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Posted April 3, 2014

Book: Meditations Before Mass
Author: Romano Guardini
Ave Maria Press. Notre Dame, IN. 2014. Pp. 205

Excerpt from the Foreword:

Every so often I meet parishioners while visiting the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum on the mall here in Washington, D.C. On one such occasion I ran into Senator Patrick Leahy who 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 U.S. 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 because of her bowed head and serious demeanor. She is cradling a child who is holding a balancing scale as she leans against a book of laws. 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 for 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 theologican, 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, are at the heart of imbibing in the fullness of the Mass.

As a priest of fifty years, I confess it 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 "ah 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, on the other hand, 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 Meditations Before Mass, 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 1950's 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 calms 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.

Table of Contents:

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
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