Edith Stein, as Teacher of Liturgical Spirituality

Interview With Carmelite Father Jesús Castellano Cervera

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ROME, APRIL 4, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Edith Stein, the philosopher-turned-Carmelite martyr, was considered «a super-liturgist,» says a scholar.

«She was a very active contemplative, before and after her entry into Carmel, as her activity and writings show,» said Carmelite Father Jesús Castellano Cervera, who lectured recently on liturgy at the Edith Stein Center of Studies of Lanciano, Italy.

The Carmelite priest, who teaches spirituality at the Teresianum Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Rome, is a consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Q: Can Edith Stein be considered a precursor of the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical spirituality?

Father Castellano Cervera: We can affirm it without hesitation. She lived at the dawn of the liturgical movement in Germany; she knew some of the protagonists of that ecclesial awakening, such as Romano Guardini and Odo Casel.

She considered the Abbey of Beuron, one of the centers promoting the German liturgical movement, where her spiritual director Abbot Raphael Walzer was, as her spiritual homeland.

She lived the fervor of the Christmas and Holy Week celebrations. She participated, as she herself recalled, in «the renewed forms of piety of the Church» of her time.

She is considered «a super-liturgist» because of her sensitivity before the mystery and focus on the proper carrying out and celebration of the liturgy. With her book «The Prayer of the Church,» she contributed a classic text on the Eucharist, its Jewish roots, and its spiritual dimension.

Q: Why is Edith Stein’s liturgical contribution not known, she who was in the vanguard with Guardini and other great masters of the liturgy of her time?

Father Castellano Cervera: Edith is a multifaceted figure. We admire her as a phenomenologist and philosopher, as an interpreter of St. Thomas, of Teresa of Jesus, and of John of the Cross. Her writings are numerous.

This fragment of her spirituality, which is a fragment that contains the whole, has been discovered little by little, especially when trying to put her spiritual journey into context, the roots of her education in Jewish liturgy, her influences and her participation in the spirituality of her age, and when trying to discover some of her writings where her theological and spiritual vein are especially manifested.

There are still unpublished texts and others that are not well known, as the journal of her spiritual retreat in preparation for her perpetual profession [April 10-21, 1938], a real jewel of spirituality of the Paschal mystery lived with Mary.

Q: Edith, beyond being a contemplative was a woman of action. Was she able to combine liturgical and personal prayer well?

Father Castellano Cervera: There are no dichotomies in her. Everything that she experienced and addressed has the touch of a phenomenologist who goes to the vital depth of the experience.

She lived it out of the depth of her being but with all the participation of the senses. In a writing of 1930, a lecture for the women of Speyr, on education to Eucharistic life, she stresses the application of the spirituality of the Eucharist to each one’s life, both for women religious as well as married women, and for those who, like her, live alone.

And in her book «The Prayer of the Church,» she makes a beautiful apology of the indispensable dimension of personal prayer and of its ecclesial value to the point of affirming that every personal prayer is ecclesial.

She was an extremely active contemplative, before and after her entry into Carmel, as her activity and writings show.

Q: Is it an exaggeration to see in Edith Stein a model of feminine liturgical spirituality?

Father Castellano Cervera: It is obvious that the whole of Edith’s experience has the touch of a woman’s look, her heart and feminine empathy, with a touch of delicacy and profundity.

In her own way she is a model of feminine spirituality if we understand her as the personification of the feminine in the Church-Bride, of her Marian attitude, of her recourse to holy women, and if we appreciate some expressions of fine poetry and sensitivity as her invocations to the Holy Spirit.

In her writings on woman and for women, this peculiarity of Edith is noted, free of complexes and controversies, with all naturalness.

Q: According to Edith Stein, what is Eucharistic spirituality?

Father Castellano Cervera: Something as simple as living, as a vital answer, before the awareness of the gift that the Eucharist implies: to respond with prayer before the Presence, before the Most Holy Eucharist, and at daily Mass; to respond with gratitude, for the gift of Communion, to the One who nourishes us with his flesh and blood «as a mother her child»; to respond to the Eucharistic sacrifice by accepting the gift and making life a spiritual offering.

It is a spirituality that is nourished, in Edith Stein, with example and witness; that is illuminated with teaching and initiation in the riches of the mystery, which passes little by little into life and customs until it becomes a Eucharistic existence that pervades the whole being and living.

Q: What does Edith Stein teach her Carmelite sisters with her witness?

Father Castellano Cervera: She teaches to feel totally with the Church in regard to the liturgy, without nostalgias for the past, with the joy of the present and the future.

Edith is a model of seriousness in the contemplative vocation itself, as open to the liturgy as to contemplation, as vibrant because of the novelty of the liturgical renewal as well as anxious to transmit to all the living and feeling with the Church.

Deep down, Edith is, by co-naturalness, a disciple of Teresa of Jesus also in this, as St. Teresa in her time, vibrated with the liturgy of the Church. And her mystical experience has beautiful pages of communion with the mysteries, and of enthusiasm for the feasts of the Lord, of Mary, and of the Saints, of love for the ecclesial liturgy, and for the decorum of the celebrations.

Edith Stein has contributed in all this with the theology of her time and with the search for excellence in the celebration of the mysteries.

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