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Sacred Signs
by Romano Guardini

INTRODUCTION



THIS little book has been in circulation some ten years. It was

written to help open up the world of the liturgy. That world will

never be made accessible by accounts of how the certain rites and

prayers came into existence and under what influences, or by

explanations of the ideas underlying liturgical practices. Those

ideas may be true and profound, but they are not apparent in the

present liturgy, and can be deduced from it only by scholarly

research. The liturgy is not a matter of ideas, but of actual

things, and of actual things as they now are, not as they were in

the past. It is a continuous movement carried on by and through

us, and its forms and actions issue from our human nature. To

show how it arose and developed brings us no nearer to it, and no

more does this or that learned interpretation. What does help is

to discern in the living liturgy what underlies the visible sign,

to discover the soul from the body, the hidden and spiritual from

the external and material. The liturgy has taken its outward

shape from a divine and hidden series of happenings. It is

sacramental in its nature.



So the procedure that avails is to study those actions that are

still in present day use, those visible signs which believers

have received and made their own and use to express the

"invisible grace." For this it is not liturgical scholarship that

is needed,--though the two things are not separable,--but

liturgical education. We need to be shown how, or by some means

incited, to see and feel and make the sacred signs ourselves.



It strikes me that the right and fruitful method is to start off

in the simplest way with the elements out of which the higher

liturgical forms have been constructed. Whatever in human nature

responds to these elementary signs should be fanned into life.

These signs are real symbols; consequently, by making them a

fresh and vital experience of their own people would get at the

spirit which informs them, and arrive at the genuine symbol from

the conventional sign. They might even again be caught up in the

Christian process that sees and fashions the things of the spirit

into visible forms, and do so freshly for themselves. After all,

the person who makes the signs has been baptized, both soul and

body and therefore able to understand (this was the idea) the

signs as sacred symbols and constituent parts of sacrament and

sacramental. Then from the practice of them, which can be gained

from these little sketches (which make no claim to completeness)

he could move on to a deeper understanding of their meaning and

justification.*



It is a real question whether something written under special

circumstances, and growing out of the needs of a particular

group, should be republished after so long an interval of time.

There are other objections to these little essays of mine of

which I am quite aware. They are not sufficiently objective; they

meet no classified need. They are subjective, semi-poetic, casual

and impressionistic, and all this apart from their obvious

literary deficiencies. Yet it remains that basically they are

right, and have a claim, consequently, in spite of sound

objections, to republication. For if they do not attain the end

for which they were written, at least they indicate it, and no

other liturgical work comes readily to mind that does even that

much any better.



One person who could do what they attempt both better and more

appropriately, would be a mother who had herself been trained in

the liturgy. She could teach her child the right way to make the

sign of the cross, make him see what it is in himself the lighted

candle stands for, show him in his little human person how to

stand and carry himself in his Father's house, and never at any

point with the least touch of aestheticism, simply as something

the child sees, something he does, and not as an idea to hang

gestures on.

Another competent person would be a teacher who shares the lives

of his pupils. He could make them capable of experiencing and

celebrating Sunday as the day it is, and feast days and the

seasons of the church year. He could make them realize the

meaning of doors or bells, or the interior arrangement of the

church, or outdoor processions. These two, mother and teacher,

could bring the sacred signs to life.



A short article by Maria Montessori, whose work in education is

so significant, made me feel when I read it, that here was both

the fulfillment of these ideas and their promise for the future.

Her method is to teach by actual doing. In one of her schools the

children take care of a vineyard and a wheatfield. They gather

the grapes, sow and harvest the grain, and, as far as they can

technically manage it, make, according to the rules of the

church, wine and bread, and then carry them as their gifts to the

altar. This kind of learning, together with the right kind of

instruction, is liturgical education. For the approach to the

liturgy is not by being told about it but by taking part in it.



To learn to see, to learn to do, these are the fundamental

"skills" that make the groundwork for all the rest. The doing

must of course be enlightened by lucid instruction and rooted in

Catholic tradition, which they learn from their courses in

history. And "doing" does not mean "practicing" in order to get a

thing right. Doing is basic; it includes the whole human person

with all his creative powers. It is the outcome in action of the

child's own experience, of his own understanding, of his own

ability to look and see.



When teachers such as these, out of their own experience, give

instruction in the sacred signs, this little book may vanish into

oblivion. Until then it has a claim, even an obligation, to say

its say as well as it can.



MOOSHAUSEN in the "Swabian Alligau"

Spring, 1921



*See my book on Liturgical Education














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