Fr. Romano Guardini is rightly regarded as one of the fathers of the new liturgy. Through his writings, his liturgical experience, and his influence, he marked the liturgical movement and participated in its modernist deviation.
Romano Guardini was born in Verona in 1885, a city that became Italian again in 1866. His mother was from South Tyrol or Haut-Adige—a German-speaking territory, which was not attached to Italy until the end of the First World War. The family moved to Mainz the following year. After studying chemistry and economics, Guardini turned to theology. He was ordained a priest in 1910. He obtained a doctorate in theology in 1915.
Appointed chaplain in Mainz, he became friends with Ildefons Herwegen, abbot of Maria Laach Abbey. In 1918, he published The Spirit of the Liturgy, the inaugural volume of the Ecclesia orans series launched by Dom Herwegen, a work which would become widely known. After the war, he became involved in youth movements, where he engaged in liturgical “experiences.”
Starting in 1923, he taught in Berlin where he held the chair of philosophy of religion and the Christian world view, from which he was removed in 1939. After the Second World War, he took up the same chair again in Tübingen and then in Munich. During the Second Vatican Council, he was approached to participate in the liturgical commission, but his depressed state prevented him from taking part. He died in Munich on October 1, 1968. He left numerous works, especially ones on the liturgy.
A Revolutionary Theory of the Mass
Romano Guardini is one of the first liturgists to consider the Mass firstly as a meal. In his work Essays on the Structure of the Mass, he writes: “The explanatory principle—in the conception of the Mass—is…the meal. But (the Mass) has lost its first form. There is no table around which the faithful sit, but an altar which has moved away from the community. The priest stands there alone facing the church, the believers. There are no bowls, jugs, plates, or cups on the altar. Everything is gathered in the paten and the chalice which have a shape that clearly distinguishes them from everyday objects. Holy food is offered to the faithful in a way that is clearly different from the daily meal. And sacred food is so different from everyday life, that one could almost speak of the danger that the form of the food, of the bread, is too reduced.”
This is why he adds: “The believer has an important task: he must see the table in the altar, the Lord in the priest, the bread in the host, the cup in the chalice. He must see the reality, what has taken place.”
He came to this conclusion: “So what is the essence of the Mass? The answer is not in doubt: it is that of a meal. This comes directly from its institution. Jesus said, 'Do this in memory of me.' But what He did was realized during a commemorative meal!”
Guardini draws a consequence: “The essence of Mass is therefore not sacrifice. This does not mean that there is no sacrifice. In it resides the redemptive act, the atoning death of the Savior, and it is not necessary to emphasize that it is the heart of all Christian existence. But the importance of this divine sacrifice has, so to speak, subordinated everything else. Sacrifice has become the concept from which the entire Mass is understood…The action, by its very nature of the preparation of a meal, was completely absorbed by the idea of sacrifice.”
And he complains about this encroachment: “To put it bluntly: in the conscience of the faithful, the Mass has no clear form. Because the form of the meal is constantly frustrated by that of the sacrifice, and something indeterminate is created.”
He then explains participation in the Mass: “It must be said: the explanatory principle is that of the meal. This explains the importance of communion. How does one participate in a meal? By eating and drinking. Communion is not something that is done by itself, but simply the way in which the memory of the Lord is celebrated. He didn't say, ‘Look at this and that will happen,’ but: ‘Take and eat... Drink it all...Do this in memory of me.’ Without communion, participation in the Mass, in fact and in its deepest sense, does not achieve its fundamental purpose… Communion is not a sacrament of the same nature as baptism or confirmation, but it is the accomplishment of remembrance.”
Avant-Garde Liturgical Practice
Within the framework of his apostolate with youth, Guardini put his new concept of the liturgy into practice. Other innovators of the same era acted in the same way, in France in particular. Young people, with their enthusiasm and their relative lack of criticism, provided an ideal field of experimentation.
Fr. Guardini thus created models of celebration, using the vernacular, by celebrating turned towards the faithful or by consecrating a very large host which he would then distribute to everyone. This practice was intended to show the way for the renewed rite of the future. Guardini justified his innovations in this way:
“The celebration must bring out the great moments of the sacred event, highlight the characteristics of its internal structure, encourage a more direct participation by the faithful, etc. We have not yet set the goal of such work. Rather, it would be a kind of ideal order, for which, by the way, the preparatory work is already very advanced.”
This concept of the Eucharist has a strongly Protestant tendency in that it abandons the Catholic doctrine on the sacrifice of the Mass. Guardini transfers the essence of the Mass to the meal, to Holy Communion, the parts of the liturgy which precede being only preparatory. It is during the meal that the memory of Christ’s salvific events takes place.
Condemnation by Pius XII
On November 20, 1947, the Sovereign Pontiff published his encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei. In it, Pius XII qualifies as “dangerous” the thesis that claims that the “Mass is both a sacrifice and a meal.” The whole passage deserves to be quoted:
“The august sacrifice of the altar is concluded with communion or the partaking of the divine feast. But, as all know, the integrity of the sacrifice only requires that the priest partake of the heavenly food. Although it is most desirable that the people should also approach the holy table, this is not required for the integrity of the sacrifice. We wish in this matter to repeat the remarks which Our predecessor Benedict XIV makes with regard to the definitions of the Council of Trent: ‘First We must state that none of the faithful can hold that private Masses, in which the priest alone receives holy communion, are therefore unlawful and do not fulfill the idea of the true, perfect, and complete unbloody sacrifice instituted by Christ our Lord. For the faithful know quite well, or at least can easily be taught, that the Council of Trent, supported by the doctrine which the uninterrupted tradition of the Church has preserved, condemned the new and false opinion of Luther as opposed to this tradition [Encyclical Letter Certiores effecti, November 13, 1742, §1].’ ‘If anyone shall say that Masses in which the priest only receives communion, are unlawful, and therefore should be abolished, let him be anathema.[Council of Trent, Sess. 22, can. 8].’”
“They, therefore, err from the path of truth who do not want to have Masses celebrated unless the faithful communicate; and those are still more in error who, in holding that it is altogether necessary for the faithful to receive holy communion as well as the priest, put forward the captious argument that here there is question not of a sacrifice merely, but of a sacrifice and a supper of brotherly union, and consider the general communion of all present as the culminating point of the whole celebration. Now it cannot be over-emphasized that the eucharistic sacrifice of its very nature is the unbloody immolation of the divine Victim, which is made manifest in a mystical manner by the separation of the sacred species and by their oblation to the eternal Father. Holy communion pertains to the integrity of the Mass and to the partaking of the august sacrament; but while it is obligatory for the priest who says the Mass, it is only something earnestly recommended to the faithful.”
The Pope here condemns the explanation which will be repeated countless times after the Second Vatican Council in defense of the liturgical reform: the Tridentine Mass put more emphasis on the sacrificial character, while the New Mass puts more emphasis on the character of a meal; both are important because the Mass is both a sacrifice and a meal. In reality, Catholic Tradition has never posed the meal as a principle. When the Eucharist is called a “meal” or “sacrificial banquet,” it is referring to communion. But this is only the fruit of the sacrifice.
Thus, the Church has made participation in the sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday obligatory, but never Sunday communion. If the Mass were essentially a meal, the faithful present would necessarily have to receive communion, because whoever does not eat a meal does not participate! If, contrary to all the rules of tradition, the new canon law allowed the faithful to communicate a second time when they attend another Mass on the same day, this is certainly linked to the alleged meal character of the Mass. (CIC (1983), canon 917).
Guardini's Interpretation of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday
Guardini explains: Does it not clearly follow from the institution of the Mass within the framework of the Last Supper that it is a meal? Theologian Walter Lang responds: “The Last Supper of the Old Testament is called a meal, but in reality it is a sacrificial celebration, which takes place in memory of this first sacrifice, after which God freed the people from the slavery of Egypt.”
In the scriptures, the Passover meal is expressly called a sacrifice. The meal was part of the sacrifice, just as many Old Testament offerings (except the burnt offering) were followed by a meal of the sacrificial offering.
Christ therefore chose the framework of the celebration of the Passover because the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb was the clearest figure of His own sacrifice. After having prepared the old Passover meal for the last time, He put the new one in place.
Robert d´Harcourt justifiably writes: “Guardini is more of a collaborator than a teacher. There is never anything definitive, decisive, or doctrinal in his tone; there is never anything fixed, definitive ... He fears systematic classifications, regulations, hardening. Everywhere his efforts are confirmed to leave intact the flexibility of his thought, the hesitation which is part of the nature of his attitude, the fear of the concrete.…”
But this vagueness and this hesitation did not prevent Guardini’s central thought on the Mass from generating disastrous posterity and participating in the destruction of the Roman liturgy, as well as in the deviation of the theology of the sacrifice of the Mass.