Nowhere are the life and spirit of the International Schoenstatt Movement more succinctly and powerfully captured than in two little collections of documents by its founder, Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968). The first is Schoenstatt—the Founding Documents, including the First Founding Document of October 18, 1914. The second is the book presented here for the first time in a full English translation—Heavenwards.
The Story of Heavenwards
Heavenwards is a prayer book rooted in the Schoenstatt spirituality, including the covenant of love with Mary, and a unique history, namely the trial by fire of Nazi persecution and the concentration camp in Dachau. The stormclouds were already gathering in the 1930s, but came to their climax on September 20, 1941, when Father Kentenich was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Gestapo prison in Koblenz, Germany. This blow was clearly aimed at the entire Schoenstatt Movement, and was soon followed by the decision to send Father Kentenich to Dachau. The transport came on March 11, 1942, and the founder arrived at the notorious concentration camp on March 13.
The difficulties did not lead to despair, however. Rather, a new and deepening spirit of being an instrument in the hand of God the Father began to develop. Father Kentenich not only survived the brutal and inhuman conditions of the concentration camp in Dachau for over three years (he was released on April 6, 1945), but initiated an active apostolate among his fellow prisoners, especially among the priests. It was at their urging that he began to express the spirit of Dachau in prayers. It was a spirit which defied the diabolical atmosphere of Dachau. That a rich spiritual life could grow in Dachau at all was a sign of divine activity, and the prayers were a way to foster the awareness of God’s guiding hand. One example is the “Schoenstatt Office,” originally composed as a short substitute for the breviary. The two “Instrument Groups” and their leaders Father Joseph Fischer (Hand Group) and Father Heinz Dresbach (Heart Group) were particularly instrumental in urging Father Kentenich to write the various “Instrument Prayers” which we find in Part One of Heavenwards. No less important are the prayers which originated as part of The Shepherd’s Mirror, a pastoral treatise written for the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, and especially addressed to the difficulties of the Schoenstatt Family outside of Dachau. These prayers are especially found in Part Two of Heavenwards.
The Original Publication
By the end of World War II it was clear that the Dachau prayers were an expression not only of the spirit of Dachau but also of the spirit of Schoenstatt. Father Kentenich later called them a “summary of the Founding Documents in prayer form”, for they contain the central elements of Schoenstatt’s spirituality: the covenant of love, practical faith in Divine Providence, the personal ideal, mission consciousness, everyday sanctity, and more. Especially evident was the specific flavor of the “Blank Check” and the “Inscriptio”, especially focused on the willingness to be completely used as an instrument by God the Father, even when it means cross and suffering.
In the fall of 1945, Father Kentenich published this collection of prayers under the title Heavenwards. His motivation for publication became clear when he introduced the book to the Schoenstatt Family at the Dankeswoche (Thanksgiving Week) in October 1945. He spoke of the “victorious inner attitude” which had carried Schoenstatt through the Nazi years, most visible in the Inscriptio and in the Dachau prayers. This victorious inner attitude would now have to prove itself in the extraordinary difficulties of a new era. The pressing task was the need to overcome “collectivism,” the specter of a mass-society looming in East and West—materialistic and impersonal, out of touch with self, God and individual worth. Father Kentenich urgently wished to draw the Church’s attention to this through Heavenwards, pointing out the need for radical courage and trust to face a challenge of the magnitude of the struggle in the Book of Revelation, whose images play such an important part in the Dachau prayers.
How “Heavenwards” Should be Read
The pressing task which Father Kentenich saw in 1945 still stands before us today. Heavenwards is a prayer book which challenges as much as it inspires. Father Kentenich described its style as one of “idea-lyrics” or a “metaphysics of the metaphysical”, i.e. a condensed summary of an entire spirituality. Their goal is to focus the soul on the core realities of Christian life in the world today, giving it the needed inner clarity and strength to withstand the dangers of a superficial and materialistic world and become free and creative for a world mission.
Heavenwards is therefore best read 1) in prayer, 2) slowly, 3) a bit at a time and, if possible, 4) in spiritual pilgrimage to one of the Schoenstatt shrines. If a particular prayer does not say much the first time, one can move on to another prayer and leave the first one for later. Above all, if a particular line or verse begins to stir the soul, give it time to sink in. Such a moment can be the start of a dialog with God and an inspiration for daily life. And in the end, Heavenwards is meant to be a prayer book which inspires life.
About this Translation<
The work on this translation of Heavenwards began in 1987. The goal was as prayable and accurate a rendering of the original German as possible, in an English acceptable to the English-speaking Schoenstatt Family on five continents. Towards this end, the translation has gone through no less than three complete drafts including consultations with people in Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, the United States, Switzerland and Germany.
Certain options have been made for this translation. One is for a two-, four- and six-line structure that bears a visible resemblance to the original German (composed in rhymed verses of two, four, or six lines), but without attempting a rhyme or structured rhythm. American spelling norms have been adopted for use in this printing, but this is not meant to preclude the use of other spellings in other areas (e.g. Blank Check, Blank Cheque). The entire text has been checked and rechecked against the original German to ensure a faithful reproduction of the original meaning. Page numbers also correspond to the German edition to make comparative study easier. In the introductory texts and footnotes, square brackets [ ] are used to indicate editorial inserts.
The reader will also discover an appendix of other prayers from Schoenstatt. Although this appendix is not found in the original German edition, it has been added in keeping with Heavenwards’ stature as “the” Schoenstatt prayer book. In addition, an index of biblical references has been included, as well as an overview of the dates when the various prayers were written.
I would like to express my special thanks to all those who have made this translation possible. This includes those responsible for the previous English translations of Heavenwards. They provided the “prayed life-stream” in which this translation could grow. In addition I would have to mention all those who sent comments and suggestions at the different stages of the project, especially in the evaluation of Version 2.5 (1991). Although your names do not appear here, your part has been indispensable in bringing this project to the present conclusion. My thanks to each and every one of you.
October 18, 1992
Dedicated in thanksgiving
to the Mother Thrice Admirable
and Queen of Schoenstatt
and to all Schoenstatt children
2These prayers originated in the “hell of Dachau.” May the “heavenwards” spirit which formed them and gave many the strength to master the difficulties of everyday life, always remain a part of the family and bear abundant fruit!
September 20, 1945