Many years ago, when I would be driving back and forth from home to seminary in Baltimore, I would notice a religious house right on the Maryland and Delaware state line: the Oblate Sisters of Providence. I came to learn they were the oldest religious order of sisters of color. They were founded in Baltimore in 1829 by Mother Mary Lange. One cannot help but think what life was like for people of color in 1829, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. 

These women were usually freed slaves who dedicated their lives caring for escaped slaves and the children of former slaves. They educated the former slaves and their children. They would help them to make the most of the opportunities of freedom. Very often the women who were helped by the Oblate Sisters of Providence would join the order to help other people of color to have the same opportunities that they themselves were given. These women made an oblation of their lives to Christ and his Church in helping others freed from slavery and death in the waters of baptism and the physical circumstances of their lives.

What is an oblation? The word oblation comes from the Latin word oblatus, which means sacrifice. The Priest prays using the word oblation in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon and in Eucharistic Prayer III. In Eucharistic Prayer I, the reference to oblation proceeds the words of consecration over the bread and the wine, making them the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ: “Therefore, Lord, we pray graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family.” In Eucharistic Prayer III, the word oblation follows after the words of consecration: “Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and recognizing the sacrificial victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become on body, one spirit in Christ.” An oblation is the act of making a religious offering such as the act of offering the Eucharistic elements to God, that which occurs in the Mass. In the early Church, people would bring the elements of bread and wine as an oblation to be offered at the Mass. The word oblation can also mean a personal offering, such as giving ourselves to God in worship or a devotional. It is a holy gift offered usually at an altar or shrine which comes from a promise we make to God in prayer.

In the first reading from Exodus 24:3-8, the people of Israel respond to Moses’ call to follow the Lord’s ordinances by offering sacrifices to the Lord as an oblation. “They all answered with one voice, we will do everything the Lord has told us.” The holocausts and sacrifices the Lord wanted were not the blood of bulls but rather the faith of the people. This is what the Lord wants of us, an oblation of ourselves in the same way Jesus Christ is an oblation for us all. “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” (Hebrews 9: 11-15)

Jesus who is poured out for us as a libation, becomes for us the cup of salvation. Psalm 116:12 asks a question of us all: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” The psalmist is seeking to make an offering in thanksgiving to God for delivering him from the snares of death. This offering the psalmist speaks of is an oblation and a libation, for it is an outpouring of God’s merciful salvation. Jesus returns to the Father all that has been given to him; he becomes an oblation for us all when he embraces the cross. The Father gave the Son life, and the Son returns life back to the Father through his oblation poured out on the cross. The life of the Son poured out on the cross returns a fallen humanity back to God the Father.

In the very same way, we are called to make an oblation of our own lives following the example of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ to remind ourselves how Jesus Christ gave himself as an oblation for us all and we do this in remembrance of him. “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mark: 14:22-26) As we remember the once and for all suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and we join in the memorial of his suffering and death as we celebrate the Mass, we are called to follow Christ’s example and become an oblation for Christ by being poured out as a libation for one another.