Spirituality of the Order

Spirituality has its origin in the Latin word "spiritus," which means "spirit" and is used to denote spiritual life. Thus, it is more than a specific exercise or technique and includes much more than a shorter or longer prayer. Spirituality is a way of living, perceiving, and evaluating, and therefore encompasses everything.

Spirituality expresses our life with God, which includes prayer, experiencing life with Him, but also participation in the mystery of the liturgy.

Spirituality in General

Nowadays, we can observe a remarkable phenomenon: while the general trend and external dictate lead people unmistakably towards a materialistic conception of their lives, more and more – perhaps out of some inner instinct for self-preservation – people begin to seek out what is generally expressed by the term "spirituality". Better said, people are starting to become more aware of the spiritual component of their being and see its realization as necessary for maintaining the balance and harmony of their humanity. They may superficially attempt only to find inner peace and tranquility, or they may decide to seek and find a more qualified answer to pressing questions (often going to the very core of their own existence) that begin to swarm within them. Eventually, they come to an understanding best expressed by St. Augustine in the 4th century: "Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised... You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You."

In their search and discovery of God, although each person goes their own unique and unmistakable path, they typically also orient themselves towards a certain spiritual tradition of a community that has a historically proven experience with this experience of God. We call a specific spirituality, as a special path (definable and imitable), a certain spirit that penetrates, dominates, and imprints a characteristic seal on a community. These spiritualities (approaches to God) typically developed in history in connection with some monastic movement, based on the charisma of a founder at the forefront. These were people who were immensely sensitive to what the Holy Spirit communicated to them, to what it called them. From their response, from the path they embarked on, from the needs they perceived, and from the means they chose for this purpose, a spiritual tradition is born and formed, characterizing a given spirituality.

Premonstratensian Spirituality

To understand Premonstratensian spirituality, we logically start with the founder – St. Norbert. Asking "What are Premonstratensians?" means inquiring about the spirit of St. Norbert with which they live and carry through history. The fundamental characteristics of the Premonstratensians emerge when looking at the origin, life, and experience of Norbert of Xanten. He came from a time when monastic life was largely the domain of monastic orders, characterized by a certain closure and isolation from the outside world, aiding their life of focused prayer and work. Apostolate among the people, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, was carried out by secular priests (not covering the respective territories evenly) or itinerant preachers. The needs of the times as perceived by Norbert and the not so great successes of his individual endeavors led him to the idea of life in a monastic community – both in the cloistered concentration solely on God and anchored in Him, but also aware of the spiritual hunger of God's people and going out to them in the desire to be their apostle and shepherd.

Therefore, Norbert draws on the experience he knew – the life of a canon, which was a group of clerics gathered around a cathedral or another significant church, where they would live and pray together. To avoid the excesses often occurring among canons (which Norbert knew personally from his previous life), where they were more concerned with annuities, properties, and their comfort than with prayer and the salvation of souls, he founded a monastic community, regular canons – canons who accept a rule, regulations, to which they commit themselves with monastic vows. Something new emerges, for which the term vita mixta began to be used, meaning a mixed life, which became the characteristic feature of the Premonstratensians – life in a community in the monastery carrying in many ways the characteristics and form of monastic orders, in Premonstratensians in line with their canonical foundation with an emphasis on common solemn choral prayer, linked with work among the people, to whom they want to pass on what they themselves live, to bring to them He with whom they themselves meet in prayer. Premonstratensian life, therefore, stands on four main pillars:

1. Communio (Community)

The Premonstratensian experience of community is much more than just several brothers living together. Community life is a fundamental part of Norbertine heritage and thus of their order's spirituality. It's life in a family circle of brothers or sisters, a life of a community of love, a community that trusts each other. Community life is inherently life for others. This idea is not just Norbert's or Augustine's but goes back to the life of the early Christians – and it's essentially an idea that starts at the beginning of the Holy Scripture as an expression of human nature (Genesis 2:18: "It is not good for man to be alone"), ultimately leading man to whom he is created in the image and likeness, who eternally experiences not being for himself but for another, as a Trinitarian community. Community life is thus the truest realization of God's image in us and is also a very practical and daily offered opportunity to grow closer to God and to acquire the mind of Christ. It is the thinking of accepting responsibility for the good and salvation of both the entire community and each individual brother. It is the thinking of willingness to renounce oneself and sacrifice for another, whose needs are prioritized over one's own needs and desires.

2. Contemplatio (Contemplation)

Contemplation here does not have to be understood in its narrower (mystical) sense. As a pillar of Premonstratensian spirituality, contemplation is all about looking at the Lord, anchoring their lives in God. Specifically, it's about the environment of prayer created and supported by the monastery (or community). The core of the canons' life is choral prayer. For Premonstratensians, this common celebration of God takes up the largest part of the day, celebrated solemnly and liturgically in the spirit of their order's charisma. They are aware that it is the prayer of the church. Our Redeemer wanted his life, which began in his mortal body with his prayers and sacrifice, to continue throughout the ages in his mystical body, which is the church. Therefore, the church's prayer is also the prayer that Christ offers to the Father in union with his body-church. Performing the church's prayer means not only "to pray" but especially to let one's voice sound in Christ and His voice in us. Therefore, this laus Deo in choro (praise of God in choir) is for Premonstratensian canons not only an important part of prayer but the main pillar of their prayerful encounter with Christ. It is also the source, inspiration, and soul of their further prayer. This is particularly evident in a similarly dignified celebration of the Eucharist. Saint Norbert was a thoroughly Eucharistic person, which was reflected not only in his commitment to defending the truth of the real presence of God's Son in the Eucharist (which is why he is still depicted with a monstrance) but also in drawing strength from the Eucharist and Eucharistic thinking (sacrificial self-giving for others) was a characteristic feature for him. Thus, for a Premonstratensian, encountering the Eucharistic Lord is not just a matter of the Holy Mass, but also beyond it, they come to Him for personal adoration.

3. Actio (Action)

Premonstratensians, like all "old" medieval orders, are not narrowly profiled in terms of focus and specific content of their activity. This specific specialization was characteristic of later congregations and institutes. However, as mentioned, external activity (or the element of apostolate) is an essential part of Premonstratensian life and harmoniously complements their life summarized under the term contemplatio. This non-specificity of Premonstratensians is more of an advantage. No apostolic work (compatible with their communal and prayer life) is against Premonstratensian spirituality and their form of life. Thus, for example, we can meet Premonstratensians teaching at schools, working for the Kingdom of God in various specific groups (healthcare, military, culture, drug addicts), or engaged in standard pastoral work in parishes, where, thanks to living and working in a community, each can develop and use their personal gifts, talents, and charisms (working with youth, families, or seniors, caring for spiritual music).

4. Stabilitas (Stability)

This support of Premonstratensian life is closely related to their experience of community and thus is reflected in their spiritual life and activity, giving it a specific flavor. Premonstratensians are a community – living and working together – but not just anywhere and anyhow. They are a community-family, and a family has its home. For Premonstratensians, this is always their home monastery, the central monastery of the canonry. There they enter, there their formation takes place, to that house, place, and community of brothers belonging to the given canonry they build their relationship, to this place they make their vows (I offer myself to God and give myself to the canonry...) and no matter where their apostolic activity takes them, they always have a lively awareness that home, with the family, in the whole circle of the community of brothers, is in their main monastery, where they regularly gather precisely for the experience and strengthening of this community.