Saint of the Day – 6 June – St Norbert (c 1080-1134) – also known as St Norbert of Xanten – Bishop, Confessor, Founder, “Defender of the Eucharist” and “Apostle of the Eucharist”, Exorcist, Reformer, Preacher – (c1080 at Xanten, Germany – 6 June 1134 at Magdeburg, Germany, relics in Prague) – Patron for peace, invoked during childbirth for safe delivery, of infertile married couples, Bohemia (Czech Republic), Archdiocese of Magdeburg, Germany – Attributes – monstrance, cross with two cross-bars.
St Norbert was a German from illustrious Frankish and Salic German stock. Offered as a youth to the collegiate church of St Victor in Xanten, he was educated both in literature and the ways of the court and the world. At Xanten, he became a Subdeacon and at this period of his life, showed no inclination to pursue the dignity of the Priesthood. Rather, St Norbert, who was wealthy, handsome, thin and somewhat tall, sought approval in the courts of the great and of the emperor. Known to be an eloquent speaker and possessed of an affability that won him admiration and friendships, St Norbert used these natural gifts, not to seek the glory of God but to gain the love and esteem of men. His biographer describes him at this period before his conversion as one who “had no time for piety and quiet” and that he “lived his life according to his own desires.”
But soon life became one of interior strife for St Norbert. He had witnessed Emperor Henry V’s mistreatment of Pope Paschal II in Rome in 1111, when he travelled there in Frederick of Cologne’s retinue. These events left St Norbert with a sense of uneasiness he could not dispel. The man who had been so happy to live at court no longer felt comfortable in that atmosphere of intrigue, where the emperor’s arrogance took the place of law. He left the court and returned to Xanten, where we find him in 1115. In late spring of this year, St. Norbert, accompanied by a single servant, was travelling on the road to Freden when a storm suddenly came up. A bolt of lightning struck the ground before his horse’s feet and he was thrown to the ground. Shaken, he asked, “Lord what do you want me to do?” In response, he seemed to hear these words from Psalm 34, “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” St Norbert underwent a profound conversion. Under the influence of grace and led by the Gospel, he became sure of one thing: he wanted to put on the new man (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) and live a life of perfection in the service of the Church, according to the Gospel of Christ and in the footsteps of the Apostles.
From the beginning of his conversion, St Norbert aimed at a life of priestly perfection through imitation of the Apostles. He sought ordination to the priesthood and gave his considerable wealth to the poor, in order “that he may follow the naked cross naked” ( Vita Norberti B, IX 22). Inflamed with the zeal of divine fervour, St Norbert went about with “no purse, no sandals nor two tunics,” (Mk. 6:8) proclaiming by his words and example the necessity of poverty of spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. As Christ had sent out his Apostles not only “to proclaim the message,” but also “to have authority to cast out demons,” (Mk. 3:15) St Norbert was well known as an exorcist and his biographer records many instances when he was called upon to exercise this office. Regarded as a “minister of peace and concord,” he had the gift of reconciling people and establishing peace between feuding parties.
At the centre of St Norbert’s spiritual life and ministry was the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Contrary to custom of his times, he celebrated Mass every day and it was after offering the Eucharistic sacrifice that he loved to preach, while his heart was overflowing with the love he had drawn from intimate contact with Christ. The Acts of the Apostles record how the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” (2:42) and that “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (4:32). St Norbert sought to realise the fullness of this Apostolic ideal in the founding of a new religious family.
In 1121, St Norbert established the first monastery of our Order in Prémontré, France. He had a great talent to speak to people, to fill people with enthusiasm for the kingdom of God, so much so that in a short period of time he was able to attract many men and women to the Apostolic Life and to start many foundations of religious communities of this “ordo novus”. Liturgical prayer held a central place in the life of Norbert and his first companions. The Eucharist, the heart of liturgical prayer occupied such a place at Prémontré and in the life of St Norbert that later tradition made Norbert the Apostle of the Eucharist. His order, the Premonstratensian or Norbertine Canons and Sisters are today in Europe, the US, Canada, South America, Zaire, South Africa, India and Australia are involved in education, parochial ministry, university chaplaincy and youth work.
In 1126, St Norbert was elected archbishop of Magdeburg, Germany. He worked for the kingdom of God on all levels and ready to commit himself to peace and justice, did not shy away from arguments and conflicts, neither in his own diocese nor in the conflict between emperor and pope, as he courageously defended the rights of the Church.
St Norbert died on 6 June 1134, the Wednesday after Pentecost. By order of the emperor, his body was laid at rest in Abbey Church of St. Mary’s at Magdeburg, where he had installed the confreres of his Order. St Norbert’s body was transferred to the Norbertine Abbey of Strahov in Prague in 1627 after numerous attempts were made over the centuries by the Abbey of Strahov in Prague to retrieve the saint’s body. Only after several military defeats at the hand of Emperor Ferdinand II was the abbot of Strahov able to claim the body. On 2 May 1627 the body was finally brought to Prague where it remains to this day, displayed in a glass-fronted tomb in the Royal Canonry of Strahov, Prague and is venerated by his sons and daughters from all over the world. As mentioned above, St. Norbert is venerated as the “Apostle and Defender of the Eucharist.” He is usually depicted with a ciborium or monstrance in his hand on account of his extraordinary devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. St Norbert is also a patron of childbirth/expectant mothers, as well as traditionally invoked by married couples who want to conceive a child, with many favours attributed to his intercession.
Why is St Norbert Patron of Expectant Mothers & Infertile Married Couples?
A pious woman once approached St Norbert asking whether she and her husband ought to separate and enter monasteries because they lived in an infertile marriage. St Norbert prophesied that they would be blessed with children, the first of whom would be dedicated to God. This child, Nicholas, did indeed become a Norbertine at Prémontré. St Norbert is traditionally invoked for a good childbirth. The Norbertine Canonesses at Doksany (Czech Republic) in modern times promote this devotion to St. Norbert as patron of infertile couples or endangered pregnancies and report hundreds of families now blessed with children, the sisters having well over 3,000 spiritual children as of 2012.
A Prayer to St. Norbert for a Good Childbirth
St. Norbert, great and faithful servant of God!
You venerated the holy and miraculous birth of our Saviour,
Who His Mother, the purest Virgin Mary,
conceived without the loss of her virginity
and gave birth remaining a virgin.
You connected the origin of the Premonstratensian Order
with the day of the birth of Jesus Christ.
I humbly pray to you, St. Norbert,
as a great protector, so that God will give me the grace,
through your intercession,
to give birth to this conceived child.
And so that He will give me also the grace
that this child will join the Church of Christ
through the sacrament of Baptism
and that he/she will serve Him, Our Lord,
the whole of his/her life
so that in the end we both will reach eternal salvation.
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.
(Translated from The Little Hours, 1749, by one of our Norbertine Sisters at Doksany)