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On the second Saturday of November, Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'Congregation as 'New Creation'' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

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

On the second Saturday of August, Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'Oremus: The Word of Entreaty.' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

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. Guardini 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

On the second Saturday of October, Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'Congregation - Injustice Rectified.' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

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

 

 

This was the February gathering for Schola Christi, a meeting open to all members of the Secular Oratory and adults who are interested. We began with a discussion of The Practice of the Jesus Prayer in the context of the ascetical life of the Christian followed by a history of the use and making of the prayer rope. Presented by: Fr. David Abernethy, C.O. and Ren Witter

If it is true that only the prayer has the power to awaken and deepen the spirit within us, that which makes us human beyond the body and the soul, then only the one who prays is a normal human being. Because of this fact, prayer is above all things, before all things and must accompany them all. “Nothing good can be done without it,” says the Russian pilgrim. The Jesus Prayer is precisely the practice which offers us this path for, the pilgrim says, “it is the continual and uninterrupted invocation of the name of Jesus on the lips, the heart and the mind, in the feeling of His presence, in all places, at all times, even during sleep: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’”

On the second Saturday of March, Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'Holy Day and Sacred Hour.' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

"It is the Paschal Mystery that becomes the cypher through which we understand the Divine Repose of the Sabbath. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord unfolds the deepest meaning of God's rest. Guardini writes: "The divine repose of the Sabbath now mingles with the triumph of the Resurrection. Into the hum of peace breaks the fanfare of victory. Promise and fulfillment have become one! For the Sabbath looked back in eternity to the beginning. Sunday looks forward in eternity to the end, to what is to come."

And this Divine Repose finds its expression in time in the Holy Mass. Eternity enters time! "This entry is the holy hour, the constantly recurring “now.” It is not as though there existed one hour which man reserves for his God; God Himself, bearing His salutary destiny, enters into the hour, which attains self-realization through Him. It now becomes part of the new creation. Through such an hour time contains eternity, and eternity embraces time."

For a brief moment, time enfolds eternity. Even in our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when the Host is exposed to our gaze during Mass and one might say even when exposed for our worship during Adoration, we must not lose sight of this reality and allow it to become something banal! Rather we must let this reality permeate us and take this seed of eternity back into the world with us.

http://scholachristi.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-holy-day-and-sacred-hour-divine.html

On the second Saturday of April, Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'The Revelatory Word.' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

As an act, the Holy Mass speaks to us in a variety of ways. First, Guardini tells us, God makes Himself known through His words of revelation and through this also reveals to us what the world is and who we are as human beings. Through the readings and through the speaker - - God speaks. But the mystery of God's word extends to the inspiration it gives rise to in the heart of those who listen. The wisdom of God penetrates the individual and renews the soul. What takes place, then, is not simply the transmission of information but rather a personal encounter with the Living and True God. Thus, Guardini states, "It is not sufficient merely to accept ideas and understand commandments. We must lay bare our hearts and minds to the power that comes to us from beyond."  We must prepare the soil of our hearts to receive the seed of God's word. It is a word that must be proclaimed, not simply read; heard and allowed to penetrate to the depths of a person's religiosity. We must cultivate that soil through preparing ourselves by meditating upon the scriptures ahead of time, reading passages in their entirety and in their context and developing a love for the Word within our hearts. 

http://scholachristi.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-revelatory-word-encounter-with.html

On the second Saturday of May, Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'Behold I Make All Things New! The Executory Word.' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

The Word of God permeates the whole of the Mass and can be found in nearly all the solemn moments of the liturgy; of particular note is the moment of Consecration. Here the words spoken take on a special trait: they are spoke directly to God. Guardini notes, "the word becomes the living present. What was once spoken by Christ is spoken anew, not as a new word issuing from the hour and consequently passing away with it, but as the old, Christ-spoken word renewed and become part of this hour. The “memorial” does not consist in the congregation’s remembering what the Lord once spoke to His apostles, but in making His words alive and concretely effective." What Christ accomplishes through these words, that differs from all the other prayers of the liturgy, is the laying of the foundation for a new creation! "These words are the equals of those that once brought about the existence of the universe." The priest utters the words but it is Christ who speaks. It is to this great Mystery that we must bring all the faith our hearts can muster.

THE WORD of God permeates the whole Mass, as it also fills the entire liturgy. Some of its parts, like the Epistle and Gospel or the Our Father, spoken at the most solemn moments, are larger unbroken passages taken bodily from Scripture. Introit, Offertory and Collects consist of sentences selected from various biblical books to highlight the significance of the day in question. The same is true of the Gradual and Tract, texts which link the Epistle and the Gospel. Finally, in the actual prayers, words from, or references to, the preceding scriptural quotations return again and again to fortify the whole with their sacred power.
 
At the heart of the Mass, the Consecration, the word of the Lord assumes a special character.
 
Following the Offertory, in which bread and wine are prepared for the sacred feast, is the most important prayer of all, the Canon of the Mass. After the Quam oblationem, the Church’s final prayer over the gift-offerings, we have the words: “Who the day before He suffered took bread into His holy and venerable hands, and with His eyes lifted up to heaven, unto Thee, God, His almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee, He blessed, broke and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take and eat ye all of this, for this is My Body. In like manner, after He had supped, taking also this excellent chalice into His holy and venerable hands, and giving thanks to Thee, He blessed and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take and drink ye all of this, for this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as you shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.”
 
The words are taken from the Gospel reports and from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Like the original Epistle and Gospel texts, they seem to repeat, only more impressively, what took place at that time. But when we look closely, we notice slight shifts in the wording. Not only does the priest, by reading the biblical account, relate what took place, he also does it himself. His words are no longer merely the biblical “and giving thanks”; they have become: “and with His eyes lifted up to heaven, unto Thee, God, His almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee . . .” God is actually being addressed. And while the priest says “took bread,” he actually picks up the host lying there, bowing his head at the word “thanks.” Thus the decisive sentences, “for this is My Body” and “for this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins,” acquire a new character. The whole passage moves from the past into the present, from the report to the act. It is no longer a pious memorial; it has become a living reality. At the consecration of the chalice we were being prepared for something extraordinary: mysterium fidei. In the early Church, while the priest softly spoke the words which established the Eucharist, the deacon raised his voice, and reverently called out: “Take heed! The mystery of faith!” It is in this sense that we must receive the Lord’s words. But the full significance of their springing into life is clearest in the final sentence: “As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.”
 
Here again something happens to the scriptural word which does not happen to the Epistle or Gospel, to the Pater noster or the praises of the Gloria. There God’s biblical words are read, proclaimed and heard; priest and people make them their own and pass them back as prayer to God. Here the word becomes the living present. What was once spoken by Christ is spoken anew, not as a new word issuing from the hour and consequently passing away with it, but as the old, Christ-spoken word renewed and become part of this hour. The “memorial” does not consist in the congregation’s remembering what the Lord once spoke to His apostles, but in making His words alive and concretely effective.
 
We are about to anticipate, but the point to be discussed in detail later is so all-important that it can bear repetition. What Jesus accomplished by these words differed from all the other proofs of His divine omnipotence. Not only was He summoning the powers of creation to the service of the kingdom of God; here, as in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, He was laying the foundations of a new creation. These words are the equals of those which once brought the universe into existence. But it was the Lord’s pleasure to permit them their creative task not only once, the evening He spoke them, but from henceforth forever or as St. Paul says, “until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). They are meant to ring out ever and again in the course of history, accomplishing each time what they first effected. To this end Christ gave them to His followers with the command: “As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.”
 
Therefore when the priest utters the words, they are not merely reported, they rise and create. Obviously, at this point, we do not simply hear a man talking. The priest pronounces the words, certainly; but they are not his. He is only their bearer; and he does not bear them by reason of his personal faith or piety or moral strength, but by means of his office, through which he executes the Lord’s directions. The true speaker remains Christ. He alone can speak thus. The priest merely lends the Lord his voice, mind, will, freedom, playing a role similar to that of the baptismal water, for the new birth is not brought about by its natural cleansing qualities, but by the power of Christ. It is Christ Who baptizes, just as here it is Christ Who speaks.
 
Our own attitude should be in keeping with this. It is not merely a question of pious listening and acceptance, nor is it one of consummation in the literal sense of the word. The first would be too little; the second definitely too much. The deacon’s interjection in the midst of the holy sentences gives us the right cue: Mysterium fidei! The call proclaims the unfolding of the inmost earnestness, the supreme love of God, summoning us to muster all the readiness and power of our faith in order to participate in them.

Composure

The precious fruit of silence and of stillness gained is composure.  Regardless of our station in life (married, lay or religious) we are capable of being fragmented internally by the constant noise and distractions of our surroundings.  Composure is the restoration of our inner unity in the spirit and the reestablishing the soul in its depth. 

The growing artificiality of  existence only compounds the dissipation of modern man. Bombarded by disconnected, contradictory and disturbing impressions, people gradually lose touch with reality itself and become detached from all moral and spiritual mooring.  Cast about and disquieted, even a moment of silence leaves a person feeling lost or unbearably vulnerable.

This can be seen in the bearing of men and women at Mass.  Guardini describes it vividly: "They are not really present; they do not vitally fill the room and hour: they are not composed."  

Only the composed person is fully alive - fully human - "really someone."  This means " true awareness: that inner knowledge of the essential; that ability to make responsible decisions; sensitivity, readiness, and joie de vivre.”

Again composure, like stillness and silence, arises not spontaneously but through preparation, the humble acknowledgement of the disorder within us and the ascetic efforts to reign in our thoughts and transform our passions.  Composure is to be desired because it is a reflection of something far greater - of the eternity deep within us.  It is the very ground of our soul and peak of the spirit.    

IN THE spiritual life silence is seldom discussed alone. Sooner or later its companion, composure, demands our attention. Silence overcomes noise and talk; composure is the victory over distractions and unrest. Silence is the quiet of a person who could be talking; composure is the vital, dynamic unity of an individual who could be divided by his surroundings, tossed to and fro by the myriad happenings of every day.

What then do we mean by composure? As a rule, a man’s attention is broken into a thousand fragments by the variety of things and persons about him. His mind is restless; his feelings seek objects that are constantly changing; his desires reach out for one thing after another; his will is captured by a thousand intentions, often conflicting. He is harried, torn, self-contradictory. Composure works in the opposite direction, rescuing man’s attention from the sundry objects holding it captive and restoring unity to his spirit. It frees his mind from its many tempting claims and focuses it on one, the all-important. It calls the soul that is dispersed over myriad thoughts and desires, plans and intentions back to itself, re-establishing its depth.

All things seem to disquiet man. The phenomena of nature intrigue him; they attract and bind. But because they are natural they have a calming, collecting influence as well. It is much the same with those realities that make up human existence: encounter and destiny, work and pleasure, sickness and accident, life and death. All make their demands on man, crowding him in and overwhelming him; but they also give him earnestness and weight. What is genuinely disastrous is the disorder and artificiality of present-day existence. We are constantly stormed by violent and chaotic impressions. At once powerful and superficial, they are soon exhausted, only to be replaced by others. They are immoderate and disconnected, the one contradicting, disturbing, and obstructing the other. At every step we find ourselves in the claws of purposes and cross-purposes that inveigle and trick us. Everywhere we are confronted by advertising that attempts to force upon us things we neither want nor really need. We are constantly lured from the important and profound to the distracting, “interesting,” piquant. This state of affairs exists not only around but within us. To a large extent man lives without depth, without a center, in superficiality and chance. No longer finding the essential within himself, he grabs at all sorts of stimulants and sensations; he enjoys them briefly, tires of them, recalls his own emptiness and demands new distractions. He touches everything brought within easy reach of his mind by the constantly increasing means of transportation, information, education, and amusement; but he doesn’t really absorb anything. He contents himself with having “heard about it”; he labels it with some current catchword, and shoves it aside for the next. He is a hollow man and tries to fill his emptiness with constant, restless activity. He is happiest when in the thick of things, in the rush and noise and stimulus of quick results and successes. The moment quiet surrounds him, he is lost.

This state makes itself felt generally, in the spiritual life, in church services, in Holy Mass. Constant unrest is one of its earmarks. Then there is much gazing about, uncalled for kneeling down and standing up, reaching for this and that, fingering of apparel, coughing, and throat-clearing. Even when behavior remains outwardly controlled, an inner restlessness is clearly evident in the way people sing, listen, respond in their whole bearing. They are not really present; they do not vitally fill the room and hour: they are not composed.

Composure is more than freedom from scattered impressions and occupations. It is something positive; it is life in its full depth and power. Left to itself, life will always turn outward toward the multiplicity of things and events, and this natural inclination must be counter-balanced. Consider, for a moment, the nature of respiration. It has two directions: outward and inward. Both are vital; each is part of this elementary function of life; neither is all of it. The living organism that only exhaled, or inhaled, would soon suffocate. Composure is the spiritual man’s “inhalation,” by which, from deep within, he collects his scattered self and returns to his center.

Only the composed person is really someone. Only he can be seriously addressed as one capable of replying. Only he is genuinely affected by what life brings him, for he alone is awake, aware. And not only is he wide awake in the superficial sense of being quick to see and grab his advantage this is a watchfulness shared also by birds and ants. What we mean is true awareness: that inner knowledge of the essential; that ability to make responsible decisions; sensitivity, readiness, and joie de vivre.

Once composure has been established, the liturgy is possible. Not before. It is not much use to discuss Holy Scripture, the deep significance of symbols, and the vitality of the liturgical renewal if the prerequisite of earnestness is lacking. Without it, even the liturgy deteriorates to something “interesting,” a passing vogue. To participate in the liturgy seriously we must be mentally composed. But, like silence, composure does not create itself; it must be willed and practiced.

Above all, we must get to church early in order to “tidy up” inwardly. We must have no illusions about our condition when we enter the church; we must frankly face our restlessness, confusion, disorder. To be exact, we do not yet really exist as persons at least not as persons God can address, expecting a fitting response. We are bundles of feelings, fancies, thoughts, and plans all at cross-purposes with each other. The first thing to do, then, is to quiet and collect ourselves. We must be able to say honestly: “Now I am here. I have only one thing to do participate with my whole being in the only thing that counts, the sacred celebration. I am entirely ready.”

Once we attempt this, we realize how terribly distraught we are. Our thoughts drag us in all directions: to the people we deal with, family, friends, adversaries; to our work; to our worries; to public events; to private engagements. We must pull our thoughts back again and again and again, repeatedly calling ourselves to order. And when we see how difficult it is, we must not give up, but realize only the more clearly that it is high time we returned to ourselves.

But is it possible at all? Isn’t man hopelessly given over to outward impressions, to the press of his desires and his own unrest? The question brushes the ultimate: the difference between man and animal. An animal is really bound by these things, unfree though, we must hasten to add, protected by the orderly disposition of its instincts. An animal is never truly distracted. In the exact sense we were using, it can be neither distracted nor composed; it has not yet been confronted with this either/or. Its own nature determines its existence and requires it to be in order. Only man can be distracted, because something in his spirit reaches beyond mere nature. The spirit can turn to the things of the world and lose itself there; the same spirit can also overcome distraction and fight its way through to composure. There is something mysterious about the spirit, something relevant to eternity. Absolute rest and composure is eternity. Time is unrest and dispersion; eternity is rest and unity, not inactivity or boredom only fools connect these with it. Eternity is the brimming fullness of life in the form of repose. Something of eternity is deep within us. Let’s call it by the beautiful name the spiritual masters use, the “ground of the soul” or the “peak of the spirit.” In the first it appears as the repose of the intrinsic, of depth; in the second as the tranquility of remoteness and the heights. This seed of eternity is within me, and I can count on its support. With its aid I can step out of the endless chase; I can dismiss everything that does not belong here in God’s house; I can grow still and whole so that I can honestly reply to His summons: “Here I am, Lord.”

- Romano Guardini Meditations Before Mass

Stillness and The Word

In a few pages, Guardini takes us ever deeper into the mystery of the interplay of silence, speech and hearing. It is not uncommon, Guardini notes, to observe people at Mass with the eyes fixed on the missal during the proclamation of the readings. This may be done with the sincerest desire not to miss a word. Yet, in providing this opportunity to read along, as it were, many parishes undermine the spiritual act of listening attentively to the sacred word in its spoken form. The Divine Word is more than what is typeset on the page but something that can only reach to the depths of a person's heart through hearing. There is a vitality in the spoken word that elicits the deepest emotions and produces faith. The partial attention that comes through reading not only prevents a deeper comprehension but also makes what is to be communicated incomplete. There is, states Guardini, a spiritual/corporal nature of God's Word that is akin to the Sacraments. The Word was made flesh and the "same mystery continues in the living word of the liturgical proclamation!"

Such hearing requires silence; not just in the Church but in the mind and heart. We must seek to overcome the spiritual, intellectual and emotional noise within us to hear the word of God not simply through the filter of our own minds but as God desires us to hear it. We must seek the kind of stillness that is the fruit of purity of heart and that comes through the ascetical life.   

SILENCE AND speech are interdependent and together form that nameless unit which supports our spiritual life. But there is another element essential here: hearing.

Let us imagine for a moment a Dialogue Mass; Epistle and Gospel, indeed, a substantial part of the Mass is read aloud in English. What do those believers who love the liturgy and wish to participate in it as fully as possible do? They take their missals in hand and read along with the reader. They mean well, they are eager not to miss a word; yet how odd the whole situation is! There stands the reader, continuing the service which the deacon once performed. Solemnly he reads the sacred words, and the believers he is addressing read with him! Can this be a genuine form of the spiritual act? Obviously not. Something has been destroyed. Solemn reading requires listening, not simultaneous reading. Otherwise why read aloud at all? Our bookish upbringing is to blame for this unnaturalness. Most deplorably, it encourages people to read when they should listen. As a result, the fairytale has died and poetry has lost its power; for its resonant, wise, fervent, and festive language is meant to be heard, not read. In Holy Mass, moreover, it is a question not only of beautiful and solemn words, but of the divine word.

Perhaps at this point someone may protest: “But these are mere aesthetic details which matter very little. The main thing is that the believers receive and understand the word of God–whether by reading or hearing is of no import.” As a matter of fact, this question is vital. In silent reading that frail and powerful reality called “word” is incomplete.

It remains unfinished, entangled in print, corporal; vital parts are still lacking. The hurrying eye brings fleeting images to the imagination; the intelligence gains but a hazy “comprehension,” and the result is of small worth. What has been lost belongs to the essence of the liturgical event. No longer does the sacred word unfold in its full spiritual-corporal reality and soar through space to the listener, to be heard and received into his life. Would it be a loss if men ceased to convey their most fervent thoughts in living speech, and instead communicated with each other only in writing? Definitely. All the bodily vitality of the ringing word would vanish. In the realm of faith also the loss would be shattering. After all, Christ Himself spoke of hearing. He never said: “He who has eyes to read, read!” (Matt. 11 :15). This is no attempt to devaluate the written word, which in its place is good and necessary. However, it must not crowd out what is better, more necessary and beautiful: hearing, from which, as St. Paul tells us, springs faith (Rom. 10:14).

Faith can, of course, be kindled from the written text, but the gospel, the “glad tidings,” gains its full power only when it is heard. Members of a reading age, we have forgotten this, and so thoroughly that it is difficult for us to realize what we have lost. The whole word is not the printed, but the spoken, in which alone truth stands free. Only words formed by the human voice have the delicacy and power necessary to stir the depths of emotion, the seat of the spirit, the full sensitiveness of the conscience. Like the sacraments God’s word is spiritual-corporal; like them it is meant to nourish the spirit in flesh-and-blood man, to work in him as power. To do this it must be whole. This consideration takes us still deeper. The saving God who came to us was the eternal Word. But that Word did not come in a blaze of spiritual illumination or as something suddenly appearing in a book. He “was made flesh,” flesh that could be seen, heard, grasped with hands, as St. John so graphically insists in the opening lines of his first epistle. The same mystery continues in the living word of liturgical proclamation, and it is all-important that the connection remain vital.

The word of God is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence. To be sure that the point is clear, let us put it this way: how may proper hearing be prevented? I could say something to a man sitting out of earshot, for example. Then I should have to speak louder in order to establish the physical connection. Or I could speak loudly enough, but if his attention is elsewhere, my remarks will go unheeded. Then I must appeal to him to listen. Perhaps he does listen, notes what I say, follows the line of thought, tries his best, yet fails to understand. Something in him remains closed. He hears my reasons, follows them intellectually and psychologically; he would understand at once if they applied to someone else. In regard to himself, he fails to see the connection because his pride will not admit the truth; perhaps a secret voice warns him that, were he to admit it, he would have to change things in his life that he is unwilling to change. The more examples we consider, the more clearly we realize that hearing too exists on many levels, and we begin to suspect its importance when the Speaker is God. Not for nothing did our Lord say: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

To have ears to hear requires grace, for God’s word can be heard only by him whose ears God has opened. He does this when He pleases, and the prayer for truth is directed at that divine pleasure. But it also requires something that we ourselves desire and are capable of: being inwardly “present”; listening from the vital core of our being; unfolding ourselves to that which comes from beyond, to the sacred word. All this is possible only when we are inwardly still. In stillness alone can we really hear. When we come in from the outside our ears are filled with the racket of the city, the words of those who have accompanied us, the laboring and quarreling of our own thoughts, the disquiet of our hearts’ wishes and worries, hurts and joys. How are we possibly to hear what God is saying? That we listen at all is something; not everyone does! It is even better when we pay attention and make a real effort to understand what is being said. But all this is not yet that attentive stillness in which God’s word can take root. This must be established before the service begins, if possible in the silence on the way to church, still better in a brief period of composure the evening before. - Romano Guardini Meditations Before Mass

Members of the Secular Oratory gathered with Fr. David for a discussion on 'Holy Stillness.' The group read and reflected upon a brief selection from 'Meditations Before Mass' by Msgr. Romano Guardini

It is curious to think in our day that one of the most beautiful aspects of the Latin Rite Liturgy is the presence of silence.  I say curious because it is so little found today or fostered.  To do so seems to violate the "freedom" of distraction that individuals fight to maintain.  A confrontation with silence is too frightening a thing in a culture that thrives on perpetual diversion.  Any attempt to speak of the value of silence is met with either polite disregard or suspicion. Recently, I came across an article describing concern for maintaining a prayerful setting for worship as a reflection of narcissism; claiming that external distractions pull people out of focus on self and internal distractions that masquerade as prayer; allowing them to shift their prayers on to the needs of those around them.  The absurdity of such an argument is unnecessary to address. Rather, I would like to reconsider a classic writing on liturgy - Romano Guardini's Meditations Before Mass.  He begins by emphasizing what is sorely needed and painfully absent in our day: Stillness.

 

WHEN Holy Mass is properly celebrated there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent. The priest continues to officiate as the rubrics indicate, speaking very softly or refraining from vocal prayer; the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation. What do these intervals of quiet signify? What must we do with them? What does stillness really imply?

It implies above all that speech end and silence prevail, that no other sounds of movements, of turning pages, of coughing and throat-clearing be audible. There is no need to exaggerate. Men live, and living things move; a forced outward conformity is no better than restlessness. Nevertheless, stillness is still, and it comes only if seriously desired. If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort. People are often heard to say: “But I can’t help coughing” or “I can’t kneel quietly”; yet once stirred by a concert or lecture they forget all about coughing and fidgeting. That stillness proper to the most beautiful things in existence dominates, a quiet area of attentiveness in which the beautiful and truly important reign. We must earnestly desire stillness and be willing to give something for it; then it will be ours. Once we have experienced it, we will be astounded that we were able to live without it.

What Guardini captures here is essential: silence does not happen spontaneously.  It has to be desired as a good, fostered and we must be willing to make certain sacrifices to attain it.  Few in our day have tasted true stillness and the beautiful fruit it produces in the soul and the liturgy.

Moreover, stillness must not be superficial, as it is when there is neither speaking nor squirming; our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts must also find repose. Then genuine stillness permeates us, spreading ever deeper through the seemingly plumbless world within.

Once we try to achieve such profound stillness, we realize that it cannot be accomplished all at once. The mere desire for it is not enough; we must practice it. The minutes before Holy Mass are best; but in order to have them for genuine preparation we must arrive early. They are not a time for gazing or day-dreaming or for unnecessary thumbing of pages, but for inwardly collecting and calming ourselves. It would be still better to begin on our way to church. After all, we are going to a sacred celebration. Why not let the way there be an exercise in composure, a kind of overture to what is to come? I would even suggest that preparation for holy stillness really begins the day before. Liturgically, Saturday evening already belongs to the Sunday. If for instance, after suitable reading we were to collect ourselves for a brief period of composure, its effects the next day would be evident.

Again, astutely, Guardini notes that preparation for such holy stillness begins not with the start of the liturgy but at the beginning of the Sabbath the evening before.  The desire for stillness must be such that it leads us to begin the movement to still the mind and heart and regain the kind of composure that will become fully evident the following day.  Saturday evening is often a time of heightened distraction rather than the begin of a fast from those things that fragment the mind and heart and lead to dissipation.

Thus far we have discussed stillness negatively: no speech, no sound. But it is much more than the absence of these, a mere gap, as it were, between words and sounds: stillness itself is something positive. Of course we must be able to appreciate it as such. There is sometimes a pause in the midst of a lecture or a service or some public function. Almost invariably someone promptly coughs or clears his throat. He is experiencing stillness as a breach in the unwinding road of speech and sound, which he attempts to fill with something, anything. For him the stillness was only a lacuna, a void which gave him a sense of disorder and discomfort. Actually, it is something rich and brimming.

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being “all there,” receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it.

Stillness is not a void but rather a receptivity; the tranquillity of soul that prepares one to hear God as He speaks the Word He desires us to receive.  In truth we should seek to live in a state of perpetual receptivity and alertness - a mindfulness of God that comes only through prayer and asceticism.  We must seek to purify our desires and order our passions in order that nothing should distract us from the presence of God.

Attentiveness that is the clue to the stillness in question, the stillness before God. What then is a church? It is, to be sure, a building having walls, pillars, space. But these express only part of the word “church,” its shell. When we say that Holy Mass is celebrated “in church,” we are including something more, the congregation. “Congregation,” not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual “space” around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer. Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary. It is important to understand this. Church buildings may be lost or destroyed; then everything depends on whether or not the faithful are capable of forming congregations that erect indestructible “churches” wherever they happen to find themselves, no matter how poor or dreary their quarters. We must learn and practice the art of constructing spiritual cathedrals.

By fostering stillness, we our constructing the real sanctuary where God is worshipped in spirit and truth.  The Congregation is formed not only physically but more importantly spiritually and altar of sacrifice must be humble and contrite hearts.

We cannot take stillness too seriously. Not for nothing do these reflections on the liturgy open with it. If someone were to ask me what the liturgical life begins with, I should answer: with learning stillness. Without it, everything remains superficial, vain. Our understanding of stillness is nothing strange or aesthetic. Were we to approach stillness on the level of aesthetics of mere withdrawal into the ego we should spoil everything. What we are striving for is something very grave, very important, and unfortunately sorely neglected; the prerequisite of the liturgical holy act.

 

Romano Guardini

Meditations Before Mass

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