By Saint Andrew's Abbey
Appendix B, St. Andrew’s Abbey Customary,
Appreoved by the Conventual Chapter on June 10. 1988
Since the ninth century men and women have been inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict to consecrate their lives to God according to the spirit of the Rule, while remaining active participants in society and the world. The early medieval Benedictine confraternities enabled laypeople to spiritually unite themselves to a monastery from which they learned of Benedictine spirituality and tradition, and to which they, in turn, offered their spiritual and material assistance.
In the early fifteenth century St. Frances of Rome organized a group of laywomen interested in serving the poor into an association guided by the Benedictine Rule: they became known as oblates of St. Benedict. Since that time Benedictine confraters and consorors have increasingly been called oblates, applying to themselves the term used in the Rule to describe young boys offered by their parents as monk-apprentices (oblati).
OBLATES of SAINT ANDREW’S ABBEY
AN OBLATE of St. Andrew’s Abbey is someone living in society who has heard God’s call to guide their life in the light of the Rule of St. Benedict, and who has responded to that call by living in spiritual union with our monastic community. This union is established and made explicit through the promises made at the ceremony of Final Oblation:
I OFFER MYSELF to Almighty God through the Blessed Virgin Mary and our holy father Benedict for Saint Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, California, and I do promise before God and all His Saints the reformation of my life, the service of God and mankind according to the Rule of our holy father Benedict, in so far as my state in life permits.
OBLATES typically gather together on a regular basis in geographical areas. Some, however, prefer to live their lives as oblates in greater solitude, maintaining their cenobitic (community-oriented) contact with their monastery through private retreats and visits to St. Andrew’s Abbey.
The Reformation of My Life. . .
OBLATES COMMIT THEMSELVES to a never-ending process of integration – a deepening of their awareness of and responsiveness to God through the practice of contemplative prayer. This ongoing process of integration is referred to in the Rule as conversatio morum, “reformation of life”. It is the oblates’ continuous consecration to God of the deepest parts of their selves and their lives. This consecration was initiated at baptism and is nourished throughout life through contemplative prayer, frequent reception of the Eucharist, Lectio Divina, and apostolic service. Specific practices which characterize the oblates’ reformation of life include the following:
1) The daily practice of contemplative prayer. This prayer is facilitated by following the example of Jesus in daily setting aside time for silence and communion with God. Such prayer is nourished and sustained through daily Lectio Divina, the slow, meditative reading of the Sacred Scriptures intended to lead the reader into the presence of God. Oblates are encouraged to include in their daily prayer some portion of the Divine Office, prayed in the spirit of Lectio Divina.
2) Prayer for the community and work of St. Andrew’s Abbey. In particular, oblates pray for vocations to the monastic life and encourage vocations whenever they can.
3) Regular reception of the Sacraments. The oblates’ ongoing consecration of themselves to God is strengthened through deepening their union with Christ: this is facilitated in a special way through daily reception of the Eucharist when this is possible, and through regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
4) Simplification of life. Christ’s invitation to his disciples to live lives of poverty and purity of heart is embraced by the oblate through simplification of life: that is, through an ongoing effort to keep for one’s self only that which is sufficient, and to generously share with others the spiritual and material abundance with one has been blessed by God. Since the oblates’ consecration of self is also a consecration of time, their simplification of life also entails a simplification of schedule – a sincere commitment to “clear time for God”. The oblates of St. Andrew’s Abbey thus seek in a special way to restore the place of Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, as a time dedicated to prayer and contemplation.
5) Regular participation in the life of the local oblate community. Several oblate groups in the Southern California area meet on a monthly basis. These meetings provide occasions for corporate prayer, spiritual sharing, and for an exchange of information concerning the future and work of the Abbey. Oblates who are unable to participate in such meetings should maintain regular contact with their oblate director.
6) Regular participation in the life of their monastic community. Oblates make regular visits to and retreats at St. Andrew’s Abbey. They are normally expected to make at least one retreat at the Abbey each year. They are encouraged to participate in workshops, retreats, and celebrations specifically intended to deepen their understanding of Benedictine spirituality. Oblates who live at a considerable distance from St. Andrew’s Abbey should make a retreat when it is possible for them to do so, and should maintain regular contact with their oblate director.
The Service of God and Mankind. . .
OBLATES PRINCIPALLY SERVE God and His people through prayer. Their deepening union with God in prayer naturally overflows in “contemplative availability” to family, parish, and civic community, and in a special way through acts of service to their monastic community. Ways in which oblates may offer material service to St. Andrew’s Abbey include the following:
1) Support of the community in one or more of the following areas:
a) Education of the Monks
b) the Ecumenical Work of the Monastery
c) the Youth Retreat Center
d) the Library – Cultural/ Ecumenical Center
e) the Retreat House
f) the Art Shop
g) the Ceramics Shop
h) Pastoral Services
. . According to the Rule of our holy father Benedict, insofar as my State in Life Permits.
THE PROCESS of becoming an oblate of St. Andrew’s Abbey consists of three distinct stages:
First is the period of initial discernment or postulancy. Individuals who are interested in learning about the oblate program “come and see” by either arranging to attend meetings of their local oblate group, or by speaking privately to one of the oblate directors who is available to assume responsibility for their formation.
After learning about the program, those who wish to become oblates request that they be accepted as oblate novices by one of the oblate directors. If accepted, they are invested as oblate novices with the medal of St. Benedict and are given a copy of the Holy Rule at a private ceremony of investiture. The length of the oblate novitiate is at the discretion of the oblate director, but should be at least one year. During their novitiate the oblate novices undertake the serious study of Benedictine spirituality and the Rule of St. Benedict under the guidance of their oblate director, with whom they meet, either privately or at oblate meetings, on a regular basis.
At the conclusion of their novitiate, oblate novices may request acceptance for Final Oblation. This request is submitted to the discernment of their oblate director. Final Oblation celebrates the oblates’ spiritual union with the monastery and their acceptance of a lifelong dedication to prayer, conversion of life, and service. At the ceremony of Final Oblation the oblate is accepted by the Abbot or his representative in these words:
As God’s representative I accept your Oblation and admit you into spiritual union and affiliation with our monastery as an oblate and adopted son (daughter) of our holy father Benedict, and give you the privilege of sharing in our spiritual goods, and I assure you the eternal life God promises you as you persevere in your holy resolution. May God strengthen you in your faith.
Oblates are offered the opportunity to liturgically re-proclaim their commitment to Christ by annually renewing their oblation at a public ceremony held at the Abbey.
THE FORMATION of the OBLATE is ongoing throughout life. During their oblate novitiate they are guided in the practice of contemplative prayer and Lectio Divina by their oblate director; they are additionally expected to study in some depth the following texts:
1) The Holy Scriptures
2) The Rule of St. Benedict: in the workbook, Preferring Christ, by Norvene Vest (Source Books), or in the the RB 80 edition (Collegeville, 1980)
3) The Life and Miracles of St. Benedict by Pope St. Gregory I (Collegeville or St. Bede’s Press)
ADDITIONAL TEXTS which are very helpful and which should be read under the guidance of the oblate director include:
1) The Lives and Sayings of the Desert Fathers: (The Wisdom of the Desert, Thomas Merton, New Directions, 1960; The Desert Fathers, Helen Waddell, Ann Arbor 1966; The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward. Cistercian Pub., 1975; The Lives of the Desert Fathers, Norman Russell, Cist. Pub., 1981)
2) The Institutes and Conferences of John Cassian: (Both Institutes and Conferences – Erdmans, 1982; Select Conferences only – Westminster, 1958; or Paulist, 1985)
3) Seeking God, the Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Collegeville, 1984)
. . . The Privilege of Sharing in our Spiritual Goods,
THE LITURGICAL PRAYER of the monastic community and the private prayer of the oblates together form one single communion in Christ: it is this communion with Christ and His people in prayer which is the fundamental apostolate and the true spiritual treasure of monks and oblates. In their prayer the respective communities of oblates and monks intercede for each other, raising each other through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit into the presence of the Father. The oblates of St. Andrew’s Abbey are especially remembered each week at the Divine Office of the monastic community and each month at the Conventual Mass. As a sign of their union with the monastic community, oblates may be buried in the cemetery of the monastery.