and speech are interdependent and together form that nameless unit which
supports our spiritual life.
But there is another element essential here: hearing.
Let us imagine for a moment a Dialogue Mass; Epistle and Gospel,
indeed, a substantial part of the Mass is read aloud in English.
What do those believers who love the liturgy and wish to
participate in it as fully as possible do?
Yes, they take their missals in hand and read along with the
reader. They mean well, they
are eager not to miss a word; yet how odd the whole situation is!
There stands the reader solemnly reading the sacred words, and the
believers he is addressing read with him!
Can this be a genuine form of the spiritual act?
Obviously not. Something
has been destroyed. Solemn
reading requires listening, not simultaneous reading.
Otherwise why read aloud at all?
Our bookish upbringing is to blame for this unnaturalness.
Most deplorably, it encourages people to read when they should
listen. As a result, the
fairytale has died and poetry has lost its power; for its resonant,
wise, fervent, and festive language is meant to be heard, not read.
In the Mass, moreover, it is a question not only of beautiful and
solemn words, but also of the divine word.
Perhaps at this point someone may protest: “But these are mere
aesthetic details which matter very little.
The main thing is that the believers receive and understand the
word of God whether by reading or hearing is of no import.”
As a matter of fact, this question is vital.
In silent reading that frail and powerful reality called word
It remains unfinished, entangled in print, corporal; vital parts
are still lacking. The
hurrying eye brings fleeting images to the imagination; the intelligence
gains but a hazy “comprehension,” and the result is of small worth. What has been lost belongs to the essence of the liturgical
event. No longer does the
sacred word unfold in its full spiritual‑corporal reality and soar
through space to the listener, to be heard and received into his life. Would it be a loss if men ceased to convey their most fervent
thoughts in living speech, and instead communicated with each other only
in writing? Definitely!
All the bodily vitality of the ringing word would vanish.
In the realm of faith also the loss would be shattering.
After all, Christ Himself spoke of hearing. He never said: “He who has eyes to read, read.” (Matt.
11:15). This is no attempt to devaluate the
written word, which in its place is good and necessary. However, it must not crowd out what is better, more necessary
and beautiful: hearing, from which, as St. Paul tells us, springs faith (Rom.
Faith can, of course, be kindled from the written text, but the
gospel, the “glad tidings, the good news,” gains its full power only
when it is heard. Members of
a reading age, we have forgotten this, and so thoroughly that it is
difficult for us to realize what we have lost.
The whole word is not the printed, but the spoken, in which alone
truth stands free. Only words
formed by the human voice have the delicacy and power necessary to stir
the depths of emotion, the seat of the spirit, the full sensitiveness of
the conscience. Like the sacraments God’s word is spiritual‑corporal;
like them it is meant to nourish the spirit in flesh‑and‑blood
man, to work in him as power. To
do this it must be whole. This
consideration takes us still deeper.
The saving God who came to us was the eternal Word.
But that Word did not come in a blaze of spiritual illumination or
as something suddenly appearing in a book.
He “was made flesh,” flesh that could be seen, heard, grasped
with hands, as St. John so graphically insists in the opening lines of his
first epistle. The same mystery continues in the living word of liturgical
proclamation, and it is all‑important that the connection remains
vital. The word of God
is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence.
To be sure that the point is clear, let us put it this way: how may
proper hearing be prevented? I
could say something to a man sitting out of earshot, for example. Then I should have to speak louder in order to establish the
physical connection. Or I
could speak loudly enough, but if his attention is elsewhere, my remarks
will go unheeded. Then I must
appeal to him to listen. Perhaps
he does listen, notes what I say, follows the line of thought, tries his
best, and yet fails to understand. Something
in him remains closed. He
hears my reasons, follows them intellectually and psychologically; he
would understand at once if they applied to someone else.
In regard to himself, he fails to see the connection because his
pride will not admit the truth; perhaps a secret voice warns him that,
were he to admit it, he would have to change things in his life that he is
unwilling to change. The more
examples we consider, the more clearly we realize that hearing too exists
on many levels, and we begin to suspect its importance when the Speaker is
God. Not for nothing did our Lord say: “He who has ears to hear,
let him hear.”
have ears to hear requires grace, for only he whose ears God has opened
can hear God’s word.
does this when He pleases, and the prayer for truth is directed at that
divine pleasure. But it also
requires something that we ourselves desire and are capable of: being
inwardly “present”; listening from the vital core of our being;
unfolding ourselves to that which comes from beyond, to the sacred word. All this is possible only when we are inwardly still.
In stillness alone can we really hear.
When we come in from the outside our ears are filled with the
racket of the city, the words of those who have accompanied us, the
laboring and quarrelling of our own thoughts, the disquiet of our
hearts’ wishes and worries, hurts and joys.
How are we possibly to hear what God is saying?
That we listen at all is something; not everyone does.
It is even better when we pay attention and make a real effort to
understand what is being said.
But all this is not yet that attentive stillness in which God’s
word can take root. This must
be established before the service begins, if possible in the silence on
the way to church. At church
use the Missal to read the Scripture passages before Mass starts. Follow
that with a brief period of composure and reflection in preparation for
its live proclamation.
Condensed from Meditations
Before Mass by Romano Guardini. Translated
from the German by Elinor Castendyk Briefs.
© 1955 The Newman Press, Westminster, MA