in partnership with the monks or sisters of the Cistercian community with which they are affiliated. Oblates may be single lay people, married lay people, or secular clergy. Whatever their state in life, Oblates have discerned a call to deepen their Christian commitment through association with a Cistercian religious community. In their promise to live according to the spirit of the Rule, they commit themselves to seek God above all things and to prefer Christ to all else in the ordinary circumstances of their lives. This commitment is meant not only to enhance their personal spirituality but also to help them become better witnesses of Christ by word and example, just as it is the role of vowed religious to give witness to Christian values that the secular world tends to ignore or reject.

Unlike members of third orders, Oblates do not adhere to a distinct rule of their own, nor are they bound to a specific set of religious practices. They do, however, promise to “dedicate [themselves] to the service of God and neighbor according to the Rule of St. Benedict, insofar as [their] state in life permits” (ceremony of Oblation). This promise does involve a personal commitment to nurture the specific values contained in the Rule and to make some time in one’s schedule for the Liturgy of the Hours and the holy reading of Scripture (see below).

The Rule (Chapter 59) mentions that monasteries could accept young boys, who were “offered” to them by their parents for their religious training and education. These boys lived in the community,shared its daily round of religious activities, and became known as “Oblates.” In the course of time,adult lay people asked to be associated with the prayer and work of the monks, even while theyremained with their homes, families, and secular occupations. Over the centuries such informal arrangements became more formalized, and these “secular Oblates” were officially received in aceremony as they offered themselves to God and promised to regulate their lives according to the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict. These Oblates prayed in union with the monks as best they could and applied the teachings of the Rule to their lives in the world. Today thousands of Oblates throughout the world pray and work in spiritual union with Benedictine men and women of various
communities, and they both receive and share spiritual strength and inspiration as a result of their affiliation as Oblates. This tradition has been respected and observed in most reform orders, as well. This has given rise to Cistercian, Camaldolese, and Carthusian oblate groups, all of whom maintain a connection with a monastery or abbey of the same charism.
Oblates promise to live according to the values expressed in the Rule of St. Benedict, which was written in the spirit of the Gospel and which has been handed down through centuries of committed Christian life, along with traditions that developed with it. By their commitment to the Rule, Oblates benefit from a time-tried spiritual tradition that has led countless other Benedictines and Oblates to holiness. Just as a candidate for the monastery is tested to see whether he “truly seeks God” (RB 58), so also those who become Oblates are committed above all else to seek God in Jesus Christ. As a document focused on Christ and intended to lead disciples ever closer to Christ, the Rule challenges every religious and Oblate to a continual refocusing on Christ amidst the routines of ordinary life as well as on special occasions.

“Prayer and work” (ora et labora) has become a motto of Benedictine life. The Rule summons a monk to live a life balanced among prayer, work, and other elements of an horarium (schedule) chosen specifically to help the monk put on the heart and mind of Christ. In a society which encourages people to become ensnared in relentless work or in pleasure-filled indulgence, the Oblate finds support for a life totally dedicated to God in a Rule which calls for balance among prayer, work, community activities, creative leisure, and reading that nourishes one’s spirit. The experience of the ages has shown that such balance best keeps a person from being caught up in anything other than God Himself.

A Cistercian monk takes vows of obedience, stability, and conversatio morum, or ongoing conversion of life according to the monastic way (RB 58:17). The Oblate also promises to live by these three primary values. By obedience Oblates learn to listen to God’s call always and everywhere, with the help of meditative reading of Scripture, especially the Gospels. Oblates also listen to God’s voice by frequent meditation on passages of the Rule and by efforts to apply the fruits of their meditation to everyday life. By stability Oblates learn to practice perseverance in carrying out the obligations of their daily lives, especially amidst trials. Striving for an awareness of Christ’s redeeming presence in every situation, they become grateful for the seemingly small blessings of each day and struggle against murmuring in difficult times. Stability means being rooted in Christ, no matter what happens, and joining one’s sufferings to the passion of Christ so that they become redemptive. By conversatio morum Oblates make use of all means at their disposal to welcome God’s grace to purify and transform them. Just as the monk’s corresponding vow commits him “to grow in perfect charity through a monastic manner of life,” so the Oblate promises to surrender more and more of his or her life to Christ amidst daily vicissitudes; thus every moment becomes an opportunity for firmer rejection of self-will and deeper abiding in the love of Christ.

Other values in the Rule include silence, humility, peace, “glorifying God in all things,” and community. Living in a noisy and unfocused world, Oblates nurture both external and internal silence as a necessary condition for hearing the call of God and responding to Him. Humility involves both an honest admission of one’s own limitations, weaknesses, and sinfulness and also a reverent mindfulness of God’s greatness, expressed most fully in the all-forgiving love of Jesus Christ. “Pax,” the peace of Christ which is meant to pervade every aspect of Christian life, has become a Benedictine motto; thus Oblates seek to dwell with peace in their hearts, to work for healing and reconciliation within family and community, and to join with other peacemakers to bring about a world of peace and justice. “Glorifying God” (RB 57:9) means bringing out God’s goodness, in Christ, in every person and situation; it means nurturing hope-filled attitudes; it means avoiding murmuring, gossip, and all that destroys or tears down what should rather be healed and redeemed. Since the whole Rule is written in the context of community, Oblates necessarily live in a spirit of community; even if living alone, they strive to nurture loving communion with others who seek God in Christ and ultimately with all people. Oblates show high respect for family life and community life as essential vehicles for transmitting life in Christ.

Cistercian spirituality also summons monks and Oblates to reverence, devotion to the Eucharist, praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, hospitality, special concern for the poor and underprivileged, stewardship for God’s creation, and prophetic witness. Oblates develop an attentiveness to the Word of God wherever and however it may speak to them, but especially in the practice of lectio divina, a slow, gentle savoring of the words of the Bible. Oblates also treasure the living presence of Christ in liturgy, particularly in the Holy Eucharist. They seek to sanctify all the hours of the day by praying some part of the Liturgy of Hours, or “Divine Office,” in union with the monks of the community; this prayer of the Church is meant to extend the effects of the Eucharist to all moments. Just as they come to find Christ in the Eucharist and in Scripture, Oblates likewise learn to welcome Christ in the stranger, as well as in all guests, as an act of faith. This hospitality will overflow to a heartfelt concern for all those in whom Christ suffers—the poor and oppressed of one’s neighborhood and the world. The Rule challenges men and women to regard all material things “as sacred vessels of the altar” (RB 31:12), and so Oblates nurture an informed care for the environment as a gift of God to be shared by all people. Finally, just as the monks of St. Benedict’s time witnessed to Christian values that were often contrary to the norms of their society, so also today’s monks and Oblates have a prophetic vocation to proclaim the primacy of God and the sacredness of all life in a world that is often deluded by self-centered, materialistic concerns.

Christian men and women are attracted to the Oblate Program because they are seeking God in Jesus Christ and have begun to find Him. They hope to intensify their journey of faith through affiliation with the Cistercian Order of the Holy Cross and through commitment to the Christian values manifested by the monastic community and its Oblates. A person who discerns God’s call to such affiliation should inquire of the Abbot General.

Oblates are committed to ongoing conversion of life and to those practices that will dispose them to accept the Lord’s continual invitations to fuller life in Christ.

The way of life as set down by St. Benedict in his Rule offers a set of Christian ideals which are sufficiently flexible, adaptable, and moderate so that no one need be dismayed or discouraged at failure to achieve the heights of holiness all at once. St. Benedict makes room for many different levels of spiritual progress when he states: “[Let the abbot] so moderate all things that there be something for the strong to strive after and nothing to dishearten the weak” (RB 64:19)

Although the Holy Rule gives no biographical details of its author’s life, the document offers numerous hints about the saint’s character. It shows Benedict, like the monks of good zeal whom he wished to form (RB 72), to be passionate for God and for the things of God. From his experience of living in communities of monks, he learned that the little daily choices that one makes in ordinary life ultimately determine the basic orientation of one’s whole life. For a Christian, and so too for every monk, the choice must be made for Christ again and again. In the Rule Benedict challenges his monks to make a fundamental choice to listen to the voice of Christ and to recognize that “the love of Christ must come before all else” (RB 4:21). The vow of stability and the detailed organization of life in community are meant to help the monk make the choice for Christ, day by day and moment after moment. The monk is instructed to see in these time-tested structures ample opportunities to choose for God and reject self-centered impulses.

Benedict was well aware of the pervasiveness of those self-centered tendencies, and his radical zeal for God is balanced by his loving concern for the individual monk with all his weaknesses. The saint knew that the brothers suffered from a variety of deficiencies and that all had need of forgiveness and mutual support on the journey to God. He also possessed keen insight into the great differences that existed among individual monks; some were obedient, docile, patient, and perceptive, while others were undisciplined, negligent, stubborn, slow to learn, and even disdainful and arrogant. The more wayward the monk, however, the greater his need for the loving attention of the Good Shepherd to seek him out and heal him (RB 27:8). It is the abbot who must fill the role of Christ in showing the utmost concern for straying sheep. Using every skill that a wise physician would apply to heal a sick person, the abbot must avoid harshness and see himself as an instrument of Christ’s healing love in his commitment to nurture the development of souls in the community.

The Rule also shows that St. Benedict was thoroughly grounded in the tradition of the Church. Much of the Rule consists of quotations from or allusions to Sacred Scripture. The monks are urged to meditate extensively on Scripture as well as to read from the orthodox fathers of the early Church (RB 73:2-4). In writing the Rule, Benedict himself relied heavily on the already well-developed monastic tradition of the two previous centuries. He incorporated large sections of the Rule of the Master and also borrowed teachings from other great monastic authors, such as Basil, Augustine, Cassian, and Caesarius of Arles. However, Benedict also did something new. He blended the wisdom of the past in such a way as to respond to the conditions of sixth-century Italy, and he gave the Rule enough flexibility to be adapted to the social and cultural circumstances of the Church for many centuries to come.

During the life of St. Benedict circumstances in Italy were turbulent because of the collapse of the Roman Empire and the repeated invasions by foreign tribes. The turbulence continued after Benedict’s death. In fact, his monastery at Monte Cassino was destroyed by the Lombards about 581 A.D. and remained abandoned until it was refounded in 720. However, the Rule itself began to spread from Italy through much of continental Europe and the British Isles. During the first
several centuries of its existence, the Rule was frequently adopted in combination with other monastic rules. In almost every case, the Rule of Benedict eventually became the only norm of these monasteries, apparently because it compensated for the deficiencies of the other rules and rendered them unnecessary. For example, in England the Rule at first encountered a flourishing Celtic monasticism but then gradually replaced it. By the eighth century England was sending
missionaries abroad, and Benedictines like St. Boniface and St. Willibrord brought both Christianity and the Rule to Germany and other parts of the Frankish Empire. Charlemagne (768-814) established the Benedictine way even more firmly in Europe by decreeing that the Rule of St. Benedict was to be the standard for all monasteries of his empire.

During the often unsettled conditions of the Middle Ages, Benedictine monasteries became centers where the arts and sciences flourished, good liturgy was nurtured, scholarship was prized and ancient literature was preserved. Especially during the tenth through the twelfth centuries, monastic houses multiplied and thrived as oases of learning and spiritual life. Although some Benedictine communities succumbed to laxity and the abuses of the times, there were reforms such as those at Cluny and Citeaux that gave new vigor to monastic life under the Rule.The foundation of the Cistercian order by Robert of Molesme in 1098 marked the beginning of a renewal for the Church and religious throughout Europe. The Rule provides Christians with a much-needed norm and a concrete way for discipleship. In this age of individualism, affiliation with the Archabbey as an Oblate provides fellowship, mutual support, and loving communion with monks and other Oblates in our common striving for the everlasting life for which God has so lovingly destined us all.