An oblate inChristian Monasticism is a person who is specifically dedicated to God or to God's service. Currently, oblate has two meanings:
Oblates are laypersons or clerical members of a religious order, not professed monks or nuns, who have individually affiliated themselves in prayer with a House of their choice. These make a formal private promise (annually renewable or for life, depending on the house with which they are affiliated) to follow the rule of prayer in their private life as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit.
Origins and history Oblate has had various particular uses at different periods in the history of the Church. The children vowed and given by their parents to the monastic life, in houses under the Rule of St. Benedict, were commonly known by the name during the century and a half when the custom was in vogue, and the councils of the Church treated them as monks—that is, until the Council of Toledo forbade their acceptance before the age of ten and granted them free permission to leave the monastery, if they wished, when they reached the age of puberty. The term puer oblatus(used after the Tenth Council of Toledo) is used to describe anoblate who had not yet reached puberty and thus had a future opportunity to leave the monastery, though puer oblatus can also refer to someone entering an abbey. At a later date the word "oblate" was used to describe such lay men or women as were pensioned off by royal and other patrons upon monasteries or benefices, where they lived as in an almshouse or homes.
In the eleventh century, Abbot William of Hirschau, in the old Diocese of Spires, introduced lay brethren into the monastery. They were of two kinds: the fratres barbati or conversi, who took vows but were not claustral or enclosed monks, and the oblati, workmen or servants who voluntarily subjected themselves, whilst in the service of the monastery, to religious obedience and observance.
Afterwards, the different status of the lay brother in the several orders of monks, and the ever-varying regulations concerning him introduced by the many reforms, destroyed the distinction between the conversus and the oblatus.
The Cassinese Benedictines, for instance at first carefully differentiated between conversi, commissi and oblati; the nature of the vows and the forms of the habits were in each case specifically distinct. The conversus, the lay brother properly so called, made solemn vows like the choir monks, and wore the scapular; the commissus made simple vows, and was dressed like a monk, but without the scapular; the oblatus made a vow of obedience to the abbot, gave himself and his goods to the monastery, and wore a sober secular dress.
But, in 1625, we find the conversus reduced below the status of the commissus, inasmuch as he was permitted only to make simple vows and that for a year at a time; he was in fact undistinguishable, except by his dress, from the oblatus of a former century. Then, in the later Middle Ages, oblatus, confrater, and donatus became interchangeable titles, given to any one who, for his generosity or special service to the monastery, received the privilege of lay membership, with a share in the prayers and good works of the brethren.
Canonically, only two distinctions were ever of any consequence: first, that between those who entered religion "per modum professionis" and "per modum simplicis conversionis" the former being monachi and the later oblati; secondly, that between the oblate who was "mortuus mundo" (that is, who had given himself and his goods to religion without reservation), and the oblate who retained some control over his person and his possessions – the former only (plene oblatus) was accounted a persona ecclesiastica, with enjoyment of ecclesiastical privileges and immunity (Benedict XIV, "De Synodo Dioce.", VI).
Oblates (secular) In modern practice, many Benedictine communities have a greater or smaller number of Oblates (secular). These are laypeople affiliated in prayer with an individual House of their choice, who have made a formal private promise (annually renewable or for life) to follow the Rule of St Benedict in their private life at home and at work as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit.
Oblates (regular) To be distinguished from Oblates (secular) is the (at present) much smaller number of Oblates (regular), who reside with a Benedictine community of their choice and—after a year's probation, having made a promise of obedience to the superior in the presence of the whole community—undertake without remuneration any work or service required of them. An Oblate (regular) may cancel such a promise of obedience at any time; and it is cancelled automatically if the superior sends the Oblate away for good reason and after consulting the Council.