Wellsprings of Liturgical Beauty

Romano Guardini’s liturgical theology is aesthetic not because the material beauty of the liturgy is a spiritual theater for the sake of itself, but rather because he insists that the beauty of the liturgy concerns the salvation of the human person as it unites the community of believers in contemplative worship of the living God through artistic playfulness that transforms humans into “living works of arts before God” (Guardini, 71). Truth, fellowship and childlike playfulness encompass three wellsprings for the perception of liturgical beauty.

According to Guardini, the beauty of the liturgy flows from a primary concern to bring salvation to sinful humanity through a true encounter with the living, Triune God. The liturgy is to give truthful “expression to the events of the Christian’s inner life” using a “set form of language, gesture, and instruments” (Guardini, 82). Through material expression and movement of the human body, the liturgy reveals the spiritual reality of the human soul praising God in union with the Body of Christ, the Church. The serious nature of the liturgy requires that the liturgy must first endeavor to reveal the Kingdom of God in truth otherwise attention to beauty within the liturgy is sought in vain. The beauty of the liturgy can only be authentically perceived when the truth of the Christian life shines through the symbolic matter of the liturgy.

The aesthetic of Guardini’s liturgical theology also presents itself as Guardini describes how the liturgy beckons the faithful to fellowship while not forcing individual members of the congregation to produce artificial sentiments. Just as a work of art transcends the individual experience to point toward universal truth, Guardini claims that liturgy combats expressive individualism and reveals to the faithful that Christ Himself is the “vital and fundamental principle” who incorporates each member within His living Body through the Holy Spirit (Guardini, 37). In order to speak to the entirety of the faithful, the liturgy manifests a certain sobriety that invites the individual to join in the common act of prayer. The liturgy requires and fosters humility in all individual members who must renounce self-sufficiency and attune themselves to liturgical praise of Jesus Christ. Yet, the reserved form of the liturgy allows for true liturgical fellowship as it does not impose upon individuals to divulge their interior life hidden with God.

Finally, Guardini presents that those who participate in the liturgy become like little children at play as they rest in the presence of God and contemplate His majesty without concern for purposeful activity. Children at play simply revel in the fact of their existence through expressions of dance, picture, rhyme and song. Guardini writes that the liturgy “unites art and reality in a supernatural childhood before God” as human beings receive the invitation to enter into the sphere of the eternal and rejoice in the meaning of existence (Guardini, 69). Here the soul learns to delight in the simplicity of life and is drawn to rest in God through a disposition of childlike wonder at the gift of existence. Liturgical playfulness manifests an aesthetic of picture, melody and song that harmonizes our fundamental essence as children of God with a common act of praise.

Above all, the liturgy uses beautiful material forms that challenge humans to share in “tranquil contemplation of eternal, unchangeable truth“ (Guardini, 94). The liturgy must not be reduced to a mere didactic lesson or understood as a work of fine art for the sake of itself. In reality, the artistic form of the liturgy invites the community of faithful to enter the sphere of the eternal by “learning to waste time for the sake of God (Guardini, 71). Liturgical beauty shines forth from the wellsprings of truth, fellowship and playfulness as the members of the Body of Christ participate in the art of being in joyful union with God.