St. Thérèse’s Act of Oblation

Source: District of Asia

Two years before her death, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, 9th June 1895, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus made her Act of Oblation to the Merciful Love of God. She tells us in her autobiography how grace suggested the idea to her: “Thinking one day of those who offer themselves as victims to the justice of God and who turn aside the punishment due to sinners, taking it upon themselves, I felt such an offering to be both noble and generous. I was very far, however, from feeling myself drawn to make it, and from the depths of my heart I cried: ‘O my Divine Master, shall Thy justice alone find atoning victims? Has not Thy merciful love need of them also? On every side it is ignored and rejected. . .  O my God, must that love which is disdained lie hidden in Thy Heart? It seems to me that if Thou should find souls offering themselves as a holocaust to Thy love, Thou would consume them rapidly and would be pleased to set free those flames of infinite tenderness now imprisoned in Thy Heart. If Thy justice which avenges itself upon earth must needs be satisfied, how much more must Thy merciful love desire to inflame souls, since “Thy mercy reacheth even to the heavens,” O Jesus, permit that I may be that happy victim—consume Thy holocaust with the fire of Divine Love.”

The soul of St. Thérèse was by this time fully mature; her virtue had reached the heroic degree of a saint. She walked, or rather flew, towards God along her way of hope and love. Her Act of Oblation fitted quite naturally into this way; indeed, it is the perfect fulfilment of it.

Two questions confront us:

  1. What is St. Thérèse’s aim in making the Act of Oblation?
  2. What is the nature of this Oblation?


  1. Her aim is clearly expressed in the passage cited above and in the Act of Oblation itself, where she says: “I desire to love Thee and to make Thee loved. . .  I long to console Thee for the ingratitude of sinners. . . I wish to labor for Thy love alone with the sole aim of pleasing Thee, of consoling Thy Sacred Heart, and of saving souls who will love Thee through eternity.”

    Her aim, then, is to console by her love the Heart of God, to compensate, in her own person, for man’s failure and refusal to love God, and at the same time to save souls who in their turn will love Him.

  2. What means does St. Thérèse employ to attain this end? “The means,” she says, “is an act of oblation of myself as victim of holocaust to the merciful love of God.” By this act, St. Thérèse offers herself—to whom? To the merciful love of God. Under what form? As victim of holocaust to the merciful love.

Let us define this phrase. St. Thérèse has just explained her choice of it by its analogy with the expression “victim of holocaust to His justice.” She has also marked the difference of attitude between the victim of justice and the victim of love. Victims of justice, just is to say, those who offer themselves to God’s justice, that is to say, those who offer themselves to God’s justice, like St. Margaret Mary and Mother Mechtilde of the Blessed Sacrament, Foundress of the Daughters of the Blessed Sacrament, concentrate on the satisfaction demanded by the Divine Justice and the punishment reserved for sinners, and undertake to appease in themselves the wrath of God. Victims of love consider how God is deprived of the love that is due to Him, and they seek to console Him, first by themselves making amends with greater love of their own, then by desiring that this love may lead others to love God in their turn.

There is another useful point to note, for it makes a link between the two kinds of offering. The punishment due to sin does not correspond in this life to the exercise of justice which rigorously avenges violated law and outraged love. (We must draw exception to the avenging moment when a soul in the state of sin, rejecting the final appeal of Divine love, falls into the eternal abyss.) This justice is not exercised, strictly speaking, until after death when the sinner receives, as pure punishment, the suffering directly proportionate to his guilt. In this life, suffering, according to the mind of God, always has as its ultimate aim the conversion of the sinner or the sanctification of the just. So that in the long run it is dictated by love, and its end is to correct the sinner and bring him back to love. Therefore it is to love that the offering as victim of justice leads in the last analysis, although there is no formal adoption of this intention. Divine justice is satisfied, and at the same time reabsorbed into love.

St. Thérèse grasped this truth admirable, better surely than the seventeenth century victims of justice: “It is through the ineffable mirror of His infinite mercy that I contemplate His other attributes. There, each appears radiant with love, His justice perhaps more than the rest.” And again, she writes: “I know that God is infinitely just and that justice which so many fear is the source of my joy and confidence. . . I hope as much from the justice of God as from His mercy. It is because He is just that He is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust. As a father has compassion on his children, so has the Lord compassion on them that fear Him. . . This, then, is what I think about the justice of God; my way is all confidence and love.”

There is another analogy which justifies the use of the word ‘victim.’ The aim of the Act of Oblation is to console God by compensating Him for the rejection of His merciful love. Now when one offers compensation on behalf of another, the one who compensates, pays for the other, sacrifices himself personally for him. And if the sacrifice is carried to a heroic degree, if it goes so far as to incur a gradual death, one can understand the term ‘victim of holocaust,’ the ‘victim of holocaust’ being him who is consumed. Now St. Thérèse seeks to be consumed by her love. Henceforth nothing shall live in her or be done for herself. Self shall be effaced and reduced to nothing in order to give place to the God whom she loves and prefers above all things. Thus her desire to love God and make Him loved will literally consume her frail body, and the supreme act by which she will render her soul to God will be an act of love.

We can now contemplate the soul of St. Thérèse as she lives her Act of Oblation. She beholds heaven and earth; in heaven, the Merciful Love; on earth, that Merciful Love slighted and rejected. She ardently desires to console God by loving, “utterly loving” Him, and making Him loved. To this end, in all that happens to her, in all that she does, in her imperfections even, should any escape her, with childlike humility she hopes in, she counts firmly on the tenderness of the Merciful Love to grant her the grace to love Him and make Him loved. She obtains this grace. Her desire is granted, but still she is not satisfied. Could she not love better, and make Him better loved, she asks herself. Her desire breaks out afresh; her love increases. And the desire and the love follow each other, reinforce each other and become one and the same thing. This love, which she has desired and obtained and which has so grown, becomes thus the life of her every moment; it consumes her and finally causes her to die, prompting her further desire “to tell God her love eternally face to face” together with the souls that she will have saved and sanctified and who, like her, will love God for ever. Always the same aim: that God may be loved.

Now some remarks:

  1. It may be asked: does the Act of Oblation as victim of love aim directly at suffering as the victim of justice clearly does?

    No. The proper aim of the offering is this: love in humility, self-surrender and hope, love which does not actually mention suffering, although it implies, as we have said, detachment, renunciation, and in this sense, of course, a certain kind of suffering. Nevertheless, by the Act of Oblation the soul dedicates itself to love, and not to suffering. Thus St. Thérèse, thinking of the inevitable trials of this life, said to her sisters: ‘I do not promise to spare you crosses, but to make you love them, so that you may say with me: ‘Lord, You fill me with joy by all that You do.’” From this we understand her expression “happy victims,” and in using the term “martyr of love” she is not thinking directly of suffering. These are her actual words: “I beseech Thee to let the flood-tide of infinite tenderness, pent up in Thee, flow into my soul that so I may become a very martyr of Thy love.” Martyr in this sense, then, that her finite heart will burst under the pressure of the infinite love which invades it to such a point that, as St Thérèse adds, “this martyrdom, having first prepared me to appear before Thee, may break life’s thread at last.” Here we touch a vital point, namely, the constant disproportion in the soul between two things: on the one hand, the smallness, the limited capacity of her created heart; on the other hand, the grace of increasing love which invades it. There results, as it were, a painful conflict—so painful with the saints as to cause their death—but a conflict which is all love.

  2. Is the Act of Oblation suited to all?

    First let us distinguish the Act of Oblation in its perfect form as achieved by St. Thérèse. We say perfect because her offering clearly bore the mark of a vow of perpetual oblation. We are confronted with a new form of pledge to perfect Love, a pledge that will never be withdrawn and that undertakes especially to console the Heart of God.

As opposed to this perfect and entire oblation we can imagine an offering which does not assume the maximum intensity and constancy of love. The soul will maintain such an offering according to its generosity and according to the grace of God which it may at first even disregard, later bravely correcting itself. Understood in this way, the Act of Oblation may be permitted to may souls and even to every soul, including the habitually sinful, from the moment that it is of goodwill. Naturally, it is taken for granted that such a soul is delicate enough to wish to console and compensate the Heart of God. This intention however is secondary, the essential thing being to desire to love and please God. St. Thérèse places these terms on the same level as “to console the Heart of Our Lord.” Therefore even the weak and imperfect will find a great means of spiritual progress in the Act of Oblation and in the relationship which it establishes between the soul should not be discouraged by their weakness, so let them listen to their holy Patroness: “My very weakness makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy love.” And again, “The more weak and wretched we are, the better material do we make for His consuming and transfiguring fire. The simple desire to be a victim suffices, but we must consent to remain always poor and helpless, and here lies the difficulty. . . Let us love our littleness, let us be content to have no joy; then we shall be truly poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to seek us, however far off we may be. Then He will transform us into flames of love.”

Here is wonderful encouragement for the imperfect and even for sinners to offer themselves to God’s merciful love and thereby enter the legion of little souls for which St. Thérèse asked Our Lord. And judging by the spiritual favors which the Church has attached to the Act of Oblation, by the popularity which it has won among souls, and by the amazing conversions and ardent progress in holiness which it has brought about, He has indeed heard her prayer.