As we continue examining how to prepare ourselves to fully participate interiorly in the Holy Mass, it is impossible to talk about silence without also speaking of composure. Silence and composure are companions says Fr Guardini: “Silence overcomes noise and talk; composure is victory over distraction and unrest. “Silence is the quiet of a person who could be talking;” Composure is the active centering of a person “who could be divided by his surroundings, tossed to and fro by the myriad happenings of every day.”
It is normal for our minds to be restless. Our attention is regularly broken into a thousand fragments as our feelings and desires constantly seek for different things, captivating our wills in “a thousand intentions, often contradictory.” Composure, however, works against this common movement, wresting our attention from the tyranny of the chaos of distraction and bringing us back to a firm unity of spirit. Composure brings our soul back to itself to re-establish its own depth.
Truly, the meaning and demands of life make us restless. We find ourselves captivated by such things as the beauty and majesty of nature, the meaning of human relationships and existence, as well as by the experiences of work and pleasure or even of sickness and tragedy. These things do crowd in on us and overwhelm us. However, “they also give earnestness and weight” to the way we live.
However, “what is genuinely disastrous,” writes Fr Guardini (in 1939, far before TV and the internet has made this all so much more intense at all times and places!), “is the disorder and artificiality of present-day existence. We are constantly stormed by violent and chaotic impressions… at once powerful and superficial… everywhere we are confronted by advertising that attempts to force upon us things we neither want nor really need. We are constantly lured from the important and profound to the distracting, [to the] ‘interesting’… This state of affairs exists not only around but within us. To a large extent man lives without depth, without a center, in superficiality and chance. No longer finding the essential within himself, he grabs at all sorts of stimulants and sensations; he enjoys them briefly, tires of them, recalls his own emptiness and demands new distractions… everything [is] brought within easy reach of his mind by the constantly increasing means on transportation, communication, education, and amusement; but he doesn’t really absorb anything. He contents himself with having heard about it; he labels it with some current catchword, and shoves it aside for the next. He is a hollow man and tries to fill his emptiness with constant, restless activity. He is happiest when in the thick of things, in the rush and noise and stimulus of quick results and successes. The moment quietness surrounds him, he is lost.”
Only the composed person can truly be grounded in him- or herself and is truly “awake, aware” with the “ability to make responsible decisions; sensitivity, readiness, and joy of life.” It is only “once composure has been established, [that] the Liturgy is possible. Not before.”
We must work to make time and put effort into composing ourselves before Holy Mass, then, because “like silence, composure does not create itself, it must be willed and practiced.”
We will continue next week with more on composure.
God bless you!