Statutes of the Benedictine Oblates of Pluscarden Abbey
Chapter I: The Oblate
- Oblation is a free act of self-offering to God, recognised by the Church (cf. the Code of Canon Law, can. 303; 677 §2) whereby individual Christians establish a bond of intimate union with a particular Benedictine community. The act of oblation is a true offering, and brings about a true belonging, though it is different in nature from that bond which unites a monk to his community, and it does not bring about a change in the individual's status in the Church.
- Oblates are Christians, lay or ordained, who, committed to the living of their faith and while continuing to live their own state in life, desire to make their own the values expressed by Benedictine monastic life. With the monks or nuns, they therefore look to the Rule of St. Benedict as a pattern for their living of the Gospel message. They undertake to pursue the path of Benedictine spirituality, through the guidance of the Holy Rule (HR 3:7) and in the spirit of the community of their affiliation, so as constantly to renew their baptismal consecration.
Chapter II: Oblation
- If a candidate for oblation is not already well known to our community, he or she is normally asked to spend some months as a “postulant oblate”. This time is to enable mature reflection on the serious step that is being proposed.
- Once the application for oblation has been accepted, there follows a period of formation, in order that candidates might gain a clear understanding of the commitment they are to take (HR 58:12). This oblate “novitiate” is to last for a full year. It begins with a ceremony, during which the candidate is presented with a copy of the Holy Rule and a blessed medal of St. Benedict. If it is deemed necessary, the period of formation may be extended, though it should not exceed two years. Novice oblates are asked to read through the Holy Rule at least three times. They are encouraged also to establish a habit of some daily liturgical prayer, and to undertake some recommended lectio divina.
- At the end of their period of formation, novice oblates come to the Abbey to make their final oblation. Only in exceptional circumstances may the reception of oblation be delegated to a priest or monk outside our monastery.
- The text for the rite and the form of oblation is to be found in the Oblate Ritual. Its centre is a reflection of the monastic vow (HR 58:17), being a promise of “the conversion of my life according to the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict, in so far as my state in life permits”. At the ceremony of final oblation, an oblate name is taken. The oblate writes out a Chart of Oblation, which is signed on the altar, and then preserved in the monastery's archive.
- In order to make a valid oblation, the candidate must be at least eighteen years old, and may not be a member of a Third Order, or be a member of another Religious Institute.
- It is normally assumed that Pluscarden oblates, like Pluscarden monks, will be Roman Catholics who have received the sacrament of confirmation. Nevertheless members of other Churches and ecclesial communities may exceptionally be received as oblates. They must however accept the discipline of the Catholic Church regarding sacramental communion.
- The act of oblation has the character of a firm promise to God, although it is not in the nature of a vow. It is not intended to be a burdensome obligation, but rather a stimulus and help to the oblate in his or her following of Christ. Should it therefore happen that for good reason an oblate becomes unable to fulfil the exterior practices recommended for oblates, the oblate promise can still be kept, so long as the desire for conversion of life and spiritual union with the Pluscarden community remains.
- Benedictines take a vow of stability. In accordance with this element of Benedictine life, oblates are affiliated to one particular monastery and not directly to the Order as a whole. However, if for good reason an oblate wishes to transfer to the lists of another Benedictine house, it is not necessary to make a new act of oblation. When the consent of the Abbots or Oblate Masters of both houses has been obtained, the name of the oblate can be removed from the lists of the one community and registered in the lists of the other.
- Oblation is made with the intention that it should be for life. Consequently, it is made once and for all. Nevertheless, oblates can laudably express their “perseverance in stability” (HR 58:9) by frequently renewing their commitment in their hearts. In addition, just as monks formally make an annual renewal of their vows, so oblates are encouraged formally to renew their oblation annually, either as a group or privately, and so strengthen their sense of dedication. This is most fittingly done on 21st November, the principal oblate feast.
- The act of oblation establishes reciprocal bonds between the oblate and the monastery. Either party can break these bonds by giving notification in writing.
- According to a decree of the Sacred Penitentiary, dated 5 May 1975, a plenary indulgence may be obtained by Benedictine Oblates, provided that fulfilling the usual conditions (confession, communion, prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions), they pronounce or renew, even privately, the oblate promise:
- On the day of enrollment as a novice oblate, and the day of final oblation;
- On the feast days of St. Benedict (March 21 and July 11); SS. Maurus and Placid (January 15); St. Scholastica (10 February) and St. Frances of Rome (9 March). Also on Pluscarden’s two Patronal feasts: the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June), and the Assumption of the BVM (15 August).
- On the 25th and 50th anniversaries of enrollment as a novice oblate.
Chapter III: Oblates & The Monastery
- Our oblates are accepted as members of the wider family of the Pluscarden Benedictines. They rightly regard the monastery as their spiritual home. While remaining faithful to its identity as an enclosed contemplative community, the monastery for its part desires, through appropriate means, to assist the oblates in their spiritual, doctrinal and liturgical development.
- Oblates share in the life of the monastic family first of all through union of prayer with the community. When possible, they stay at the Abbey for periods of retreat. They may also offer practical assistance and advice, as lies within their competence.
- Oblates are committed to pray for the community's needs. This support in prayer and love is what the community most values in its oblates. Oblation does not bring with it any financial obligation to the monastery, neither does the monastic community acquire the right to impose any charge or tax on oblates.
- The formal participation of oblates in the prayer of the monastery is expressed by their inclusion in the commemoration of absent brethren at the end of every office. In addition, Mass is offered for the intentions of all the oblates twelve times a year, on the following dates:
- January 1st (New Year's Day);
- February 10th (St. Scholastica);
- March 9th (St. Frances of Rome, Oblate OSB);
- Easter Day;
- June 24th (St. John the Baptist, patronal feast of the monastery);
- July 11th (the Solemnity, and principal feast of St. Benedict);
- August 15th (the Assumption of the BVM, patronal feast of the monastery);
- September 3rd (Pope St. Gregory the Great);
- November 2nd (All Souls);
- November 21st (the Presentation of Our Lady: the Oblates’ patronal feast);
- December 25th (Christmas Day).
One Mass is said at the abbey for a deceased oblate on notification of death, with an annual remembrance thereafter on All Souls’ Day.
- The Abbot has charge of the oblates, either personally or through a delegated monk called the Oblate Master.
- The primary motive guiding candidates for oblation should be a sense of spiritual affinity with the community at Pluscarden. Geographical distance can present difficulties in maintaining a close bond between an oblate and the monastery, indicating that particular care should be exercised in accepting oblates who are resident overseas. Neverthe-less, the monastic community values the connection with oblates who are resident overseas and with those who, perhaps because of age, are no longer able to make regular visits to the monastery.
- Oblates are encouraged, though not obliged, to meet together in a spirit of friendship and common belonging and to share in prayer. It is also fitting that oblates share in charitable works.
Chapter IV: Oblate Spirituality
- “The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples, regardless of their situation” (LG 40). Oblates wish to respond to this universal call to holiness. They also wish their response to be identified with that of the monastic community. They share the aspiration of the monks to live the Paschal Mystery by death to sin and rebirth to new life in Christ.
- The Pluscarden monks and their oblates are “Benedictines” because they accept the Rule of St. Benedict as their guide (HR 3:7). This Rule, firmly rooted in scripture and tradition, had a formative influence in the history of the Western Church. Although written in the sixth century for a community of Italian monks, it manifests a practical wisdom that has value for any Christian in any age. Lay people today can find in it, and in the rich tradition it has engendered, a source of inspiration, which will help them to “put nothing before the love of Christ” (HR 4:21); to see their Christian life as a harmonious whole, and to make the Gospel a reality in the midst of the world in which they live.
- Following the teaching of St. Benedict, monks and oblates alike “seek God” by way of a “conversion of life” (cf. HR 58:7 & 17). No less than professed monks, oblates are called to conversion to Christ, though in a way adapted to their own vocation and state in life.
- The oblate promise of “conversion of life” is a ratification of baptismal consecration. It is also a statement that the oblate wishes, by entering St. Benedict’s “school of the Lord's service” (HR, Prol. 45), to make progress in the Christian life, especially through prayer, lectio divina, work and the practice of the virtues.
- The Benedictine life is a life of prayer. St. Benedict urges that we “give ourselves frequently to prayer” (HR 4:56). He calls the public prayer of the monks “the work of God” (opus Dei), to which “nothing is to be preferred” (HR 43:3). A primary reason for becoming an oblate is the desire to deepen, strengthen and intensify one’s life of prayer.
- In accordance with the Holy Rule, Benedictine oblates will seek to nourish their prayer from the most authentic spiritual sources: the liturgy, the sacraments, and meditation on the Word of God. They should seek intimacy with God also through regular private prayer.
- Daily Mass and communion is the centre and heart of the Pluscarden community’s life of prayer. Oblates also find in the Mass the “source and summit” of their Christian life (cf. LG 11). Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, monks and oblates alike unite their self-offering with the sacrificial offering of Christ (cf. SC 48).
- The life of the monk revolves around the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, which as the prayer of the Church is also truly a participation in the prayer of Christ. Through the divine office, time is sanctified. When mind and voice are in harmony (HR 19:7), the baptized in this way also exercise their royal priesthood. While there is no strict obligation, our oblates are strongly encouraged to celebrate at least part of the Liturgy of the Hours each day, conscious that Lauds and Vespers are the “two hinges on which the daily Office turns” (SC 89). When they offer this sacrifice of praise, our oblates express and strengthen their bond of unity with the monastic community.
- Pluscarden monks wear a white habit as an expression of particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our oblates also should not neglect devotion to Mary. Their spiritual union with the community can be expressed also through the prayer of the Rosary.
Spiritual reading, or “lectio divina”
- “Lectio divina” helps to form the mind, and gives it food for prayer. It is a fundamental element of monastic spirituality and should be embraced by oblates. By this term is meant a serious, ruminative, and well-ordered reading which will instruct and deepen the spirit. It implies, above all, regular reading of Sacred Scripture. But lectio can be extended also to include the writings of the Fathers, the Saints and other authors who reflect faithfully the teachings of the Church (cf. HR 9:8; 73:2-5). The aim is to achieve not the erudition that comes from much study, but an attentive listening to the Word of God in a climate of silence and recollection (cf. DV 25). The monastery desires to help oblates in this, by making good spiritual books readily available.
- After prayer and lectio divina, the third essential element of monastic life according to the Holy Rule is ordinary work. St. Benedict teaches that “idleness is the enemy of the soul” (HR 48:1) and that “in all things God should be glorified” (HR 57:9). Benedictine life has traditionally been summarised by the axiom “Ora et Labora” (“Work and Pray”). Oblates therefore live according to the spirit of the Rule not just when engaged formally in prayer, but in all their daily activities, especially their work. They should strive to serve God in all that they do, putting the whole of their life at His service.
- The monastery does not impose any task on oblates under obedience. They nevertheless gain the blessing of obedience (HR 71:1) whenever they perform their work in response to duty (cf. HR 5:14-19).
- Oblates should seek to do their work as well as they can. In this way they can make of it an act of worship of God. They will use their gifts and abilities, according to their opportunities and circumstances, for the service of others and the building up of the Kingdom. They should however remember that work is a means, not an end in itself, and that St. Benedict takes great care to guard his monks from excessive work (cf. e.g. HR 31:17-19; 35:3-5; 48:9).
The exercise of virtue
- Oblates look to the Holy Rule not only as a major reference point in their spiritual formation and development, but also for guidance in the practical application of their faith.
- In practical matters, oblates will usually have to interpret the text of the Rule to a greater or lesser extent, in order to apply its teaching to their own particular circumstances. One long Chapter however may be regarded as in a special way directly applicable to oblates. This is Chapter Four, on the Tools of Good Works. Some of the works of mercy commanded there, such as visiting the sick, may even be more easily performed by oblates than by individual monks who are restricted by enclosure. Oblates who are able should actively seek ways of carrying out the various Good Works listed in this Chapter.
- St. Benedict gives great emphasis to the Christ-like virtues of obedience and humility, which he describes particularly in Chapters Five and Seven of his Rule. Linked to them also is the virtue of patience, through which we “participate in the sufferings of Christ, in order that we may deserve to share also in his Kingdom” (HR Prol. 50. cf. also Phil 2:8). Oblates exercise these virtues above all by generously accepting their necessary duties and sufferings.
- Each of us is called to combat the evil which lies within us and all around us (cf. Dialogues Bk. 2 chapter 2). In their personal life, therefore, oblates should strive to develop a spirit of simplicity and detachment from the materialism of the secular world (cf. HR 33 etc.). In its place they will cultivate a certain austerity and penance in personal life (cf. HR 4:10-21). Such a spirit will enable the oblate to see Christ in others (cf. HR 53:1) and to treat all with reverence - especially those who are burdened with difficulties and trials (cf. HR 72:4-5).
- The virtue for which the Holy Rule is praised above all in the Dialogues is discretion, called by St. Benedict himself “the mother of all virtues” (HR 64:19). As shepherd of the souls entrusted to him, he wanted “the strong always to have something for which to yearn”, but was careful not “to drive away the weak” (ibid.). Oblates will therefore strive to follow the Benedictine ideal of sanctified common sense, marked by a warm humanity. They will not expect to be changed into saints at one leap, but will climb perseveringly the steps marked out by the Rule, until they arrive at that perfect love which casts out fear (HR 7:67).
- The Holy Rule prescribes the way of life for a Christian community. Oblates belong to many different forms of community, both within and beyond the community of the Church: the Parish, the Diocese, the community of marriage and family life, the workplace, the street in which they live, the nation of which they are a part. In all these circumstances, they will draw inspiration from the Holy Rule, and from its embodiment in the Pluscarden community, in order that they might contribute to the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom in their daily life and in the lives of others.
- Animated by the “good zeal” to which St. Benedict exhorts us (HR 72), oblates will cultivate a spirit of caring, understanding, patience, self-forgetfulness, availability and service. Preferring nothing whatever to Christ, and intent on the goal of everlasting life (HR 72:11-12), they will be a leaven at the heart of the wider society, enriching it by a life lived according to the values of the Gospel.
Chapter V: Conclusion
- All those who are called to faith through Baptism have a responsibility to bear witness in all things and at all times to Christ and his Gospel. Those called to monastic life proclaim the Kingdom through their vows, lived in community. Monks recognise that Christ calls them to “persevere in his teaching until death in the monastery” (HR Prol. 50). Oblates also, intimately united to the monastic family, respond wholeheartedly to Christ's call, following the “guidance of the Gospel” (Prol. 21). Supported and encouraged by the monastic community, they also bear steadfast witness to their faith. Then, with the monks and other oblates, they “hasten to reach the heavenly fatherland”, conscious always that they are among the “beginners” (HR 73:8) whom St. Benedict addresses as a “loving father” (Prol. 1). Confident in the sureness of his teaching, which over so many centuries has led so many people to God, they determine to “make progress in this way of life and in faith, running on the path of God’s commandments with hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (Prol. 49).