Online Edition: July-August 2010
Vol. XVI, No. 5
Liturgy and the Splendor of Truth
from The Spirit of the Liturgy
by Father Romano Guardini
Following is an excerpt from Father Romano Guardini’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy, originally published in German in 1918. The publication of Father Guardini’s concise and insightful study of the Church’s liturgy strongly influenced the developing liturgical movement in Germany in the twentieth century, and was the inspiration for a book by the same name written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This excerpt is from Chapter 6, “The Seriousness of the Liturgy”. (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1998, p 83ff, reprint of 1930 Sheed & Ward edition, trans., Ada Lane).
The Church has not built up the Opus Dei for the pleasure of forming beautiful symbols, choice language, and graceful, stately gestures, but she has done it — in so far as it is not completely devoted to the worship of God — for the sake of our desperate spiritual need. It is to give expression to the events of the Christian’s inner life: the assimilation, through the Holy Ghost, of the life of the creature to the life of God in Christ; the actual and genuine rebirth of the creature into a new existence; the development and nourishment of this life; its stretching forth from God in the Blessed Sacrament and the means of grace, towards God in prayer and sacrifice; and all this in the continual mystic renewal of Christ’s life in the course of the ecclesiastical year. The fulfillment of all these processes by the set forms of language, gesture, and instruments, their revelation, teaching, accomplishment and acceptance by the faithful, together constitute the liturgy. We see, then, that it is primarily concerned with reality, with the approach of a real creature to a real God, and with the profoundly real and serious matter of redemption. There is here no question of creating beauty, but of finding salvation for sin-stricken humanity. Here truth is at stake, and the fate of the soul, and real — yes, ultimately the only real — life. All this it is which must be revealed, expressed, sought after, found and imparted by every possible means and method; and when this is accomplished, lo! it is turned into beauty.
This is not a matter for amazement, since the principle here at work is the principle of truth and of mastery over form. The interior element has been expressed clearly and truthfully, the whole superabundance of life has found its utterance, and the fathomless profundities have been plainly mapped out. It is only to be expected that a gleam of the utmost splendor should shine forth at such a manifestation of truth.
For us, however, the liturgy must chiefly be regarded from the standpoint of salvation. We should steadfastly endeavor to convince ourselves of its truth and its importance in our lives. When we recite the prayers and psalms of the liturgy, we are to praise God, nothing more. When we assist at Holy Mass, we must know that we are close to the fount of all grace. When we are present at an ordination, the significance of the proceedings must lie for us in the fact that the grace of God has taken possession of a fragment of human life. We are not concerned here with the question of powerfully symbolic gestures, as if we were in a spiritual theater, but we have to see that our real souls should approach a little nearer to the real God, for the sake of all our most personal, profoundly serious affairs.
For it is only thus that perception of liturgical beauty will be vouchsafed to us. It is only when we participate in liturgical action with the earnestness begotten of deep personal interest that we become aware why, and in what perfection, this vital essence is revealed. It is only when we premise the truth of the liturgy that our eyes are opened to its beauty.
The degree of perception varies, according to our aesthetic sensitiveness. Perhaps it will merely be a pleasant feeling of which we are not even particularly conscious, of the profound appropriateness of both language and actions for the expression of spiritual realities, a sensation of quiet spontaneity, a consciousness that everything is right and exactly as it should be. Then perhaps an offertory suddenly flashes in upon us, so that it gleams before us like a jewel. Or bit by bit the whole sweep of the Mass is revealed, just as from out the vanishing mist the peaks and summits and slopes of a mountain chain stand out in relief, shining and clear, so that we imagine we are looking at them for the first time. Or it may be that in the midst of prayer the soul will be pervaded by that gentle, blithe gladness which rises into sheer rapture. Or else the book will sink from our hands, while, penetrated with awe, we taste the meaning of utter and blissful tranquility, conscious that the final and eternal verities which satisfy all longing have here found their perfect expression. But these moments are fleeting, and we must be content to accept them as they come or are sent. On the whole, however, and as far as everyday life is concerned, this precept holds good, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all else shall be added to you” — all else, even the glorious experience of beauty.