UPDATED NOVEMBER 23, 2019
The year as an Oblate novice is for discerning whether God is calling you to the Oblate life.
When I became an Oblate novice, listening to God was the most important lesson I learned about Benedictine spirituality. The best book is to sit quietly and listen.
A first and continuing education resource for new Oblate novices is Saint Leo Abbey and its peaceful grounds and the abbey church. Spend time in the stillness of the church and join the monks in their daily praying of the divine office.
Seek God in all that you do. Find Benedictine balance in your life so there is not a life of work and another life of prayer, but one life set apart to God. Live by the Rule of Saint Benedict to the extent you are able.
But Benedictines love books, they copied books by hand, they use books throughout the day for prayer.
So, here's my favorite list of books for the Oblate life:
1. Rule of St. Benedict.
A beautiful and now classic version of the Rule is the 75th anniversary edition of The Liturgical Press. More information.
You can receive each day's reading from the Rule e-mailed to you or read each day's reading online at St. John's Abbey.
Reading the Rule of Saint Benedict every day is encouraged by Saint Benedict and repeated readings slowly opens Benedictine principles to the Oblate life.
Daily reading of the Rule is made easier if your book has the daily readings marked so the Rule is read through three times each year.
Here are two books with the daily readings marked:
The classic anniversary edition. About $30.
A pocket-sized, paperback edition. About $6.00
2. Rule: RB 1980
RB 1980 is a major modern commentary on the Rule and all things Benedictine. At 672 pages, this is a key scholarly reference book in a Benedictine library. More information.3. Life of Benedict.
Pope Saint Gregory the Great wrote the only account of St. Benedict's life. It is available online. The Life gives a good sense of the spirit behind the Rule.4. Benedictine Handbook
In terms of a comprehensive introduction to Benedictine life, this book is often cited because of its Benedictine spirituality. At 320 pages, this book may best answer the question, "What's the best single book to explain the whole thing." More Information.5. John Cassian's The Conferences
Egypt's greatest gift to the world was monasticism that developed in the 300s AD in the Egyptian wilderness. The monk John Cassian (360 to 435 AD) brought that monastic life and culture to the West. Cassian's Conferences were a significant source for St. Benedict's famous Rule (written about 530 AD). St. Benedict urged his monks to read the Conferences, we should too. Seeking God is the monastic path. The Egyptian Desert Fathers marked the way for monastics since the earliest days of Christianity. Available online.
The Conferences is also available in a new translation by Boniface Ramsey. This is the "first complete translation of The Conferences of John Cassian to appear in English, as well as the first extended commentary on an annotation of The Conferences since 1617."
The Conferences in Ramsey's new translation is available in hardcover, Kindle (on the same page as the hardcover) and Google books.
6. Divine Office
The Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Opus Dei -- the "work of God" ) means certain psalms, prayers, hymns, antiphons, and Biblical readings recited at fixed hours of the day or night according to a general and ancient structure.
6. Practice lectio divina. Lectio divina is slow, contemplative Bible reading that lets God speak to your heart and seeks close communion with God by God’s illumination of your soul. Lectio divina is not reading for intellectual knowledge or analysis of the text or teaching. Some people like to do lectio divina with a Bible without verse numbering, footnotes, headings or cross references — just the plain text.
There are several ways to describe the core concept of lectio divina (divine reading). One basic concept is to listen to God through the inspired text and consists of (a) slow reading of the Bible until (b) God’s illumination and (c) then stopping to contemplate and rest in that illumination to give it time to reorder your heart and soul. The last part of the process consists of the time in silence immediately after reading and in keeping the illumination in mind sometimes for an extended period of time, days or weeks.
Reordering of the heart and soul does not happen through the mind, but through God. In this view lectio divina is a unified process dependent on the Holy Spirit rather than a step-by-step process dependent on the reader’s action.
You must find your own way.
Many people like the four-step method of:
lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), contemplatio (contemplation)
7. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclercq O.S.B. Classic on monastic culture. It is the type of culture Benedictines should seek for their home and work.
When you use a book for your daily divine office, it helps if you have a calendar. Universalis has a calendar I keep with my reading stack. Universalis also has a nonmonastic liturgy of the hours.
St. Leo Abbey is part of the American-Cassinese Congregation which publishes a yearly Ordo -- another calendar to keep with your prayer materials.9. "The Benedictines"
Available in the Saint Leo Abbey gift shop, Dom David Knowles, "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns, Second Edition. Forward by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B. Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey, The Abbey Press, Saint Leo, Florida.
Although this little booklet is listed last, it should be one of the first three books in an Oblate's library, the other two being the RB 1980 and the anniversary edition of the Rule).
Progress in the life of an Oblate comes with the revelation that the monastic-based life begins and ends in seeking God and is not advanced by the acquisition of more doctrine. As an abbot at Saint Leo Abbey has said, "The Benedictines" is the best concise and intelligible exposition of what it means to be Benedictine." This little booklet was published by Saint Leo Abbey and is available (I think) only at the Saint Leo Abbey Gift Shop.
10. Commentaries on the Rule of Saint Benedict
Those two commentaries are still available at used book stores in their original hardback versions. There are also copies of the books available -- sometimes the quality of the copies can less than perfect.
11. The Liturgical Year, by Prosper Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes, begun in 1841, is the classic 15 volume work on the entire liturgical year as the mystery and practice of the Church.
"On 11 July 1833, after more than 40 years of eclipse, [Prosper Gueranger] restored monastic life at Solesmes. Just 4 years later, in 1837, the Constitutions of his fledgling community were approved by Pope Gregory XVI, who even gave him the authority to launch a Benedictine Congregation from Solesmes. After a fortnight’s retreat at St Paul’s-outside-the-walls, his first stay in a Benedictine house, he made his solemn profession and was appointed abbot of Solesmes, without ever having made a novitiate or been a simple monk. He knew monastic life only from his wide and deep reading and his instinct for monastic good sense. His understanding of monastic life was a charism in the truest sense of the word.
"In an age which—if it thought about monastic life at all—focused on peripheral features such as the extremes of De Rancé’s Trappists or the intellectual work of the Maurists, Dom Gueranger went straight to the essentials: a life of prayer, obedience, frugality, withdrawal from the world in order to focus on the “one thing necessary”, lived in community under an abbot. His enthusiasm for the liturgy and the encouragement he gave to his monks in the restoration of Gregorian chant—these were not mere expressions of optional spiritual tastes but sprang from his insight into the Christian life."
"Our time needs Dom Guéranger as much as his own. In an age when spirituality too often succumbs to psychology or sentiment, Dom Guéranger’s perception of the great panorama of the divine plan, of the sanctifying value of the liturgy, as well as his great love for the Church makes him a prophet for our time:
“Well beyond the monastic cloister, numerous faithful have benefited from his project,” wrote Pope John Paul II, “becoming aware that the unfolding of the ‘mystical seasons’ of the liturgical year” can help them “to relive the different stages of the Mystery of Christ... It is by their participation in liturgical life in the heart of the ecclesial community that the faithful are to affirm their faith, because they are put in permanent contact with the sources of revelation and the whole of the Christian mystery.”"
Source: Dom Gueranger: prophet of Ecclesial Renewal, ARTICLE: 01.07.06, by A Sister of Ryde. "FAITH Magazine," July-August 2006.
12. Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection. Translated with a foreword by Benedicta Ward, SLG. Preface by Metropolitan Anthony
Many of the books in this list of resources are available at the St. Leo Abbey Gift Shop.
Computer Tip: When reading a web page, if you hold the CTRL key while rotating your mouse wheel, the size of the text on the page will be made larger for easier reading.
Benedictine Facts: There are 20 monasteries in the American-Cassinese Congregation with about 840 monks.
The American-Cassinese Congregation is one of 21 congregations of Benedictine monks with a total of about 8,000 monks worldwide. There are 61 women congregations/federations with about 16,000 Benedictine nuns and sisters in the world.
If you become a Benedictine Oblate, you will be one of about 25,000 Oblates in 50 countries. About 10,000 Oblates are in the USA.