To become Premonstratensian
The Latin verb profiteri, which has professus as its past participle, means “recognise, declare openly, commit oneself, promise”. In the Western Church, it is a technical term. Profession is understood here in the sense of religious profession, as a publicly taken commitment before an authority authorised by the Church to receive and authenticate it, to follow the advice of the Gospel to lead a life of perfect poverty, chastity and obedience. The professed religious is he that has made a profession. Prior to that, he is a novice. At the end of a two year period serving to determine his vocation and allow him to test personally whether he is capable of leading the life of the community that welcomes him, the novice may make a simple profession. Canonical law speaks more elegantly of a temporary profession: the candidate commits himself to respecting the vows taken for a firm period of three years; when the period is over, he may eventually take up his former life or be sent away if he is considered as inapt for religious life. This commitment may be renewed three times, i.e., for a maximum period of nine years. Usually, three years is sufficient. The religious having made a simple profession may then, if he perseveres and is admitted, make a solemn profession, renewing his vows during the celebration of the Eucharist. He commits himself this time to observing them for his entire life. This profession is also called perpetual. It marks the definitive entry into a state of monastic life, the professed acquiring thereby all the rights and duties that this state in the Church entails. By poverty, he renounces possessing anything personally, by chastity, he commits himself to living communally in consecrated celibacy which implies absolute continence; by obedience, he puts himself voluntarily under the dependence of his superior.
In the Premonstratensian Order, as with all canons regular, the profession is made in manibus, “in the hands”, and super altare, “on the altar”. As a vassal swore fidelity in the Middle Ages to his lord, the candidate holds his hands together and places them in the hands of his abbot as a sign of submission (the hands are held together that they may be bound!) and protection (the abbot’s hands, which close over those of the professed, grant him this protection, the abbot here taking the place of God). The candidate then reads the formula of profession that he has written out in his own hand. He then carries it to the altar where he signs it and deposits it, at the same time as bread and wine to be consecrated, symbolising that the offering that he makes of himself to the Father is joined to the offering of Christ on the cross, as represented by the Eucharistic mystery, and that it seals forever in the sacrament of the alliance that is the Eucharist.
Celebration and Payer
The first disciples demonstrate their faith by the breaking of the bread. In all our communities, among the people of God, we celebrate the Eucharist daily, considering it as the high point of our communion. Indeed, no Christian community can develop without finding its roots and its centre in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is through it that all education of a communal spirit begins. “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same loaf” (1 Cor. 10,17).
The prayer of the Church, table of the Word and sacrifice of praise, are intimately united with the celebration of the Eucharist. Through psalms, through canticles and various intercessions, the Church responds to the Word that God addressed to it by this Word itself. The chanting of the psalms is the prayer of the Church par excellence because it is the thread of the prayer of Christ during his earthly life. Sanctify the day and all human activity is one of the goals of the Liturgy of the Hours. In our abbeys, all members of the community are jointly responsible for the beauty and the depth of the daily liturgical celebrations.
While being called to communal prayer, we also pray to the Father in secret. In every prayer, the fundamental relation of man familiarly united to God through faith is expressed. During the time of prayer freely offered to the Lord, we experience His love by tasting the divine intimacy and we progress in the joy of hope which does not deceive. Thus prayer of the heart induces us to be silent as soon as we can so that we may speak as and when we should.
For all members of the community, listening to the divine Word, the sacramental liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours and personal prayer, which are the contemplative elements of our life, constitute an eminent form of apostolate and are the very soul of all our apostolate.
The oblation of our perpetual profession unites us to the community of our brethren. The project of communal life becomes effective in both the simple and complex reality of daily life. To this end, we draw from the canonical tradition of our Order those elements which most efficaciously facilitate communion or which serve effectively to promote authentically Christian and religious values as well as the ecclesiastic mission of our communities. These means are adapted according to the features and the environment of each local community, but always lead back to communal life and its asceticism.
Charity, the foundation of communal life, does not seek its interest (cf. 1 Cor. 13). It must, according to the Rule of Saint Augustine, be understood in such a way as that “the good of the community passes before individual interest, not individual interest before the common good”. The practice of communal life requires therefore that we place in the service of the common good all that we are and all that we do.
This fraternal life of fellow members finds unceasingly its expression in the relations of mutual esteem, service, trust, edification, pardon and encouragement. The spirit of mortification, inherent in the giving of oneself, expresses itself by recognising and by accepting the diversity of others and in bearing patiently the renunciation and inconveniences which usually accompany communal daily life and work. This mortification enriches the fraternal life and the charity that it entails. It is only a humanly unavoidable complement of the joy of being and living together to which a well established sense of celebration bears witness.
Communal exercises, like communal living, communal prayer, a communal table, communal work as well as recreation, whose value has been proven by centuries of tradition, has as a goal the strengthening of the insertion of the brethren in the community and keeping ever alive the sense of fraternal union between the members of a single family.
It is thus that certain parts of the house are reserved, in the form of an “enclosure” to the life of the community and of each of the brethren. The tranquillity of the house and silence promote work, above all intellectual, the lectio divina, the familiarity with God and the rest necessary for personal life. By submitting to the universal law of work, by our apostolic, manual, scientific, and social activities, we also provide for the maintenance of our community. “Thus, strictly speaking, no one works for himself, on the contrary, all your activities shall be placed in common, you shall take greater care and shall manifest greater ardour than if you had to work only for your own personal profit... Do not say that this or that thing belongs to you, on the contrary, that everything be held in common and that your superior shall distribute to each according to his needs. The common cash-box requires that all put therein all the money that they have earned. Each shall receive a sum of money according to his needs” (Rule of Saint Augustine).
Whatever the shape that each era gives to one’s own life, the “place of truth”, as our Constitutions express it, is the community which, discovering each day its limits in the mirror of the Gospel and the Rule, also rediscovers there its hope and attempts to invent the means thereof.
The apostolic ministry
The first of our church’s apostolic goals consists in promoting this unity in Christ, within as without. Saint Augustine teaches us: the communion of our communities must be overabundant in charity that extends to all men.
In exercising apostolic activity, we do not all have the same function: “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Rom. 12,4-5). Our pastoral activity must, therefore, be collegial.
In choosing the forms of its apostolate, the canonry takes into account the most urgent necessities of the Church and of the contemporary world. For our communities, although they work essentially in the dioceses where they are located, must also be ready to serve the universal Church. Since its origins, our Order has been marked by the missionary spirit of Saint Norbert.
The mission of our churches does not consist only in spreading to man the good word of Christ and of bringing His grace, but also in ensuring the penetration of the evangelical spirit in society so as to bring it to its perfection: thus it is our task to contribute to building the human community in Charity. Engaging in contemporary debates, at the risk of cross-questioning and of raising doubts, is to trust in God and believe that His Word is truly liberating and that it can transfigure all that it touches.
The canonical profession of the Premonstratensians calls on them to combine closely action and contemplation in the service of a Church. Inside the abbey, they occupy themselves with celebrating the divine office and with various exercises belonging to a life of contemplation, combining their pastoral ministry with these spiritual practices. The ministry may assume different forms, the administration of parishes being the most frequent. The parish ministry is, in fact, the most frequently noted characteristic of the Norbertine institution, but we do not say its principal objective, still less its only objective. Father Norbert Calmels, a former abbot-general was able to write: “The Premonstratensians are not born to parish priesthood. Some engage in preaching, others acquire professorships, others still engage in scientific research ... Engaging in the most varied pursuits, they all live according to the spirit of their Founder and are attached to their Order by both visible and invisible bonds ... It is not the priest who wishes to return to the world who is best suited to the ministry, but rather one who wanted to live in the silence of his cell. All them refer the choice to the wisdom of the abbot; this then is no longer a commitment of an individual, but becomes that of the monastery ... which demonstrates the originality of St. Norbert and bears the imprint of his genius”. These conclusions find application and confirmation in the past of the Abbey of Leffe as well much as in its present practices. A particular canon who holds a monastic office, is sent to a parish. A particular parish priest is recalled to exercise the office of prior, provisor or master of novices. The majority of abbots are invested with their office after having exercised a parish ministry and move quite naturally from their presbyteries to the abbacy of Leffe, having thus gained experience of the lives of their religious either in the monastery or in the outside ministry.
The welcoming of guests and of the poor is one of the principal recommendations of Saint Norbert. We seek therefore to open as widely as possible both our hearts and our hands to the needs of men, above all of the oppressed, those who in some way suffer or who are victims of discrimination. Our houses are also open to those who are seeking a spiritual renewal or an ecumenical dialogue.
Intimately united with the entire human family and participating in its evolution, we seek, according to our means, to collaborate with all men in building an more human world. Our communities wish to promote the symbiosis of faith and of culture. Christ himself revealed to us that the fundamental law of human perfection and, therefore, of the Christian transformation of the world, is the new commandment of Charity. For God wishes, through Christ, to encompass the entire world, to make of it a new creation by beginning by giving this earth its plenitude on the final day.