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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Oblation (Christian)

Oblation (Christian)

designates an offering to God, in certain ecclesiastical senses.

1. In the sacramental service of the Church of England the phrase "alms and oblations" occurs in the prayer for the Church militant, and evidently refers to a very ancient custom. "In the primitive Church, at the administration of the Lord's Supper, communicants were required to bring certain oblations, προσφοραί or presents, δῶρα of bread and wine. These were sometimes presented by persons who did not communicate. The bread and wine were enveloped in a white linen cloth called fago,' the wine. being contained in a vessel called ama' or amula.' After the deacon had said, Let us pray,' the communicants carried their offerings towards the altar, which were usually taken by a deacon, and, having been delivered or presented to the bishop, were laid upon the altar or upon a separate table provided for their reception. This custom of offering oblation ceased generally during the 12th and 13th centuries" (Riddle).

The rubric at the same time enjoins that if there be a communion, "the priest is then," just before this prayer, "to place upon the table so much bread and wine as he shall think sufficient." Hence it is clearly evident that by that word we are to understand the elements of bread and wine which the priest is to offer solemnly to God, as an acknowledgment of his sovereignty over his creatures, that from henceforth they may be peculiarly his. In all the Jewish sacrifices, of which the people were partakers, the viands or materials of the feast were first made God's by a solemn oblation, and then afterwards eaten by the communicants, not as man's but as God's provision, who by thus entertaining them at his own table declared himself reconciled and again in covenant with them. Therefore the blessed Savior, when he instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, first gave thanks, and blessed the elements, i.e. offered them up to God as the Lord of the creatures, as the most ancient fathers expound that passage; who for that reason, whenever they celebrated the Eucharist, always offered the bread and wine for the communion to God upon the altar, by this or some such short ejaculation, "Lord, we offer thine own out of what thou hast bountifully given us." After this they received them, as it were, from him again, in order to convert them into the sacred banquet of the body and blood of his dear Son. Consonant with this, in the first common prayer of king Edward VI, the priest was ordered in this place to set the bread and wine upon the altar. But at the second review, to conciliate the ultraProtestants, this ancient usage appears to have been thrown out. It was, however, restored at the last review of the Prayer-book in the reign of Charles II, when it was ordered that the bread and wine should be placed solemnly on the table by the priest himself. Hence it appears that the placing of the elements upon the altar before the beginning of the morning service by the hands of a lay-clerk or sexton, as is sometimes the practice, is a breach of the aforesaid rubric.

2. In a more extended sense, the word "oblations" signifies whatever Christians offer to God and the Church, whether in lands or goods. It is probable that the practice of St. Paul incited the primitive Christians to offer these gifts to the Church, for he appointed every one of the Corinthians and Galatians to yield something to God for the saints every Lord's-day; but this being thought to be too often, Tertullian tells us it was afterwards done every month, and then ad libitunm; but it was always the custom for communicants to offer something at receiving the sacrament, as well for holy uses as for the relief of the poor, which custom was, or ought to have been, observed in his day. In the first ages of the Church those depositapietatis which are mentioned by Tertullian were all voluntary oblations, and they were received in lieu of tithes; for the Christians at that time lived chiefly in cities, and gave out of their common stock both to maintain the Church and those who served at the altar. But when their numbers increased, and they were spread abroad in the countries, a more fixed maintenance was necessary for the clergy. Yet oblations were made by the people, of which, if offered in the mother church, the bishop had half, and the other was divided among the clergy; but if they were offered in a parish church, the bishop had a third part, and no more. These oblations, which at first were voluntary, afterwards became due by custom. It is true there are canons which require every one who approaches the altar to make some oblation to it, as a thing convenient to be done. It is probable that, in obedience to the canons, it became customary for every man who made a will before the Reformation to devise something to the high-altar of the church where he lived, and something likewise to the mother church or cathedral; and those who were to be buried in the church usually gave something towards its repairs. But at the great festivals all people were obliged to offer something, not merely if convenient, but as a duty; but the proportion was left to the discretion of the giver; and we think with great reason, for the bounty of the Christians in those ages was so great that men built churches on their own lands, on purpose that they might have an equal share of those oblations with the clergy. This might be the reason why the emperors Constantine and Valentinian made laws to prohibit excessive gifts, which in those days were kept in storehouses built for that very purpose. But in succeeding ages there was little occasion for such laws, for the zeal of the people was so considerably abated that, instead of those repositories, the clergy had little chests to contain these gifts, till at last they dwindled into so small a portion that now, as a quaint writer observes, they can scarce be felt in the parson's pocket.

In the Church of England whatever is offered at the altar is termed an oblation. They are principally alms, the bread and wine for the Lord's Supper, and prayers. The four days in the year Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, and All-saints' day on which oblations are more especially made, are called offering-days; and that portion of the Roman Catholic and English Church service at which time the offerings are presented is called the offertory (q.v.). See Hook, Ch. Dict. s.v.; Procter, On Common Prayer, p. 343; Wheatly, On Common Prayer, p. 298; Walcott, Sac. Archaeology, s.v.; Siegel, Christl. Alterth. (see Index in vol. iv); Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, s.v. Oblationen.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Oblation (Christian)'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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