Abbot General's Easter 2007
Letter to the Order

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

“Original Edition

Madeleine Delbrêl, the “Other Saint”[1], once wrote:

“In every period of history God has given to a series of people the task of setting an example of the Gospel according to the original text, of depicting in their person, ‘in flesh and blood’, so to speak, a contemporary original edition.”

St. Norbert, “Institutor Ordinis Nostri”, understood the gospel fundamentally, interpreted it literally, and lived it radically.  He wanted to live the original text “in flesh and blood”.  And so he gave up everything and became an itinerant preacher.  Yes, he remained one for the rest of his life, even from Prémontré, as well as from Magdeburg .  He was in the eyes of his contemporaries an original edition.  His mission was not relegated to the realm of subjective interiority and monastic seclusion.  Instead, it increasingly took on public and eschatological significance.  And so it is no wonder that he became involved in politics, such as the church politics of his time.  As Norbert Backmund[2] always expressed it, he wanted to be active on all levels for the kingdom of God .

“Spirituality of Participation”

This missionary form of religious life is very beautifully expressed in a document of Indian religious women:

“A new spirituality for religious life must be developed that is deeply rooted in the Gospel and in the life of the poor.  It must be a spirituality of participation.”[3]  This word “participation” is not completely new.  As Premonstratensians we have certainly always committed ourselves to the building up of our own community, but then also to the building up of communities around our monasteries and even beyond, if we think of the missionary activity just in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Cloistered life doesn’t work in any other way than to break out of your own home, out of the confines of your own heart, in order to surface in the life of another.  These are first of all the lives of our own confreres with whom we are meant to live, with whom we earnestly and with great enterprise should build up Communio, with whom we should become “one heart and one soul on the way to God”.[4]  But it is more than that; it is just like Norbert who again and again left Prémontré in order to go out to people, a journey that took him throughout Europe .  To become involved and immerse oneself, to participate and take part – is a serious ministry conceivable in any other way?  Was mission ever to be formed in another way than just to plunge into a strange culture and implant the Christian life in new surroundings, to establish a cloistered life and then to announce the Gospel to the people?

What was in former times expected of the European missionaries is now required of our confreres who come from India and Africa :  to plunge into the European world, into the American world, and to become involved where they have now been sent.  Indians go to Texas and to Germany ; Africans go to other African countries ( Gabon , South Africa ), but even to Italy , Belgium , France , USA

Plunging in is perhaps never free of fear of drowning, being overwhelmed and losing one’s monastic identity.  It requires a twofold skill, first to be deeply grounded in your own monastic community and tradition, however, it also requires a great degree of flexibility and spiritual mobility, opening yourself to new conditions and requirements and developing them.  Here Norbert is a great model for us and certainly a concerned advocate.


Participation in the Easter Mystery

If we are preparing ourselves for Easter during these days and weeks, then perhaps this expression “Spirituality of Participation” takes on a new depth and urgency.  Gmainer-Pranzl in his article on religious life[5] asks us to orient ourselves toward the Passover of Jesus, yes even that this Passover must become for us a model of orientation.  Jesus completely involved himself in his mission, beginning with the incarnation, where he literally became like us, except for sin, even to the extreme sacrifice of his life for us and for our salvation.  He plunged into the abyss of human suffering; he suffered desolateness even to the point of being desolate of God on the cross.  It is “the descent into the realm of the dead”, as it is referred to in the Credo.  But then this descent became a ‘transitus’, a passage, a ‘pesach’ to the resurrection, an ascent to the glory of the father.  Our being Christian and our religious life are marked by this participation in the Easter mystery.  Our Father Augustine who wrote our rule expressed it this way:

“In the passion and resurrection of the Lord our passing from life to death is made holy.”[6]

We are baptized into this mystery, into death and resurrection.  In our religious profession we have handed ourselves over completely to God, which “establishes, as it were, a special consecration that takes root deeply in our baptismal consecration and expresses it more fully.”[7]

And according to Premonstratensian tradition, along with the acceptance of the white habit, we have also undertaken the mission task of the angel of the resurrection[8] who said to the women: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He is risen…  Now go and tell his disciples, above all Peter, ‘He goes before you to Galilee ; there you will see him as he told you’” (Mk 16, 6-7).  As Mary Magdalene – greatly honored in the Order first as a penitent and then as a herald – receives from Jesus the mission task, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am going to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God’” (Jn 20, 17), just so we, as Christians and as “White Canons”, are sent to announce the Easter message to people.  This is the passing from death to life, the breaking through from night to light, the ascent from the earthly to the heavenly Father.  The Lord lives! The Lord goes forth.



And so I wish all the confreres and sisters of our Order in the individual canonries and all the “Norbertine Associates” a happy and blessed Easter, the peace of the risen Lord and the joy that filled the disciples “as they recognized the Lord” (Lk 24, 31).

The Lord is risen!  He is truly risen!  Alleluia!

+     Thomas Handgrätinger
       Abate Generale


[1] Katja Boehme, Madeleine Delbrêl. Die andere Heilige. Freiburg 2004     >>BACK<<

[2] P. Dr. Norbert Backmund (1907-1987), Canon of Windberg Abbey.     >>BACK<<

[3] Die Förderung von Ordensfrauen.  Erklärung und Aktionsprogramm einer repräsentativen Gruppe von Ordensfrauen (Pune, India), in : Weltkirche 19 (1999) 231-233; 232.     >>BACK<<

[4] Rule of Augustine I, 2.     >>BACK<<

[5] Franz Gmainer-Pranzl, Gestalt einer größeren Freiheit. Überlegungen zur Ordentheologie heute, in : Erbe und Auftrag 82 (2006) 21-34.     >>BACK<<

[6] Aurelius Augustinus, ep. 55, 1.2.     >>BACK<<

[7] Pope John Paul II, Postsynodal document Vita Consecrata of March 25, 1996, Nr. 30.     >>BACK<<

[8] Mk 16, 4  “…saw on the right side a young man sitting who was clothed with a white garment.”  In Lk 24, 4 there are “two men in shining garments”.     >>BACK<<