Are there women members of the Norbertine Order?

Yes, there are several convents of Norbertine canonesses in Europe, and a convent of Norbertine canonesses began a few years ago in North America, related to the abbey of St. Michael, Orange, California, U.S.A.  Our Order is certainly the first, and perhaps the only Catholic Order where absolute equality was observed between the spiritual life of the Canons and that of the Canonesses.  Both houses were called abbeys during the medieval period, and are still rightly called by that name (convent is a vernacular appellation).  The abbess had complete authority within the abbey, financial as well as spiritual.  In the middle ages there were even combined abbeys, where a wall separated male from female abbeys, with each community sharing the Abbey Church.  This practice was discontinued by the early part of the 13th century, but abbeys of canonesses are often "attached" spiritually to an abbey of canons even down to our present time.  

What do I do if I believe I have a vocation to your Order?

The first thing to do is to find a house of the Order to actually visit.  Since each house is autonomous in our Order, the vocation plans often differ.  That is why this international website cannot send out vocational materials to requestors.  However, you can use this website to further your vocational interest.  You can do that by going to Locations, and then selecting the Current Houses of the Order listing to find the house nearest to you geographically.  Letters and brochures are nice - and would be with any Order of religious.  But there is nothing like actually experiencing the life of service and community that you would find if you visited a house of the Order.  So find a house, then write a traditional paper-based letter to the Director of Vocations, and request a visit.  You can either drop by for a chat, or if you wish to stay a few days, you will be most welcome!

Are there lay members of the Norbertine Order?

Yes, there are two types of lay Norbertines.
  • The first is called the Third Order (Tertiarius in Latin), which can be traced back to the time of Norbert. These lay individuals take vows of profession and live by modifications of the Rule of the Order established by the local abbeys to which they are attached. They attend regular functions of their abbeys a certain number of times each year, say a version of the Norbertine Office on a daily basis, in many cases may wear abbey habits while on abbey grounds, and often pursue additional apostolates in their local parishes.
  • The second type of lay Norbertine is called an Associate. This is a bit less formal than the Third Order, but no less spiritual or active. These individuals take an active part in abbey life, and support abbey functions materially and spiritually.
  • To join either of these – or both – contact your nearest local Norbertine house (see the list in the Locations section).

    How many Norbertine houses are currently active?

    Good question, but hard to answer. As I count it on the Links / Current Houses section of this website we have 89 listed, but that is not the whole story.  Abbeys establish dependent houses often.  Some are successful, and some are not.  It doesn't just depend on vocations from the area of the new house, but on the need for our work in that location.  

    By the way, each house is autonomous under our Order, and consequently almost all of them have their own individual websites.  You can find them by going to Links/ Current Houses and scrolling down.  

    Are there any monasteries that go all the way back,
    without having been interrupted by war, takeover or abandonment?

    Several of the very ancient abbeys were closed down for a few years during the Napoleonic surge toward secularism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but during this time their communities continued to meet in secret, in several private homes belonging to the family members of the community – much the same as very early Christians must have done.  The abbeys of Averbode, Berne, Tongerlo and many of our major houses in the Low Countries are excellent examples of this. Austrian houses such as the abbey of Wilten in Innsbruck were only briefly closed for a very few years during the Napoleonic furor.  In modern times, the communists closed several abbeys, and their communities were either dispersed, attaching to various other abbeys, or continued to meet "in exile."  An excellent example of this is the community from the Hungarian abbey of Csorna, who founded an establishment in California as "Canons of the Abbey of Csorna in exile" later becoming their own abbey of St. Michael's in Orange, and going on after the restoration of democracy to refound their own mother abbey in Csorna!  Quite an accomplishement!   Among the oldest of our communities continuously inhabited or active include: Toro in Spain (Canonesses) and Villoria de Obrigo in Spain (Canonesses). 

    Is it true that St. Dominic, before he founded the Dominicans, was a member of your Order?

    There is quite a debate about this.  Although it has never been documented that St. Dominic was in fact a sub-deacon at our spanish abbey of Santa Maria de la Vid, there is a statue of him there clothed in a Premonstratensian Habit.  It is a mark of our respect for St. Dominic that we heartily wish he had started out as a Premonstratensian, although we cannot prove this at all.  We are proud of our all our Dominican brothers and sisters, particularly their founder!  Certainly the Dominicans would have things to say about this wish! 

    You mention somewhere in here that this is a "Work in Progress" -- why?

    The goal of this international website for the Order of Prémontré is primarily educational and advisory.  We want this site to be a forum for the education of the public in general, and our Order members in particular - especially those young men and women in the Formation process.  

    There are many interesting documents relating to the Premonstratensian Order which you can find in the Documents section.  We are in the process of uploading several sources for the training of our postulants and novices.  We are currently working on over 20 academic and scholarly works on the Premontratensian Order which need to be uploaded, formatted and footnoted.  We also maintain a database of 1,000+ members, and also a database of all houses both current and former, amounting to almost 500 locations.  In addition, we have a partial listing of all Premonstratensian saints and Blesseds, and we are working on a biographical database of all Premonstratensians who have passed away since 1900 - a database amounting to almost 10,000 individuals!

    But our work is not yet done.  In actuality however, it is likely never to reach completion!

    I know that Jesuits wear the same sort of black coats and trousers
    that our parish priests wear, and Franciscans wear brown robes.  
    Benedictine monks wear black, and I know that Dominicans wear
    a combination of black and white.  What sort of religious clothes
    do you wear, and is there any particular reason why?

    We have -- according to tradition -- received a special gift from the Virgin Mary.  St. Norbert saw in a dream that the Blessed Mother entrusted to us a white habit, handing it directly to him in his dream.   Even though we can and do occasionally wear black coat and slacks as does your parish priest, we prefer the clothing given to us in our Order, consisting of 4 parts: a tunic (robe), a cincture (cloth belt), a scapular, and a cape with a small hood.  The symbolism behind the color of this habit is as old as the order:  white symbolizing purity, simplicity of life, loyalty to the Papacy, devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and fidelity to the Holy Eucharist.   Click here to take a look at the habit.

    There is one variation.  The story goes that during the time of Empress Maria Theresa, some Hungarian Canons were in her court and seen by her wearing a powder blue cincture in place of the white cincture.  She remarked aloud how nice that looked, complementing the canons on their appearance.   Ever since, Hungarian Premonstratensians have seen fit to wear that as a distinctive addition to the habit.  Over time, it has come to symbolize devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which is also a hallmark of our Order.

    Why don't you have a fancier site?

    We could easily have had fancier sites, and in fact many of our individual abbeys do have them.  However, our charter was to make a site (1) accessible to all Premonstratensian houses worldwide no matter what amount of bandwidth was available or what the quality of their computers was like, and (2) to emphasize the spiritual and scholastic elements of our Order. 

    In order to accomplish the first objective, we necessarily had to limit ourselves technologically to using elements which could be accessed even by computers in use within the developing world (these computers incidentally still include many 80X86 processors).  We also had to limit ourselves with respect to graphics, animation, javascript features and sound, given the necessity of some in the developing world accessing us with slower means.

    In order to accomplish the second objective we have striven to include academicians and the highest spiritual mentors of the Order in our plans and reviews.  This, particularly in these early stages of site development, will necessarily involve emphasis content rather than appearance.  But we hope to improve our appearance as well!  

    To draw a pair of additional analogies:

    We apologize if you do not find us attractive.  We will work to improve this, while we remain true to our initial objectives.

    Why these "plain" colors?

    Our colors are symbolic of the dedication and special devotion of our Order to the Holy Eucharist (the bread and wine which during the Mass becomes the body and blood of Our Lord). 

    The white background of our screen represents very closely both the color of the habits of our Priests and Nuns (given by the Blessed Virgin to Norbert), and the color of the host. 

    The blue color of our writing as well as table borders and other elements -- is representative of our special devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother of God. 

    Other symbols you see are the Coat of Arms of our Order (in the upper left of every screen) taken from the Coat of Arms of Prémontré, our original Mother Abbey, and the shepherd's crook which symbolises the authority of our abbatial hierarchy.  The picture you see at the top of every page is the Welcoming Hall at Prémontré. 

    What makes you different from other Orders?

    Well, there are many differences, but I guess the most important difference is the strong desire to combine the truly contemplative, early christian concept of communal living in the Body of Christ with an active involved apostolate out in the real world.  That's why we have jobs which involve us in the actual secular world while at the same time "having all things in common" as a community in abbeys.  Here are some illustrations of this great difference:

    Truly, we continue the vision of Norbert and the early Church: We hold all things in common, and we live for the common good of all God’s souls.

    I have heard of "monks" but not "Canons" -- since you live in abbeys,
    and much of your life is communal, are you monks?

    No.  Let me try to explain.  Monk in english stems from the latin "monachus" meaning a solitary individual.  In the Catholic church, monks may or may not be ordained priests, for example, but they certainly do wish to live a life communally, dedicated to God.  Individuals living in monasteries are referred to as monks.  That term is also used for non-ordained individuals living in abbeys also.  Benedictines or Cistercians are the most widely known of these "monks." 

    Norbertines on the other hand, are called Canons.  The term Canon refers to individuals living communally according to a certain rule, or Canon, such as we do with under the rule of St. Augustine.  We also use the term regular (after the latin "regulum" or rule), because down through history (since the fourth century, that is), some Canons have come to follow a particular rule, and some no longer do. Which Canons do not follow a rule?  Most who are attached to Dioceses and their Cathedrals.  Canons who live communally in abbeys - like us - are known as Canons Regular and continue to follow a particular rule as a way of life.

    How many members of your Order are there?

    As of the last time we officially counted (in the year of our General Chapter) we had about 1,300 members of our Order - about 800 were Priests, and 200 were Brothers, and 300 were Sisters.  We also have lay members of our order, called Third Order members, Lay Associates, or Secular Tertiaries.  While it is impossible to determine exactly how many Tertiaries are active, our best estimate at this time is about 1,000 worldwide. 

    I see the term Circary used in this website.   What is that?

    The term circary generally refers to a linguistic grouping of Premonstratensian houses.  A linguistic grouping is NOT necessarily identical with a geographical grouping. 

    Take English for example.  The English Circary extends to the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and India, as one would suspect.  But the German Circary ALSO includes certain houses in India founded by German Abbeys. 

    Similarly the Brabantine (Low Countries -- Dutch, Flemish, French) Circary extends to houses in Africa and South America founded by mother Abbeys located in the Low Countries.  By the way, the Brabantine Circary is an excellent example of why I said earlier that the term circary "generally" referred to a linguistic grouping, because Dutch/Flemish is certainly NOT identical to French!

    Where are you the most active now in your ministry?

    At the present time, our most active areas are in the western United States (most notably that focal point of materialism – California), India (several locations), Africa (particularly the Republic of Congo - formerly known as Zaire), and South America (Brazil, Chile, Peru). Of course we have a very strong presence in Europe, and are working in Australia also!

    I understand where the name Norbertine comes from (St. Norbert)
    and where the name White Canons comes from (your habit),
    but what about that big name, Premonstratensians?
    Where does that come from?

    Our medieval headquarters was revealed to St. Norbert in a vision from the Blessed Virgin. He searched a long while and then suddenly, when in the middle of a tangled forest-swamp, he encountered a small Benedictine chapel, abandoned. He proclaimed this terribly difficult wilderness as his headquarters.  It was this chapel and valley, he said, shown to him before by the Blessed Virgin.

    The latin word for "shown before" is Praeter (before) monstratum (shown), or Prae-monstratum. The latin adjective which means "from or of Prémontré" is Praemonstratens.  It's not a big step to turn that into an English language adjective "Premonstratensian" now, is it?  

    If you are called Premonstratensians, from Prémontré, why is your headquarters
    in Rome and not in Prémontré, France?

    The site of Prémontré was seized in 1790 and secularized during the French Revolution.  It is now a State institution for the mentally ill.  After the Second World War the French Government offered the site to the Order, but the conditions and stipulations of the offer, combined with the potential expense of having to renovate the site, was just too much.  The offer was reluctantly declined.  In the modern era, several major Catholic Orders are headquartered in Rome. 

    Why do you have so many names for your Order?

    Any institution which is 800+ years of age probably goes by at least a couple of names!  Our official name is Canons Regular of Prémontré.  The most widespread term in Europe (and generally, I guess) is Premonstratensian (pronounced: pray mohn strah TEN shun).  Add to that term names which have become common usage due to local custom, such as Norbertines in both the english-speaking and slavic worlds, and White Canons, or C.R.P. in the British Isles (Canons Regular, Prémontré).  Quite a list, don't you think?

    Why do you have your site in Latin as well as English?

    Frankly, the emphasis on Latin is diminishing, but still present in a few areas on our website (you should have seen it twelve years ago!).  The official reasons for the presence of Latin are (1) it is one of the official languages of our Order as specified in its Constitutions, and (2) since our Order, and the interest in it, is worldwide, we wanted Order members and scholars to have a common tongue in which to read and learn about the Order. 

    In some ways, and to some extent, Latin makes practical sense.  For example, our Order is currently comprised of fourteen linguistic vernacular groups.  To make a website with each of these languages would certainly be unwieldy.  We therefore decided to follow the precedent of our Order in publishing.  We would publish in the most commonly used vernacular for the environment and in Latin.  On the internet, the most common vernacular language is English.  Therefore our site is in English and Latin.

    And then there is also the long approved Roman Catholic tradition that on universally applicable occasions, the Latin language is authorized for use.   Examples of this are numerous, such as the Christmas and Easter Masses from the Vatican itself.  Since their appeal is to all the world, the language used (except in the homily and blessings) is Latin. 

    We hope that we are not arrogant enough to think that our site will be as popular as these examples, but we hope that Order members and scholars worldwide will find the site of interest, and be able to read widely within it. 

    What happened to all your older monasteries?

    Well, where should I start? 

    This latter difficulty is being overcome now that democracy has been restored to central Europe.  Several of our houses in Poland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Rumania have been restored to active status!  God certainly works in mysterious ways!

    How come when you show the former sites some are in ruins,
    but others appear to be occupied? Who took them over?

    Some have been reoccupied by other religious Orders; some are diocesan establishments (parishes); some are educational institutions or hospitals; some are secular establishments at this time such as stores, libraries, apartment buildings, or even homes; and finally what is left of some are sheds, barns or even stables (what a shame).

    Do members of your Order from all over the world ever get together
    for conventions or conclaves? Where and how often?

    Yes, there is a General Chapter of the Order every six years.  This is similar to a convention of the order, where representatives from each House gather to discuss important issues facing the Order.  The next General Chapter will be at Rome in 2001.

    Relatively speaking, how much time do you spend in your abbeys and priories,
    and how much time do you spend out in the real world?

    We hope that our abbeys are part of the real world too!  Actually, we all have both abbey and work duties.  Most of us have "day jobs" to which we go after our morning spiritual duties at our abbeys, such as teachers, social workers, lawyers, printers, farmers, etc.  After our daily work, we return to our spiritual duties at our abbeys.  Let me describe in general to you the life of a canon at St. Joseph's Priory, which is on the grounds of St. Norbert College in DePere Wisconsin, U.S.A.:

    The schedule may vary from House to House and location to location and from weekday to weekend. 

    You mention something called the "Office" -- what is that?

    You're an attentive reader!  The Office (from "officium" in Latin, "business") is a series of prayers said by religious on a regular basis.  Certainly we would all agree that the first "business" of religious is to pray!  Our Order specializes in the "sung Office" which means that members of the order gather in a group and sing their prayers aloud, usually to the accompaniment of one or more musical instruments.   As you can see from the question concerning the daily life schedule, this happens a minimum of twice per day -- once in the morning and once in the late afternoon (usually 7:00 p.m. local time on weekdays, and 5:00 p.m. local time on weekends).  The order of this series of prayers is as follows:

    The style of praying is that of antiphonal song.  The group is gathered in two portions, sitting opposite each other.  The opening verse of the prayer or psalm is sung by the appointed leader for that day (a rotational position for all members of the community) who sings, giving others the tone and meter.  The next verse is taken up by one portion of the group, the following verse by the other portion.  This takes place with each portion alternating until all verses of the prayer or psalm are concluded.  As you can see from the list above, each praying of the Office has its particular form and sequence.  Prayer at Office is usually in the vernacular.  Only where Houses have members from diverse backgrounds -- where several vernaculars are used -- is there a decision on which language to use.   Occasionally it is one of the modern languages, occasionally it is Latin.  By the way, while it is helpful to have a good singing voice, it is certainly not necessary.   God considers what is in the heart of each as she or he participates conscientiously, not whether that person is a singing sensation.  The entire service usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes.

    Lay persons are welcome at our Office services, and encouraged to participate.  Please consult your local Premonstratensian House schedule.

    Please feel free to E-Mail Us With Your Questions!