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The Fellowship of the Liturgy: Each for All and All for Christ

Editor’s note: This examination of the second chapter in Romano Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy is the second in a series of seven essays marking the centenary of Guardini’s book.


A Centenary of Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy, Part II

The philosophical writings of Romano Guardini on the relationship of the individual to the community are like a luxurious vine: trunk, branches, tendrils extending here and there, leaves and, of course, fruit in abundance. In this article, the reader will get a stripped-down version, reduced to the essentials, and poor in comparison. The hope is that this simplified explanation of Guardini’s thought will lead the reader to the text itself, The Spirit of the Liturgy,[1] where he can enjoy the full breadth of our author’s insights.

First a summary of Chapter Two, “The Fellowship of the Liturgy,” will be given. Next, the ideas presented in this chapter will be fleshed out by insights from other works of Guardini. Finally, there will be a reflection on the implications of Guardini’s thought for liturgical reform.

The person is oriented toward the vastness of the great human community, which in its turn, however, is composed of individuals who sustain and complete it. In the liturgical field, this relationship between individual and community indicates that a complete Christian humanity exists only there where the Church and the individual person live in a natural reciprocal relationship.

 

Summing up “Fellowship”

Guardini’s philosophical musings are rich and densely packed. In this second chapter of The Spirit of the Liturgy, it might be helpful to use the interpretive key of participation, although Guardini doesn’t use the word here. He explains that the liturgical fellowship or Gemeinschaft he is talking about is the Church, the corpus Christi mysticum, the “we” of the entire body of the Church. How does the individual “I” relate to this liturgical community? Or, in other words, how do I participate in the Church’s liturgy? Let us examine the following elements more closely: A) the community, B) the individual and C) the participation of the individual in the liturgical action of the community.

A: The Community[2]

The liturgy is not celebrated by the individual, but by the entire body of the faithful, not merely those present, but all the faithful on earth (across the limits of time and space) and all the saints in heaven. “Who celebrates the liturgy?” In answer to this question, Guardini says: the Church, which is more than the sum of its parts. It is the Mystical Body of Christ, animated by the Holy Spirit. The individual participates in this common action of the Church. In the liturgy, the individual “sees himself face to face with God, not as a [single] entity but as a member of this unity” (37).

How does the individual person enter into this larger reality of the liturgical community? He does so in two ways: by sacrifice (Opfer) and by personal action (Leistung).[3] The sacrifice required by the person who wishes to participate in the liturgical fellowship is the renunciation “of everything in him which exists merely for itself and excludes others” (38). The personal action required of him is the widening of his outlook, which results from his acceptance and assimilation of a more comprehensive scheme of life than his own—that of the community.

B: The Individual[4]

Thus we have the big picture: the participation of the individual believer in the common action of the liturgical community. Guardini then examines in greater detail how integration of the individual into the community works. People are not all the same, and therefore their modes of participation in the Gemeinschaft, the Mystical Body, will necessarily be different. Guardini takes into consideration two basic temperaments or dispositions: the individualistic disposition (we might say introverted) and the social disposition (we might say extroverted). Within the individualistic category, there is a further subdivision: those drawn to the objective and impersonal, and those drawn to the subjective and personal. Thus Guardini speaks of three personality types (to use contemporary language), and for each one, he outlines the kind of asceticism needed (involving sacrifice and personal action) in order to participate in the liturgical community.

The person with an individualistic temperament, drawn to objective and impersonal thinking is concerned with ideas, the ordering of things, objectives, laws, rules, tasks to be accomplished, rights and duties. He perceives the community as a great concrete order. The sacrifice he must make, in order to participate in liturgical fellowship, is to renounce his own ideas and his own spiritual preferences, to submit to the ideas of the liturgy, to surrender his independence and pray with others, to obey the liturgical norms instead of freely disposing of himself, to stand in the ranks. He must take certain forms of personal action: shaking off the narrow trammels of his own thought to make way for a far more comprehensive world of ideas, going beyond his personal aims and adopting the aims of the great fellowship of the liturgy, taking part in exercises which do not respond to his particular conscious needs, petitioning God for things which do not directly concern him but concern the community at large, taking part at times in proceedings whose significance he does not entirely understand. The virtue required by this kind of person is humility, because he must renounce self-rule and self-sufficiency, accept the principles of the liturgy, overcome pride and intolerance, and assimilate an entire system of communal aims and ideas.

The person with an individualistic temperament, drawn to subjective expression and feeling focuses on his sentiments and intimate feelings. He perceives the community as a broad fabric of personal affinities and interwoven reciprocal relationships. The sacrifice he must make in order to participate in liturgical fellowship is to renounce his spiritual isolation, to share his existence with other people, to share with others the intimacy of his inner life and feelings—these others being not just a few neighbors or congenial friends, but all, even those who are indifferent, adverse, or even hostile. He must take certain forms of personal action, for the sensitive soul must break down the barriers around its spiritual life and issue forth from the self in order to go among others and share their existence. The virtue required by this kind of person is charity, because he needs that great and wonderful love which is ready to participate in the life of others, that vigorous expansion which goes out of self in order to include others, that life lived in common with the other members of Christ’s body. He must master the repulsion of the strangeness of corporate life and triumph over exclusiveness, that is, the desire to be only with people of his own choosing.

The person with a social temperament eagerly and consistently craves for fellowship, automatically seeks out congenial associates, presses toward togetherness in a way alien to the liturgy. People like this will not find all their expectations immediately fulfilled in the liturgy and the fellowship of the liturgy will appear to them frigid and restricted. The sacrifice this kind of person must make in order to participate in liturgical fellowship is different from the other cases. He must accept the boundaries the liturgy imposes on togetherness. He must realize that in the liturgy, the union of the members is not directly accomplished from one person to another, but is accomplished by and in their joint aim, goal, and spiritual resting place—God. In the liturgy, the individual is never drawn into contacts which are too extensively direct and therefore he must submit to the austere restraint which characterizes liturgical fellowship. The social temperament must take certain forms of personal action. He must realize that in the liturgy, all are not equal, but there are differences of rank and role. The formality of the liturgy produces a certain restraint, a reciprocal reverence. While the liturgy establishes a genuine community, one individual can never force his way into the intimacy of the other, nor force his own characteristics, feelings and perceptions on the rest of the assembly. He must learn to subscribe to the noble, restrained forms which etiquette requires in the House and at the Court of the Divine Majesty. The virtue required by this kind of person is reserve or restraint. It is this reserve alone which in the end makes fellowship in the liturgy possible; but for it, togetherness would be unendurable.

C: Individual Participation in the Liturgical Action of the Community

Thus in a few short pages, Guardini sketches out for us his understanding of liturgical fellowship or community, into which individual believers must be inserted. The participation of the individual in the liturgical action of the community requires asceticism, the precise form of which varies considerably from one temperament to another. The common principle, however, is this: the individual must submit himself to the objective order of liturgical prayer.

Guardini on Guardini

In his book, Liturgical Formation[5], written in 1923—a few years after The Spirit of the Liturgy—Guardini returns to the theme of the relation between the individual and the liturgical community. In brief, he argues that the whole man must participate in the whole Church in a way that unites the subjective and objective aspects of the human person.

A: The Community[6]

Against what he calls an “anti-historical, rationalistic-doctrinaire and romantic-sentimental” view of the Church, expressed in a false kind of universalism, Guardini insists that the whole Church is incarnate in the diocese and in the local parish. There is no contrast between the Church Universal and the local expression of the Church. Certainly we must understand the Church as a whole, since she is founded by Christ, and is united in him, “but we must affirm her, love her, live in her and work there where she meets us in an immediate way: in the diocese and in the parish community” (63). The “whole” Church includes both her universal and particular expressions, both the spiritual reality of the Mystical Body of Christ and the human reality of the hierarchical structure.

B: The Individual[7]

Likewise the individual subject must not be considered in a reductive way. The subject of liturgical behavior is the “whole” man, who includes in his own expression the entire creation. But when is it, Guardini asks, that one can speak of the “whole” man? Only when he is inserted into the community. In both—the totality of the single individual and the totality of the community—there is present something that is beyond time and history. The two things are correlated: the person is oriented toward the vastness of the great human community, which in its turn, however, is composed of individuals who sustain and complete it. In the religious field, he goes on to say, this relationship between individual and community indicates that a complete Christian humanity exists only where the Church and the individual person live in a natural reciprocal relationship. In a way reminiscent of St. Augustine’s expression Christus totus, Guardini is arguing for an Ecclesia tota and a homo totus.[8]

Homo totus includes two forms of liturgical expressivity: the subjective manifestation of personal experience and emotion and the objective emphasis on content, reality, truth, being. In chapter five of Liturgical Formation, Guardini explores these two aspects at length. In the historical context of the time, Guardini decries this situation in no uncertain terms, lamenting that the profound, authentic homo liturgicus has been buried and needs to be awakened. He offers a severe critique of an excessively subjective liturgical piety.

This critique is worth summarizing here, as our own times are dominated by a similar subjective emphasis. Guardini observes that self-expression, as a manifestation of what is subjective and particular, cannot have any pretense of meaning something to others outside the person, or outside the intimate circle of those who are linked to that person. It would be an unbearable presumption, he says, to think that individual self-expression could have any great significance beyond that circle. That which is expressed in this way seduces the community, and forces it into a condition in which it becomes an echo of the expressive individual will. This is a form of domination.

On the contrary, Guardini argues for a recovery of the objective meaning of the liturgy. Liturgical expression of this kind is oriented to otherworldly realities, to metaphysics, to that which endures, and in this way acquires a significance for everyone. This liturgical expression involves also recognizing the laws of the medium of expression (in this case, the liturgy) and having profound respect for them, but inserting these laws into that superior law which allows each element to take its proper place. This kind of liturgical behavior does not dominate, but serves.

While Guardini contrasts the subjective and objective expressions of the individual’s behavior in the liturgy, toward the end of his treatment of this topic, he affirms that these two poles of human experience exist together. It becomes a question of in what measure one or the other predominates. Observing things from a historical point of view, Guardini argues that from the Renaissance to the Protestant Reformation all the way to the 20th century, the subjective aspect has dominated. He sees, in the initial stirrings of the Liturgical Movement, signs of a return to objectivity.

C: Individual Participation in the Liturgical Action of the Community[9]

In order for the whole man to participate authentically in liturgical fellowship, a rigorous program of liturgical asceticism is necessary. Guardini affirms that the liturgy is the self-expression of man, but of man as he should be (not as he presently is), and for that reason, the liturgy involves a severe discipline. Liturgical prayer must be accompanied by a long and severe discipline, until the depths of man re-awaken. This transformation by means of the liturgy, up until now, can scarcely be found. For that reason, Guardini says, “you must come to my school” (92). We can see that all of his intense philosophical labors were ordered to the goal of liturgical formation.

In 1926, Guardini published an essay about the order that exists between persons.[10] His philosophical reflections on what it means to be a person lie outside our present scope, but suffice it to say that when Guardini insists that the individual must submit himself to the common action of the liturgical community, he does not mean, in any way, to efface the uniqueness of the individual personality. At the end of the essay he takes up once again the question of the relation of the individual to the larger group. His particular focus in this section is the order that exists between persons. He explains that there is an objective form of order, which exists independently of its individual parts, such as friendship, family, the work group, community, state, and so on. The individual person participates in this objective totality in a way that is free, unconstrained. The unique, unrepeatable person, characterized by self-possession, is connected to the totality in a particular way. That is, the person not only receives this order, but also produces it, and in this way energy and dynamism are released. Herein lies the paradoxical contrast of the relationship between the objective order and the individual person. The impersonal order is based on that which is global, above the person; the individual is drawn into this order willy-nilly. The single person must accept this order, interiorize it, transform it, and then freely externalize it as his own.

Guardini doesn’t apply these natural categories to the Church or to the liturgy; in fact he says in a note that this can only be done analogously. But it is easy to see how they could be applied to the liturgy. The question is the relation between the sacred, objective order of the liturgy and the personal, individual subject. Guardini intimates that the participation that takes place here (even if he doesn’t use the word) moves in two directions. The person receives the sacred order as objective and given, and by interiorizing it, makes that order his own. Then, producing a new synthesis, he bestows that back upon the liturgy.

“The requirements of the liturgy can be summed up in one word, humility.” Servant of God, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (d.1930), served Pope St. Pius X as Secretary of State and has long been associated with the “Litany of Humility.”

 

Formulating Principles of Reform

To wrestle with Guardini’s arguments, to grapple with his philosophical distinctions is hard work, but very fruitful. His profound reflections show that the relation between the objective order of the liturgy and the personal subject is what we, today, call participation. In Guardini’s day, the problem was that there was no appropriation of the objective content of the liturgy. A wall of incomprehension had arisen between the individual and this objective content, and the faithful, frequently enough, were left with their subjective devotions.

Guardini’s solution was “participation by means of formation.” Or to be more technical, he argued that the objective content of the liturgy, celebrated by the liturgical community, was to be received by the personal subject, appropriated, interiorized, and re-proposed, thus creating a remarkable unity or synergy of participation. He realized, however, that such appropriation required the long, severe discipline (or, in other words, asceticism) of liturgical formation.

In the post-Vatican II era, the solution proposed was much different. Having the same goal of the appropriation by the faithful of the content of the liturgy, the strategy devised was to change the liturgy, to adapt its texts and rites, so as to make the subjective appropriation by the faithful easier. What are some of the results? The subjective has taken over once again: a different kind of subjectivity than the one Guardini was fighting against, but nonetheless, subjectivity. The celebration of Mass versus populum focuses on the subjective (us) not on the objective (Christ’s saving action). The sign of peace, which Guardini described as a “masterly manifestation of restrained and elevated social solidarity” (41) when performed according to the rubrics, has degenerated into an artificial and forced intimacy. The liberty granted to the celebrant by the liturgical books to adapt the rite and insert catechetical comments, breeds priestly subjectivity. The liberties taken quite beyond what the liturgical books allow are a manifestation of that creativity which arrogantly presumes to impose its subjective experience upon the community. It would seem that the reform of texts and rites is not the answer.

In a famous letter[11] written in 1964 on the occasion of the Third Liturgical Congress in Mainz, Guardini argues that the problems of liturgical reform are not, in the first place, problems of texts and rites, but rather something more fundamental. “If I see correctly,” he says, “the typical man of the nineteenth century was no longer capable of the liturgical act, indeed he no longer knew what it was. For him, liturgical behavior was purely and simply the intimate act of the individual—which then, in the context of the liturgy, assumed the character of public and official solemnity.”[12] Here Guardini is arguing for a recovery of a sense of the Body of Christ, of the liturgical community. He is also urging a celebration of the liturgy in which the participants act not by rote, but with full awareness of its meaning. These are great themes in the liturgical movement, reacting to problems perceived in the liturgical praxis of the 19th century. What about the 20th and 21st centuries, after the liturgical movement, after Sacrosanctum Concilium, in our own day?

One hundred years after the publication of The Spirit of the Liturgy, Guardini’s teaching remains an important point of reference. His great contribution to the debate, it seems to me, is to call into question the value of the external reform of texts and rites if the deeper problem of liturgical formation is not addressed.


[1] Original text: Guardini, R., Vom Geist der Liturgie, 1918. I am using the German edition Vom Geist der Liturgie, Freiburg: Herder, 1961, and the English edition: The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. A. Lane, New York: Herder & Herder, 1998.

[2] This is a summary and paraphrase of The Spirit of the Liturgy, 36-38.

[3] Leistung is very hard to translate. Ada Lane uses a helpful paraphrase: “producing something.” The word can mean performance, production, achievement, contribution, work accomplished, etc. In this context, it involves personal action or the acceptance of responsibility as a prerequisite for participating in the common action.

[4] This is a summary and paraphrase of The Spirit of the Liturgy, 38-42.

[5] Original text: Guardini, R., Liturgische Bildung: Versuche, 1923. I am using the German edition: Liturgie und liturgische Bildung, Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1992 and the Italian edition: Formazione liturgica, Milano: Edizioni O.R., 1988.

[6] This is a summary and paraphrase of Formazione liturgica, chap.4, “The individual and the community,” 61-76.

[7] Using material from chapter 4, this section is a summary and paraphrase of Formazione liturgica, chapter 5, “The objective quality of the liturgy,” 77-100.

[8] These are my terms, not Guardini’s.

[9] This is a summary and paraphrase of Formazione liturgica, 90-92.

[10] The original text: Guardini, R., “Űber Sozialwissenschaft und Ordnung unter Personen” in Die Schildgenossen 6 (1926) 125-150. I am using the Italian edition: Persona e personalità, Brescia 2005. This is a summary of section 5: “Order between persons: some distinctions,” 62-71.

[11] This letter can be found in: Liturgie und liturgische Bildung, 9-17.

[12] Liturgie und liturgisce Bildung, 9.

Father Cassian Folsom, OSB

Father Cassian Folsom, OSB

Father Cassian Folsom, O.S.B., is a scholar of sacred music and liturgy, a cancer survivor, and the founder and prior emeritus of the Monks of Norcia. Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1955, Fr. Cassian studied music before joining the monastic community of Saint Meinrad in 1974. He founded his monastic community in Rome in 1998 and transferred it to Norcia in the year 2000. Over the last 15 years, the Monastery di San Benedetto has grown, attracting new vocations and pilgrims from around the world. He recently retired as prior but continues to serve the community and teach liturgy at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome.