Canons Regular of St. Augustine of Stift Klosterneuburg

An uncommon priesthood lived in common.

Provost Bernhard with the newly professed members, the novice master and the newly-clothed novices, August 28, 2006.
Click to enlarge.

The Canons Regular of St. Augustine are the oldest form of common life for the clergy in the Church. True to the canonical tradition based upon the Apostolic Life as described in the Acts of the Apostles, canons regular today are active priests who embrace the classic, priestly spirituality of the sacred liturgy, especially in the solemn celebration of the Divine Office and the Holy Mass, as well as pastoral work. Our vow of stability to one monastic family assures us of a stable family life. We grow roots in one community. Each community of canons regular has its own strengths; founded in 1114 by Margrave St. Leopold III, at Stift Klosterneuburg our emphases are as old as the abbey itself:

Pastoral work
Intellectual life

The foundations of our daily common life are:

Common prayer
Common table

Our canonical and priestly life is founded on these as expressed in a dynamic observance which allows us both to continue the mission of prayer for which we were founded by St. Leopold, as well as care for souls in 24 parishes in and around Vienna and one in Bergen, Norway.

Dom Elias with his parents, his brother and provost Bernhard.
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Prostration during the Litany of the Saints.
Click to enlarge.

A normal day in the life…

5:55 a.m.: Matins and Lauds

6:30 a.m.: Chapter Mass

7:00 a.m.: Breakfast followed by classes or work

12:15 p.m.: Sext followed by lunch

1:00 p.m.: Rest and work

6:30 p.m.: Vespers and Compline, followed by supper and recreation

Our religious family is comprised of representatives of 8 different nations and mirrors the modern reality of globalization in Europe. The community sees its future in carrying forward the ancient tradition of the canons regular in this new, cosmopolitan context. Our rule of life is that of St. Augustine and this rule crowns our customs and traditions; ancient traditions and an ancient form of clerical common life enunciated in new languages and in a new reality. This enables us to preach the Gospel in an intelligible way in the modern world.

The vocation to our way of life presupposes openness to the fundamental inspiration which comes from the Acts of the Apostles: To be of one heart and mind and to hold all things in common. What makes the difference to every vocation is desire: the desire to embrace a vision of a priestly life lived in common and the willingness to mortify oneself for the sake of the Gospel and the good of the monastic family are essential; the desire to be sanctified by our common life and service. A rule of life is only as strong as the desire of the individual to live it!

Dom Clemens, Dom Gabriel and Dom Albert (from left)

Bp. Markus of Oslo, canon of Klosterneuburg and former novice master, confers the sacred office of the priesthood on Dom Lukas

The Vocation of the Canon Regular in depth

The essence of the vocation of the Canon Regular

To seek God as a priest and religious in community with like-minded men who strive to live the ideals of the common life as described in the Acts of the Apostles, guided, supported and realized through the grace of God.

“The foundation of all is that, being a community, you must learn to live as a community, sharing one mind and one heart in God.”
St. Augustine

“O Lord, how entirely needful is Thy grace for me, to begin my good work, to go on with it, and to accomplish it. For without grace I can do nothing, but in Thee I can do all things, when Thy grace doth strengthen me.”
Thomas a Kempis

“When the day of Pentecost came it found them gathered in one place. Suddenly from the sky there came a noise like a strong driving wind which was heard throughout the house where they were seated. Tongues of fire appeared, which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the common life, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. A reverent fear overtook them all, for many wonders and signs were performed by the apostles. Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s needs (Acts 2:42-45). The community of believers was of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as their own; rather everything was held in common (Acts 4:32).”

The inspiration for the canonical life is the common life of the apostolic Church. Therefore the descriptions above, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, are central to our understanding of the canonical life. The image comes from one of the treasures of Stift Klosterneuburg, the Verdun Altar. It depicts Pentecost and the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit on the nascent Church. The Holy Spirit continues to call men to seek God and become holy. For us, this means a vocation to a priestly community for the worship of God and service to His people.

What does that mean?

This call to search for and to give himself totally to God is intimately connected to his call to the priesthood, both of which are expressions of God’s love and grace for the one he calls. The disciplines of the canonical life are all designed to help him live his priesthood as fully and perfectly as possible, first for God and then for others. The man called to be a regular canon wants his whole life to be completely given to the priesthood God has given him. He wants everything he does to be done as a priest, to be an offering to the God who has given him everything in love. He commits himself for life through the vows of obedience, chastity, common property and stability. For the Canons Regular of Austria, this is governed not only by the Rule of St. Augustine and the legislation of the Church, but also by a constitution and concordat between the Church and the Austrian state that applies these universal norms to the particular circumstances of the Catholic Church in Austria (links to relevant passages from the Austrian Constitution are below in blue).

Obedience: through this vow the canon regular vows to imitate his Savior Jesus Christ who was obedient unto death. This obedience is not just given to a superior’s commands, but to the observance of the community.

Chastity: the canon regular, like his model St. Augustine, seeks to love God above all else, even particular relationships and marriage.

Common Property: the Canons Regular vow to hold nothing as their own, but to hold all things in common after the example of the first Christians in Jerusalem.

Stability: the Canons Regular of the Austrian Congregation vow to remain members of their community for life, thereby building stable, family relationships within the community.

The canon knows he cannot do it on his own, he needs and wants to live with like-minded men who are also striving for holiness. They are to be “Of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”

A novice considers:

“Why does a man become a canon?”

To love the One Who loves him first. A man enters the Canons Regular because he has come to realize, whether as a child or a teenager or an adult that God loves him very much. This knowledge may be born of innocence or forgiveness, but the result is the same. He now desires to love God before all other loves, including the love of a wife and children, the love of parents, brothers and sisters, the love of career and success, the love of independence and wealth. Called to love the One Who loves him first, he decides that his journey to God is not one that can be taken alone. Rather he knows that in order to love God with his whole heart he needs to be with others who are striving after the same goal. So, the canons are men seeking God with all their hearts, sharing all things in common, aiding one another on their common way to Heaven: that way is Jesus Himself. The Canonical life, like all authentic Christian life, finds its beginning and end in the God Who loves us first.

Fr. Elias

What are the steps in becoming a canon regular?

The first thing obviously is to make contact.

Next comes a visit, during which time the inquirer is able to live with the juniors (novices and clerics) and experience the life of the canons.

A young man who has visited and who feels called to follow Christ in this way makes application to the canonry. The application process is straight forward and uncomplicated. Its purpose is simply to ascertain whether the applicant has the requisite health, maturity and disposition for the canonical life. The Novice Master, Fr. Markus Eidsvig, guides the applicant through this process; receives the application and letters of recommendation and presents the candidate’s application to the Provost and his Chapter Council. If he is admitted, he makes a one-year novitiate.

The Noviciate is an initial year of training in the Rule, the Constitutions of the Austrian Congregation, as well as other subjects in the house. It is also a time when he can determine if this is the life to which he feels called by God. The community, for its part, decides if he is a “good fit.” At the end of this year the Provost submits his name to the community for a vote to see if he can make his Simple Vows.
To learn about the novitiate at Stift Klosterneuburg, click here.

Simple Vows are binding for three years, during which time the man (now known as a “cleric,” or “junior”) begins his studies for the priesthood. At the end of these three years, if he feels called to this way of life, he applies to the community to be admitted to Solemn Vows.
To learn about the clerics at Stift Klosterneuburg, click here.

Solemn Vows bind the canon regular for life to his community, and his community to him. At this time he receives all the rights, privileges and obligations which come from being a full, voting member of the chapter (community).

Pius, solemnly professed on August 28, 2003, and Abbot General Bernhard standing in front of the high altar in the Stift’s church.

Profession Formula for Solemn Vows

“I, NN., will live for life in the community of Stift Klosterneuburg for the service of the People of God. I vow to God, the Almighty before our father, Provost Bernhard, my brothers (and the Christian people) a life of chastity consecrated to God, without personal property and in obedience, according to the Rule and way of life of our Father, Augustine, and the constitutions of the Austrian canons.

In the Name of the Father and the Son
and the Holy Spirit.”

The Life of the Canon Regular

In what does the common or canonical life consist?

The canonical life is a conventual life. This means that his life is one that follows a monastic round of prayer of the Divine Office, common meals and common work. To see our daily schedule at Stift Klosterneuburg, click here.

To read the Austrian constitution about the life of the community before God, click here.

The priestly ordination of a canon at Stift Klosterneuburg

What is meant by common prayer?

The greatest and most ancient duty and privilege of the canon regular is the solemn celebration of the great prayer of the Church, the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours. In this prayer the canon offers the Church’s sacrifice of praise. This praise rises before the throne of God “as incense in His sight” and mingles with that of the angels. They are prayers of praise and of supplication for God’s holy people. To read further about the Divine Office in the Canonical Tradition, click here.

The central moment of the canon’s day is, of course, the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At Klosterneuburg, many of the canons are obliged to celebrate in the parish churches under their care for the sake of the faithful. On special occasions, such as the feast of St. Augustine, all the canons offer the Mass together. Besides common liturgical prayer, the canon, like any serious Christian, must cultivate his spiritual life with personal prayer, spiritual reading and meditation. Without this constant dialogue, the canon’s heart would soon turn away from the words he speaks with his lips in the choir, and St. Augustine warns his followers that this should never be so.

Persevere faithfully in prayer at the hours and times appointed.
Rule of St. Augustine

The sensible man builds his house on rock. In the same way the man who would acquire the art of prayer should build a spiritual edifice on the firm foundation of the wisdom of the fathers, rather tan on the sand of his own inexperience.
Serafino da Fermo C.R.L.

What is meant by common meals?

St. Augustine believed that “common meals” means more than simply sharing food, but also the sharing of their time and themselves as well as their property. The common meals, shared together daily, symbolize the holding of all things in common. Furthermore, St. Augustine reminds those who follow his Rule that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” For this reason the community maintains silence during part of lunch and dinner in order to hear a table reading. Following dinner the community has a period of recreation during which time the members of the community share their lives. This is practical charity as the different generations of canons, juniors and novices give of themselves to build one another up in good cheer and wisdom. Each has something give and much to receive.

You have not only to satisfy your physical hunger, but also to hunger for the word of God
Rule of St. Augustine

The Ministry of the Canon Regular

What is the mission of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine?

The motto of the Confederation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine is Sacrificium laudis , caritas pastoralis. This motto captures well the meaning of the Rule of St. Augustine as it is summarized in the prologue.

Prologue to the Rule of St. Augustine:

“Ante omnia, Fratres carissimi, diligatur Deus deinde proximus quia ista praecepta sunt principaliter nobis data.”

“Before all else, dear brothers, love God and your neighbor because these are the first commands given to us.”

The Crucifixion from the Verdun Altar

The Resurrection from the Verdun Altar

What is Sacrificium Laudis?

The life and mission of the canon is to give glory to God. This is accomplished first of all by the daily celebration of the Sacrficium laudis, the Sacrifice of Praise (Ps. 50:14).The Sacrificium laudis consists in the offering of the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours at appointed times during the day and the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The canons seek to carry out the liturgy, the official prayer of the Church with all due splendor.

Pius Parsch (+1954), canon of Stift Klosterneuburg

The Priest and the Liturgy

We priests engaged in the care of souls (cura animarum) must again become real priests. This consists of two elements: the presence of Christ and the grace of Christ. The humanity of Christ is near in the priest. The simple Catholic people have kept this belief: Praised be Jesus Christ they say whenever the priest comes. Whoever hears you, hears me; whoever hears me, hears Him who has sent me (Lk. 10:16). Moreover in the priest the redeeming grace of Christ is at work. As the bishop said at his priestly ordination: whatever you bless, shall be blessed! Again the believing people have it right. For example they have immense confidence in the priestly blessing. This is our strength; this is our great work of the care of souls: to bring the redeeming grace of Christ to mankind. This is the sacramental care of souls. And if we now ask what means are at our disposal to offer this service of ours, then I can name only two which are sacramental in the very sense of the words. I would like to name the two sacraments of the care of souls: the cult (liturgy), and the Word of God. This is our real craft. We can also make use of other, natural means, but they are only a small help, when compared to our sacramental power.

What more can a priest engaged in the care of souls do than to give Christ?

That I have not exaggerated can easily be shown: How do we receive the life of grace? Through Baptism which is liturgy. How do we protect and cultivate this life? Through the Eucharist which is liturgy. I would like to say immediately that Baptism and the Eucharist are the two focal points around which circles the entire liturgy like an ellipsis. But we must also hold onto the sacramental character of all the other parts of the liturgy, e.g. the liturgical cycle, the Liturgy of the Hours, blessings and customs of the Church. In everything Christ wants to draw us near with his blessing and redeeming hands.

Now I come to my conclusion, which is that the liturgy is the greatest strength of the priest. There he should be in his element. This is the main content of the cura animarum. What more can a priest engaged in the care of souls do than to give Christ? This is done only in the liturgy. The greeting which he says so often in the liturgy as the priest, “Dominus vobiscum, the Lord be with you”, this is his redeeming work in the liturgy. The second means of cura animarum is ideally matched to the liturgy: it is the Word of God, which he preaches. I repeat: the Word of God and the liturgy are the two great sacramental means for the care of souls.

From Volksliturgie. Ihr Sinn und Umfang, 2. Aufl., Klosterneuburg 1952, 231-233.

What is Caritas Pastoralis?

The fruit of the canon’s Sacrificium laudis is the Caritas pastoralis, the love which Christ the Good Shepherd pours into the hearts of his servants to enable them to serve others in whatever apostolic endeavor they may undertake.

Does the Caritas pastoralis include pastoral ministry?

Yes. His first obligation is to live the common life in charity, but this is also expressed in pastoral service to the faithful in many different ways. He shares in the apostolate of the priesthood with his brother diocesan and religious priests in the responsibility of the Cura animarum, i.e. the care of souls, under the guidance of the bishop of the diocese.

What is Cura animarum?

The “care of souls” is another way of describing all that is encompassed by the term “pastoral work.” This care demands that the priest exercise his threefold ministry of sanctifying, teaching and governing of the people entrusted to him as parish priest or in a special assignment, such as education or prison ministry.

Through the centuries the Canons Regular have been active in many different areas of work. At Klosterneuburg the canons have always “specialized” in parish work, intellectual work (the Abbey still has the right to grant certain diplomas) and hospitality.

All that a canon does is to be done in communion with his superior and his community as well as in cooperation with the bishop of the diocese. The canons consider themselves very much a part of the local clergy, and they seek to be a constant source of assistance to their brother priests, whether in matters practical, spiritual or personal.

Do the canons – or priests in general – serve in ways besides parish work?

It may seem odd, but a priest is not identical with parish priest.
Being a priest is who he is; parish ministry is what a priest does. The latter flows from his priestly heart and his sacramental ordination, but it is not the only way in which he may serve God and the Church.

To read the Austrian constitution on the ministry of the canons, click here.

What are other ways in which a priest might serve?

There are many priests who spend a considerable amount of their lives doing work other than parish ministry. Such work may be the administration of a diocese or other ecclesiastical institutions, such as Catholic Charities, or canon law, e.g. adjudicating marriage cases for a diocesan tribunal, or teaching in a school or university.

No matter what his work is, he is a priest and his work is a priestly one.

What are some of the ways in which a canon might serve his community?

Since canons belong to a family of priests, as it were – this is called the Chapter – there are works that must be done for sake of the community’s well-being.

A provost (Propst in German) is the superior of the community. It is his responsibility to lead the community. He is assisted by the dean (Dechant in German). The dean is elected by the chapter and helps run the community and supports the provost in his initiatives. There is also a member responsible for overseeing the household economy of the community. In German he is called the Kammerer. A central position within each abbey is that of the novice master, a canon entrusted with the care and training of future canons. There is also a guest master who is responsible for organizing the Stift’s care of guests. Since hospitality is one of the corner stones of canonical spirituality, this is an important position.

Are there ways outside of governance of the community in which a canon might serve?

Yes. A community may undertake various kinds of ministry aside from the central one of pastoral ministry if the numbers and talents of the community warrant, such as teaching, retreat work, research, and even artisanal works. These should always be within the context of the community, in order to preserve as much as possible the unity in mind and heart which St. Augustine so strongly recommends.

It would be shameful as well
as ridiculous if religious houses
were to give workers a taste
for soft living.

St. Augustine

Are the canons encouraged to develop their creative talents?

The development of expertise in various artisanal works such as the making of vestments or other such enterprises which contribute to the splendor of the Sacred Liturgy are encouraged, both to develop the talents of the individual, as well as to be a form of evangelization. Therefore, every community may elect to devote a portion of its manpower to various enterprises that benefit the Church, the community and the canon. What is important in these ventures is imagination and daring. The same qualities demanded of any man who desires to follow the canonical vocation.

Click here to read the distinguished canons page and learn how the canonical life has been lived down the ages.

The Mass is the greatest
form of priestly service.

Pius Parsch