Becoming an oblate—literally “one who is offered”—means joining a particular Christian monastic community as a kind of lay associate. An oblate takes no vows but does affirm the intention to live by a modified version of the order’s rule, while continuing one’s “ordinary life.”
Oblature is a tradition that dates back to the ninth century. In 2000 Catholic News Service reported that there were more than 25,000 lay associates of U.S. Catholic religious orders—which represented a 75 percent increase in five years.
The community in which I am an oblate, New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, is made up of some 20 monks and more than 500 oblates. Perhaps in a time of steadily declining monastic vocations, oblature will be a way for the Rule of St. Benedict to flourish.