Among Religious it has generally been considered somewhat inappropriate for a consecrated religious to accept the role of bishop, or indeed any high office in the Church. And throughout history, many Religious have politely and humbly refused high office in the Church, including our own Saint Dominic. Now, while the Church needs good bishops, it may still be argued that the proper place for a Religious is in his monastery. Saint Norbert, more or less, abandoned the Order he established, when he “took the purple” and went off to Magdeburg as archbishop. After Norbert’s departure, the governance of the Order continued and developed under Blessed Hugh of Fosse, the man who sowed the seeds of what the Order has become today. Blessed Hugh is honoured as the first Abbot General of the Order of Prémontré.
The young Norbert was very much influenced by his friend Saint Bernard, and in the early days the life of the Order was more monastic than canonical. It was Blessed Hugh who steered the Order away from early Cistercian influences and towards the canonical influence of Saint Augustine.
Now, Saint Norbert may not be in the same league as other great founders of religious Orders like Saint Benedict or Saint Bernard, Saint Francis or even Saint Dominic, all of whom had a clear vision of what God was asking them to do. And yet Saint Norbert can rightly be acknowledged as a notable pastor and defender of the rights of the Church, and particularly of the Papacy, which was under attack from all sides during the early 12th century. Along with his friend Saint Bernard, Saint Norbert defended the papacy against several antipopes.
In almost every icon or portrait of Saint Norbert we see him depicted holding a monstrance, which is interesting, since the monstrance didn’t come into use in the Church until well after Norbert’s death. Saint Norbert has the great distinction of being called the ‘Apostle of the Eucharist’. The Blessed Sacrament is, as the Second Vatican Council described it: the source and summit of the Christian Life. Saint Norbert shows us what is central to him and to us: Christ who gave his life for us, who even today gives himself to us as our spiritual food, Christ who becomes our nourishment and our source of strength.
Norbert was ordained deacon and priest on the same day, and he celebrated Mass daily, which was pretty exceptional at the beginning of the 12th century – it’s pretty exceptional now. It is recorded that many extraordinary events and healings took place when he said Mass. Norbert celebrated his last Mass on Pentecost Sunday in 1134, just a few days before his death on 6th June. The Eucharist was central to Saint Norbert’s life and everything he did flowed from the sacrifice he offered on the altar each and every day.
It’s not only each Premonstratensian community that lives from this centre. We do it here, ourselves, each and every day, as do all those who take their faith seriously and want to respond, as best they can, to God’s call to love and serve him. The Mass, the Eucharist is indeed the source and the summit of our Christian lives. Father Frederick Faber called the Mass: the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.
In imitation of Saint Norbert let us renew our devotion and love for Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist as we celebrate this Mass in memory of the Apostle of the Eucharist.
Saint Norbert, pray for us.