Br. Benet Tvedten, O.S.B., a Benedictine monk of Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota, has written a very good book on what Benedictine Oblates are as part of the Paraclete Press’ series “A Voice From the Monastery,” which is about the ancient wisdom of monastic spirituality for today.
Br. Benet is the director of Oblates at his monastery. In this book he gives an overview of what Benedictine Oblates are by telling the interconnected history of Oblates and monastics - about St. Benedict and his Rule and how Benedictine Oblates are different from other third orders connected to the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and others.
Those connected with those Orders are associated with that Order, whereas Oblates are associated with a particular monastery and not to the so-called Benedictine Order - just as the monks or nuns themselves are members of a particular monastery first and the so-called Order second. Each Abbey or monastery is pretty much independent of the other monasteries. The Abbot Primate really does not have much authority over the Benedictine monasteries. He is not like the Master General of the Dominicans or the Superior General of the Jesuits; he is similar to a figurehead. Each Abbot’s superior is actually the Pope. This explains why Oblates are very loyal to a particular monastery.
Oblates, as Br. Benet shows in his book, do not make vows - they make promises. They try to live the Benedictine Rule as best they can in their particular situation in life. They try to pray as much of the Opus Dei or Liturgy of the Hours as they can, and they come for visits to the monastery for conferences and other events. They are part of that monastic community or family. At present there are over 25,000 Benedictine monks and nuns, and the number of Oblates is around 24,000. Eventually they will outnumber professed monks and nuns.
So many people are looking for some kind of Christian spirituality in their lives, and many are finding it with Benedictine spirituality, which is 1,400 years old. These searchers are not only Catholic; several Oblates are non-Catholic, coming from various Christian denominations like the Episcopal or Anglican Church, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and others. Some of these Oblates have written books on Benedictine spirituality like Norvene Vest (Anglican), Kathleen Norris (Presbyterian) Esther de Waal (Anglican) and others. Some Oblates are famous; St. Henry, St. Frances of Rome, and Dorothy Day might be your next-door neighbor.
Br. Benet uses a down-to-earth style in writing this books, bringing in a host of personal recollections from his experience as 30-year stint as Oblate director for his community. A past president of the North American Association of Oblate Directors, he is the author of the up-coming paperback edition of his book The View From the Monastery, originally published in 2000. He is also the author of Fifty Years of Prayer and Work (2000), the history of his monastery; Share in the Kingdom: a Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict for Oblates (1989), and All Manner of Monks (1985). This reviewer personally met the other Br. Benet some years back at his monastery in South Dakota.
Those wondering what Oblates are or who are already one will enjoy this book. It is very informative and substantial, not a little booklet or pamphlet on Oblates which one may come across; it has some meat to it. Even professed monks and nuns may find information about Oblates that they might not have known before. This book is highly recommended!