Does Modern Man Have a Capacity for Liturgy?

Published August 17, 2023


Translator’s Introduction

In a letter in 1964, Fr. Romano Guardini offered his guidance for the participants of a conference on the liturgy in Mainz, Germany. He asked,

Is the liturgical act, and with it the meaning of liturgy in general, so historically bound—ancient, medieval, or baroque—that if one is going to be honest, one should abandon it entirely? Shouldn’t one bring oneself to realize that a human being in the industrial age, the era of technology, and in the sociological structures resulting from them, is simply no longer capable of the liturgical act? And shouldn’t one, instead of talking about renewal, consider in what way the sacred mysteries are to be celebrated so that a person today could relate to them with his truth?[1]

In his letter, Guardini offers an example to explain why he wonders about the capacity of people in the mid-twentieth century to carry out what he calls “the liturgical act.” He writes:

If I perceive this correctly, the typical person in the nineteenth century was no longer capable of this act, in fact, he no longer understood anything about it. For him, religious behavior was simply that which was internal to the individual—which then assumed the character of an official, public solemnity as a “liturgy.” With that, the meaning of the liturgical act was lost. What the believer performed was not actually a liturgical act, but a private, inner act encased in ceremonies—not infrequently accompanied by the feeling that the ceremony was a disruption to this act.[2]

Based on the thrust of Guardini’s 1964 letter, Theodor Bogler, OSB, from the monastery of Maria Laach in Germany, a hub of liturgical reform at the time, asked thirty-two authors from various backgrounds, mostly Catholics plus a few Protestants, “Does modern man still have a capacity for liturgy?” (“Ist der Mensch von heute noch liturgiefähig?”). One of these authors was Ida Friederike Görres (1901-1971).[3] This essay is her response. Her essay does not have a title. I have taken the title of this publication in Logos for both the English translation (“When Does a Person Have a Capacity for Liturgy?”) and the German text (“Wann ist der Mensch liturgiefähig?”), from the heading of section II in her essay. I selected this as the title because Görres objects to the way Bogler has framed the question and she instead reframes the topic by posing this as her own question. [For this publication in One Peter Five, I titled the essay “Does Modern Man Have a Capacity for Liturgy?” because this better reflects what was viewed as a pressing question of the era when Görres wrote this, even while Görres considers this the wrong way to approach this topic.]

The translation of this essay into English posed a particular challenge because there is no English word for the very topic of the essay. It is expressed in German by the compound adjective liturgiefähig and the related compound noun Liturgiefähigkeit. I chose to translate liturgiefähig as “having a capacity for liturgy.” I translate the second half of this compound word, “-fähig,” as “having a capacity” since I understand Görres to mean by “-fähig” both “the amount that can be held” and “the ability to do something in particular.”[4]

The endnotes in this publication in both this English translation and the German text have been added by me. The original German text from 1966 has no annotation.

Regarding the liturgical reforms of this era, Ida Görres made additional observations—including some sharp criticisms—in her 1969 essay, “Remarks on Celibacy,” [her 1969 essay “Demolition Troops in the Church,”] and her 1970 lecture, “Trusting the Church.”[5]

Click here to read Jennifer Bryson’s translation.

Jennifer Bryson, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Catholic Women’s Forum. Currently, she is translating the works of Ida Friederike Görres (1901-1971) from German to English while in residence at the Pope Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological Institute, known as Hochschule Heiligenkreuz, in Austria.

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