Ildefons Herwegen’s Introduction to Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy


In a previous post I argued that Abbot Ildefons Herwegen’s introduction to Guardini’s famous book on the liturgy is an example of the pre-WWII Liturgical Movement reacting to liberal individualism. I argued that it–unlike the book that it introduces–goes to far in the opposite direction. I have now made a translation of Herwegen’s introduction:

Introduction to Romano Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy (1918)

In the Acts of the Apostles the praying Church stands at the threshold. She begs for the sending of the Holy Spirit; she strengthens herself in charismatic prayer for martyrdom; she watches praying at the prison of St. Peter; she surrounds the mysterious breaking of the bread with unceasing prayers, and thus forms her liturgy. At the dawn of of Christianity the Church appears as orans. In her the petition of the disciples is answered: Lord, teach us to pray. Like a little seed the Our Father grows into a mighty tree. The prayer of Christ has blossomed into the eternal prayer of the Church. Her liturgy is the breath of the praying Christ, the glorified high priest. This prayer of Christ – holy in its divinity, noble in its humanity— continues on earth a solis ortu usque ad occasum in the unceasing prayer of the Church.

The Church is the society of the true worshipers of God. Her prayer is never a mere cry for help forced by necessity. Even her petitions and lamentations are ennobled and restrained: trembling with loving adoration, illumined with faith in Christ’s victory, with selfless, childlike joy in the greatness and beatitude of the Father. The Church stands tranquil and confident in the midst of the turbulent world. What gives her the confidence to stand? Her prayer.

It is not assemblies, speeches, demonstrations, nor the favor of states and peoples, nor protective laws and subsidies that make the Church so strong. And while there can never be enough done in preaching, in the confessionals, in parish missions, in catechesis, and in works of mercy; yet all such things are merely the external achievements that flow from an internal power. It would be perverse indeed to be concerned principally for such achievements whilst neglecting the concern for the purity, intensity, and growth of the internal source. Wherever the Church truly, vitally prays there supernatural holiness springs up on all sides, there active peace, human understanding, and true love of neighbor blossom.

Our prayer decides the struggle of our life. He who prays well begins to comprehend the whole of life in its breadth and depth; he finds the balance between the infinite and the finite. To pray is to anchor our created wills in the will of God. The prayer of Christians finds already in the activity of prayer itself an infinite fulfillment through being united to the omnipotent will of God.

Prayer is the word of the searching human soul.

Here human ways end, and the human will is touched by the will of God, and is filled with awe and terror along with redeeming, quieting consolation and liberating strength.

Only in adoration do we find healing and salvation.

The prayer of the Church establishes a firm connection to the eternal. Eternal truth seizes us here, makes us real, makes us worthy for eternal being and life, worthy to see the eternal good and delight in it.

Participation in the adoring love of the Church, the bride of Christ, gives purity and strength.

We live in a time which has left rationalism behind, a time which is striving toward mysticism; today, more than in the recent past, people are inspired by the longing to approach God. Even the feverish obsession with work, which also marks our time, and which offers itself as a substitute for religion, is not able to strangle the mystical longings of the soul. This cry is too powerful, too universal: to God! But where is the path to Him?

The individual raised by the Renaissance and by liberalism has exhausted itself. It recognizes that it needs a connection to an entirely objective institution in order to mature into personality. It demands community [Gemeinschaft].

The age of socialism does have communities, but only such as form a collection of atoms, of individuals. But our desire is for organic, for vital community.

The Church is such an organic community in the highest sense. She unites persons more intimately than any other community; she gives them one spirit, indeed in a sense one body—corpus Christi mysticum. In this body every part is connected to every other and to the head by an intimate, life giving relation. The Church is the “communion of saints;” the saints struggling toward God amidst the trials and tribulations of this valley of tears, and those transfigured, sanctified members of Christ, who triumph in His glory.

An organic community that is is ordered to God must have public worship. The liturgy of the Church is public, but not only in the ancient sense of belonging; the liturgy does not only regard the whole, it also elevates the prayer of each individual. Thus the prayer of each individual soul becomes itself a liturgical. Christ relates to the Church in a way parallel to the way in which He relates to the soul. But the liturgy places the prayer of the individual on an objective foundation, it orders it to a greater, super-personal telos, transcending the narrowness of the individual and its random circumstances. The whole of creation praises the creator in liturgy, and the individual soul mirrors the whole universe.

The reforms of Pope Pius X concentrated our attention with on the liturgy with a new urgency. The Sacrifice, blessing, and prayer of the Church as expressed in her liturgy has won ever more importance in the devotional life of German Catholics in recent years. In theory and in practice, in research and in life, we are trying to learn and foster the authentic liturgy.

The liturgy has been called “the great catechism of the laity.” (J. Brögger) That is what it was in previous centuries. If it is to become such a catechism of the laity again then “we must put much more emphasis in formation within the family, the schools, and in sermons, on teaching the true values and sentiments of the Catholic liturgy, unfolding their educative power, and showing how well they harmonize with what is most noble in the German spirit.” (L. Baur)

Our series Ecclesia Orans is attempting to support such attempts by explaining liturgical terms, actions, and texts, and thus fostering deeper liturgical understanding among the clergy, the teachers, and the educated laity. A series will not follow a strict plan, but will be a loosely connected group of monographs that treat historical, dogmatic, ascetical-mystical, philosophical, pedagogical, and aesthetic questions on the liturgy with a rigorous scholarly foundation, but in a style accessible to the general reading public.

The prayer of the Church is an expression of what is objective and communal, and thus it has developed for itself an external form. Our task is to describe and explain this form; to trace its origins and development. But since the external form is the expression of the internal spirit, we will pay particular attention to the spirit of the liturgy. Thus the scope of our series is very wide. It will treat not only liturgical topics in the strict sense, but also everything which contributes to a better understanding of its spirit—as for example the prayer and ascetic discipline of the patristic Church, the theology of the Church Fathers, the and the influence of monasticism on the development of the liturgy.

We will be pleased if out series can contribute something to liturgical scholarship, but our goal is to open up the treasures of the liturgy and make them fruitful for the Christian life.

In this, the first little volume of our series, Guardini shows how the liturgy, properly understood contains a deep psychological wisdom—even from a natural point of view it fosters a healthy life of the soul. He examines the difficulties that modern man has with the liturgy, and shows how these difficulties arise both in a faulty understanding of the liturgy and in modernity’s unbalanced and exaggerated emphasis on certain aspects of life to the detriment of others. He shows how intimately that which the liturgy is and that which it gives are connected with true harmony in the soul. Without intending it the ancient rituals provide heal precisely the wounds that mark the modern psyche and untie precisely the knots in which contemporary man has tied himself. The liturgy lifts us out of the present moment, above the arbitrariness of individual circumstance. The liturgy trains us to be reverent worshipers of God, pure adorers of the Father.

In this work the author concentrates not so much on the scholarly explanation of the liturgy as on the personal conditions for fruitful participation in the liturgy. He tries to prepare the ground, to dispose the soul to receive what the liturgy offers.

Guardini’s essays are a fitting introduction to our series, since he is able to understand those who come to the liturgy from without, for the first time. He describes the collision of two spiritual worlds, and how their dissonance can be overcome. He unearths connections between the liturgy and the interior life that had become forgotten and buried. Thus he prepares the natural conditions for the liturgical experience. His work is thus admirably suited to lay the broad foundation upon which we mean to build.

4 thoughts on “Ildefons Herwegen’s Introduction to Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy

  1. Lieber erster Follower :-),

    Ich bewundere sehr Deinen Blogger-Fleiß. So große Themen und soviel Interessantes, was Du darüber zu sagen hast. Besonders gerne hatte ich den Vortrag in Pressburg über Demokratie, da teile ich völlig Deine Ansicht.

    Das Einrichten meines Blogs stellt mich täglich vor neue Probleme, mit denen ich nicht gerechnet hatte. Gestern hätte ich beinahe ganz aufgegeben. Wir haben, weil (am Land) zu weit entfernt vom nächsten A1-Stützpunkt wohnend, riesige Probleme mit dem Internet. Ich bin beim Einrichten mehrfach hinausgeflogen, am übelsten ist, dass alles unendlich lange dauert. Bis jetzt ist es mir nicht gelungen, ein Foto zu laden, da das Laden über 10 min und länger in Anspruch nimmt. Du hast ein so schönes neues Foto als Header. Weißt Du zufällig, wie viele KB / MB es hat?

    Viele herzliche Grüsse, Gabriele.

    Von meinem iPhone gesendet



  2. This is a beautiful piece. “In this, the first little volume of our series, Guardini shows how the liturgy, properly understood contains a deep psychological wisdom—even from a natural point of view it fosters a healthy life of the soul.” This indeed is a vital element missing from the common practice of most modern American churches- and also, I believe it is an essential element for the recovery of our weary souls. Liturgy helps shape the noetic and thymotic aspects of the human soul to the external and objective person, work and story of Christ in the Gospel- very much in line with St. Paul in Romans 12:1-2. Few in my locale see the value in this lost art- but perhaps I was just made for a different age. Thank you for your work.


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