Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Monday, April 7, 2014

Composure and Participation at Mass

The self collectedness that arises out of composure assists us in the most important action in our lives as Christians - our service and participation at the altar.  Guardini astutely notes that life only partly consists of spontaneous acts and that we need to move away from the notion that religious and spiritual acts must be involuntary in order to be genuine.  We "serve" at the altar through our worship and most often that is an act of obedience.  Approaching God in this spirit of humble obedience must be something that is practiced and perfected over time until it becomes increasingly "profound, vigilant and true."  Then, "we shall be seized and so drawn into the act of salvation that we really exist in the memorial of the Lord, a work not of men, but of God."

When the mind is not collected and the heart is restless and inattentive, the believer will be occasionally conscious of a word or gesture, or the bell will remind him that one of the high points of the Mass is at hand; never will he be in that state of active, watchful vitality which alone permits genuine participation. Liturgical action begins with learning composure. Everything else: the use of the missal, instruction on the meaning and history of the Mass, and the chorale, is important and fruitful as long as it is rooted in self-collectedness.
Composure and the participation springing from it must be practiced. There is a much-aired opinion that only the prayer and religious act rising involuntarily from within are genuine. This is erroneous. Prayer and religious action are life. But life consists only partly in spontaneous acts; most of life is service and conscious effort, both at least as important as impulsive activity. We so often use the phrase “church service.” Why don’t we for once take it seriously? Service does not imply action overflowing naturally from an inner need, but rather action performed in obedience at the appointed time. When it is service in God’s sight rather than man’s, it is not only external but also and preeminently inner action, participation. Hence divine serving must be learned, practiced over and over again that it may become increasingly vigilant, profound, true. Then we shall be granted also that living experience which is beyond all willing and practicing. We shall be seized and so drawn into the act of salvation that we really exist in the memorial of the Lord, a work not of men, but of God. It is the imperishable reality of the salutary act God-sent in the hour of the sacred ceremony which enters the world and time ever and again. Consciousness of this divine event is doubtless the greatest gift the Mass can give. It comes, however, only when God gives it. Our task lies in the effort and loyalty of service.

Romano Guardini
Meditations Before Mass

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