OMI Spirituality - Dictionary of Oblate Values
OF MARY IMMACULATE
Missionaries of Provence
II. Missionary Oblates of Saint Charles
III. Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
IV. Spiritual interpretation of the name
When Eugene de Mazenod founded his society he foresaw the formation of only
one community of secular priests dedicated to the evangelization of Provence
by preaching parish missions. "At this period, similar societies sprang up in
other dioceses, e.g., Besançon, Toulouse, Lyon, Tours, Poitiers, etc. [...]
Regional or diocesan, these societies were restricted to one part of the kingdom,
while the Society of the Missions of France, founded by Rauzan and Janson, and
the Society of the Fathers of the Faith, established at Laval, had the entire
national territory as their field of action. In Provence, the Ancien Regime
had seen the same dualism for, while the Lazarists who were located in Marseilles,
were called the Society of the Missions of France, the Blessed Sacrament Fathers,
founded by Bishop d'Authier de Sisgaud, in the seventeenth century and in the
same city, took the name The Society of the Missions of Provence. By
resuming the work of his meridional predecessors at Aix, Father de Mazenod was
renewing a tradition of his section of France."
Missionaries of Provence
It would appear that,
at the time, the name he was to bestow on his society was not of great concern
to the Founder. His request for authorization from the Vicars General of Aix
gives no name; nor for that matter does the subsequent approbation;
the only issue is that of missions and missionaries for Provence. This, however,
did not prevent Father Donat Levasseur in his Histoire des Missionnaires
Oblats de Marie Immaculée from drawing the simple conclusion that "the Society
of the Missionaries of Provence, currently known under the title Mission
of Provence [...] was then given official recognition by the diocesan authorities".
This title was soon discarded. Indeed, after founding a house in Nîmes in Languedoc,
a city outside the boundaries of Provence, the title no longer reflected the
actual state of affairs.
Missionary Oblates of Saint Charles
Rambert gives this explanation of the name change for the society: "As a result,
the title Missionaries of Provence would no longer prove suitable; it had no
foundation in reality, it was too exclusive, it restricted too severely the
activity of a family manifestly called by God to grow, increase in numbers and
to extend its sphere of influence. It could even have been an obstacle for the
recruiting of vocations and put off candidates inspired by a call to be missionaries,
candidates who would not find in them the formal will to dedicate themselves
to the missions of Provence. Everyone in the small family had felt and understood
this. That was the state of affairs when the Founder was on the point of leaving
for Rome to seek the favor of no longer being restricted to the status of a
diocesan congregation, but rather to become a genuine society of religious.
There was a common resolve among them to choose another name. The name which
first came to mind for the majority of them was Oblates of Saint Charles. Not
only was Saint Charles a model for the clergy, he was also the venerated Founder's
patron. Moreover, Saint Charles had for centuries been the protector of the
Mazenod family whose eldest male members handed on the name from father to son.
It seemed fitting that the spiritual family of the one in whom the de Mazenod
line would become extinct should possess in perpetuity the name of Saint Charles."
This does not explain why the choice was made of the name "Oblate" instead of
some other, for example, simply "Missionaries of Saint Charles". A letter the
Founder wrote to his first companion, Father Henry Tempier, informs us that
he drew inspiration from "the statutes [...] of Saint Charles for the Oblates"
to draw up the rules for his own community. We also know how the Founder made
use of the Redemptorist Rule of Alphonsus Liguori in order to draw up his own.
It seems that Saint Alphonsus, careful to avoid anything that would give the
impression that he was founding a new order, used the words "oblation" and "oblates"
for "profession" and "professed member" in order to circumvent the difficulties
that might be raised against his Congregation by the royal government.
Was Father de Mazenod motivated by the same concern when he chose the name "Oblates"?
Already in the original rule of the Missionaries of Provence he had adopted
the terminology "oblation" and "oblate" for "profession" and "professed member".
The term "missionary" was used exclusively for the priests in active ministry.
Those studying for the priesthood and the brothers were called "Oblates". The
introduction of brothers into a society of priests which had become a religious
congregation tended to favor the adoption of the name "Oblates" for the entire
membership. In any case, as we can see by the name "Oblates of the Virgin Mary",
a foundation contemporaneous with Father de Mazenod's, it was a name that was
being used in the Church at this time.
It was under the title of "Missionary Oblates of Saint Charles" that the petition
was made for approval of the Rules and the Congregation. However, this petition
contains a final paragraph which requests a change of title: "At the same time,
we beg that in the brief of approbation requested by the missionaries his Holiness
bestow upon them the title Oblates of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary
instead of that of Oblates of Saint Charles to avoid all confusion of this name
with other congregations of similar name. [...]"
This paragraph, written in an ink of lighter color, clearly appears to have
been written as an afterthought when the idea occurred to the Founder to take
on this new name.
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
surrounding the introduction of this new name have often been studied. The reason
is clearly stated in the text of the petition: the change is requested "to avoid
all confusion of this name with other Congregations of similar name". It has
sometimes been stated that it was only in Rome that the Founder learned of the
existence of other societies that bore the same name.
That is not totally accurate since already in his letter of October 9, 1815
to Father Tempier, quoted above, he mentions "the statutes of Saint Charles
for the Oblates" as one of the sources he intends to use in drawing up his Rule.
We cannot doubt the reason he cites for the name change since all the official
documents make explicit mention of it.
It could have been made in order to justify the request for the second change,
although the latter could have been motivated by a deeper source. Initially
we know that the Founder - as he was later to admit - felt a certain uneasiness
in choosing his own personal patron, Saint Charles, as patron for the whole
Congregation, even in the face of his deep devotion to that saint.
No doubt it was when he was in Rome and while they were celebrating the octave
of the Immaculate Conception that he was inspired to adopt the name Oblates
of Mary Immaculate. But, one may ask, might not the visit he made in Turin to
Father Brunone Lanteri, the founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, and the
project of unifying the two societies have been sufficient to give rise to this
inspiration? The documentation is silent on this point.
The fact remains that "without consulting his confreres"
- as it was impossible under the circumstances - he immediately inserted into
the petition a request for a change of name and did the same thing orally during
his papal audience of December 20, 1825. To the request for a change of name
the Pope replied "neither in the affirmative, nor in the negative". Cardinal
Pallotta who was given the task of examining the Rule did raise some difficulties,
but the February 17, 1826 decree of approbation calls us for the very first
time by the official title "Missionarii sub titulo sanctissimae Virginis
Mariae Imaculatae". In the course of the years, we find some twenty different
formulations of the same name in official documents, which, according to Father
Cosentino are generally "synonyms or abbreviations".
We find a variety of usages in the beginning, even among the Founder and his
first companions. The word "Missionary" is often omitted to give simply "Oblate
of Mary Immaculate" and sometimes simply "Oblate of Mary", as found for example
in the oblation formula of some of the first priests,
or yet again in the book published in Marseilles in 1826: "Recueil de cantiques
et de prières à l'usage des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie, dits de Provence.
The title commonly accepted and used within the Congregation as well as
outside remains: "Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate".
Spiritual interpretation of the name
It is worthy
of note that only one word, the word "Missionary", remained common to the three
titles the Congregation has borne. In it, the Founder saw embodied an expression
of the Oblate charism: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me. In the thinking
of the Founder, the Congregation was to relive the apostolic experience of the
Savior and the first Apostles. This was his original dream, the one that he
described in the letter in which he sought to convince Abbé Tempier to become
his first companion: "We wish to choose men who have the will and the courage
to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles".
The text of the original rule would express this ideal in an ingenuous, powerful
manner: "Their founder is Jesus Christ, himself, the Son of God; their first
fathers are the Apostles".
The Rule in force until its most recent recasting retained this wording and
made of it the principle of all Oblate spiritual life: "It has been already
said that the Missionaries ought, as far as human nature allows, to imitate
in everything the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ, the chief Founder of
our congregation, and by the holy Apostles, our first Fathers". "Following in
their footsteps the Missionaries will give one portion of their life to prayer
[...]" "The other portion they will zealously devote to the works of the ministry".
The present Rule invokes the same ideal: "The community of the Apostles with Jesus is the model of our life. [...] The call and the presence of the Lord among us today bind us together in charity and obedience to create anew in our own lives the Apostles' unity with him and their common mission in his Spirit" (C 3). "We are a missionary Congregation" (C 5).
It was only for a few months in 1825 that the Congregation bore the name of the Missionary Oblates of Saint Charles. It is no surprise, then, that we find hardly any commentaries on this title in contemporary documents. The situation was different when the Church gave its approval to the definitive title of the Congregation: "Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate". As we previously pointed out, this title still contains the term "Missionaries". But it also includes the designation "Oblates", a word adopted in the course of the first change. That was no doubt due to the fact that the Founder and his first companions had perceived in that term a rich expression of the Congregation's very being.
In this regard, Father Joseph Morabito directs our attention to the taking of
the vow of obedience by Fathers de Mazenod and Tempier as told to us by the
Founder himself in his Memoires: " When both of us had taken our place
under the structure of the beautiful repository [...] of the Mission church,
in the night of that holy day (Holy Thursday), [...] we prayed the divine Master
[...] to lead our present companions and those who would be associated with
us in the future, to appreciate the full value of this oblation of one's entire
self to God, when one wanted to serve him unreservedly and to consecrate one's
life to the spread of his holy Gospel and the conversion of souls".
Father Morabito commented: "It is this idea of oblation which, after it was
born from the ardent soul of the Servant of God, after it was hallowed in the
Rules, after having designated by name the vows taken by Father de Mazenod and
his companions, ended up permeating everything by not only characterizing the
vows, but also by bestowing its name on the entire Congregation as well as if
to stamp its character not only on one act of their lives but on their very
persons, their entire lives and their mission in the Church".
Throughout the history of the Congregation, we find this idea of oblation expressed
and commented on.
However, it was only recently that some theological essays on oblation appeared
associating the oblation of Christ in the Eucharist with the heart of the spirituality
of the Congregation.
The title of Missionary Oblates would take on its full meaning when the Pope
approved the Congregation under its new name of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Someone has christened this event: "Our Marian baptism".
Now it is a question of dealing here with the connection between the name and
the vocation according to the old saying: nomen est omen.
The Founder was enthused by what he considered an intervention of Divine Providence
as if it were a new birth of the Congregation: "May we understand well what
Father Marcel Bélanger wrote: "For the Founder, it was not only a name, but
a Marian mode of existence and a plan of action".
This was indeed how the companions of the Founder received the news: "I do not
know what we felt in us that indicated to us that we were changed men", the
Founder wrote to Father Tempier March 9, 1826.
Subsequently, they wanted to have a concrete sign which would witness to this
new mode of being. That is why the General Chapter of 1837 adopted the following
resolution by unanimous vote: "On oblation day, along with the Oblate cross,
they will receive the scapular of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy
Virgin Mary which they shall wear constantly beneath their outer garments".
The Founder explained: "It will serve as the uniform which distinguishes us
from the simple servants of Mary and which constitutes us exteriorly as her
In his commentary on this General Chapter decree, Father Marcel Bélanger wrote:
"This parenthetical comment related to our crucifix speaks volumes. [...] Mary
Immaculate is inseparable from the Savior in Oblate spirituality and [...] with
the cross standing as the most fundamental sign of our mission, above all else
the Oblate is distinguished by the image of the Savior in such a way that its
Marian dimension is entirely focused on nourishing and bringing to full realization
one's commitment to the Savior".
The Church's decision to bestow upon us the name Missionary Oblates of Mary
Immaculate entails for us a configuring of ourselves with Mary Immaculate, Mother
of Mercy, and makes of us apostles of mercy at the very heart of the present
economy of salvation.
In a letter to his first companions, the Founder wrote: "Does it not seem to
you that it is a sign of predestination to bear the name of Oblates of Mary,
that is, consecrated to God under the patronage of Mary, a name the Congregation
bears as a family name held in common with the most holy and immaculate Mother
of God? It is enough to make others jealous; but it is the Church who has given
us this beautiful name, we receive it with respect, love and gratitude, proud
of our dignity and of the rights that it gives us to the protection of her who
is All Powerful in God's presence. Let us tarry no longer in taking to ourselves
this beautiful name."
BECKER, Robert, "L'idéal de l'Oblat et la spiritualité oblate" in Etudes oblates, 8 (1949), p. 189-195.
COSENTINO, Georges, Histoire de nos Règles, II, Ottawa, Oblate Studies Edition, 1955, p. 88-96.
GUEGEN, Yves, Missionnaire Oblat de Marie Immaculée, (Paris, 1945), brief spiritual commentary, p. 23-28; Oblate Studies Edition (Ottawa), 1947, p. 23-27.
SERVEL, Edmond, "Notre vie d'Oblats à la lumière de Marie," in Etudes oblates, 11 (1952), p. 154-157.
II, p. 601, footnote 18.
 See REY, I, p. 190-192.
 LEVASSEUR, Donat, Histoire des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée, vol. I, Montreal, 1983, p. 43.
 RAMBERT, I, p. 429.
 Letter to Father Tempier, October 9, 1815 in Oblate Writings, I, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 6-7.
 Ibidem, p. 7.
 See LAMIRANDE, Émilien, "Oblation - Oblats" in Etudes oblates, 17 (1958), p. 86-87.
 COSENTINO, Georges, Histoire de nos Règles, II, Ottawa, Oblate Studies Edition, 1955, p. 100.
 For example, REY, I, p. 358.
 See COSENTINO, George, op. cit., p. 91.
 See REY, I, p. 362.
 See THIEL, Joseph, "Relations du Fondateur avec le père Lanteri" in Etudes oblates, 5 (1946), p. 136-138.
 See RAMBERT, I, p. 429.
 COSENTINO, Georges, op. cit., p. 95.
 See the signatures reproduced in ROCHE, Aime, SERVEL, Edmond, SERVEL, Jean, PERRIN, René, Eugène de Mazenod, biographie par l'image, Lyon, Chalet Editions, 1960.
 Letter to Father Tempier, October 9, 1815 in Oblate Writings, I, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 7.
 "Constitutions et Règles de la Société des Missionnaires de Provence," Honorat manuscript in Etudes oblates, 2 (1943), p. .
 1928 Constitutions and Rules, art. 287-289.
 See RAMBERT, I, p. 187-188.
 MORABITO, Joseph, "L'Immaculée dans la spiritualité du Fondateur" in Etudes oblates, 14 (1955), p. 37.
 See LAMIRANDE, Émilien, "Esprit d'oblation, approche historique" in Etudes oblates, 15 (1956), p. 326-345.
 See SIMON, Joseph-Marie, "Essai d'une spiritualité oblate" in Etudes oblates, 15 (1956), p. 246-259.
 DEPOORTERE, Gaston, "Notre baptême marial, ses conséquences diverses" in Missions, 61 (1927), p. 103-114.
 See CONSENTINO, Georges, "Les armoiries de la Congrégation" in Etudes oblates, 24 (1965), p. 64.
 Letter to Father Tempier, March 20, 1826 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 231, p. 63.
 BÉLANGER, Marcel, "Regina Congregationis nostrae" in Etudes oblates, 19 (1960), p. 234.
 REY, I, p. 383.
 "Acta capitulorum generalium, 1837, canon XX" in COSENTINO, Georges, Nos Chapitres généraux, Ottawa, Oblate Studies Editions, 1957, p. 44.
 Letter to Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat, August 18, 1843 in Oblate Writings I, vol. I, no. 24, p. 59.
 Op. cit., p. 239.
 Letter to Father Tempier, March 20, 1826 in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 231, p. 63.