Eugene de Mazenod founded the Missionaries in 1816 as a group of priests to conduct preaching and sacramental ministry for the most abandoned in Provence – priestly ministry. Soon, laymen felt called to the apostolic religious life and mission of the community, but without the desire to be priests. Thus from 1818 onwards the possibility opened up for men to be Oblates as religious without being priests, and the vocation of the Oblate Brother was born. I would take this a step further and say that the vocation of the Mazenodian Family was born: laity participating in the charism given to Eugene de Mazenod.
From the beginning, Oblates had one mission, and all participated in it according to their talents. Initially the Brothers supported the mission through common prayer and ensuring the functioning of the community structures so that the priests could dedicate themselves fully to the preaching and sacramental ministry. Later they were to participate in evangelization in more direct ways.
The problem arose that some of the priests treated them as domestic workers. Eugene went to great lengths to correct this situation, as he wrote in his Diary:
Letter from Father Vincens about his novitiate and what he must grant to the Coadjutor Brothers who no longer must be considered like salaried domestics. They are entitled to everything that may be done by religious men. In addition, their work must be moderated by pious exercises and everything that the Rule prescribes.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 8 December 1842, EO XXI
Father Jetté comments:
A brief historical review can help us to understand better this distinction in the Oblate life. In the beginning, Eugene de Mazenod wanted to establish a Society of priests who would dedicate their lives to evangelizing the poor, especially by the preaching of missions and the celebration of the sacraments (Reconciliation and the Eucharist). These men were called “missionaries” or “apostolic men”. Lay persons soon came to join them: they wanted to consecrate themselves to God in the Oblate religious life and to cooperate, according to their preparation and talents, with the missionary activity of these “apostolic men”….
Since then until today our terminology has changed: the terms “missionary” and “apostolic men” are now equally applied to the Brothers and to the priests.
The Apostolic Man p 47 -48
Today the Brothers participate in the Oblate mission in many different ways. This united mission is expressed in the first Constitution of the Rule:
We come together in apostolic communities of priests and Brothers, united to God by the vows of religion. Cooperating with the Saviour and imitating his example, we commit ourselves principally to evangelizing the poor.
And in C 7:
Just as priests and Brothers, we have complementary responsibilities in evangelizing, so too today we can say that all members of the Mazenodian family have complementary responsibilities in evangelizing.