1. Introduction
  2. In the writings of Eugene de Mazenod
  3. Fundamental oblation
  4. Ordinary oblation
  5. Definitive oblation
  6. Unconditional oblation
  7. Marian oblation



TheDictionary of Spirituality fuses into one the concepts of “oblation” and “offering”. [1] On the other hand, it makes a distinction between the similar ideas: gift of self, surrender and consecration. “Oblation signifies an action through which the Christian, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, gives himself to God. Thegift of self is thestate a Christian reaches when, with the help of God’s grace and to the extent of which he is capable, he surrenders his person to God in his thoughts, his will and his actions – in a consistent ongoing manner. The gift of self obviously presupposes oblation.Consecration is an oblation. But it is an act which involves committing the future into the hands of God, either by an internal decision or by an external decision in written or oral form. Surrender is an attitude of acquiescence and of submission to every event, to every situation permitted by the Lord which effects our existence”.[2]

One could add to the notion of oblation the related ideas of sacrifice, immolation, holocaust, etc. These are all found in Mazenodian and Oblate literature: “Sacrifice of love, sublime holocaust”, was the hymn used in the oblation ceremony from 1844 on. One must not interpret these notions too strictly, however, remembering that the Oblate, much like the Founder, Eugene de Mazenod “was not the kind of man given to analyzing his devotions”; [3] that he was “a man of action, a decisive individual, an apostle more than a theologian. He shows us who he is and expresses himself more through his actions and his choices than he does through his writings”. [4]


The Synoptic Gospels show us that Christ has established “in his person a new type of oblation. It involves the entire human person because it is nothing less than the giving of one’s life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) At the same time, Christ leads us to understand that his disciple must be ready to accept the same kind of total oblation (Matthew 10:39; 16:24-25 and parallel texts). […] The offering in the oblation is always Christ in person. […] This saving oblation is unique. It always remains present sacramentally in the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:23-30). […] And it is exclusively in relation to the oblation of Christ that from now on it is possible and legitimate for one to speak of oblation with reference to men. Every oblation is rooted in Christology”. [5]

“Gift of self is an integral part of the Christian life in one form or other. […] The most intense moment of this is found in the eucharistic celebration, “the source and summit of the entire Christian life”. [6] […] Oblation is one of the elements of a fervent spiritual life. […] The desire for an oblation that is all-encompassing and permanent has given rise to thestate of a stable way of living, i.e. the religious life. The vows give expression to the will which inspires the religious to accomplish the oblation of his person in a manner that is total and definitive”.[7]

We have a number of concrete witnesses to this; among them are some who had an impact on the life of Eugene de Mazenod. “In theSpiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola leads the retreatant to the point of oblation of his person and presents it as being a total, unlimited oblation”. According to the French School of spirituality, “the offering becomes an established way of acting, an exercise of piety […] a total gift of my being, my life, my existential condition and my affections”. [8] A prayer formula filled with meaning is the O domina mea, the daily “Marian oblation” that the Founder of the Oblates adopted for himself and for his followers. [9]


We still have a long way to go in order to get to know Eugene de Mazenod as we should. Certain aspects of his personality in particular would merit a closer scrutiny – especially his thinking on oblation. Writing about Bishop de Mazenod, Paguelle de Follenay said: “This task makes us fearful in our weakness, writes Paguelle de Follenay about Bishop de Mazenod, because the issue at stake is not only to describe those external elements without which certain features of his moral portrait would remain impossible to explain, but it is a question of penetrating into the inner sanctum of a great soul”. [10]

The notion of oblation in the writings of Eugene de Mazenod originates in the youthful years of his exile in Venice: “Would it not be a great honor for our family to end with a priest?” was his reply to his great-uncle one day when the latter had pointed out to him that he was the last male member of the Mazenod line. [11] This ideal took root and grew in his generous heart in the aftermath of the French Revolution in view of the state of destitution of the poor in the Provençal countryside and of the Church in general, “that glorious inheritance purchased by the Savior at the cost of all his blood”. [12] “I want to be a priest and please note”, he wrote to his mother on November 29, 1809, “I do not want to be an ecclesiastic only for a week, six months, a year, even ten years, I want to be one for my whole life”. [13] Later on, he would write in his Memoires: “Assuredly, if we had stayed one year more in Venice, I would have followed in the footsteps of my holy director and his brother and become a priest in the religious congregation they had chosen and in which each one died while exercising a zeal of heroic proportions”. [14]

Father Joseph Morabito, one of those whose studies led him to know Bishop de Mazenod well, described him to the participants of the International Congress of Mariology held in Rome on October 26 1954. Very accurately, he outlined the three stages of oblation of the Servant of God: his fundamental oblation on April 11, 1816, his ordinary oblation on November 1, 1818, and his definitive oblation on July 13, 1826. “It is this idea of oblation which – after it was born from the ardent soul of the Servant of God, after it was consecrated in the Rules, after it gave the name to the vows taken by Father de Mazenod and his companions – ended up permeating everything. It gave its name not only to the vows, but also to the individual members and to the whole Congregation, 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”. [15]


On two occasions, September 12 and October 28, 1814, Abbé de Mazenod had shared with his friend Charles de Forbin-Janson his desire for the religious life. There can be no doubt that he personally aspired to it from the time of the founding of the Missionaries of Provence, and aimed to lead them little by little to share his own aspiration. That is the origin of the foundation stones he laid in the very beginning in the rule he submitted on January 25, 1816  [16] to the Capitular Vicars of Aix-en-Provence. These building blocks stand as a confirmation of what Bishop de Mazenod would later write in his Memoires:”Consequently, I considered the evangelical counsels […] as being essential elements to adopt. […] My thought was always that our little family needed to consecrate itself to God and the service of the Church by the vows of religion”. [17]

We can readily understand his delight in discovering in Father François de Paule Henry Tempier a priest totally inclined to follow him without delay in making an initial fundamental oblation: “Father Tempier and I judged that we should no longer delay and on Holy Thursday (April 11, 1816) both of us having taken our position under the structure of the fine repository that we had set up on the main altar of the Church of the Mission in the course of the night of this holy day, with inexpressible joy we made our vows. We bathed in the aura of this happiness that whole beautiful night long in the presence of Our Lord at the foot of the magnificent throne where we had placed him for the next day’s Mass of the Presanctified. And we prayed this divine Master that if it was his will to bless our endeavor, to lead our present companions and those who, in the future, would join us to fully grasp the value of this oblation of one’s entire self to God when it was one’s wish to serve him exclusively and to consecrate one’s life to the spreading of the Gospel and the conversion of souls. Our wishes were fulfilled”. [18]

Over the course of twenty-five years, Father Joseph Fabre was a privileged witness of the results of this double oblation, and shared with us its nature and its fundamental importance: “In the shadow of the adorable victim who was obedient unto death”, Abbé de Mazenod and Abbé Tempier read “one after the other, a formula which included a vow of obedience which they made to each other […]”.

“Neither for one nor the other was this an empty ceremony; it was a great act; one of those acts that influences the destiny of individuals. Only in eternity will we become aware of how much merit flowed from this act for the two religious. The one who remained the chief superior throughout his life also remained the first in obedience, and we are at a loss to know to whom belonged the better role: the superior who often was obedient to his subject, or the subject who was sufficiently virtuous to command the one he respected and loved as being the living image of the authority of God. This was perhaps a unique event in the history of religious congregations; we bring it to your attention with the humble gratitude drawn forth from us by the gifts of God”. [19]


The origins of the name Oblates of Mary Immaculate remains shrouded in mystery: “We still have to determine the precise meaning of our name: Oblates”. [20] The word “Oblates” appeared for the first time in the writings of Abbé de Mazenod on October 9, 1815 and antedates the founding of the Missionaries of Provence. He no doubt drew his inspiration for this from the “Statutes of Saint Charles for the Oblates”, his patron saint – the “godfather”, so to speak, of his religious family for a period of time in 1825 when he was getting ready to present his congregation in Rome as “Oblates of Saint Charles”. [21] Before his uncle Fortuné brought him the Constitutions and Rules of the Redemptorists from Palermo, he had already written to him September 16, 1817: “In my congregation, you will find genuine oblates, men ready to do any good work”. [22]

Upon finding in the writings of Blessed Alphonsus Liguori the word “oblation” as a way of indicating religious profession, Abbé Eugene de Mazenod wrote a long paragraph where the word “oblation” appeared six times and the word “oblates” appeared four times. [23]

What is certain is that everything flowed out of his heart at Saint Laurent-du-Verdon after he had drawn up the main articles of the Rule, namely after having “resolutely inserted the formal obligation for all members of his institute to pronounce vows of obedience, chastity and perseverance”. [24]

“The eager novice who accompanied him into his solitude tells us that, one day, after having finished composing the chapter on the vows, he summoned the young Suzanne who did not yet know of the plan that had been formed to bind all the members of the society through vows. He read to him the entire chapter and asked him what his own opinion and resolve was in this regard. At first he was surprised by the reading of the text and the request made of him. He asked for a moment to think about it; deeply immersed in thought, he went out into the chateau’s garden and, after about fifteen minutes of reflection and some prayer, he returned to the superior and promised the superior that he would make these vows as soon as he was deemed worthy to do so”. [25]

That was in September of 1818. The same witness continued his narration which we find in the reort he drew up of the first ordinary oblation among the Missionaries of Provence, an oblation which took place in Aix, on All Saints Day as agreed upon. “At three o’clock in the morning”, Father Suzanne tells us, “the members of the Chapter were awakened; before four o’clock they were all in church, prostate before the altar, preparing themselves for the finest and most consoling of sacrifices”.

“After calling upon the Holy Spirit for enlightenment by singing theVeni Creator, the superior addressed a moving exhortation to the small group gathered there […] When this exhortation was finished”, Father Moreau tells us, “our father, dressed in priestly vestments, prostrated himself at the foot of the altar, took a candle in his right hand and said in a loud clear voice: ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; in the presence of the most Holy Trinity, of the holy Virgin Mary, of all the angels and all the saints and all my brothers here assembled, I, Charles Joseph Eugène de Mazenod profess, promise to God and vow chastity and perpetual obedience. I likewise vow to persevere unto death in the holy Institute and in the Society of the Missionaries of Provence. So help me God. Amen”. [26]

“Then he began to celebrate Mass which Fathers Tempier and Maunier served since they were the senior priests in the Congregation. “At the moment of communion, with the Superior holding in his hands the adorable Body of our Divine Lord, we came forward”, Father Suzanne tells us, “in turn each holding a lighted candle in hand pronouncing our holy vows with an emotion of inexpressible joy […]”.

“Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod, Bishop-elect of Marseilles, was present and seemed enraptured by the proceedings. One had the impression of being part of a gathering of the first Christians who used to meet to sing the praises of God in the catacombs in the dead of night illumined by blazing torches […]”.

“After Mass, the Superior General intoned the Te Deum in thanksgiving; then all the members of the community went over to the altar of the Blessed Virgin to put the holy vows they had just made under her protection. They also put themselves under the protection of all the saints by reciting the litany of all the saints”.

“With what emotion we exchanged the accolade when we returned to the sacristy! […] After these first moments of joy and expression of fraternal affection, the superior blessed the crosses of the three newly professed and personally bestowed the crosses upon them”. [27]


Once the Rules of oblation of the Missionaries of Provence were established, what remained was to complete them and to have them approved by the Church. As an important complementary part, the General Chapter of 1821 introduced the vow of poverty. The General Chapter of 1824 had approved the exception of making Fathers Tempier and de Mazenod available to take up posts at the Vicariate General of the Diocese of Marseilles. Armed with the approval of several bishops, the Founder presented himself in Rome in November of 1825 in the hope of obtaining nothing less than a definitive approval from Pope Leo XII. It was at that time, for reasons that up until now have remained somewhat mysterious and known to him alone [28] that Father de Mazenod decided to change the name of the Oblates of Saint Charles to that of Oblates of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary “to avoid having our name confused with that of other congregations” he insisted. [29]

It is true that he himself did not judge the matter as being one of primary importance. Nonetheless, the fact remains that once the exceptional character of the solemn approbation of the Holy See for a society that was still in the cradle, and the sacred character that such an approval conferred on the institute was recognized, the change of name made a remarkable impact. “It is the Church who has given us this beautiful name”, Oblates would unceasingly repeat in imitation of their Founder even though they very well knew that they owed it to his inspiration. On March 20, 1826 he wrote: “You are quite right in saying that you all seem to have become other men; this is truly so. May we understand well what we are!” [30] His successor, Father Joseph Fabre would even dare to write: “You will not forget that if it was our venerated Founder who made us missionaries of the poor, it was the Sovereign Pontiff who made us Oblates of Mary Immaculate”. [31]

Upon his return to Marseilles, Father de Mazenod hastened to call an extraordinary General Chapter, on July 10, 1826, to promulgate the apostolic letters of Leo XII in virtue of which the Rule and the Institute had been approved. This event was marked by two exceptionally solemn ceremonies on July 13. First of all in the house chapel of the Calvaire in Marseilles, the Founder celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. When Mass was over, all professed members came forward individually in turn to renew their vows for the first time as “Missionary Oblates of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary”. The identical formula was written and signed by them; they then immediately handed it to the Superior General who placed it upon the altar. “Our Lord’s presence in the midst of our whole family gathered there for such an important occasion, the deep recollection on the part of everyone and the lofty purpose upon which we were all focused cast an aura of heavenly beauty over the ceremony”. [32]

Upon leaving the chapel, everyone went to the chapter hall. Then, addressing the entire assembled Society, the Founder declared: “This is an auspicious beginning of a new era for the Society; God has ratified the plans we laid out for his glory. He has blessed the bonds that unite us. From now on we will fight the enemies of heaven under a standard which is our very own and which the Church has given us. On this standard reigns resplendent the glorious name of the Most Holy Virgin Mary Immaculate; that very name has become ours because it is to the Virgin Mary that we are consecrated; more especially, we are her children; and her protection over us, so manifest until now, will be even greater in the future if we show ourselves worthy of such a mother”. [33]

As a sign of this special belonging to Mary, a subsequent General Chapter, that of 1837, would choose “from among a number of proposed objects” a scapular. “It was unanimously adopted as follows: on the day of his oblation, along with his cross, the authentic sign of our mission, the individual will receive the scapular of the Immaculate Conception which he should wear underneath his outer garments”. [34]

“It is the Church who has given us this beautiful name”, and the Church yet again which in the popular mind persists in singling us out as “the Oblates”. John XXIII told the General Chapter of 1959, “I also like your name of Oblates”. [35] That is why in the concluding section of his analysis in Our Vocation… Father Leo Deschâtelets himself stressed that “our most distinctive spirit, as we like to say over and over, is the spirit of unconditional oblation which our name very well proclaims”. [36] From that time on, it became a hallowed term and found its way into the forefront of article 2 of the 1982 Constitutions and Rules. “Our apostolic zeal is sustained by the unreserved gift we make of ourselves in our oblation, an offering constantly renewed by the challenges of our mission”.


On January 25, 1948, Father Joseph-Marie Simon, professor of dogmatic theology at Solignac presented to the research project on Oblate spirituality “a synthesis whose keystone was the idea of oblation”. [37] On August 15, 1951 Father Leo Deschâtelets, the Superior General, devoted “a long and substantial circular letter on the Oblate vocation in union with Mary Immaculate which was read, commented upon and studied by the Oblates”. [38] In 1956, in the course of putting together a series of historical texts in support of the Solignac professor’s thesis, Emilien Lamirande warned us: “This is not a text which can be put on the same level as those we will soon cite, since it surpasses them all in virtue of the weight of the authority it bears and in some way puts its stamp of approval on what is best in them”. [39]

In the first half of his Circular 191 on our vocation, the Superior General spent a great deal of time describing our kind of oblation. As priests and Oblate religious, there are no limits to our personal sanctity. Nor did he set any limits on our zeal. “When these things are taken into consideration, does not our title Oblates seem altogether justified? Is it not that this priestly, religious and missionary life of ours isa total gift of ourselves, a radical commitment, an unconditional oblation ? In giving us the title Missionaries of Provence, then Oblates of Saint Charles, then Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was not the Founder obeying a compelling dictate, a natural consequence of the spiritual principles that served as a basis for the new apostolic life that it was given him to raise up in the Church? Perhaps without knowing it, was he not sketching the last feature, the strong and characteristic trait of the religious priest and missionary about whom he had dreamed before God?” [40] “The texts all seem to point to the fact that what really establishes us in our vocation, in our mission, isa kind of greater degree of commitment to the service of God and of souls, a kind of reckless gift of self to the service of God, to his glory, to his love and his infinite mercy. It is a thrust, a special intensity of priestly charity, of zeal for the most difficult tasks – let us use the word since we can find no stronger expression –an unconditional oblation of ourselves which prevents us from identifying ourselves in any other way than to say: “They are Oblates par excellence”. [41] “Such an oblation, a commitment so keen and so absolute to the service of divine love, to the Church and the poor, could not come to birth, maintain itself and intensify itself in us without a deep union with Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer, Love and Mercy personified, without a union with Mary Immaculate, our Mother as well: ‘They will always look upon her as their Mother’ and our Queen: ‘Queen of our Congregation'”. [42]


“Let us renew ourselves especially in devotion to the most holy Virgin and render ourselves worthy to be Oblates of the Immaculate Mary”. [43] From the time of this inaugural declaration launched by their holy Founder, the Oblates have been unceasing in their efforts to renew themselves in their devotion to their Mother and Patroness. Most especially in the light of Bishop de Mazenod’s participation in the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception the memory of which is daily recalled when we recite Compline,  [44] and on the occasion of various General Chapters, the General Chapter of 1920 made the decision “to solemnly consecrate the Congregation to Mary Immaculate through a public consecration which would be officially declared throughout the whole Institute on February 17 and December 8 every year”. [45] What remained to be done was to codify all of this in a more precise way in a text of the Rule. That was the work accomplished by the General Chapter of 1926 in the renowned article 10 under the heading, Ends of the Congregation, an article which has proved its ability to withstand the vicissitudes of contemporary Marian piety, the renewal of religious life and the 1966 and 1982 revisions of our Constitutions and Rules.

At the very outset, the most recent version of article 10 proclaims “Mary Immaculate is patroness of our Congregation”. In a detailed analysis of this article, Father Jetté states: “It is a very fine text”. More especially with regard to “Mary, the model of our oblation”, he wrote: “Open to the Spirit, she consecrated herself totally as lowly handmaid to the person and work of the Savior”. What is referred to here is Mary’s general attitude which is presented to us as a model. She was open to the Spirit and she responded to God’s invitation by an unqualified ‘yes’. “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me!” (Luke 1:38) From that time on, she was entirely consecrated to the person and work of the Savior.

“Mary, in faith and love, and with her whole being, adhered to God’s plan for her and that in the measure that God made it known to her. She considered events, meditated them in her heart and committed herself to the fulfillment of the will of her Lord. This is what Oblates are called to do: to become men of God’s will, to be totally available to respond to his calls in the measure that he makes them known; and that as servants and friends of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Further on, in article 13, we will read: ‘Mary Immaculate, in her faith response and total openness to the call of the Spirit, is the model and guardian of our consecrated life'”. [46]