An oblation is an offering, donation, gift, or sacrifice; or the act of giving an offering. Specifically, an oblation is an offering solemnly given to God. The term oblation is understood to refer more to non-bloody offerings, like Cain’s over Abel’s; the firstfruits offering is an obvious oblation (Exodus 23:16). So, an offering of meat would be a sacrifice, an offering of grains or fruit would be an oblation, and an offering of liquid (wine or oil) would be a libation, although the three could be combined (as in cakes of oil and flour) or offered together. The word oblation comes from the Latin oblatus, meaning “sacrifice,” and is etymologically related to offering.
In the early Catholic Church, people would give an oblation of bread. Some of the bread would be consecrated for the Eucharist, while the rest was given to the poor or kept for the clergy. Even today, the Catholic Church speaks of Eucharistic Oblation: at the Mass, the priest consecrates the bread and wine, and they supposedly become the body and blood of Christ. The priest then literally offers “the Victim” to the Father as an oblation, and the Father in turn gives the oblation back to the congregants to “receive” Christ and become “united” with Him. The liturgy of the Eucharist includes a prayer of oblation in which participants pledge to surrender themselves to God as a living sacrifice.
An oblation, then, can also refer to people’s offering of themselves. In Roman Catholicism, a layperson or clergy member can choose to serve a specific monastic order, maintaining a private life but vowing to follow the rules of the order as closely as possible. Such a person is called an oblate. Oblates may reside in the monastery and participate in monastic life, but their lack of formal vows allows them to leave at any time. In earlier years, an oblate could also be a child dedicated by his parents for monastic life.