Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Hindrance to Full Participation in Mass Part Two: Sentimentality

We turn now to the second hinderance to full participation in the Mass which Guardini identifies as Sentimentality.  He describes it as follows: "the desire to be
moved: by loneliness or delight, sorrow or dread; by greatness and exaltedness or weakness and helplessness somehow to be moved."  Surprisingly, it is not the what we would consider emotionalism.  Most often, Guardini tells us, it is found in those who are rather self disciplined in approach to things, both in regard to their intellects and wills.  It is quite simply "a spiritual softness tinged with sensuality."  This softness tinges the perception of the saints and spiritual devotion, robbing it in a sense of its depth; a kind of Christian piety gone wrong.  To the sentimental, the Mass seems overly austere and uncomfortable and so it and other devotions become tinged with an artificial and unnatural fussiness and saccharine quality.  Where there should be silence and depth of reflection, one often finds a stylized mimicry that conceals rather than reveals.  The austerity and dignity of genuine mystery is lost to a false kind of mysticism steeped in personal leanings and tastes.  These personal inclinations must be brought to heel, Guardini tells us, under "the powers that govern the inner life of the Church."
TO PUT it bluntly, sentimentality is essentially the desire to be moved: by loneliness or delight, sorrow or dread; by greatness and exaltedness or weakness and helplessness somehow to be moved. The need is greater with one person than with another, but we all have it to some extent. Strangely enough, it is particularly dominant in people who do not appear at all emotional: self-disciplined men of intellect and will; practical, prosaic natures. From this we see that sentimentality is not the same as real sentiment, which is powerful, unclouded and chaste. Sentimentality is a half sentiment, a spiritual softness tinged with sensuality. Hence it is strong not only in people without a clear-cut genuine sense of values, but also in those who seem to stand completely on “character,” with emphasis leaning so heavily on will and discipline that their neglected feelings easily slide off into the questionable and inferior.
All this has its parallel in the religious life. The sentimental believer’s attitude to the great figures of sanctity, the truths he prefers, the passages he frequently quotes, his whole bearing, everything disposes him to emotionalism.
Up to a certain point there is little that can be said against this; it is simply a predisposition, like a fuzzy mind or weak muscles. But when a believer allows such a tendency to dominate him, it becomes disastrous, robbing revelation of its greatness, distorting the saints, and generally rendering his religious life soft, weak, unnatural, and embarrassing. Examples of sentimentality meet us everywhere; we’ve only to glance at the popular spiritual-exercise leaflets, the average samples of “religious art,” or to read some of the meditations on Christ’s passion or on the poor souls in purgatory. One theme in particular has fallen under this deplorable influence: the Sacred Heart. By rights this devotion belongs to the profoundest level of Christian piety. Its expression should be huge with the magnitude of revealed truth and vibrant with the power of Christ’s conviction. It should be noble and pure. Instead, it is only too often characterized by an intolerable effeminacy and unnaturalness.
Much more could be said on the subject. At any rate, sentimentality is a force that must be reckoned with. For the sentimental believer participation in the Mass is extremely difficult. He finds the sacred act neither comforting nor edifying, but austere, coldly impersonal, almost forbidding. And for people like himself he is right. The Mass is austere. Its tremendous concepts are expressed tersely. Its action is simple. Its words are clear and concise; its emotion controlled. Its spiritual attitude is that of profoundest surrender, but still and chaste. Sentimentality tries to gild the lily by transferring its own trimmings to the Mass. The altar, never meant to depart far from the pure form of the sacred table, becomes a pompous welter of cherubs and little lamps and much glitter; the action is garlanded with gestures contrived above all to touch the emotions; the servers’ apparel is fussy and doll-like. Texts and music are of an ingratiating sweetness. In place of the missal’s powerful language, we find Mass “devotions” abounding in artificial conceptions and soft, unnatural sentiments. Thus the central truth of the Mass is lost. The Lord’s memorial becomes an “edifying” exhibition, and earnest participation in the sacred ceremony is supplanted by a touching “experience.”
The event which took place at the Last Supper in Jerusalem and the death which the Lord died on the cross both mysteriously interwoven, as His own words reveal are renewed again and again. Christ commanded: “As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.” The Church accepted the command, obeying it through the centuries to the end of time. How does she “do them”? In the strict form of the liturgy.
How would such doing look had it been left to the religious sentiments if not downright sentimentalities of the pious? To have an idea, we really should examine some of the devotional leaflets. Everything would be extremely wordy and moving, the fearful and gruesome aspects of suffering would be stressed wherever possible, Jesus’ love would be the constantly reiterated theme. A pious importunity would accost Him, praise and pity Him, place all sorts of touching phrases in His mouth. The texts of the missal speak quite differently. They are clear and concise. Their tone is that of profound emotion, dignified and controlled. Jesus Himself is hardly addressed. Not at all during the Canon; briefly after the completion of the act of commemoration in the Agnus Dei and in the prayers before Communion always with great reserve. As a rule, the words of the Mass are addressed to the Father. There is no mention at all of the Lord’s feelings during His passion and dying. Veiled in deepest reverence, they stand mute behind the whole mystery.
As for the sacred action, we see from the Passion Plays how the sentiments of the believers would have developed it: in the direction of an elaborate mimicry of what took place in the room of the Last Supper and on Golgotha. When we consider the alternatives, we begin to realize what divine powers were necessary to create something as truly God inspired as the Mass is.
Here is neither mimicry nor sentimental, vicarious experience. What took place on Golgotha does not come to the fore at all, but remains eloquently silent behind the whole. The action is taken from the event in the Supper chamber, again not imitated but translated into a strict, stylized form that conceals as much as it reveals. The early Christians believed that it was proper to clothe the sacred in mystery. One reason for their attitude was the danger of persecution, which profaned it at every opportunity; but they also knew that mystery is the natural element of holiness. This element has been lost to us, or allowed to sink into the twilight of emotionalism and false mysticism. Possibly one of the most pressing tasks of the religious renewal is to rediscover genuine mystery and the attitude it requires, an attitude that has nothing sentimental about it and that flatly refuses to “facilitate” the demands of faith, preferring to guard its full austerity and dignity. In the liturgy alone may the only genuine arcane discipline still in existence be found and acquired.
The strict form of the Mass, then, aims at the exact opposite of what sentimentality desires. Sentimentality, desirous of being moved, employs to this end stirring gestures evocative of terror and helplessness, words dripping with feeling, exciting imagery, moving dialogue and the like. Nothing of all this is to be found in the Mass; thus the sentimental believer has three choices: he can relinquish all hope of establishing vital contact with the Mass and retire into his own sphere of private devotions; he can falsify its character, turning it into a kind of moving Passion Play; or he can courageously face his inclinations and bring them to heel. Sentimentality must be overcome; otherwise genuine contact with the Mass is impossible. The individual must discard once and forever the habit of judging it from his personal leanings and tastes, for its form is that which obedience to the Lord’s command has received from His Church. Of course, here too exaggeration must be avoided. Neither her ceremonies nor their wording should assume the absoluteness of dogmas; but this much is certain: the manner in which the Lord’s memorial is executed in the Church is the lex orandi, the norm of divine service. He who really wishes to believe in other words, to obey revelation must obey also in this, schooling his private sentiments on that norm. Then it will be clear to him that here a spiritual life of quite different dimensions from that of his personal piety is at work. He will come to know feeling that emerges from the profundity of God. He will enter the inner realm of Christ. He will experience in himself the powers that govern the inner life of the Church.

Romano Guardini
Meditations before Mass



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hindrances to Full Participation in the Mass Part One - Habit

Guardini begins to close the first part of his book with a few practical considerations; specifically those things that hinder our full participation in Mass.  The first thing he addresses is Habit.  The perpetual becoming that is part of our spiritual lives can be lost and one can fall into indifference.  Whereas those things that are unchanging and involve demands or responsibilities can give rise to a sense of boredom - fidelity begins to feel suffocating and no longer stimulating.  The sameness of certain aspects of the liturgical life can feel intolerable and even lead to a kind of disgust.  Monotony rather than the freedom and depth that familiarity foster becomes the lens through which we see the Mass. "We no longer 'get anything out of it,' hardly know why we still go."  The fact that we speak of Sunday Mass being an "obligation" makes the matter only more difficult for some and increases a sense of purposelessness.  We can lose the sense of Mystery associated with the Mass and that it stands at core of our lives and salvation.  We must, then, find ways to express the inalterability of the Mass as providing us with a sense of strength.  There are vital forces in and through which God operates precisely in the very human elements of our actions.  He is ever-present and active as is the inexhaustible love he offers and that transforms us.
THIS BOOK is called “Meditations Before Mass” and its aim is to present for reflection each time from a different angle thoughts inducive to a fuller participation in the sacred celebration. Part One now draws to a close with a few purely practical considerations. What actually hinders us from taking part in the Mass as we should? First of all, habit.
It is fundamental spiritual law that every impression exhausts itself. All life is a perpetual becoming, but also a perpetual perishing; thus an impression starts out strong, gains in strength, lasts for a while, then fades. He who has experienced it has “used it up,” and indifference sets in. This is as it should be as long as it is a question of the many fleeting contacts of daily life; each has its moment or moments and then makes way for the next. But the same process becomes fatal when permitted to govern relations that are a fundamental part of our existence and consequently irreplaceable: our vocation, for instance, with its unchanging demands and responsibilities; marriage; genuine friendship; or our relations to self, since we are as we are and must find some sort of mod us vivendi with ourselves. Here the law of diminishing impressions and emotions can cause serious difficulties. When a task is new and full of interest it seems to perform itself. When it has been performed for a long time it becomes burdensome and difficult. The company of another person is joyful and stimulating as long as yet unknown responses in his thinking or surprises in his attitude refresh us; but after closer acquaintance, when we begin to know beforehand exactly how we will react and reply, boredom sets in. As for ourselves, we all have experienced discouragement with our shortcomings and oppressive disgust with our own nature.
All this applies to Holy Mass as well. We hear it every Sunday; many people more often, even daily. It is always pretty much the same, most of the principal texts recurring time and again. Always it begins with the same prayers at the altar steps, varied on certain occasions only by the omission of the psalm Judica me. In accordance with the Lord’s command to do in His memory what He Himself did, the Canon too, with slight variations, remains the same: the great prayer-texts, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Pater noster and Agnus Dei are complete units that never change. Sometimes the Gloria is omitted (during Advent and Lent) or the Credo is left out, as in certain weekday Masses, or in those commemorating the martyrs, confessors, and holy women. Even the variable parts of the Mass resemble one another in construction, language, and spiritual attitude. The Graduals, for example, are usually patterned after the biblical proverbs and interspersed with allelujas. The Collect always begins with the direct address, then develops the principal thought, and finishes off with the formal end-clause. In time, even the changing Epistle and Gospel readings lose their freshness. After years of following the sacred ceremony, we begin to respond to it as to an old, familiar friend.
Thus at first fleetingly, then ever more prolonged and powerfully, the feeling of monotony creeps in. “I know all that. I know exactly what words follow every move.” When in addition the same priest appears at the same altar over a long period, officiating in the same manner with his unchanging personal peculiarities and shortcomings, a veritable crisis of boredom and weariness can overcome us. We no longer “get anything out of it,” hardly know why we still go. The fact that Church law requires Sunday attendance sometimes only adds to our difficulties.
What shall we do stay away? When the Mass threatens to become a habit for someone who goes regularly during the week, it is certainly advisable for him to attend less frequently, perhaps only on Sundays for a while, substituting visits in the quiet church or Bible reading. But this remedy is not possible for the Sunday churchgoer, whose attendance is required on that day. Here is an illustration of the pedagogic importance of this precept: our nature requires a rule that will keep us from giving up entirely.
It is claimed that religious life must come from within and should not be forced, yet man lives not only spontaneously but also in the practice and discipline of an ordered existence. Whenever he abandons these, something valuable is lost. The rule about Sunday attendance is therefore not only necessary but right, the more so as it applies to sacred time, the day of the Lord and its relation to the rest of the week. But behind the pedagogical standpoint is another and more important consideration: the fact that Christ instituted the mystery of the Mass, so that it is not something we can ignore at whim, but the essential core of our religious life. And if we really were to omit it, what should we put in its place? We would devise something of our own choosing and soon experience a much worse satiety: the insupportable triviality of human endeavor where the ultimate meaning of existence is at stake.
Then what can we do? First, make it clear to ourselves once and for all that Holy Mass belongs in our lives. In the conviction of a thing’s finality and inalterability lies a peculiar strength. As soon as I am convinced that I should perform some act, I can do it at least up to a certain point. Anything but steadfast by nature, man is always ready to let things slide; this definite law in his life is something like the bones in his body, giving him firmness and character.
“Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle.” The psalm does not mean that the singer must continually hope for new inspiration, but that all his singing should soar fresh from the heart renewed. This power of renewal is one of the happiest elements of life, the ability not only to create something nonexistent, but also to re-create something that already exists in so new a way that it seems to exist for the first time. Man is capable of breaking through the monotony of long continued doing and seeing, and, by inner readiness, of beginning anew.
This is particularly true of Holy Mass, which is something absolute and inexhaustible. Much of it is the work of men in the beautiful sense of the word, as God-directed human service, as well as in the pejorative sense of formalism and superficiality. Its central reality, however, is the saving act of the living Christ, which contains the fulness of God’s wisdom and love, not merely as objects received, but as vital and operative forces. At the celebration of the Lord’s memorial we are not dependent on our own faculties of perceiving and appreciating; Christ works with us. Primarily it is He who acts; in our “remembering” it is Christ Himself who stirs.
Habituality and monotony best prove that things, activities, people have only a certain measure of significance and reality; hence at some time or other that measure will be full and there will be nothing new to add; then stimulating interest must be replaced by loyalty. In the Mass, however, it is different. Here we are dealing directly with Christ and His work of salvation, with the Logos, with the infinitude of His divine being and the inexhaustibility of His love. We are here related to Christ not only in the sense that He demands from us His just due; He helps us with the work of commemoration. Faith tells us that monotony cannot come from what the Mass itself is; it can make its appearance, but only in us, when we do not take Christ and His love seriously enough. Christ is new precisely to the extent that the believer occupies himself with Him. Every act of obedience, every self-conquest, every situation in life that we master through the Lord’s direction and strength reveals something new in Him. The Mass gives as much as we ask of it. And the power of renewal is not limited to our own capacity for renewal; we can count upon God’s infinite possibilities.
Admittedly, we can claim this only in faith, but the truth of what is believed becomes apparent to the extent that it is personally experienced.

Romano Guardini
Meditations before Mass

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Congregation as "New Creation"

In this reflection Guardini issues a challenge to us to go deeper and further than we have in understanding the nature of and participation in “Congregation” as New Creation. He shows us how we must patiently allow our vision of Church to be transformed and to become what Christ has made it through the Paschal Mystery. The Ego - the Self - must be let go with its trappings as well as our familiar ways of understanding group psychology and identity. We must open ourselves to that without marked and clear boundaries as we know them and be drawn into the richness and expansiveness that is God. Guardini writes: “What sustains the Mass is not only an endless legion of hearts and spirits, the faith and love of all creation, but also a supernatural society endowed with authority and bearing responsibilities. Our task is to find our place in the enormous whole. This is not easy. Man has a leaning to spiritual intimacy and exclusiveness, which causes him to shrink from such magnitude and grandeur.” 

In the end we must abandon ourselves to the grace of God which alone gives us the courage and faith to embrace such a reality. 

WHEN CHURCHGOERS enter the sacred precincts, they come as individuals, each with his particular talents and circumstances, worries and wishes. Each takes his own stand, confronting the others. Each is isolated from the others by all the sentiments summed up in the words “I not you”: indifference, strangeness, mistrust, superiority, dislike, and enmity; by the hard crust developed in the struggle for existence and by the disappointments that past goodwill has experienced. This, then, is the mental state of the average worshipper as he steps into church, stands or sits or kneels; certainly there is as yet little of the “member of a congregation” about him. Leaving aside the questionable and the out-and-out wrong that this state brings with it lovelessness, pride, ill will and so forth let us try to get an idea of the kind of life that is pouring into the church. We have a roomful of people, each with his private thoughts, feelings, aims: a conglomeration of little separate worlds. The bearing of everyone present seems to say “I” or at best the “we” of his closest associations: his family, friends, dependents. But even this inclusion often really means little more than a widened self-esteem. The singular ego is stretched to a natural group-ego that is still far removed from genuine congregation. The true congregation is a gathering of those who belong to Christ, the holy people of God, united by faith and love. Essentially, it is of His making, a piece of new creation, which finds expression in the bearing of its participants.

When we read the prayers of the Mass with this in mind, we notice that the word “I” appears very seldom, and never without a special reason. It is found quite clearly in the prayers at the foot of the altar when each one present acknowledges his sins; in the Credo, when the individual, conscious of his personal responsibility, professes his belief in divine revelation; in the prayers immediately preceding Holy Communion.  As a rule, “we” is used. We praise thee, we glorify thee, we adore thee; forgive us, help us, enlighten us. This “we” is not spontaneous, but the carefully nurtured fruit of genuine congregation.

Now we begin to see what we are after: not a communal “experience”; not the individual’s great or joyous or overwhelming foretaste of the union of many before God, which may sometime sweep through him, filling and sustaining him. Like all true experience, that is a gift of the hour which is given or withheld; it cannot be merited. Here though it is a question not of an experience, but of an accomplishment; not of a gift, but of a required deed.

If we are to get anywhere with these considerations, we must realize how deeply immersed in self we are and for all our talk of community what thorough egoists. When we speak of community we seldom mean more than the experience of self-extension. Lifted up and out of our personal narrowness by the total vitality around us, we feel suddenly stronger or more enthusiastic than otherwise. In reality, no matter how long and how often people are together, they always remain alone. The real antonym of community is not the individual and his individualism, but the egoist and his selfishness. It is this that must first be overcome, and not by frequent or prolonged association, but by mastering the mind and will, which alone allows us to see others as they really are: to acknowledge and accept them; to make their desires and anxieties our own; to restrain ourselves for their sakes. But to do this we must have solitude, for only in solitude do we have a chance to see ourselves objectively and to free ourselves from our own chains. Someday, perhaps on some special occasion, we will realize what walls of indifference, disregard, enmity loom between us and “the other man,” and before Mass or during the Introit we will make a real effort to break through them. We will remind ourselves: Together we face God; together we are congregation. Not only I and others in general, but this man, that woman over there, and the believer next to me. In God’s sight they are all as important as I perhaps much more so: purer, braver, less selfish, nobler, more loving and fervent. Among these people whom I know only by their features, by their gestures, are perhaps great and holy souls with whom I am fortunate to find myself associated, because the surge of their prayers sweeps me along with it to God!

Then we will let the other believers into the inner circle of our lives, present ourselves to God with them, linking our intentions to theirs. We will consciously, earnestly pray the “we” of the liturgy, for from such things congregation is formed.

Until now we have spoken of congregation as the Christian “we” in its encounter with God, the community of those united by the same faith and by mutual love. But this is not all. The conception must include also those outside any particular building, even outside the Church; for congregation reaches far beyond. It is no closed circle, no organization or union with its own center; each congregation is part of a whole that far surpasses any Sunday gathering; it embraces everyone who believes in Christ in the same city, the same country, over the whole earth. The congregation gathered in any one church is influenced by its particular circumstances, by its services, by the quality of its members and by the particular feats that they are celebrating. It is a unit, but one that remains open; and all who are bound to Christ are included in it. Its center is the altar, every altar in every church altar that is simultaneously the center of the world. At Christ’s table all the faithful are remembered, and all belong to the “we” that is spoken there.

And still we have not touched bottom. In the Confiteor priest and faithful confess their sins. Their confession is addressed primarily to God, and in His presence alternately to each other, but it is also addressed to Mary, the Mother of the Lord, to the archangel Michael, to John the Baptist and the apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints. Behind the archangel, who appears here as the leader of the heavenly hosts, stands the world of the angels; and “the saints” means not only the great historical figures of sanctity which the word usually suggests, but all the saved, all who have “gone home” to God. In other parts of the Mass as well, those who already participate in eternal life are invoked, whereas in the memento for the dead after the consecration all those still in need of purification and prayer are remembered.

In other words, congregation stretches not only over the whole earth but also far beyond the borders of death. About those gathered around the altar the horizons of time and space roll back, revealing as the real, sustaining community the whole of saved humanity.

This congregation in toto then is the Church, sustainer of the holy act of worship. That the Mass is something quite different from the private religious act of an individual is obvious, but it is also more than the divine service of a group of individuals united by like beliefs, that of a sect, for instance. It is the Church with all the breadth that the word implies, the universal Church. We begin to visualize her scope when we read what Saints Paul and John write of her. There, even her ultimate earthly limits dissolve to make her one with all saved creation. Her attributes are “the new man,” “the new heaven” and “the new earth!”

Nor is the Church merely the sum total of the saved plus the totality of things, but a living unit, an “organism” formed and composed round a reigning, all-permeating figure: the spiritual Christ. She has full powers to proclaim Christ’s teaching and bestow His sacraments; respect or disrespect to her involves God Himself. What sustains the Mass is not only an endless legion of hearts and spirits, the faith and love of all creation, but also a supernatural society endowed with authority and bearing responsibilities.

Our task is to find our place in the enormous whole. This is not easy. Man has a leaning to spiritual intimacy and exclusiveness, which causes him to shrink from such magnitude and grandeur. There is also the resistance of modern religious feeling to the visible Church in its realistic sense: resistance to office and order, to authority and constitutionality. We are all-too-subjective, inclined to count as truly religious only the direct and spontaneous experience. Order and authority leave us cold. Here self-discipline is especially necessary. The text of the Mass repeatedly reveals the attitude which has been called “Roman,” an attitude that rests precisely upon the consciousness of formal institutional unity, God-given authority, law and order. This may strike us as strange, perhaps even as unreligious we spoke of this before in our discussion of the Collects. Those same Collects express something very important for us. Not only are we as Christians “congregation,” not only “saved mankind” and “new creation”; we ourselves are “Church,” so we must consent and patiently educate ourselves to this given role.

Romano Guardini
Meditations Before Mass

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Congregation: Injustice Rectified

Guardini now shifts his focus to the Congregation itself and specifically the interior disposition of all those present, priest and laity alike.  A Congregation is not simply a gathering of many people together and not even a gathering of the pious and reverent.  More specifically, Guardini tells us they are people "disciplined by faith and conscious of their membership in Christ gathered to celebrated the sacred mysteries."  This does not simply happen spontaneously: rather, the congregation must "will it."  Many things aid in the creation of this reality, but one element is absolutely necessary.  Guardini describes it thus: "Be this as it may, anyone who knows that somewhere someone has something against him certainly can do one thing: he can promise himself to remove the injustice by correcting it as soon as possible. The honest intention suffices to bring down the wall between himself and his “brother.” Immediately the unifying element is free again to contact all parts. As soon as the injustice that isolates has been overcome, the congregation is restored." A radical unity must exist between members of the congregation.  Any wall that divides must be removed if they are to stand before God. Sacred unity must be maintained at all costs.  Forgiveness must be sought and at least established in one's heart.  There can be no indifference towards another within us or false friendliness.  Divine love must find its footing within us who have been made sons and daughters of God.
THE WORD “congregation” does not mean a gathering of many people not even of many pious and reverent people. Even in such a group that unifying, simultaneously fortifying and fervent quality which is the essence of the true congregation might be lacking. Christ defines it: “For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). The Acts of the Apostles gives more details in its report on the days following Pentecost: “And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread in their houses, they took their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and being in favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). A congregation, then, exists when a number of people disciplined by faith and conscious of their membership in Christ gather to celebrate the sacred mysteries. Even then it does not follow effortlessly. There are a few exceptions when it does seem to for instance, when an oppressive need or powerful joy spontaneously fills and fuses all hearts; or when the words of an inspired teacher have moved the hearers to genuine Christian unitas, making of the many individuals one great body drawn by the same power to the same end. But as a rule congregation exists only when its members will it. Many things can help: the solemnity of the room, organ music, the power of the divine word, the earnestness and mystery of the sacred ceremony. But these can only help, they cannot do everything from the standpoint of our personal responsibility, they are unable to achieve even the main thing. For a congregation must be possible also without these: in uninspiring surroundings; with the feeblest music or none at all; with the sacred word inadequately proclaimed; a divine service to which all possible human shortcomings cling. Above all, if there is to be a congregation, the believers must know what a congregation is; they must desire it and actively strive to attain it.
In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord says: “Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5: 23-24). This means: When you go to Mass and you recall that you have been unjust to someone and that he bears you a grudge, you cannot simply walk into church as though nothing were wrong. For then you would be entering only the physical room of the building, not the congregation, which would not receive you, as you would destroy it by your mere presence. A congregation is the sacred coherence which links person to person as it links God to men and men to God. It is the unity of men in Christ; in the living Christ “in the midst of them,” before the countenance of His Father, in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. But if you have wronged your “brother,” and he has a grudge against you, a wall rises between you and him which excludes you from the sacred unity; then, as far as you are concerned, congregation ceases to exist. It is your responsibility to restore it by removing the impediment between you and your brother.
You cannot very well go about it as the Sermon on the Mount in its divine simplicity advises: simply by dropping everything, going to the one you have wronged and rectifying things, then returning. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty with our “cannots.” We can do much more than we suppose, and our bourgeois, watered-down Christian existence would be strengthened if we would more often act with the directness of the believing heart, would simply go and do what love and repentance and magnanimity dictate. I am not lauding impulsiveness; I am only trying to suggest that reflection is sometimes a hindrance, and that often the necessary, truly liberating act is possible only through the power and momentum of the first impulse.
Be this as it may, anyone who knows that somewhere someone has something against him certainly can do one thing: he can promise himself to remove the injustice by correcting it as soon as possible. The honest intention suffices to bring down the wall between himself and his “brother.” Immediately the unifying element is free again to contact all parts. As soon as the injustice that isolates has been overcome, the congregation is restored.
Jesus’ word can also be reversed: We can say: “Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thou hast anything against thy brother, leave thy gifts before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Here you are the one with the complaint. Now you can act much more directly. For the essential depends not on the actual agreement reached by the estranged parties, but on one condition: your forgiveness. As long as you bear your grudge, no matter how “valid,” there can be no true congregation as far as you are concerned. Forgive, honestly and sincerely, and the sacred unifying circle will close again. Perhaps this is impossible all at once. Sometimes disappointment and revolt are too great to permit genuine forgiveness right away. Then forgive as much as is in your power and ask God to give you an increase of forgiveness. For it is not man who effects true forgiveness. The commandment to forgive one’s enemies might have been expressed: “Know that thou canst forgive thy enemy because Christ on the cross forgave His; it is He who effects forgiveness in thee.” Human forgiveness is different from that which the Lord meant. It coul.d be mere prudence, which says: “Let it go nothing will come of it anyway”; or indifference: “What does it matter?”; or false friendliness, which is no more than inverted dislike; or cowardice, which does not trust itself to fight it out, and so forth. The forgiveness of Christ is different. It means that divine love gains a footing in us, creating that new order which is meant to reign among the sons and daughters of God. Hence when you try to fulfill the law of love for the sake of God and His holy mysteries, you make it possible for God to allow the congregation of those rooted in His love to flower.

Meditations Before Mass
Romano Guardini

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Oremus: Prayer of Entreaty


Guardini continues to guide us through the Mass - focusing now on the prayers of entreaty and the gestures preceding them.  The Collect, the Secret and the Postcommunion all begin with the invitation "Oremus" - Let us pray.  He notes that in all of these prayers we find a kind of clear, terse collectedness and focus.  Their brevity is a mark of the Church's desire for clarity and reverence for the tradition from which these prayers arise.  Though profound and powerful, they are not the subjective prayer of the individual but of the Church before her God. They are precise in their expression - the fruit of deep concentration and seizing upon the essential truths they seek to articulate.  Thus we must take the invitation "Let us pray" seriously - we must move into silent reflection.  The priest must truly pause in order to allow the words that follow to arise with a vitality as they are lifted up to God as vehicles of the intentions of the Church. Therefore we do well to study them beforehand in order these are the intentions of our hearts as well.

The direction the prayers take us is significant.  Guardian writes:  "The goal is the Father; prayer is a seeking of His face. “The Way” is Christ. The power is the Holy Spirit."  This is the law of liturgical prayer.  It is trinitarian - directed to the Father, made "through", "with", and "in" Christ, and in the strength of the Spirit. It is the very principle of Christian existence and forms and shapes our consciousness.  It is the very truth and love in which God himself lives, creates and redeems.  It is to this reality He calls us and in and through which we participate by our prayer. 

IN SINGULAR contrast to the prayer of praise stands the prayer of entreaty, the oratio. We find it chiefly in three places: after the Gloria in the Collects, after the Offertory in the Secret, and after the Communion prayer in the Postcommunion. It also appears in the Canon (in the various requests before and after the Consecration) and at the end of the Our Father. Our concern here is with the prayers which appear in the three places mentioned first: the Collect, the Secret, and the Postcommunion.

That they are important is at once seen from the words and gestures which precede them. The priest kisses the altar, an expression of closest contact with the place of God’s proximity; then he turns to the people and with a grave and formal gesture says: “The Lord be with you.” To this the congregation or server replies: “And with thy spirit.” It is the same words of collectedness and strengthening we met before in the Preface. The Priest says: “Oremus let us pray.” And the Collect follows. The preamble of the Secret is even more solemn. There the priest says first: “Orate, fratres Brethren, pray,” then he continues: “that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father almighty.” The server answers: “May the Lord receive the Sacrifice at thy hands, to the praise and glory of His name, to our own benefit, and to that of all His holy Church.” After this preparation the priest prays over the offerings lying on the altar.

In all these prayers we are struck by one thing: their strict formality. They are terse and austere, the more so the older they are. Here are no elaborate thoughts, no moving images, no emotional outpourings. Nothing but a few clear, terse sentences.
An example is found in the Collect for the first Monday in Lent: “Convert us, O God our salvation, and that the Lenten fast may be of profit to us, instruct our minds with heavenly discipline.” And the Secret from the same Mass: “Sanctify, O Lord, the gifts offered to Thee: and cleanse us from the stains of our sins.” Finally the Postcommunion: “Filled with the gift of Thy salvation, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord, that even as we rejoice in the participation thereof, we may be renewed also by its effect.”
The tone seems at first foreign to us. Our prayers are usually wordier. There is more emotion in them, and they are far more personal. Of course, not all the prayers of the Mass are as austere as these, which have come down to us from a very early period, but their general tenor is more or less the same. The more subjective prayer is always of a later origin and somehow has lost its reserve. The early prayers spring not from the personal experience of the individual, but from the consciousness of the congregation, or, more exactly, of the Church. Often they are very official, in the original sense of the word: the outcome of the officium, duty, the charges of office. Roman clarity and objectivity so dominate them that to us of another stamp and era they often seem cool and impersonal perhaps even unreligious. But in this we should be very much mistaken, for they are packed with a piety both powerful and profound; it is only that their form is different from that to which we are accustomed. They are not really alien to us, as Chinese rites would be; no matter how earnestly we took the latter, they would never touch us personally, never become one with our spirit. The early Christian prayers belong to us; they are a profound part of us. They come from the opposite pole of our existence, and we need them if we are to exist as complete persons. Inclined as we are to lose ourselves in the irrelevant and the all-too-subjective, their clearcut objective piety maintains an important balance.
We cannot grasp the significance of these texts without real effort. They are the fruit of deep concentration. An alert sense of reality has experienced life; an unclouded mind has recognized and seized upon the essential; precise and telling expression has made possible their complete simplicity. The history of the first centuries best reveals the masterly grasp of reality that forms the basis of these prayers; for the young Church had to struggle heroically, first with the voluptuous luxury of a decaying antiquity, then with the mighty forces that came into existence in the chaos of the great migrations and of the dawning Middle Ages. They are not, as we might suppose, complete self-explanatory texts; the situation from which they spring was summed up in the silent prayers that preceded them. We do not take the introductory “Let us pray” seriously enough. The procedure really should be as follows: Folding his hands, the priest says: “Oremus let us pray.” Now there is silence for a good while, during which the individual believer, taking the mystery of the day as his theme, prays for his own intention and for the intention of the congregation. This silent, manifold praying is then gathered up by the priest and expressed in the few sentences of the Collect, so that its brief words are filled with all the vitality that has just silently lifted itself to God. Now its terseness no longer seems inadequate, but rich and recapitulative. By studying the Collects beforehand, we could make them the vehicles of our intentions, as they were meant to be.
These prayers are significant for the direction which prayer takes in them. The catechism defines prayer as a lifting of the heart to God, for God is above us and our way to Him leads upwards. He is also in us; so the way to Him leads through the inner sanctuary. How does this movement take place? Has it some guiding principle or method? All Collects, regardless of content, close with a remarkable sentence: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.” Here is the direction we were seeking, the proper relation between the goal, the way, and the power which enables us to take it. The goal is the Father; prayer is a seeking of His face. “The Way” is Christ. The power is the Holy Spirit. This one sentence contains the whole law of liturgical prayer. Its method is the same used by the divine Trinity in the work of our salvation. All things come from and return to the Father. In the Logos, He created the world. When man sinned, Christ was sent into the world to rescue and restore it to the Father. The power by which the eternal Son became man and fulfilled His task was that of the Holy Spirit. In the strength of this same Spirit, sent us by the Father in the Son’s name, we return along the road of Christ home to the Father. We are Christians in Christ. Our new life is life-in-Him. Hence Christian prayer is prayer in Christ.
By this time the attentive reader will have noticed that almost invariably the liturgy unrolls before the Father, to whom all words and acts are addressed. Very rarely, and then only for an obvious reason, does it turn to the Son: for instance in the Gloria, where one of the holy Persons after the other is invoked, or in the Agnus Dei, as the priest’s eyes seem to meet those of the Savior offering Himself for sacrifice. The prayers of later periods are more inclined to address themselves to Christ, but we feel at once that somehow they are out of order. The holy Countenance to which the words of the liturgy are directed is that of the Father; but at every point Christ is the vital “room” in which everything takes place and the Way that is taken. His revelation is the Truth which meets us wherever we look. His living, dying, and rising again is the power that lifts all things into newness. His living reality is the model for, and the manner of, holy existence, the essential to which we should surrender ourselves and in which we should exist. The Holy Spirit is the power by which we are meant to accomplish both the oneness with Christ and the movement toward the Father.
All this is of vital importance. It is the very principle of Christian existence. It is so true and so fundamental that it does not particularly force itself upon the consciousness. We hardly notice it until we turn to the later prayers which some one has, at some time or another, felt called upon to compose, and we suddenly notice how cramped we feel in them. The most important things pass unnoticed. They belong to the a priori of existence and are lived in rather than regarded: air, light, the arrangement of space and time, the ground on which we stand, and the way from our particular point of departure to the goal. We do not notice how essential they are until they are missing. The principle we have been discussing is somewhat analogous, only incomparably greater and holier. It is the working principle of truth and love by which God Himself lives, creates, redeems. It is to this that He summons us; our praying is meant to be fulfilled according to its sacred law.

Romano Guardini
Meditations Before Mass

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Word of Praise

We come now to discuss what Guardini describes as the "Word of Praise" or "Word of Prayer"; the impressive hymns and chants of honor such as the Gloria.  It, he explains, "begins with the praise of the angels over Bethlehem (Luke 2: 14), continues with expressions lauding God’s glory, then shifts to a kind of litany in which the all-holy Persons of the divine Trinity, above all Christ, are supplicated, and ends with the solemn naming of the threefold God."  Included in this is the Preface of the Mass which introduces the most important prayer of the Mass, the Canon.  It opens up for us the mystery of the particular feast that is being celebrated.  Praise is also found in the special Sequences which are hymnal proclamations of  feast's central events. All of these forms of praise have one thing in common: spiritual exaltation, the glow of divine glory, and thanksgiving to God for everything. 
Guardini notes that the emotion behind these hymns goes beyond the individual believer: rather, it is "humanity reborn in the Mystical Body of Christ, in which the individual believers are the pulsing “cells.” It is then the Church who speaks in her great hymns!" Thus, they should have a quality that is reflective of this profound reality.  Furthermore, we must remember that the joy that is voiced is not her's alone but it is shared by God Himself.  "The joy and elation of the spirit which the Father sends us in Christ’s name break through and return to the Father."  We must become something better and greater in the singing of these hymns: "The word of praise asks to become our own, that we give it our best or rather ourselves that we let it sweep us along with it, teaching us what real prayer is that we may outgrow the narrowness and pettiness of self."
WE DISCUSSED first the revelatory word found chiefly in Epistle and Gospel, as well as in the sermon; then the executory word which fulfills the Lord’s command in the Consecration. There remains the word of prayer. For the most part its nature is obvious, yet there are a few important points which should be made.
Prayer appears in Holy Mass primarily in the impressive form of praise or hymn. Such is the greater doxology or chant of honor, often called the Gloria after its opening word. It begins with the praise of the angels over Bethlehem (Luke 2: 14), continues with expressions lauding God’s glory, then shifts to a kind of litany in which the all-holy Persons of the divine Trinity, above all Christ, are supplicated, and ends with the solemn naming of the threefold God.
The part of the Mass known as the Preface is also praise. This introduces the most important prayer of the Mass, the Canon, which includes the Consecration. Indicative of the solemnity of the Preface are its introductory sentences with which priest and people alternately stimulate and strengthen each other’s spiritual exaltation. The hymn proper then begins with homage to the Father in heaven, homage based each time on the particular mystery of the feast that is being celebrated. After joining in the glorious praises of the angel-choirs, it terminates with the adoration of the Sanctus. The first part of this prayer is taken from the vision of the prophet, Isaias, who heard it from the lips of the cherubim (Isaias 6: 3); the second is from the Gospel passage describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, where the exulting children shouted the words to Him in the streets (Matt. 21:9).
On certain feastdays we find further praises, called Sequences, tucked between Epistle and Gospel. They are hymnal proclamations of the feast’s central event, through which they appeal to God. Sequences are to be found mainly in the Masses of Easter, Pentecost and Corpus Christi.
Sometimes praise, common also in the Graduals, breaks into certain forms of the Introit, Offertory and Collects (prayers briefly interspersed with alleluja’s) which are entwined about Epistle and Gospel.
These praises continue the themes of the psalms and songs of praise in the Old and New Testaments: inspired man, brimming with the experience of God’s grandeur, glory and awfulness, with His love and His fervor, proclaims God’s omnipotence, admiring, lauding, worshipping Him. The praisegiver lives in this glory as in a special atmosphere in which he delights. The motives for praise vary, but all praise has one thing in common: spiritual exaltation, the glow of divine glory. In praise man’s prayer is farthest removed from the everyday world. This sense of the heights is particularly apparent in the prelude to the Preface, in which priest and congregation help each other to leave everything low and mean behind them, and to ascend. First they wish each other God’s strength: “The Lord be with you,” prays the priest, to which the people reply: “And with thy spirit.” God is asked to move and fortify His people, to accompany the spirit of His priest. And “spirit” here is not intellect, but that simultaneous intimacy and exaltation from which the movements of love, adoration, and enthusiasm climb. Then the priest calls: “Lift up your hearts.” The congregation responds: “We have lifted them up unto the Lord.” To this comes the new summons: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” Response: “It is meet and just.” Linked to the last word is the Preface itself: “It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God.”
In these lines something peculiar to the prayer of praise is particularly apparent: thanksgiving. It is a rendering of thanks not for some beautiful or useful gift, but for the whole of blessed existence. It is man’s response to the glory of God unveiled by revelation, man’s response to His “Epiphany.”
Man thanks his Creator for everything, for everything is His gift: natural life the gift of creation; supernatural life, that of salvation. Such thanksgiving is the attitude farthest removed from narrowness and selfishness; it is the wide flowering of the heart, the love which embraces the whole breadth of existence, the superabundance of truth. In the Gloria it finds its most beautiful expression: “Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.” “Gratias agere” means to thank, honor, “wish well”. Greeks and Romans particularly praised the virtue of magnanimity, the free nobility of being. This attitude appears here in relation to God: “We give thee thanks for Thy great glory.” Even in human relationships the feeling exists: “I thank you, not for what you have done for me or for what you think of me, but for yourself, for existing.” Here love reaches a mysterious greatness. Actually, thanks for the existence of a loved one should be directed elsewhere: to his parents or to God. What seems folly albeit beautiful folly is, when applied to God, pure sense, for He exists of Himself. He is the “I am” (Exod. 3:14). Of all existences, His alone has “merit,” for it is the perfect expression of His love. For this love, man, shaken by God’s glory, thanks Him.
Deep emotion streams through the songs of praise, emotion different from that of personal experience. Its bearer is not the individual, but the whole, the Church. The Church is more than the sum of her believers, more than the huge ordo which enfolds them all. Saints Paul and John tell us what she is: a mighty organism, humanity reborn in the Mystical Body of Christ, in which the individual believers are the pulsing “cells.” It is then the Church who speaks in her great hymns.
One might even venture to say that the joy they voice is not hers alone, but is shared by God Himself. Doesn’t St. Paul say that the Holy Spirit Himself pleads for us “with unutterable groanings” (Rom. 8:26)? If this is true of all prayer, then certainly of the prayer of praise. The psalms of the Old Testament stream from prophetic enthusiasm; those of the New from the fire of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles and the First Epistle to the Corinthians testify to the power of that streaming and storming of the Spirit so powerful that it shattered the order of thought and speech, so that only a stammering and exclaiming could be recognized. The same Paul, however, admonishes men to restrain such outbursts. Higher than storm and stammer sings the clear word controlled by truth and inner discipline, and the faithful should channel their enthusiasm into “spiritual songs” (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 5:19). From these spring the hymns of the church. The joy and elation of the spirit which the Father sends us in Christ’s name break through and return to the Father. This sense of sacred mounting beats like wings through the hymn sung at the consecration of the paschal candle on Easter Saturday, the “Exultet,” but it is also perceptible in the Gloria and in other songs of praise.
The word of revelation demands of us composed listening and pious absorption; the executory word of the Consecration, our reverent presence and participation. The word of praise asks to become our own, that we give it our best or rather ourselves that we let it sweep us along with it, teaching us what real prayer is that we may outgrow the narrowness and pettiness of self.
We can only repeat: It would be a good preparation for Holy Mass to go over the Gloria or a Gradual or Preface the day before, or before the service begins, to enable these to come alive for us and to allow us to recognize and practice the exaltation that each contains.

Meditations Before Mass
Romano Guardini