Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Then it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical piety is...
An interesting article on liturgical piety by Romano Guardini to whom Pope
Benedict XVI attributes much of his understanding of the liturgy, and it's
connection to the Faith.
The connection between Benedict XVI and Romano Guardini is very evident
even in the title of the book "Introduction to the Spirit of the
Liturgy" published by the present pope in 1999.
The preface to the book begins as follows:
"One of my first readings after the beginning of my theological studies,
at the beginning of 1946, was the first work by Romano Guardini, 'The
Spirit of the Liturgy,' a little book published for Easter of 1918. This
work made a decisive contribution to the rediscovery of the liturgy,
with its timeless beauty and grandeur, as the vital center of the Church
and Christian life. [...] This book of mine is intended to represent
another contribution to the renewal of this understanding."
Last Thursday, April 6, replying in St. Peter's Square to a young man's
question about his vocation, Benedict XVI again emphasized that when he
was a young man, his vocation emerged and flourished with the "discovery
of the beauty of the liturgy." Because "in the liturgy, the divine
beauty really appears to us, and heaven opens up."
"Then it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical piety
by Romano Guardini
Today I saw something grandiose: Monreale. I am full of gratitude for
its existence. The day was rainy. When we arrived there ? it was Holy
Thursday ? the solemn Mass had proceeded beyond the consecration. For
the blessing of the holy oils, the archbishop was seated beneath the
triumphal arch of the choir. The ample space was crowded. Everywhere
people were sitting in their places, silently watching.
What should I say about the splendor of this place? At first, the
visitor's glance sees a basilica of harmonious proportions. Then it
perceives a movement within its structure, which is enriched with
something new, a desire for transcendence that moves through it to the
point of passing beyond it; but all of this culminates in that splendid
So, a brief historical moment. It did not last long, but was supplanted
by something else entirely. But this moment, although brief, was of an
There was gold all over the walls. Figures rose above figures, in all of
the vaults and in all of the arches. They stood out from the golden
background as though from a star-studded sky. Everywhere radiant colors
were swimming in the gold.
Yet the light was attenuated. The gold slept, and all the colors slept.
They could be seen there, waiting. And what their splendor would be like
if it shone forth! Only here and there did a border gleam, and an aura
of muted light trailed along the blue mantle of the figure of Christ in
When they brought the holy oils to the sanctuary, and the procession,
accompanied by the insistent melody of an ancient hymn, wound through
that throng of figures, the basilica sprang back to life.
Its forms began to move. Responding to the solemn procession and the
movement of vestments and colors along the walls and through the arches,
the spaces began to move. The spaces came forward to meet the listening
ear and the eye rapt in contemplation.
The crowd sat and watched. The women were wearing veils. The colors of
their garments and shawls were waiting for the sun to make them shine
again. The men's faces were distinguished and handsome. Almost no one
was reading. All were living in the gaze, all engaged in contemplation.
Then it it became clear to me what the foundation of real liturgical
piety is: the capacity to find the "sacred" within the image and its
* * *
Monreale, Holy Saturday. When we arrived, the sacred ceremony had come
to the blessing of the Paschal candle. Immediately afterward, the deacon
solemnly advanced along the principal nave, bearing the Lumen Christi.
The Exultet was sung in front of the main altar. The bishop was seated
to the right of the altar, on an elevated throne made of stone, where he
sat listening. After the Exultet came the readings from the prophets,
and I rediscovered the sublime significance of those mosaic images.
Then there was the blessing of the baptismal water in the middle of the
church. All the concelebrants were seated around the font, with the
bishop in the center and the people standing around them. The babies
were brought forward ? one could see the emotion and pride in their
parents ? and the bishop baptized them.
Everything was so familiar. The people's conduct was simultaneously
detached and devout, and when anyone spoke to another person standing
nearby, it was not a disturbance. And so the sacred ceremony continued
on its way. It moved through almost every part of that great church: now
it took place in the choir, now in the nave, now under the triumphal
arch. The spaciousness and majesty of the place embraced every movement
and every figure, commingling them and uniting them together.
Every now and then a ray of sunlight pierced through the vault, and a
golden smile spread across the space above. And anywhere a subdued color
lay in wait on a vestment or veil, it was reawakened by the gold that
spread to every corner, revealed in its true power and caught up in an
harmonious and intricate design that filled the heart with happiness.
The most beautiful thing was the people. The women with their veils, the
men with their cloaks around their shoulders. Everywhere could be seen
distinguished faces and a serene bearing. Almost no one was reading,
almost no one stooped over in private prayer. Everyone was watching.
The sacred ceremony lasted for more than four hours, but the
participation was always lively. There are different means of prayerful
participation. One is realized by listening, speaking, gesturing. But
the other takes place through watching. The first way is a good one, and
we northern Europeans know no other. But we have lost something that was
still there at Monreale: the capacity for living-in-the-gaze, for
resting in the act of seeing, for welcoming the sacred in the form and
event, by contemplating them.
I was about to leave, when suddenly I found all of those eyes turned
toward me. Almost frightened, I looked away, as if I were embarrassed at
peering into those eyes that had been gazing upon the altar.