Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics

Greg Miller
3 min readFeb 21, 2021

Unit 3: An Aesthetic Liturgical Theology

How is Guaradini’s liturgical theology aesthetic?

Guaradini states that, unlike, for example, Protestants, the primary goal of the liturgy in Catholicism is not to express reverence for God as an individual, but, rather in unity with the entire church, congregation, and indeed all Catholics living in the both present and the past. Guaradini contends that the theological aesthetics takes many forms in fellowship, style, symbolism and playfulness.

Guaradini’s discussion of style reminds us that in addition to the central message of the liturgy we must ultimately show our devotion in some personal way. Style is the key to that connection in that it can provide “warmth and local color.” I personally can attest to the importance of style with regard to the liturgy. My family and I recently attended the “teenage” mass at our church. We struggled throughout the mass to feel connected. The teenagers seemed to have had a terrific time. For us, it wasn’t like we even attended a church service. The liturgical message was much the same, but we were lost in the aesthetics. The songs were played on electric guitar versus piano. The beautiful soprano singing we were used to was replaced by a young male voice. Style can be a very significant factor in driving a personal connection to be sure.

Universally comprehensible symbolism helps define a relationship between the spiritual, or that which is within, and the physical, or material aspects of the liturgy. Guaradini suggests that combining these aspects with the use of appropriate symbols allows us to interpret a spiritual experience of the highest significance. This experience is fully accomplished when words and action are called into play with the material to create knowledge, and opportunities for the fullest expression of the soul in Divine worship. This cannot be accomplished with either the spiritual or the material acting alone.

Guaradini states that the playfulness in liturgy is truly man acting as a child of God. A child, playful and loving, acting out in play without any specific purpose other than the joy of movement and life. Playfulness plays a highly significant role in the communication of the liturgy with its movement, colors, words, and actions. More me, the playfulness is romantic aspects of the liturgy that pulls me in and brings God to life. It is the playfulness as the form of expression that connects me to the fundamental essence of the message. As Guaradini writes, “It is in the highest sense of a child, in which everything is pictured, melody and song.”

In conclusion, Guaradini believes that the vital essence of the liturgy can only be revealed and our eyes opened to its beauty through our participation in liturgical action. Such participation in a lifetime of fellowship and contemplation is the cornerstone of a peaceful and tranquil life. The use of playfulness, style and symbolism binds that which is material to the liturgy that connects our souls to the mysteries of faith.