Blessed Romano Guardini?

The Diocese of Munich-Freising has opened a process for possible beatification of one of the prominent figures of the Liturgical Movement in Germany, Romano Guardini (1885-1968).  The Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, will preside over a solemn liturgy in the Cathedral this coming Saturday, December 16, to mark the official beginning of the process.  Together with Romano Guardini, another Catholic writer, the historian and publisher Fritz Michael Gerlich, who was killed by the Nazis in Dachau in 1934(!) for his texts against the regime, will also be proposed for possible beatification.

Romano Guardini’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 1918, is rightly seen as a classic text of the emerging Liturgical Movement.  The author was ordained in 1910 in the German diocese of Mainz, and served as a pastoral leader in the Catholic youth movement while also pursuing a scholarly career.  He taught in Berlin (until forced to resign under pressure from the Nazis), Tübingen, and Munich.  When Pope John XXIII announced his plans for a Second Vatican Council, Romano Guardini was appointed to the commission on the liturgy but his declining health, including bouts with deep depression, prevented him from participating.  His most remarkable and much-quoted contribution came in an “Open Letter” that Guardini penned in 1964, in which he raised a burning question.  This question was both unsettling and visionary, coming as it did in the jubilant months after the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.: “Should we, instead of talking about renewal, not rather ask in which way the divine mysteries must be celebrated so that people today can place themselves, with their particular truth, within these mysteries?”[1]

Guardini died in 1968 and was initially buried in the cemetery of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Munich.  His remains were moved in 1997 to a side chapel of the University Church, the Sankt Ludwig Kirche, in which Guardini had often preached while teaching at the University.

Click here to see a prayer for the beatification of Guardini.

[1]   Romano Guardini in an open letter to Johannes Wagner, April 1, 1964; published in Liturgisches Jahrbuch 14 (1964) 101-106, p. 106.  English translation mine.


  1. Pope Benedict XVI had a particular esteem for Guardini. He quoted from Guardini in his farewell discourse to the college of Cardinals (see below), and Guardini’s last book ‘The Church of the Lord’ was dedicated to him.

    I was interested to note that Guardini is buried at the Munich Oratory. I am planning to visit Munich next year and will make a point of paying a visit.

    1. Pope Francis too appreciates Guardini. He apparently began a dissertation on him, while in Germany. And Guardini makes several appearances in Laudato Si.

      1. No “apparently” about it. He did all his research for that dissertation, went back to Argentina to complete it but was then sent to Córdoba, some say as punishment by his superiors for being too interfering in their leadership. He somewhat languished in Córdoba for 2 years. He described it in terms that leave you thinking it may have been a “dark night of the soul”. It was from there that he left to become an auxiliary in Buenos Aires. His dissertation paper was never completed. Francis also quotes Guardini. I have read from those familiar with Francis and Guardini that they also see a lot of Guardini’s thought in Francis’ writings.

  2. Sometimes Guardini has been rather badly misunderstood — and he himself was slightly to blame for that, by writing things that could appear contradictory. Here is a short article I published on the relationship between faith and culture that takes its point of departure from two works of Guardini that are somewhat in tension: “The End of the Modern World” and “The Spirit of the Liturgy.”

    1. Peter, your writings come from a fundamental rejection of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and a rejection of – indeed, hostility toward – the present liturgical discipline of the Roman Catholic Church as reflected in the lawfully reformed liturgy. This colors all your writings on every topic, and hence I would not recommend your writings to Catholics.

      1. Despite Anthony’s warning, I followed the link to see what Peter Kwasniewski had to say about Guardini on the Lifesite News webpage. I don’t recommend it either. It isn’t a good sign to start (as in the above comment) by saying, “Guardini has been rather badly misunderstood — and he himself was slightly to blame for that, by writing things that could appear contradictory”. Just about any thinker worthy of the name says things that appear to be contradictory, because if they think, their thought grows, and also changes; Newman, in his “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine”, said that “here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Moreover, Guardini founded his thought on the principle of what he called “polarity,” a way of maintaining contradictory realities in creative tension. He articulated this in his 1925 book, “Der Gegensatz”, but polarity undergirds all his theological works. So if we begin by expressing surprise at his saying things that were contradictory, we have got off to a bad start, and showed a fundamental lack of understanding of Guardini. Incidentally, Guardini is cetainly a better hermeneutical key than Perón for those who have trouble understanding Pope Francis!

        I shan’t attempt to engage with “The End of the Modern World”, since I haven’t read it. I will just make a couple of remarks about “The Spirit of the Liturgy” and St. Benedict, two things I do know something about.

        First, Joseph Ratzinger didn’t give exactly the same title to his book on liturgy as Guardini did. Guardini’s, in German, is “Vom Geist der Liturgie”, which means something like “About/Concerning the Spirit of the Liturgy”; Ratzinger’s is “Der Geist der Liturgie”, which does mean “The Spirit of the Liturgy”. There is something tentative, something suggesting a “work in progress” in Guardini’s title, which distinguishes it from Ratzinger’s more professorial tone, which means “I understand what the spirit of the liturgy is, and I’m going to explain it to you”. This distinction disappears in English, as it does in French, which is a pity.

        Second, this tentative character is clearly visible in the work itself, if you take the trouble to look. Professor Kwasniewski cites “The Spirit of the Liturgy” (1935), which I suppose is the date of the English translation. However, the first German edition came out in 1918, and it went through five further editions in German before its author died in 1968. These were not just reprints; Guardini continued to revise and indeed re-write the book as the years went by. The 1922 edition contains an entirely new chapter (“The Seriousness of the Liturgy”), but nearly every page of the successive editions contains additions, omissions, corrections and modifications; “Vom Geist der Liturgie” was indeed a “work in progress”. The textual history of this one book shows that it is missing the point entirely to fault Guardini for writing things that seem to be contradictory. The fault, if fault there be, lies with those who don’t appreciate the essentially dynamic nature of his thought. (By the way, it would be a great service to liturgical scholarship if someone were to produce a critical edition of “Vom Geist der Liturgie”.)

        Third, St. John-Paul II wrote that “St. Benedict… withdrew in solitude, asceticism, and prayer”. As his predecessor, St. Gregory the Great said, Benedict abandoned his classical studies “scienter nescius, et sapienter indoctus”. If God gives us a new St. Benedict, he will indeed be like the founder of Monte Cassino, not remotely interested in the “reestablishment of Christendom along classical lines, with kings seated on their thrones … scholastics debating finer points of the divine law and guilds churning out noble artifacts of every kind”. This is a Walt Disney cartoon of the Middle Ages. The only thing a latter-day Benedict will be concerned with is a life of prayer, work and holy reading. Monks (and nuns: some of the most important medieval manuscripts, like the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, were copied by women) may have saved Western civilisation, not because they set out to save it, but because they set out to live a life of prayer; hence they needed books for liturgy and lectio. They also needed to be able to read them, so they copied classical texts as well, in order to learn how to read and write Latin correctly. If a new St. Benedict brings us “monks [and, I hope, nuns] chanting the Divine Office across the land”, they will be doing so because part of their task is to celebrate the prayer they were deputed to by baptism, not because they want to run liturgical and musical conservatories. I spend about four hours every day singing the Office in Gregorian chant, not because I want to conserve a cultural treasure, but because I experience it as an admirable school of prayer.

  3. That would be something if Romano Guardini would be beatified, and eventually canonized. It would signal that the Holy Spirit was motivating and guiding many in the early part of the Twentieth Century in their desire for a reform of the liturgy based on the Fifth Century. My favorite passage from Guardini’s 1964 Letter is this one:

    The question is whether the wonderful opportunities now open to the liturgy will achieve their full realization; whether we shall be satisfied with just removing anomalies, taking new situations into account, giving better instruction on the meaning of ceremonies and liturgical vessels or whether we shall relearn a forgotten way of doing things and recapture lost attitudes.

    As I frequently tell my classes, Vatican II was not so much about new things as rather a reacquiring “a forgotten way of doing things and recapturing lost attitudes”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *