THE OBLATES OF THE SSPX
ANSWERS TO SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT THE OBLATE SISTERS
OF THE society of sT PIUS X
1. What does ‚ÄúOblate‚ÄĚ mean?
According to the Latin etymology, oblata derives from the verb to offer; the term oblate signifies ‚Äúoffered‚ÄĚ; the word summarizes and expresses our entire vocation.
Indeed, more than a simple name among the many religious families, is not the name of oblate in itself, a call for the total gift of oneself?
This is what every novice must understand, when on the day of her oblation, kneeling at the foot of the open tabernacle, united with Our Lady of Compassion, she gives to God her offering as a victim with the Divine Victim:
‚ÄúI make to Thee the offering of my person, of my life, of all that I have, of all that I am, for Thy greater glory, O my God, for the salvation of my soul, the salvation of all souls, and very especially for the sanctification of priests and of future priests.‚ÄĚ (Act of oblation)
2. What is the relationship of the Oblates to the Fraternity?
In 1973, in the Letter to Friends and Benefactors n¬į 5, Monseigneur Lefebvre was asked the question ‚ÄúDoes the Fraternity consist of several different families?‚ÄĚ¬† He replied, ‚ÄúIt consists of priests and future priests, then auxiliary brothers, Oblate sisters and soon, we hope, religious sisters of the Society….¬† Finally, we are counting on God‚Äôs help, to extend the spiritual blessings of the Society to the lay persons in the world.‚ÄĚ
In 1980, with the birth of the Third Order of St Pius X, Monseigneur Lefebvre saw the realization of his Work as he had conceived it with the four families of the Society.
When these four branches of the Work are enumerated, an order of precedence being always necessary for the classification of persons and things, custom has placed the Oblate Sisters in the 3rd family. The first being that of the Priests, the Brothers, and the seminarians, the second that of the Sisters of the Society, and the 4th that of the Third Order.
3. Who founded them?
Founded by His Excellency Monseigneur Lefebvre, this family of the Oblate Sisters of the Society came into being in 1973.
Forced by her conscience to leave her religious community, which had become unfaithful, a first French Hospital Sister, Sister Marie Bernard, knocked on the door at Ec√īne.
Others did not wait long to do the same thing, and so our Society was born. In the beginning, the Oblate Sisters were nuns who were canonically liberated from their obligation vis-√†-vis to their respective Congregation, and desirous of protecting their religious life from the post-Conciliar debacle.
Soon enough, they were joined by people of mature age who were freed from their duties, and desirous of sanctifying themselves by contact with the Society, and by devotion to its works.
Currently, as the crisis in the Church persists and creates new needs, our recruitment tends to modify itself: a new and more flexible structure makes it possible for other vocations to find grounds in which to flourish.
4. Do they have their own hierarchy?
No, the Oblate Sisters do not have their own hierarchy. This distinguishes them from most women Congregations, such as the Sisters of the Fraternity who, notwithstanding their name and the strong spiritual ties to our Fraternity, are juridically independent.
As full members of the Fraternity, the oblates, like the Priests and the Brothers, have no Superior General elected from its ranks.¬† The Superior General of the Fraternity, currently Monseigneur Bernard Fellay, directs us.¬† It is under his authority that we make our Oblation, remaining at his disposal for the needs of the Society.
In our priories, the Prior directs our Sisters.
If the community of Oblates in the house consists of more than three members, the Superior General may designate a Superior, after consultation with the Prior.
5. What is the difference between a nun and an oblate?
According to the very terms of our Statutes, drafted by Monseigneur Lefebvre in 1982, the Oblate Sisters form ‚Äúa society of common life without vows, but with an engagement (promise), like the Priestly Society of St. Pius X.‚ÄĚ
What does this mean?
First, we should carefully distinguish between, firstly, the gift made to God, the essentially voluntary act of the person who offers her or his life, his or her entire activity.¬† (This is an act that can very well take place privately in one‚Äôs inner conscience). Secondly, the exterior and positive regulation of Mother Church, the fruit of her experience.
When we follow the history of the Church, we observe the development from the general and traditional concept of monasticism (with the stability and the solemnity of vows) to the most recent forms of ‚ÄúStates of Perfection.‚ÄĚ
Indeed, across the ages, without abandoning anything of the monastic tradition, which keeps its privileged place, new religious families have been founded, according to structures that are more and more supple. Freeing themselves from external forms, which are certainly very important but not indispensable, these new forms of religious life have kept only the essence of a life completely given to God, accepted and approved by the Church.
And so, beside the ‚Äúcanonical state of perfection, strictly speaking‚ÄĚ- the perfect types of the State of perfection (in which appertains the Orders of solemn vows and the Congregations of simple vows) – the code of canon law defines as ‚Äúsecond canonical state of perfection‚ÄĚ, the societies of common life without vows.¬† Lacking several juridical elements necessary to the constitution of the canonical state of perfection strictly speaking, such as the public vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, these societies nonetheless possess other qualities, which belong to the essence of the life of perfection.
In a word, according to the Church law, if these societies are not in the strict sense religious Institutions, nor their members clerics, they are nonetheless, included or assimilated in the Code.
Oblate Sisters being we are, as His Excellency Monseigneur Lefebvre wanted us to be, we have a well-defined place in the Society, and in the Church. Was this not the way traced out for us, for example, by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, who, according to the explicit desire of their founder, have never been religious in the canonical sense of the term?
6. What is the Spirituality of the Oblate Sisters?
The spirituality of the Oblate Sisters is that of the Society, which is the spirit itself of the Church, whose heart is the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, renewed each day on our altars in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Holy Mass is thus the inexhaustible source of our spiritual and religious life (Statutes).
Our entire day is immersed in the Blood of the Lamb, fixed as we are by our Oblation at the foot of the Cross, through the Holy Office ‚Äď Prime, Sext and Compline ‚Äď meditation, rosary, spiritual reading, and personal prayer.
‚ÄúThey will be happy to participate in the Sacrifice of Our Lord, like Our Lady of Compassion, standing at the foot of the Cross.‚ÄĚ (Statutes)
To contemplate Jesus on the Cross with the spirit of Mary: this is the true vocation of an Oblate. ‚ÄúShe will add, in a special way, as the intention of her spiritual life, compassion with the sorrows of Jesus on the Cross, with the picture of Our Lady of Compassion, the Oblates‚Äô Patroness – for the redemption of souls, for the holiness of priests, for her own sanctification.‚ÄĚ¬† (Statutes)
‚ÄúFor the priests‚ÄĚ: members of a Society whose goal is the priesthood, and everything related to it: it is above all for the Priests that we must sanctify ourselves.
Indeed, when addressing to the Oblate Sisters of Ec√īne, during the Feast of Our Lady of Compassion, April 10, 1981, Monseigneur Lefebvre explained the spirituality of the Oblates:
‚Äú… And so you, dear Sisters, auxiliaries of the Priests, auxiliaries, not only with your hands but also with your souls and with your spirit.¬† That is, of the Priesthood, of the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of His Cross, of the extension of His Reign, of the extension of His Love ‚Äď thus you are united in a manner, very particular, to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
Like Her, close to her Divine Son, you will compassionate and suffer with her, and thus you will contribute as well in a manner very efficacious to the redemption of souls, insofar as you are able, insofar as Providence has given you the necessary Grace.
And in this way you will be associated more profoundly with the priesthood of the priests. Asking that these priests, these seminarians whom you serve, become true priests, that they become truly other Christs; that they unite themselves in a manner more profound, and more and more perfect with the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ….
You will then ask this to the Most Holy Virgin Mary.¬† Offer your sufferings, offer your sacrifices for this intention, in order to spread the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ.‚ÄĚ
In this hour of crisis in the Church and of the priesthood, there is another specific intention, which Monseigneur Lefebvre wanted to include in our mission:
‚ÄúMore than ever, there are many sacrileges being committed, painful abandonment of Our Lord, especially by those who have consecrated themselves to God.¬† This is why we ardently urge you to offer up your small trials, your sacrifices, your difficulties, all those pains that Our Lord permits you to suffer, which you experience, in union with the suffering of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, in order to make reparation for all these sacrileges.‚ÄĚ¬† (Sermon, April 6, 1979).
If we would like to sum up our spirituality, we would say that everything is expressed in our Act of Oblation.¬† We therefore, have it at heart to repeat it as often as possible, so from it we will draw forth life ever more fertile and intense.
7. What sort of life do they lead?
One might call it apostolic, since the Oblate Sisters must continue, beside the Priests, the discreet role of the Holy Virgin and of the Holy Women beside Our Lord and His Apostles, a role, which is willed by God.
Within the frame of religious life being of a more flexible structure (characteristic of societies of common life without vows ‚Äď cf. question 5), we are in a position to serve the priests in whatever conditions their ministry may be in. It is an active life in a most diverse form, which has not any limit in the prescription of our Statutes.
8. Whom should one contact in order to enter the Community of the Oblates?
The Superior General of the Society should be contacted in order to enter the Society of the Oblates.
It is however recommended that the Superior of one‚Äôs own District first approve such a step.
9. What aptitudes are necessary in order to become an Oblate?
For the admission of all aspirants, a superior must judge whether the aspirant will be a help or a burden in the community.
The Oblate Sisters, being devoted to the works of the Society ‚Äď i.e. helping the Priests, whether in the seminaries, the priories or the schools- in this perspective, the aptitudes required are the following:
-¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† in general a well-balanced personality
-¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† at least a minimum of good judgement and common sense
-¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† One must be mature and have a strong will to persevere in spite of difficulties, since an Oblate must be able to face all sorts of situations
-¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† a normal and well-balanced emotional development, which is particularly necessary for an Oblate, since she is called to work and be therefore in contact with Priests.
-¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† qualities of sociability¬† necessary for common life
Let us remark that the presence of the required aptitudes is not necessarily a sign of vocation: not everyone who has them is systematically called to the religious life. But someone who does not have them is certainly not called.
Let us note as well that a canonical impediment to the admission in certain Congregations is not necessarily an obstacle for joining the Oblates.¬† Each case depends on the judgement of the Superior General.
As with all religious orders, in order to become an Oblate, the most important thing is the call from God ‚Äď that is to say, the vocation.
10. Are special studies or forms of preparation necessary?¬† A minimum or a maximum age?
The only preparation required in order to become an Oblate is that of a genuine Christian life based in Tradition.
As for age, it is very variable….¬† According to our Statutes, ‚Äúpersons of certain age (from 30 onwards) who are not able to enter with Sisters of the Society‚ÄĚ, can apply for admission to the Oblates.
But there are cases where exception is made when other impediments, other than age, hinder the aspirants to be accepted by the Sisters.
No age limit is fixed as long as the aspirants are still capable of adapting to common life, and of serving the Society.
11. Is good health necessary?
It depends, it is certainly necessary to have good health to be able to dedicate oneself and render service, according to one‚Äôs aptitudes where Obedience calls.
But a fragile health or even certain maladies, are not necessarily an obstacle in order to join the Oblates.
12. When was the Novitiate founded?
Until 1993, our aspirants were trained either in one of our houses ‚Äď especially that in Bitche, in France ‚Äď or in the Novitiates of the Sisters of the Society. The Sisters took over the training of our novices until our major superiors decided that the growing number of vocations required a new novitiate of our own, which without being strictly canonical, would provide the special training for the Oblate Sisters.
This project was realised in 1993 in Menzingen, when the General Motherhouse of the Society had just been established under Fr. Franz Schmidberger as Superior.
Aspirants presented themselves unceasingly, and the general Motherhouse became too small to shelter everyone.¬† It was necessary to find another nest.
Therefore, in August 1999, Monseigneur Fellay decided to transfer the Novitiate of the Oblate Sisters to Salvan, a small village in Valais, Switzerland, twenty-five kilometers from Ec√īne.¬† The Society already owned a house there, purchased during the lifetime of Monseigneur Lefebvre who had the idea of opening a boy‚Äôs school.
13. What is the period of formation in the novitiate? In what does it consist¬†?
As stated in our Statutes, Novitiate consists of two years, one year of postulancy and one year of Novitiate. The period of Novitiate commences after the taking of the habit, which marks the entrance into the Novitiate (properly speaking) ‚Äď this period is a time of learning which may be compared to the sowing of seed.
What do we do in Salvan?
Indeed, our Sisters have to manage everything and learn how to handle brooms, lawnmowers, paintbrushes and electric drills!¬† And more than once, wherever experience is wanting, we have to test our ingenuity!¬† But that is not the essential part.
In silence and in recollection of a more retired life, postulants and novices prepare to become the auxiliaries of the Priest ‚Äď auxiliaries, as we have already mentioned, not only with their hands but also with their souls, and their spirit.
Not yet involved in the bustle of the active life, they construct the future foundation of their lives and become initiated to the secrets of the interior life ‚Äď ‚Äúthe ‚Äėreason for being‚Äô consecrated to God,‚ÄĚ as stated in the Statutes.¬† They learn that this life of union with God must be all the more profound, because it will be less protected later.¬† Adapting to their own state, they apply to themselves the words of St Vincent de Paul addressed to his Daughters:
‚Äú…¬† As far as they are more exposed out in the world, to the occasions of sin, than sisters who live in cloister, having no monastery but the house (or the school or the priory) … for their cloister, it will be obedience, for their grill, the fear of God. They must have as much virtue as if they had made their profession in a religious Order. They are obliged to comport oneself, whenever they find themselves in the midst of the world, with much recollection, with much purity of heart and body, with much detachment from creatures, and with much edification as true nuns in the solitude of their own monastery.‚ÄĚ
This is a vast training program of two years of Novitiate, which is not too much!
The Sisters follow courses in the morning and in the afternoon, according to their level. Catholic doctrine and the History of the Church are lessons taught by the chaplain. The Novice Mistress teaches Spirituality, and Religious Life.
The discovery of liturgy is directly integrated into the rhythm of the liturgical year. The proximity of Ec√īne makes it possible for us to attend and to appreciate the splendour of ceremonies on feast days.
Spiritual readings, joined with daily reading of Holy Scripture, nourish the soul and strengthen the spirit.
Time for personal study makes it possible for each Sister to assimilate what has been taught, and to deepen it according to her needs.
In addition to this spiritual training, our Sisters are also instructed in house management and receive practical instruction in cooking, sewing, laundry, and sacristy work ‚Äď in a word, everything that makes up the life of a priory.
Besides all these, they have half an hour of Gregorian Chant Lesson each day, two recreational periods, and normally one outing a month in the beautiful Swiss mountains.
Now, you have more or less, a complete idea of the life, which we lead in the Novitiate of St. Th√©r√®se of the Infant Jesus.
Our Novitiate, officially, is French speaking, but it admits all nationalities.¬† Then recently, with the arrival of more English speaking vocations, instructions are now given simultaneously with French. For the moment, we wait for Divine Providence, which will permit the opening of other novitiates of different languages in other countries.
14. Do Oblates pronounce vows?
At the end of this preparation the novice commits herself not by professing public vows, but by making an act of engagement. An act by which she offers her oblation to God, with the Divine Victim, and promises to observe the Statutes ‚Äď especially what they prescribe concerning the virtues of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity.
After six years of annual engagement, the Oblates can request the renewal of their engagement for a period of three years, and after nine years they can ask for a perpetual engagement.
The renewal of their engagements occurs on the feast of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, on September 15.
Even though, canonically the Society is not a religious society, the Oblates should strive to practise the religious virtues and can, in agreement with their director of conscience, take private vows. (Statutes)
15. To what sort of apostolate do the Oblates consecrate themselves?
Since our Statutes stipulate no other goal than devotion to the works of the Society according to one‚Äôs talents, the apostolate of the Oblates can vary, as much as the works themselves.
At the end of her Novitiate, the new Oblate can be sent either to a priory, a school, or to a seminary.
Now, in these frames of life, already very different in themselves, very humble, sometimes hidden, she can exercise a great variety of tasks, according to her aptitudes: housekeeping, sewing, office work, secretarial work, catechism, primary and/or secondary school teaching, nursing, etc.
In the department of the apostolate in the priory, everything is possible, and our Superior General can find for each Sister a place, where she can best develop her personality, for the greater glory of God.
Wherever she is sent, the Oblate Sister never forgets that she has given herself ‚Äúto serve‚ÄĚ.
16. What is the rule of the Oblates?
6:00 a.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Rise
6:30¬†a.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Common prayer (Prime or Lauds) followed by meditation
7:15¬†a.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Holy Mass
8:00¬†a.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Breakfast, free time, room cleaning
9:00 a.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Work
12:00¬†p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† End of work
12:30¬†p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Meal, recreation, free time, spiritual reading
3:00 p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Work
4:15 p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Afternoon tea
6:00¬†p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Free time
6:15¬†p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Rosary or Benediction
7:30¬†p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Meal, recreation
8:45¬†p.m.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Compline, grand silence
During the time of Novitiate, some modifications of the rule have to be adapted to the necessities of formation.
17. What does the Oblate‚Äôs habit signify?
Like all religious habits, that of the Oblate Sisters signifies our separation from the world, and the fact that we belong totally to God.
In order to distinguish our habit from those of the Sisters of the Society of St. Pius X, Monseigneur Lefebvre decided to make their veil in a pointed form, and round for us, and the neckline of their scapular be square, and round for us.
Instead of the medal of St Pius X, we receive and wear the cross of St. Benedict.¬† Is this not for us, a constant invitation to live our oblation in union with Our Lady of Compassion?¬† Oblata…