Today we are Munich in Bavaria, where one of the most creative theologians of the 20th Century, Romano Guardini died in 1968. His pastoral leadership, particularly in the liturgical and youth movements would play a significant influence on the Church in Europe. His legacy of more than 75 books and 100 articles are massively important for the Church, and he exercised a profound influence on both of the last two popes Benedict XVI and Francis, who have both highly praised his work.
Pope Benedict recalled that Father Guardini’s teaching made a deep impression upon him as a young man because of the theologian’s dedication to finding the truth. Father Guardini’s, Spirit of the Liturgy was one of the first books Benedict (then Joseph Ratzinger) read as a theology student. It was published during WW1, and was a major influence on the Liturgical Movement in Germany and by extension on the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. An example liturgical renewal was given by him - A parish priest of the late 19th century once said "We must organize the procession better; we must see to it that the praying and singing is done better." For Guardini, the parish priest had missed the point of what true liturgical action is. The questions he had asked should have been different. They should have been, "How can the act of walking become a religious act, a retinue for the Lord progressing through his land, so that an 'epiphany' may take place." Pope Paul VI offered to make him a cardinal in 1965, but he declined. Ratzinger’s own book Spirit of the Liturgy, published more than 80 years later, was titled as an homage to Father Guardini.
Pope Francis whilst a Jesuit novice, read and reread his famous book The Lord a classic spiritual text, made of a series of profound meditations on Jesus’ life. It is perhaps the book that has had the widest impact - and remained in print for decades and, according to publisher Henry Regnery, was "one of the most successful books I have ever published." In The Lord, Guardini wishes to present a correct understanding of Jesus by writing about his life and person, by pointing to certain decisive events in Jesus' life, recognising specific directions in it He does not attempt to recount Jesus' life in a chronological or logical sequence. Pope Francis valued is as spiritual reading, but his doctoral studies were focused on Guardini’s book on Der Gegansatz ‘Opposition. Written from his experience after WW1 where there seemed to be deep divisions and unresolvable animosities everywhere in Germany. Guardini learnt to live in these polarities so that they became fruitful rather than trying to negate the other. Jorge Bergoglio (before he became Pope Francis) travelled to Germany to pursue his doctorate in Frankfurt, and then continued it in Cordoba, Argentina, and manifested the fruits in the section of his encyclical Evangelli Gaudium. Francis said that Guardini has taught him to love oppositions and appreciate the creative tensions in opposing views overcoming them rather than negating them.
Guardini was born in 1885, in the northern Italian city of Verona. His family moved a year later to Germany, where he spent the rest of his life. as a young man he was “always anxious and very scrupulous.” After university studies in economics and chemistry, and wavered in his faith, and his religious crisis culminated in what Pope Benedict called a St. Augustine-like moment, in which a single Bible verse illuminated his life. Father Guardini later wrote that after a long conversation with a friend, he realized: “Everything will come down to the statement: ‘Whoever holds on to his soul will lose it, but whoever gives it away will gain it.’” He decided that to fully surrender his life, he needed to find some “objective authority” that would safeguard his gift from his own individual desires. The only institution that existed was “the Catholic Church in her authority and concreteness.”
Guardini decided to become a priest although after his decision to enter seminary, he continued to be afflicted by the depression he had felt since childhood. He wrote that he even considered taking his own life at one point, and only through praying the Rosary one afternoon did he find peace in his vocation. While Father Guardini wrote that “the dark flow of depression has always continued in my life, and more than once it has climbed very high,” he also found it necessary to accept it from God and “try to transform it into a good for other people.” He was ordained in 1910 and after his ordination, Father Guardini served as an assistant pastor in several cities, before eventually becoming a professor in the philosophy of religion and Catholic worldview in Berlin and later Munich.
According to a former student of Guardini, Heinz Kuhn, many at his Masses particularly felt the presence of Christ in the liturgy and that worshippers were drawn into “a world where the sacred became convincingly and literally tangible. “With him on the altar, the sacred table became the centre of the universe,” he wrote, and in Mass they found “courage to face, to endure and to resist a world in which the forces of evil, Satan and his demons, were running rampant.” To encourage a deeper sense of the liturgy, Father Guardini sometimes said Mass versus populum ( or facing the people) which was unusual before Vatican 2, and would hand out the day’s readings in German so people could follow along. He thus became very influential in the liturgical renewal movement prior to Vatican II although he would become dissatisfied with the implementation of Vatican II.
The recurring major themes of his theology were: divine revelation as God's self-disclosure, the church as Christian community, liturgy as play in God's presence, literature as expression of religious experience, Nazism as negation of personal existence, Jesus Christ as mediator, and Christian acceptance of modernity. His life and thought of Romano Guardini shows the way for Catholicism to move from the defensive stance of the First Vatican Council in the 1870s (see the pod of on the Modernist Crisis) to the open, responsive position of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.