I just finished a book on the life of Romano Guardini, a priest theologian, by Robert Krieg, which was entitled “Romano Guardini: a Precursor of Vatican II.” I wanted to know more about Father Guardini because of his great influence on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He also has been credited with a great remote influence on the second Vatican Council.
Born in Verona Italy, Father Guardini moved with his family to Germany when he was just a year old, and he eventually became a citizen of Germany and taught at universities there for most of his life. In 1918, he published a book entitled “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” which had a strong influence on the Vatican II council.
Recently I’ve been thinking about him and his principles as I reflect on that yearning to return to full and active participation at the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian life.
I found the life of Romano Guardini quite engaging. He was very involved in the catechesis and formation of young people through the 1920s and 1930s, and that practical involvement influenced greatly his theological thinking and his writings. Central to his catechesis was this quote of Pope Pius X, who in the early days of the last century called upon Catholics not simply to “pray at Mass” but rather to “pray the Mass.”
I was especially struck by Father Guardini’s theory of opposites and contradictions. He makes this important distinction. Contradictions cannot live well side-by-side. A good example of such a contradiction is good and evil, which mutually exclude each other. In contrast, opposites involve two elements that create a healthy tension and thrive in unity. He was a friend of the philosopher Martin Buber, who is famous for contributions to existentialism and his theory of “I and Thou.” Guardini saw the relationship of our interior life and our social life with others as opposites that are in tension but need one another to complete and fulfill our personal identity as created by God. This personalism had a great effect on the phenomenology of Saint John Paul II, whose doctoral thesis was on Max Scheler, a great influence on Father Guardini.
In “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” Romano Guardini goes on to address the creative and necessary tension in the sacred liturgy of both active participation and silence. Drawing on the insight of Pope Pius X to “pray the Mass,” Father Guardini spoke about the need for both times of silence and times of active participation together. He made it clear that reverent participation in processions or kneeling or standing and publicly reciting the Creed together are profound acts of worship with others and that these acts need to be fortified by our silent reflection together.
At silent retreats, I have often had an experience in which even though my conversation with other retreatants was minimal and almost nonexistent, I nevertheless felt a bond with those with whom I journeyed for that week. There is something quite mystical about being able to share both silence and calm in prayer together.
One of the great benefits but also the deep challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reality of virtual worship. Thank God we have had the opportunity for live-streaming, when coming together in person to celebrate the Holy Eucharist was — and for some may still be — neither safe nor warranted.
However, there is a challenge. Living in an age that emphasizes the individual and passive participation in front of a computer screen or a television set surely will contribute to spiritual deficiencies in our lives over time. Some have told me that they are truly yearning to come back together to celebrate Christ in the Holy Eucharist and to receive communion together. I am grateful for the theology of Father Guardini for fostering just that.
Two weekends ago, I was blessed to celebrate Mass that included the sacrament of Confirmation at Saint Dominic in Springfield and Saint Francis of Assisi in Loretto. It did my spirit good to return to a public celebration of the Eucharist, even in the midst of the social distancing and hygienic steps that still are quite required. I could sense that the families and individuals who participated felt the same.
Let us pray for one another and pray that the tension of those opposites will increase our yearning to come together and to celebrate in a reverent and active fashion the great gift that Jesus has left us – His saving death and resurrection for our salvation.