Meditations before Mass by Romano Guardini y Eugene F. Hemrick by Romano Guardini y Eugene F. Hemrick - Read Online

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A treasury of spiritual wisdom on how to prepare your mind, body, and heart for Mass from one of the twentieth century's great theologians, Meditations before Mass is Romano Guardini's smart and beautiful guide to spiritual preparation for the source and summit of Christian worship.

Meditations before Mass is a wise, pastoral, and timeless classic on preparing for Mass--it is an example of twentieth-century theologian Romano Guardini at his very best. Meditations before Mass was written before Vatican II, but its relevance has endured over the past sixty years. Not a "how to" book for either the old or the new Roman Rite, it is instead a spiritual feast for the mind and heart, and a guide for modern people who wish to make sense of the Church's feasts and liturgies. Meditations before Mass has helped thousands of readers participate more fully in Christian liturgy and continues to do so today.
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ISBN: 9780870612862
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Like fine wines, some books get better as they age. Placed alongside the reformed Eucharistic liturgy of Vatican II, this veritable classic will continue to instruct, inspire, and enrich present and future generations of Catholics for whom the liturgy is the summit and source of our lives.

Msgr. Kevin Irwin

Walter J. Schmitz Chair of Liturgical Studies

The Catholic University of America

With these meditations you can sense the active participation of the people already coming to birth in the 1950s. Guardini promotes not just a renewed liturgy but a renewed people.

Rev. Paul Turner

Author of At the Supper of the Lamb

First published in English in 1956 by Newman Press. Translated from the original German Besinnung vor der Feier der Heiligen Messe, Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1936, by Elinor Castendyk Briefs.

Acknowledgments from the original:

We wish to thank the Apostolat Liturgique of Belgium and the E. M. Lohman Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota, for permission to quote copyrighted material from the Saint Andrew Daily Missal. All quotations from the New Testament are taken from the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine edition, 1947; quotations from the Old Testament are from the Douay Version.


Foreword © 2014 by Eugene F. Hemrick

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever except in the case of reprints in the context of reviews, without written permission from Christian Classics™, Ave Maria Press®, Inc., P.O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556, 1-800-282-1865.

Founded in 1865, Ave Maria Press is a ministry of the United States Province of Holy Cross.

Paperback ISBN-13 978-0-87061-285-5

E-book ISBN-13 978-0-87061-286-2

Cover image ©SuperStock.

Cover and text design by David Scholtes.

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Guardini, Romano, 1885-1968.

[Besinnung vor der Feier der Heiligen Messe. English]

Meditations before mass / Msgr. Romano Guardini; translated from the German by Elinor Castendyk Briefs.

pages cm

Originally published: Westminster, Md. : Newman Press, 1956.

Includes bibliographical references.

Summary: Exemplifies a wise, pastoral, and timeless classic on preparing oneself for Mass-- Provided by publisher.

ISBN 0-87061-285-9 (978-0-87061-285-5)

1. Mass--Meditations. I. Title.

BX2169.G8313 2014




Lene and Hans Waltmann




Part One: Sacred Bearing

1. Stillness

2. Silence and the Word

3. Silence and Hearing

4. Composure

5. Composure and Action

6. Composure and Participation

7. The Holy Place

8. The Altar: Threshold

9. The Altar: Table

10. Holy Day

11. Holy Day and Holy Hour

12. The Sacred Act

13. The Revelatory Word

14. The Executory Word

15. The Word of Praise

16. The Word of Entreaty

17. The Congregation and Injustice Rectified

18. The Congregation and the Church

19. Hindrance: Habit

20. Hindrance: Sentimentality

21. Hindrance: Human Nature

Part Two: The Essence of the Mass

Prefatory Note to Part Two

22. The Institution

23. The Memorial

24. The Memorial of the New Covenant

25. Reality

26. Hour and Eternity

27. Mimicry or Liturgical Form

28. Christ’s Offering of Self

29. Encounter and Feast

30. Truth and the Eucharist

31. The Mass and the New Covenant

32. The Mass and Christ’s Return



by Eugene F. Hemrick

Every so often I meet parishioners while visiting the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum on the mall here in Washington, DC. I ran into Senator Patrick Leahy on one such occasion. He occasionally attends Mass where I serve. Father, what brings you to the museum? he asked. I often walk the mall to collect my thoughts for the Sunday homily and then grab lunch here, I answered. Senator Leahy replied in turn, You know, I leave my office in the US Capitol and do the very same thing when trying to sort through a tough issue.

Another example of the power of contemplation or meditation comes from the Supreme Court building that is just a quarter of a mile from the Air and Space Museum. While ascending its steps, one is met by the statue of a woman seemingly in pain. Her head is bowed and she looks very serious. As she leans against a book of laws, she cradles a child who is holding a balancing scale. This statue, The Contemplation of Justice, with her serious demeanor and bowed head, communicates a great deal about the effort required for making right judgments.

Undoubtedly embracing meditation while composing a thoughtful homily, sorting out knotty governmental issues, or achieving true justice heightens the probability of success, but more vital than these is our need to embrace meditation as the ultimate means of drawing close to Christ.  

In Meditations Before Mass, the great twentieth-century priest and theologian Romano Guardini invites us to explore the spiritual and life-giving powers of meditation and to utilize its qualities of stillness, silence, and composure for plummeting the awe-inspiring mysteries that the Mass and its holy environment possess. He reminds us that proper preparedness—in the form of quietness, reflectiveness, and inwardness—is at the heart of drinking in the fullness of the Mass.  

As a priest of fifty years, I confess it is easy to fall into mere routine—to have been there, done it, seen it, and to be less than energetic in pursuing deeper insights into the Mass and its hallowed environment. Thanks to a friend who gave me an old copy of Meditations Before Mass I now have a wonderful companion for growing in awe of the Mass. Each time I read it I have a new a-ha experience. These remind me that the church environment in which I celebrate Mass every day isn’t an old, familiar, taken-for-granted structure but a revered holy temple filled with profoundly inspiring symbols. I am reminded that the altar is more than a beautifully carved slab of marble—it is a mystical table possessing sacred meanings. And, I am reminded that the familiar words of the Mass, which can become little more than mechanical repetition, possess endless wisdom.

Once when searching for deeper meaning in a homily on the topic of the Mass, I turned to Guardini’s chapter The Memorial. In it he writes,

What is repeatedly executed and invoked in [‘Do this in memory of me’] is no natural or intellectual or mysterious power-relationship common to all human existence, but the memory of One who lived once, and of His destiny. Why? Not because He was a great ruler or lawgiver or warrior from the worldly point of view, an innovator of important arts or sciences, but because His life and work are decisive for men’s salvation, because He is the Savior.

How easy it is for us to hear, Do this in memory of me and then to move on in the Mass. Guardini, however, encourages us to pause and drink in the realization that here is our salvation, the ultimate means of being with God for eternity.

In the opening chapters of this book, Romano Guardini inspires to us go inward, employ stillness, seek composure and be all there when preparing for the Mass. Although his chapters on stillness, silence, hearing, and composure were written in the 1950s when life was a little less complicated, they are classic—speaking to our times and times to follow.  He writes,

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 for one thing after another; his will is captured by a thousand intentions, often conflicting. Composure works in the opposite direction, rescuing man’s attention from the sundry objects holding it captive and restoring unity to the 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.

We are told that before Christ chose his apostles he went off to a mountain and prayed all night, taking the time necessary to compose himself before making his choices. Guardini’s chapter on composure causes us to wonder how much more peaceful and orderly our life would be if we embrace the composure Christ practiced and strive to re-establish the depth of our soul.

Whenever we come across an excellent book, we tend to read it repeatedly. Meditations before Mass is one of those books. Why do I say this? It is because it possesses endless wisdom and great power to deepen our understanding of the Mass and all it entails. It is classic in that its age-old knowledge enables us to cope wisely with our post-modern culture and to live more deeply joined to Jesus Christ.


The chapters of this book originated as discourses held before Holy Mass in order to prepare for its celebration. They made no attempt to interpret the essence of the Lord’s memorial or to narrate his life; their purpose was simply to reveal what the Mass demands of us and how those demands may be properly met.

For many a believer the Mass has assumed the character of a sacred spectacle or of some mysterious proceeding before which he says his prayers. Its reality consequently is buried, and something irreplaceable is lost. The reasons for this are many and go so far back that criticism is pointless. But it is time that the Mass become again for the faithful what it is and was instituted to be: the sacred action of Christ’s community, which, though under the care of the priestly office, is meant to live and act as a true community, as the Acts of the Apostles (2:46) and the first Epistle to the Corinthians (11:17–34) point out. That is where this book is meant to help. It does not try to show how the Mass should be celebrated or how, within the prescribed limits of ecclesiastical law (or perhaps through a more perfect fulfillment of the lex orandi), the organic structure of the sacred ceremony could be brought out more clearly, or even how closer participation of the faithful is to be achieved. That is the task of a religious manual. What is needed here is personal preparation for Holy Mass. This requires not only Mass preparation in the usual sense of the individual believer strengthening his faith, purifying his heart, arranging and directing his intentions, but also that fundamental, vital attitude absolutely necessary to transform a collection of individuals into a congregation, and a restless crowd into a holy people in the sight of God. Only from such central preparedness can the gaze lifted to the altar grow inwardly quiet and receptive to holiness; only then can hearing and speaking in church differ from the give and take of words in the street, the home, or the office.

Part One of our study will be concerned exclusively with these basic aspects. Its task is important as it is modest. Until it has been accomplished, all discussion of the liturgy remains on the level of intellectual exercise or aesthetic sensation, and use of the missal will help as little as establishment of the Dialogue Mass. If the liturgical act is to be taken seriously, we must prepare for it beforehand with the total concentration of mind and heart.

Part Two will discuss the Mass itself, inquiring into its essence and what it means to us—but always keeping in mind what it demands of us. We refer not only to the usual interpretation of those demands: that we participate eagerly in the sacred ceremony, that we make a real effort to conform our attitude to that which sustains the Eucharist, thus practicing self-restraint and sacrifice. All this is very important, but our problem here is quite different; how must we cooperate in the celebration of the Mass so that it really becomes what it is essentially: a holy, liturgical act? Faith, love, and readiness for sacrifice are the greatest ideals that exist and a completely unliturgical Mass devotion can doubtless effect true Christian service before God. But what we are aiming at is also important and deserves the utmost attention.

We remarked previously that we were concerned here not with knowing but with doing. This is not entirely true. There are different roads to knowledge, and one that usually suggests itself first is the road of contemplation, penetration, comparison, and conclusion. Much can be grasped by these means, but not everything. I can, for example, perceive things which exist in themselves but not those intangibles which first come into being through doing. To achieve knowledge of the latter I must do them. Through study I can learn the kinds of trees or ascertain the pattern of community life around me, but study cannot teach me what fidelity or love mean, at least not their ultimate senses—what they mean for me. Mere observation and consideration can prepare me to discuss trees or the phenomena of society with a certain competence; but my words grow thin and empty the moment I attempt similar observations on matters of the heart. If I really want to know what fidelity is, I must practice it. I can speak with authority about love only if in some form or other I have accepted its challenge. And it is the same here. Up to a certain point I can understand the nature of Holy Mass by studying the Bible and missal or by reading books on the history of the liturgy. But its essence, the act in all the earnestness of salvation, the doing in his memory, is mine only when I also do. Possibly the true nature of the Mass is so feebly established in the Christian consciousness in spite of catechism, sermon, and much pious literature, because the believers rarely do it properly. If this book helps toward better doing, deeper understanding will follow.

Romano Guardini

Part One

Sacred Bearing

1. 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. ¹ What do these intervals of quiet signify? What must we do with them? What does stillness really imply?

It implies above all that speech ends 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.

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