The spirit of the liturgy


July 5, 2022

The spirit of the liturgy (Vom Geist der Liturgie) is a theological essay written by Romano Guardini and published in 1919, edited by the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach as the first volume of the Ecclesia orans series, promoted by Abbot Ildefons Herwegen.


Attending assiduously the Benedictine Abbey of Beuron, Guardini had admired the perfection of the liturgical practice of those religious, but at the same time he had increased the discomfort he felt towards the traditional liturgy, which he celebrated daily as chaplain in his diocese of Mainz, because it maintained a rigid detachment between the celebrant and the faithful, separated from each other not only by the balustrade, but also by the use of the Latin language, incomprehensible to the people. These doubts were expressed by the priest Guardini, now also a "Benedictine oblate", in a letter sent in September 1917 to Abbot Herwegen. Guardini had attended and participated for some time in the liturgies of the monastery of Maria Laach, admiring its beauty and perfection; however, he expressed his perplexity at the lack of active participation on the part of the people, "placing everything in the hands of expert liturgists, concerned only that religious practice becomes as perfect as possible". To remedy this lack of communication between the celebrants and the faithful, he proposed as a primary request that both the celebration of the Mass and that of the sacraments intended for the people take place in German, at least in the proclamation of the Word and in the prayers intended for the faithful, while the service at the altar could remain celebrated in Latin. For this it was necessary to publish special booklets of prayers and songs for each type of celebration, written in German. Abbot Herwegen, as a sign of sharing, agreed to publish Guardini's short essay on the liturgy as a first contribution, in which the theological reasons that justified the proposed changes were expounded. The essay on the spirit of the liturgy was published in 1919 and presented theologically justified proposals for a reform of the liturgy, also following up on those introduced a few decades earlier by Pope Pius X. They provoked a long and articulated debate and found practical application in the liturgical and cultural activities that Guardini organized annually in the castle of Rothenfels on the Main, during the darkest years of Nazism. They would have been resolved, at least partially, only during the Second Vatican Council with the publication of the "Conciliare Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the sacred liturgy.


The spirit of the liturgy - The Holy Signs, translation by Mario Bendiscioli, Brescia, Morcelliana, 2005, ISBN 88-372-1605-X. (FR) The esprit de la liturgie, translation by Robert d'Harcourt, Paris, Plon, 1930. (EN) The Spirit of the Liturgy, New York, Crossroad Publishing, 1998, ISBN 978-0-8245-1777-9.


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Sacrosanctum Concilium Liturgy of the Catholic Church