Preparing Yourself for Mass by Romano Guardini

Preparing Yourself for Mass by Romano Guardini, Manchester, NH: 
Sophia Institute Press, 1997 Reprinted (1939 original).

Romano Guardini held these discourses to help us prepare for Holy Mass… to reveal what the Mass demands of us and how those demands may be properly met.

Mass “is 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… to transform a collection of individuals into a congregation, and a restless crowd into a holy people in the sight of God” (3).

Part One: Sacred Bearing

1: Stillness

“Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it” (10).

Genuine stillness must be seriously desired and practiced. Since stillness is the prerequisite of the liturgical holy act, the liturgical life begins with learning stillness (11). Out of this stillness grows the real sanctuary and spiritual cathedral.

2: Silence and the Word


To a large extent, the Liturgy consists of words which we address to and receive from God. Through the liturgical word, our inwardness passes over into the realm of sacred openness which the congregation and its mystery create before God. For these human words to be full of substance, power, and inner knowledge, they must emerge and spring from silence.

“In the words of the Liturgy, the truth of God and of redeemed man is meant to blaze” (15).

3: Silence and Hearing

The word of God is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence. In stillness alone can we really hear. We must be inwardly still and listen from the vital core of our being to the sacred word. Hearing allows the sacred word to unfold in its full spiritual-corporal reality and soar through space to the listener, to be heard and received into his life. From hearing springs faith (see Romans 10:14).

4: Composure

Composure is the companion to silence. Whereas silence overcomes noise and talk, composure is the victory over distractions and unrest. Like silence, composure does not create itself; it must be willed and practiced.

Composure is more than freedom from scattered impressions and occupations. It is something positive; it is life in its full depth and power (22).

We must quiet and collect ourselves before Mass.We must pull our thoughts back, again and again, repeatedly calling ourselves to order. We must frankly face our restlessness, confusion, disorder. We must be able to say honestly: “Now I am here. I have only one thing to do — participate with my whole being in the only thing that counts, the sacred celebration. I am entirely ready.”

Once composure has been established, the Liturgy is possible.

5: Composure and Action

Just as proper speech and hearing emerge from silence, proper bearing and good action emerge only from composure (27).

Work is genuine only in the degree that the doer inwardly participates in it.

“The nobler, the more difficult or important the task to be accomplished, the more completely I must give it my attention, earnestness, eagerness, and love, participating in it from the heart and with all the creative elan of the mind. That is composure: heart and mind concentrated on the here and now, not off on daydreams; it is being all here” (27).

The Liturgy is based on the fact of God’s presence in the church, and begins with man’s response to that presence. This is how it differs from private prayer, which can take place anywhere, at home or in a street or field. Primarily – and this is decisive – liturgy means service in the holy place (28).

We must be really present – with body, mind, and soul, with attention, reverence, and love. That is composure.

Sitting = position of attentive listening.

Kneeling = offering of our erect position to God.

Standing = bearing of reverence before the heavenly Lord.

We can do these things convincingly only when we are fully conscious of what is taking place around us, and that awareness is ours only when we are self-collected and composed.

We do not come to church to attend the service (which usually means as a spectator), but in order, along with the priest, to serve God. Everything we do – our entering, being present, our kneeling and sitting and standing, our reception of the sacred nourishment – should be divine service. This is so only when all we do overflows from the awareness of a collected heart and the mind’s attentiveness (30).

The Liturgy is a thing of exalted purposelessness, but it is filled with the sense of sacred serving, and over it reigns the sublimity of God. Here composure means everything. Hence it must be willed and practiced. Otherwise our “service” grows dull, indolent, careless, an insult to divine Majesty (30).

6: Composure and Participation

The Mass is fundamentally an act – “do this in memory of me.” In order to genuinely participate in the Mass, inner composure is the necessary prerequisite. We must give our full attention to each act in the Mass.

Liturgical action begins with learning composure (38).

7: The Holy Place

The Church is a holy place because:

  1. The bishop has dedicated her to God: completely set apart from all other connections and purposes.
  2. The celebration of the Mass: although it is true that God is omnipresent, it is a higher and holier truth that God becomes present in the celebration of the Mass in a new, intense, and special way – a real divine presence, divine “inhabiting” does exist.
8: The Altar as Threshold

The altar is the only place where the Lord’s memorial sacrifice can take place.

The altar as threshold:

  • The altar creates the border between the realm of the world and the realm of God. The altar can be that place where nearness to God to counterbalanced by fear of the Lord – knowledge of God’s exclusive majesty and awful sanctity.
  • The altar is the crossing over – a place of encounter with the God Who is truly among us. God became man so that we might become God. We must be children of the Father’s house who stand in fear and trembling.
9: The Altar as Table

The altar is the table to which the heavenly Father invites us. At the altar we enjoy the intimate community of His sacred table.

10: Holy Day

Revelation says with all clarity that 1 of the 7 days of the week is sacred to God. The Lord’s “divine repose” has given Sunday an almost sacramental character as we take on this sacred challenge to fully enter into the mystery of God’s rest.

“To keep the Sabbath is to become aware of the mystery of divine rest, to revere it, and to express it in our arrangement of the day” (61).

11: The Holy Day and the Sacred Hour

Sunday Mass is when the “eternal reality of God’s earthly destiny, renewed ever and again, steps into time. This entry is the holy hour, the constantly recurring now” (67).

“The divine repose of the Sabbath now mingles with the triumph of the Resurrection. Into the hum of peace breaks the fanfare of victory. Promise and fulfillment have become one. For the Sabbath looked back – in eternity – to the beginning. Sunday looks forward – in eternity – to the end, to what is to come. It has an eschatological character. It proclaims Christ’s new creation, the new world born of His deed and one day to be revealed in eternity” (65-6).

There is a “sacred temporalness in the Mass” (68) that we must be aware of – a brief portion of time that enfolds eternity with a definite beginning and end. A true passover.

12: The Sacred Act

The commemoration at the Last Supper is the “institution par excellence, the core of Christian divine service” (70). Christ entrusted to men an act that surpasses human possibility. God instituted. Man executes. Man’s obedience to the will of the Institutor – service in faith and obedience – is the one thing necessary.

13: The Revelatory Word

Holy Mass is an act that combines doing and speaking. We must receive the revelatory words at Mass not as we grasp an idea with our mind, but as earth receives a grain of wheat (74).

“To receive His word means to step into the sphere of sacred possibility, where the new man, the new heaven and the new earth are coming into being” (75).

“God’s word, then, is addressed not only to the intellect, but to the whole man” (75).

The sacred word must be heard, not read (75).

14: The Executory Word

At the heart of the Mass – the Consecration – the word of the Lord assumes a special character. The priest both relates what took place at the Last Supper and also does it himself. The whole passage moves from the past into the present, from the report to the act. It is no longer a pious memorial; it has become a living reality. The memorial is made alive and concretely effective. These words have the same creative force of those which once brought the universe into existence.

We must muster all the readiness and power of our faith in order to participate in this mystery.

15: The Word of Praise

The word of prayer appears in Holy Mass primarily in the impressive form of praise of hymn. All praise has one thing in common: spiritual exaltation, the glow of divine glory. In praise man’s prayer is farthest removed from the everyday world (83).

“It would be a good preparation for Holy Mass to go over the Gloria or a Preface the day before, or before the service begins, to enable these to come alive for us and to allow us to recognize and practice the exaltation that each contains” (88).

16: The Word of Entreaty

The prayer of entreaty, the oratio, stands in singular contrast to the prayer of praise. In the Collect, the Secret (after the Offertory), and the Postcommunion, the clear and terse sentences.

All Collects, regardless of content, close with a remarkable sentence: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”  Here is the direct we are seeking, the proper relation between the goal, the way, and the power which enables us to take it. The goal is the Father; prayer is a seeking of His face. The way is Christ. The power is the Holy Spirit. This one sentence contains the whole law of liturgical prayer. Its method is the same used by the divine Trinity in the work of our salvation (91-92).

17: The Congregation and Injustice Rectified

A congregation exists when a number of people disciplined by faith and conscious of their membership in Christ gather to celebrate the sacred mysteries (95). “Above all, if there is to be a congregation, the believers must know what a congregation is; they must desire it and actively strive to attain it” (96).

A congregation is the unity of men in Christ before the countenance of the Father in the efficacy of the Spirit (96).

We must remove the injustice between us and others by correcting it as soon as possible (see Mt 5:23-24). Injustice isolates. Forgiveness unifies.

18: The Congregation and the Church

Most churchgoers enter the sacred precincts as individuals, isolated from the others, far removed from the genuine congregation.

Egoism and selfishness must be overcome by mastering the mind and the will in solitude.

19: Habit as a Hindrance

Habit hinders us from taking part in the Mass as we should. It is a fundamental spiritual law that every impression exhausts itself.

Our nature requires a rule that will keep us from giving up entirely.

We need to make it clear to ourselves once and for all that Holy Mass belongs in our lives.

The Mass is inexhaustible in its central reality of the living Christ’s saving act.

20: Sentimentality as a Hindrance

Sentimentality is essentially the desire to be moved. Whereas real sentiment is powerful, unclouded and chaste, sentimentality is a spiritual softness tinged with sensuality.

In the texts of the Mass, the words are clear and concise, veiled in deepest reverence. Our Lord’s feelings stand mute behind the whole mystery.

We must rediscover genuine mystery and the attitude it requires.

Sentimentality must be overcome.

21: Human Nature as a Hindrance

The Church has always known that what took place on Holy Thursday was to be renewed in the celebration of the Eucharist: not in the form of mimicry, but as a vital realization (118).

The cornerstone of God’s sacred act was laid in history and planted in human imperfection.



22: The Mass as Institution

Holy Mass is of a permanent order established by God, arranged once and for all; authorized by Him who has “all power in heaven and on earth” and therefore demands to be performed according to the will of its Institutor.

23: The Mass as Memorial

The Mass is the commemoration of a historic reality ordained by the Lord Himself. It is a memorial in the strictest sense of the term.

“Jesus comes to us not from the shadowy realm of mythology, but from the clear sunlight of the Old Testament” (135).

24: The Memorial of the New Covenant

Christ Himself, His love, and His redeeming fate are the contents of the new covenant, which He poured into the mold of the ancient covenant, now brought to completion (141).

25: Reality

The moment the priest, as the Lord’s representative, speaks the words, “This is my body” what is “commemorated” is also actually present in truth and in reality (145).

Our attitude must be one of belief and obedience to God’s word.

“As soon as we lose sight of this fact, everything is lost. That is why there is the call of warning and reminding just prior to the heart of the Mass, the Consecration: the call “mysterium fidei.” Don’t forget: we have here a mystery of the faith!” (147)

26: Time and Eternity

Although everything Jesus did took place in time, it came from eternity; and since eternity is unchangeable, everything He did was immortal (150).

27: Mimicry or Liturgical Form

“The memorial that Christ established is commemorated in the form of an action which itself commemorates an event or series of events: the life, death, and resurrection of the Saviour” (157).

Jesus’ memorial had to assume liturgical form if it was to remain a permanent part of the believers’ Christian life (162).

“The liturgical action of the Mass is a formal rendering of Jesus’ act of making His Father visible” (164).

28: Christ’s Offering of Self

The Lord’s memorial is the central mystery of our Christian life. It has taken the form of a meal at which He offers Himself as the food… are we really aware of the stupendousness of the thought? (167).

The impact of the message of Capharnaum by no means leaves an impression of idyllic and sentimental wonderment, as the average book of devotions suggests. It is an unheard-of challenge flung not only at the mind, but, as we see from the stark scene at Capharnaum, at the heart as well (169).

The whole point of the speech at Capharnaum is its insistence on real flesh, real blood, real eating and drinking in the spirit, of course, but that means in the Holy Spirit (170).

The test of Capharnaum is in truth faith’s supreme test (170).

29: Encounter and Feast

The participant in Holy Mass enters into a community at table (173).

The Mass is the Lord’s memorial… the fulfillment of our personal relation to Christ, of the believer to His redeemer (176).

The concepts of encounter and feast mutually sustain each other. Encounter guards the dignity of the Person and protects the Feast from irreverence. Feast projects that of the encounter to the incomprehensible holy mystery of ultimate intimacy (177).

“We must listen for and hear His knock on the door; we must profoundly experience His arrival and visit – without sentimentality or superexaltation but simply, calmly, in a faith that is all truth” (177).

30: Truth and Eucharist

Christ is “the Truth.” He is the incarnate Logos, God’s Message written in flesh and blood. His self-offering is Revelation; to receive Him is to receive Truth. Truth is essential to the fullness of the Mass.

31: The Mass and the New Covenant

We are Christians because of a covenant. This thought must complement the other, more familiar concept of rebirth and the new creation. Covenant and rebirth: individual dignity and responsibility, and the abundance of the new life. The two great concepts belong together, for they mutually sustain one another (191).

Holy Mass is the commemoration of God’s new covenant with men. Awareness of this gives the celebration an added significance that is most salutary. To keep this thought in mind is to remind ourselves that Christ’s sacrifical death opened for us the new heaven and the new earth; that there exists bertween Him and us a contract based not on talent or religious capacity, but on grace and freedom; that is binding from person to person, loyalty to loyalty. At every Mass we should reaffirm that contract and consciously take our stand in it (191).

32: The Mass and Christ’s Return

“But I say to you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father” (Matthew 26:29).

This passage tinges the whole memorial with a singular radiance which seems largely to have faded from the Christian consciousness. St. Paul affirms the importance of connecting the last things with the Lord’s memorial (1 Cor 11).


Holy Mass is distinctly eschatological. The celebration of the Mass should always be tinged by the feeling that the world “is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31).

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