What is a ’canon’

A canon is a religious, priest or cleric, living in community under the Rule of Saint Augustine, attached to an abbey, a monastery or a church. His life is usually characterised by three elements:
- a common life united in charity, where each member gives up his property so as to serve God and his brethren in the community more freely.
- a life of liturgical prayer, singing the psalms in the Divine Office, and the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass.
- a life of mission, made fruitful by this prayer and strengthened by the total gift of the self which is permitted by living in community, in charity and poverty.

Pope John Paul II recalled this very ancient duty when he addressed the worldwide association of Canons Regular in 1984: “As canons, you have a special responsibility for the solemn worship of the Church, consisting principally in the sung celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and of the Eucharist, remembering that the liturgy is at one and the same time the summit towards which the action of the Church aims and the source from which her strength flows.

Charged with praying the official Prayer of the Church, Canons Regular see in it the inexhaustible and powerful source of their own prayer, of their contemplation and of their mission.

Some dates in the history of Canons Regular

- 1st century in Jerusalem: the ’Apostolic Life’ – vita apostolica – of which we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf Acts 2.42-47 and Acts 4.32-33), a life in community, poor, contemplative and missionary, is the principal model for the life of canons regular.
- Towards 397: Saint Augustine of Hippo writes the Rule which canons will follow thereafter. Until the 11th century, the ’canonical life’ is recommended (often in vain...) by popes, bishops and councils as the norm for the clergy.
- 8th to 9th centuries: Canons Regular become more clearly distinguished from monks (by being priests and by their mission) and from secular priests (by their vow of poverty and their community life). The ’Gregorian reform’ relies heavily on the Canons Regular to reform the clergy and the collegiate chapters, as well as the Church’s life of mission.
- 12th century: the dawn of Christendom, the century of the Canons Regular:
Canonical foundations increase (e.g., Saint-Ruf, Arrouaise, Saint-Victor, Prémontré). Vocations flow into the 2,500 houses with which the Order of Canons cover Christendom as it spreads. The spiritual and social influence of the Canons is very great.
- 15th century: Thomas à Kempis, a canon regular of Windesheim, is very likely to have been the author of The Imitation of Christ, the book which has been most read and translated after the Holy Bible.
- 17th century: St Pierre Fourier, Blessed Alix Le Clerc, Blessed Alain de Solminihac and Cardinal de La Rochefoucauld found four congregations of Canons in France.
- 1789: At the time of the French Revolution, France has more than 200 abbeys of Canons Regular and thousands of collegiate churches serving huge numbers of parishes.
- 20th century: Several congregations of canons are born (or reborn) in France.
- 21st century: The Canons Regular of the Mother of God arrive in Lagrasse.