Mass Propers
Gregorian Chant
Dom Cabrol
Romano Guardini
Papal Documents


By Romano Guardini



STYLE is chiefly spoken of in a universal sense. By style we understand those particular characteristics which distinguish every valid and genuine production or organism as such, whether it is a work of art, a personality, a form of society, or anything whatever; it denotes that any given vital principle has found its true and final expression. But this self-expression must be of such a nature that it simultaneously imparts to the individual element a universal significance, reaching far beyond its own particular sphere. For the essence of individuality embraces within itself a second element; it is true that it is particular and unreproducible, but it is at the same time universal, standing in relationship to the other individuals of its kind, and manifesting in its permanent existence traits which are also borne by others. The greater the originality and forcefulness of an individual thing, the greater its capacity of comprehensively revealing the universal essence of its kind,1 the greater is its significance. Now if a personality a work of art, or a form of society has, by virtue of its existence and activity, expressed in a convincing manner that which it really is, and if at the same time by its quality of specialness it does not merely represent an arbitrary mood, but its relation to a corporate life, then and to that extent it may be said to have style.

In this sense the liturgy undoubtedly has created a style. It is unnecessary to waste further words on the subject.

The conception can, however, be given a narrower sense. Why is it that in front of a Greek temple we are more intensely conscious of style than we are in front of a Gothic cathedral? The inner effect of both these structures is identically powerful and convincing. Each is the perfect expression of a particular type or form of space-perception. Each reveals the individuality of a people, but at the same time affords a profound insight into the human soul and the significance of the world in general. Yet before the temple of Paestum we are more strongly conscious of style than we are before the cathedrals of Cologne and of Rheims. What is the reason? Why is it that for the uncultured observer Giotto has the more style in comparison with Grunewald, who is without any doubt equally powerful; and the figure of an Egyptian king more than Donatello's wonderful statue of St. John?

In this connection the word style has a specialized meaning. It conveys that in the works of art to which reference has been made the individual yields place to the universal. The fortuitous element--determined by place and time, with its significance restricted to certain specific people--is superseded by that which is essentially, or at least more essentially, intended for many times, places and people. The particular is to a great degree absorbed by the universal and ideal. In such works an involved mental or spiritual condition, for instance, which could only have expressed itself in an abstruse utterance or in an unreproducible action, is simplified and reduced to its elements.2 By this process it is made universally comprehensible. The incalculable ebullition is given a permanent basis. It then becomes easily penetrable and capable of demonstrating in itself the interweaving of cause and effect.3 The solitary historical event serves to throw into relief the vital significance, universal and unaffected by time, which reposes within it. The figure which appears but once is made to personify characteristics common to the whole of society. The hasty, impetuous movement is restrained and measured. Whereas it was formerly confined to specific relationships or circumstances, it can now to a certain degree be accepted by everyone.4 Things, materials and instruments are divested of their fortuitous character, their elements revealed, their purpose defined, and their power of expressing certain moods or ideas is heightened.5 In a word, while one type of art and of life is endeavoring to express that which is special and particular, this other, on the contrary, is striving to hold up to our view that which is universally significant. The latter type of art fashions simple reality, which is always specialized, in such a manner that the ideal and universal comes to the fore; that is to say, its style is developed and its form is fixed. And so whenever life, with its entanglements and its multiplicity, has been simplified in this way, whenever its inner lawfulness is emphasized and it is raised from the particular to the universal, we are always conscious of style in the narrower sense of the word. Admittedly it is difficult to say where style ends and arrangement begins. If the arrangement is too accentuated, if the modeling is carried out according to rules and ideas, and not according to its vital connection with reality, if the production is the result, not of exact observation, but of deliberate planning, then it will be universal only, and therefore lifeless and void.6 True style, even in its strictest form, still retains the developed faculty of convincing expression. Only that which is living has style; pure thought, and the productions of pure thought, have none.

Now the liturgy--at any rate, as far as the greater part of its range is concerned--has style in the stricter sense of the word. It is not the direct expression of any particular type of spiritual disposition, either in its language and ideas, or in its movements, actions and the materials which it employs. If we compare, for instance, the Sunday Collects with the prayers of an Anselm of Canterbury, or of a Newman; the gestures of the officiating priest with the involuntary movements of the man who fancies himself unobserved while at prayer; the Church's directions on the adornment of the sanctuary, on vestments and altar-vessels, with popular methods of decoration, and of dress on religious occasions; and Gregorian chant with the popular hymn--we shall always find, within the sphere of the liturgy, that the medium of spiritual expression, whether it consists of words, gestures, colors or materials, is to a certain degree divested of its singleness of purpose, intensified, tranquilized, and given universal currency.

Many causes have contributed to this result. For one thing, the passing centuries have continually polished, elaborated and adapted the form of liturgical expression Then the strongly generalizing effect of religious thought must be taken into account. Finally, there is the influence of the Greco-Latin spirit, with its highly significant tendency towards style in the strict sense of the word.

Now if we consider the fact that these quietly constructive forces were at work on the vital form of expression, not of an individual, but of an organic unity, composed of the greatness, exclusiveness and strength of the collective consciousness that is the Catholic Church; if we consider further that the vital formula thus fashioned steadily concentrates its whole attention upon the hereafter, that it aspires from this world to the next, and as a natural result is characterized by eternal, sublime and superhuman traits, then we shall find assembled here all the preliminary conditions essential to the development of a style of great vigor and intensity. If it were capable of doing so anywhere, here above all should develop a living style, spiritual, lofty and exalted. And that is precisely what has happened. If we reflect upon the liturgy as a whole, and upon its important points, not upon the abbreviated form in which it is usually presented, but as it should be, we shall have the good fortune to experience the miracle of a truly mighty style. We shall see and feel that an inner world of immeasurable breadth and depth has created for itself so rich and so ample an expression and one at the same time so lucid and so universal in form that its like has never been seen, either before or since.

And it is style in the stricter sense of the word as well--clear in language, measured in movement, severe in its modeling of space, materials, colors and sounds; its ideas, languages, ceremonies and imagery fashioned out of the simple elements of spiritual life; rich, varied and lucid; its force further intensified by the fact that the liturgy employs a classic language, remote from everyday life.

When all these considerations are borne in mind it is easy to understand that the liturgy possesses a tremendously compelling form of expression, which is a school of religious training and development to the Catholic who rightly understands it, and which is bound to appear to the impartial observer as a cultural formation of the most lofty and elevated kind.

It cannot, however, be denied that great difficulties lie in the question of the adaptability of the liturgy to every individual, and more especially to the modern man. The latter wants to find in prayer--particularly if he is of an independent turn of mind--the direct expression of his spiritual condition. Yet in the liturgy he is expected to accept, as the mouthpiece of his inner life, a system of ideas, prayer and action, which is too highly generalized, and, as it were, unsuited to him. It strikes him as being formal and almost meaningless. He is especially sensible of this when he compares the liturgy with the natural outpourings of spontaneous prayer. Liturgical formulas, unlike the language of a person who is spiritually congenial, are not to be grasped straightway without any further mental exertion on the listener's part; liturgical actions have not the same direct appeal as, say, the involuntary movement of understanding on the part of someone who is sympathetic by reason of circumstances and disposition; the emotional impulses of the liturgy do not so readily find an echo as does the spontaneous utterance of the soul. These clear-cut formulas are liable to grate more particularly upon the modern man, so intensely sensitive in everything which affects his scheme of life, who looks for a touch of nature everywhere and listens so attentively for the personal note. He easily tends to consider the idiom of the liturgy as artificial, and its ritual as purely formal. Consequently he will often take refuge in forms of prayer and devotional practices whose spiritual value is far inferior to that of the liturgy, but which seem to have one advantage over the latter--that of contemporary, or, at any rate, of congenial origin.

GuardiniRomano Guardini

Those who honestly want to come to grips with this problem in all its bearings should for their own guidance note the way in which the figure of Christ is represented, first in the liturgy, and then in the Gospels. In the latter everything is alive; the reader breathes the air of earth; he sees Jesus of Nazareth walking about the streets and among the people, hears His incomparable and persuasive words, and is aware of the heart-to-heart intercourse between Jesus and His followers. The charm of vivid actuality pervades the historical portrait of Christ. He is so entirely one of us, a real person--Jesus, "the Carpenter's Son"--Who lived in Nazareth in a certain street, wore certain clothes, and spoke in a certain manner. That is just what the modern man longs for; and he is made happy by the fact that in this actual historical figure is incarnate the living and eternal Godhead, One with the body, so that He is in the fullest sense of the word "true God and true Man."

But how differently does the figure of Jesus appear in the liturgy! There He is the Sovereign Mediator between God and man, the eternal High-Priest, the divine Teacher, the Judge of the living and of the dead; in His Body, hidden in the Eucharist, He mystically unites all the faithful in the great society that is the Church; He is the God-Man, the Word that was made Flesh. The human element, or--involuntarily the theological expression rises to the lips--the Human Nature certainly remains intact, for the battle against Eutyches was not fought in vain; He is truly and wholly human, with a body and soul which have actually lived. But they are now utterly transformed by the Godhead, rapt into the light of eternity, and remote from time and space. He is the Lord, "sitting at the right hand of the Father," the mystic Christ living on in His Church.

It will be objected that in the Gospels of the Mass we can still follow the historical life of Jesus in its entirety. That is absolutely true. But if we endeavor to listen more attentively, we shall still find that a particular light is thrown on these narratives by their context. They are a part of the Mass, of the "mysterium magnum," pervaded by the mystery of sacrifice, an integral part of the structure of the particular Sunday office, current season, or ecclesiastical year, swept along by that powerful straining upwards to the Hereafter which runs through the entire liturgy. In this way the contents of the Gospels, which we hear chanted, and in a foreign language, are in their turn woven into the pattern. Of ourselves we come to consider, not the particular traits which they contain, but their eternal, super-historical meaning.

Yet by this the liturgy has not--as Protestantism has sometimes accused it of doing--disfigured the Christ of the Gospels. It has not set forth a frigid intellectual conception instead of the living Jesus.

The Gospels themselves, according to the aims and purpose of the respective Evangelists, stress first one, then another aspect of the personality and activity of Christ Facing the portrait contained in the first three Gospels, in the Epistles of St. Paul Christ appears as God, mystically living on in His Church and in the souls of those who believe in Him. The Gospel of St. John shows the Word made Flesh, and finally, in the Apocalypse God is made manifest in His eternal splendor. But this does not mean that the historical facts of Christ's human existence are in any way kept back; on the contrary, they are always taken for granted and often purposely emphasised.7 The liturgy therefore has done nothing that Holy Scripture itself does not do. Without discarding one stroke or trait of the historical figure of Christ, it has, for its own appointed purpose, more strongly stressed the eternal and super-
temporal elements of that figure, and for this reason--the liturgy is no mere commemoration of what once existed, but is living and real; it is the enduring life of Jesus Christ in us, and that of the believer in Christ eternally God and Man.

It is precisely because of this, however, that the difficulty still persists. It is good to make it absolutely clear, since the modern man experiences it more especially. More than one--according to his instinctive impulse--would be content to forego the profoundest knowledge of theology, if as against that it were permitted to him to watch Jesus walking about the streets or to hear the tone in which He addresses a disciple. More than one would be willing to sacrifice the most beautiful liturgical prayer, if in exchange he might meet Christ face to face and speak to Him from the bottom of his heart.

Where is the angle to be found from which this difficulty is to be tackled and overcome? It is in the view that it is hardly permissible to play off the spiritual life of the individual, with its purely personal bearing, against the spiritual life of the liturgy, with its generalizing bias. They are not mutually contradictory; they should both combine in active co-operation.

When we pray on our own behalf only we approach God from an entirely personal standpoint, precisely as we feel inclined or impelled to do according to our feelings and circumstances. That is our right, and the Church would be the last to wish to deprive us of it. Here we live our own life, and are as it were face to face with God.8 His Face is turned towards us, as to no one else; He belongs to each one of us. It is this power of being a personal God, ever fresh to each of us, equally patient and attentive to each one's wants, which constitutes the inexhaustible wealth of God. The language which we speak on these occasions suits us entirely, and much of it apparently is suited to us alone. We can use it with confidence because God understands it, and there is no one else who needs to do so.

We are, however, not only individuals, but members of a community as well; we are not merely transitory, but something of us belongs to eternity, and the liturgy takes these elements in us into account. In the liturgy we pray as members of the Church; by it we rise to the sphere which transcends the individual order and is therefore accessible to people of every condition, time, and place. For this order of things the style of the liturgy--vital, clear, and universally comprehensible--is the only possible one. The reason for this is that any other type of prayer, based upon one particular set of hypotheses or requirements, would undoubtedly prove a totally unsuitable form for a content of different origin. Only a system of life and thought which is truly Catholic--that is to say, actual and universal--is capable of being universally adopted, without violence to the individual. Yet there is still an element of sacrifice involved in such adoption. Each one is bound to strive within himself, and to rise superior to self. Yet in so doing he is not swallowed up by, and lost in, the majority; on the contrary, he becomes more independent, rich, and versatile.

Both methods of prayer must co-operate. They stand together in a vital and reciprocal relationship. The one derives its light and fruitfulness from the other. In the liturgy the soul learns to move about the wider and more spacious spiritual world. It assimilates--if the comparison is permissible--that freedom and dignified restraint which in human intercourse is acquired by the man who frequents good society, and who limits his self-indulgence by the discipline of time-honored social usage; the soul expands and develops in that width of feeling and clearness of form which together constitute the liturgy, just as it does through familiarity and communion with great works of art. In a word, the soul acquires, in the liturgy, the "grand manner" of the spiritual life--and that is a thing that cannot be too highly prized. On the other hand, as the Church herself reminds us--and the example of the Orders who live by the liturgy is a proof of this--side by side with the liturgy there must continue to exist that private devotion which provides for the personal requirements of the individual, and to which the soul surrenders itself according to its particular circumstances. From the latter liturgical prayer in its turn derives warmth and local color.

If private devotion were non-existent, and if the liturgy were the final and exclusive form of spiritual exercise, that exercise might easily degenerate into a frigid formula; but if the liturgy were non-existent--well, our daily observations amply show what would be the consequences, and how fatally they would take effect.


1. The essence of genius, of the man of genius (e.g., of the Saint), and of the really great work or deed consists in this, that it is immeasurably original and yet is still universally applicable to human life.

2. Cf. the inner life in Ibsen's plays, for instance, with that of Sophoclean tragedy, the "Ghosts," perhaps, with "Oedipus."

3. Cf. the line of action adopted by, e.g., Hedda Gabler and Antigone.

4. Such is the origin of social deportment and of court usage.

5. Such is the origin of symbols--social, state, religious and otherwise.

6. It is this which differentiates various classical periods from the classical age.

7. As, for instance, in the beginning of the Gospel of St. John.

8. Even if here, as in the whole range of spiritual things, the Church is our guide. But she is so in a different manner than where the liturgy is concerned.