Tag Archives: Feast Day

St. Norbert, Bishop

June 3, 2016



Norbert was born in 1080 in Xanten, a town in western Germany.   His father was Count Heribert of Gennep, his mother Hedwig of Guise.  His family was both nobility and Christian.  As a young man he was ordained a subdeacon, not because of his faith, but to gain the advantage of clerical position and a financial subsidy from the church.  He became a spiritual advisor to Emperor Henry V in Cologne, and he reveled in a life of political influence, luxury, and wealth.

Norbert accompanied Henry V to Rome in 1114 for a contentious meeting with Pope Paschal II over lay investiture, the appointment of bishops by secular rulers.  Norbert was moved by the Pope’s firm adherence to spiritual principles, and it proved to be the beginning of his conversion.  A year later Norbert was riding his horse, caught in a thunderstorm, struck by lightning, and thrown from his mount.  Spared, he experienced a conversion like St. Paul.

Norbert resigned his position with the Emperor and withdrew to the Benedictine Abbey of Siegberg outside of Cologne for a period of penance, fasting, and prayer.  At the end of his seclusion, he was ordained a priest in 1115, and to prove the genuineness of his vocation, he sold all of his land and material possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor.

Filled with zeal, Norbert returned to Xanten, but the local clergy were lax, not enamored with his call to holiness, and ostracized him.  Norbert departed for France, barefoot over snowy roads, to meet with Pope Gelasius II who had fled from Rome.   The Pope commissioned Norbert to be a missionary preacher, and for the next several years he traveled throughout northern France preaching Jesus, the gospel, and repentance, and he performed a number of miracles.

In 1120 the new Pope, Callistus II, sent Norbert to Laon to lead a spiritual renewal of the Canons of St. Martin.  Again, he encountered bitter resistance, and unable to lead a reform, he was given permission to found his own community, which he did on Christmas Day, 1120, with thirteen members, at Premontre in northern France.  The new community was called the Canons Regular of Premontre, or simply, the Premonstratensians, today called the Norbertines.  Norbert adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, and implemented some of the practices of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians regarding simplicity of life.  He combined the contemplative spirituality of monastic living with the active spirituality of outside ministry.

Norbert was appointed the Archbishop of Magdeburg, Germany, in 1126.  He instituted a clergy reform that enforced celibacy, eliminated corruption, and ended absenteeism.  Opposition was so intense that several assassination attempts were made on his life, and he fled Magdeburg briefly.

Pope Honorius II died in 1130, and two cardinals were elected separately, one legitimately, Innocent II, and one falsely, Anacletus II, the antipope, which caused a schism.  Norbert went to Rome in an attempt to support Innocent II and resolve the conflict.  Unsuccessful, he returned to Magdeburg, fell ill, and died on June 6, 1134.

Norbert was canonized by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  He is the patron saint of Magdeburg, Bohemia, and the Premonstratensian Order.  His symbol is a monstrance because he vigorously upheld the doctrine of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in his preaching.

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St. Gabriel, the Archangel – God’s Special Messenger

September 28, 2011


The Annunciation

Image of the Annunciation at St. Mary in Holdingford, MN

Gabriel, One of Seven Archangels

The Archangel Gabriel is celebrated on September 29, the feast of the archangels. The feast also celebrates two other well-known archangels, Michael and Raphael. The total number of archangels is traditionally regarded as seven, a number based upon an Old Testament verse, “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord” (Tob 12:15); and a New Testament verse, “I [John] saw the seven angels who stood before God” (Rev 8:2). The non-canonical book of Enoch provides the names of four other archangels: Uriel, Jophiel, Chamael, and Zadkiel (1 Enoch 9:1).

Gabriel’s Name

Gabriel is a Hebrew word with two root parts. The first portion, “gabri,” means strength, power, or might; while the suffix, “El,” is a Hebrew word for God. The name Gabriel means God is strong, God is powerful, or God is mighty.

Gabriel’s Status

An archangel is a superior rank, higher than other angels. Archangels occupy a loftier tier on the hierarchy of angles because they have more important roles.

Gabriel’s Special Role

Gabriel is God’s special messenger. Gabriel explained, “I am Gabriel, who sand before God. I was sent to you and to announce” (Lk 1:19). Gabriel is mentioned four times in the Bible, twice in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament. Gabriel appeared to the prophet Daniel (Dan 8:16; 9:21) to explain two dreams. Then Gabriel brought the message of the two great births in Luke’s Infancy Narrative: the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah (Lk 1:19), and most importantly, the birth of Jesus to Mary (Lk 1:26).

Gabriel, the Greatest of all Messengers

Gabriel was chosen as the special angel who had the sole privilege of carrying the message of the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare his way, “to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Lk 1:17), John the Baptist. Gabriel’s most privileged duty was to announce the birth of Jesus (Lk 1:31), the Son of the Most High, the one who would take the throne of David, who would rule over the house of Jacob, whose kingdom would never end, the Son of God. No other angel has ever brought such an important announcement. Gabriel stands alone as the greatest of all angelic messengers.

Old Testament Underpinnings

Gabriel was God’s special messenger to the prophet Daniel. Daniel had a vision of a ram and a he-goat (Dan 8:1-12) which he could not comprehend, so God sent Gabriel to describe the symbolism to him (Dan 8:16-26). Daniel also did not understand the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity (Dan 9:2) as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 25:11; 29:10), so God sent Gabriel a second time to provide another explanation (Dan 9:22-27).

Gabriel’s Patronage

The archangel Gabriel is the patron saint of all those who carry messages, including letter carriers and all postal employees; stamp collectors; telegraph workers years ago and telephone workers today; anyone involved with radio or TV; those who work with satellites and the telecommunications industry; as well as diplomats.

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