Friday, January 05, 2007

Romano Guardini versus populum

“If anywhere, then here, lack of purpose is the greatest power.”
Romano Guardini

If I wanted to explain in a few words what drew me and the small congregation that came from all parts of Berlin to Guardini’s Mass, it was simply this: He was a person who by his words and actions drew us into a world where the sacred became convincingly and literally tangible. His mere appearance radiated something for which I have no better word than luminous; in his presence one fell silent and became all attention. With him on the altar, the sacred table became the center of the universe. . . . The impact of the sacred action was all the more profound because Guardini celebrated the Mass versus populum — facing the people. It was a missa recitata, a Mass at which people responded aloud to the presider’s prayers, something still new in those days [the 1930s], and we, the congregation, were the altar boys and girls answering his invitations to prayer. . . .

It doesn’t matter . . . . that I found him unapproachable, even abrupt in social encounters, somewhat shy and unwilling to be drawn into anything resembling mere chitchat. What matters is that during those 30 or 40 minutes he gave us the sustenance that nourished us for another week of uncertainty, danger and fear, the strength to face Satan and his demons for another week, and that a mere evocation of his presence at the altar and of his words brought light even into our darkest moments of hopelessness or despair.

— Heinz R. Kuehn, Introduction to Kuehn, The Essential Guardini: An Anthology of the Writings of Romano Guardini, 1997, 7–8

Though palpable, Guardini’s power was palpable only to a few, and only in formal situations (Mass, lectures, writings). Compare The Eye of the Beholder.


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