By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 28 April 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I seemed to have learned in the seminaries I attended in Spain and in Rome that a priest does not give a blessing at the end of lauds and vespers when the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed in community before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Is this true? Is this a liturgical principle, of sorts? Another example might be blessing the incense in the thurible during Mass, but refraining from doing so when it is placed in the thurible during exposition or Benediction? I e-mailed another liturgist, and he responded, no blessing at the conclusion of lauds / vespers when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in anticipation of the Benediction that trumps all other blessings. But that then raised the question in my mind, what if there will be no Benediction, but a simple reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, due to the circumstance of the adoration in the monstrance taking place for an hour before the beginning of Mass? — K.B., Bloomingdale, Ohio
A: The liturgist consulted by our reader is correct. No public blessings are ever imparted in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed.
Apart from the reason regarding Benediction, another reason commonly given is that no minister gives a blessing if a higher minister is present. Thus, during exposition Christ, the supreme high priest, is present and so no inferior minister should impart a blessing.
It must be admitted that, theologically, it is not a strong argument, for Christ is equally present in the closed tabernacle and thus it could follow that no blessing could be imparted in a church. Whatever the reason, these ideas contributed to the longstanding custom of not imparting most blessings during exposition.
Thus, whenever the Blessed Sacrament is exposed toward the end of Mass for a procession or a prolonged adoration, the blessing and dismissal are omitted. The Mass concludes with the prayer after communion, and the ministers incense the Blessed Sacrament and either retire in silence or continue with the procession.
When lauds or vespers are prayed before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, they should conclude with the priest or deacon saying: "May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Amen," rather than "May almighty God bless you …."
This is done in all cases, even if the adoration is going to continue for some time and even though those present at the office will not be present at the eventual Benediction.
There are, however, some exceptions. The current rubrics for exposition and Benediction indicate that the celebrant "blesses the incense without saying anything" (Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 1109). The same rule would apply if incense is carried out during the Divine Office. This exception would also have been true for the extraordinary form on the few occasions when vespers were prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, such as on the feast of Corpus Christi.
Another similar exception before the liturgical reform was when Mass was permitted to be celebrated before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. This was done only in cases of grave necessity with permission of the bishop or on occasional solemn feasts, such as Corpus Christi and the third day of the Forty Hours devotion. In this case practically all the usual blessings imparted during Mass were carried out.
In the ordinary form it is never permitted to celebrate before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. It may occur in the celebration of the extraordinary form but would be quite exceptional.
The novelty in the present rite is the blessing of incense during exposition itself and not during another liturgical rite. Traditionally the incense was not blessed once the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.
The probable reason for this change was to simplify and unify the rite of putting incense by eliminating the differences among several ritual situations.
In recent years some liturgists have requested that the earlier practice of no blessings during exposition be restored. Personally I think a return to past practice is unlikely. Exposition is now far more common and no longer requires the permission of the ordinary. This means that liturgical rites such as lauds and vespers during exposition are more frequent and, as we have seen above, were already exceptions to the general rule. The unification of the practice for the rite of blessing incense during exposition and Benediction thus follows a certain logic corresponding to current practice.
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Follow-up: Blessings When the Eucharist Is Exposed [5-19-2015]
In the wake of our April 28 article on blessings before the Blessed Sacrament, a Toronto reader asked: "After reading your columns on this question and consulting archdiocesan experts, our priest presiders began concluding lauds and vespers with 'May the Lord bless us …' instead of 'May Almighty God bless you ….' However, some of us do so immediately after the final prayer, and others add, 'The Lord be with you' with the assembly replying in the usual manner, then saying, 'May the Lord bless us….' May I ask for an opinion on which manner is preferred?"
I would say that the preferred way would be to omit "The Lord be with you." In the section of the office for "Frequently Recurring Texts" this greeting is mentioned only in the context of the blessing. However, this is just an opinion and I would not totally exclude the other option.
Another reader, from Missouri, offered a very interesting clarification on the practice of the extraordinary form:
"[Regarding] your latest article 'Blessings When the Eucharist Is Exposed,' I would like to add a point with regard to the blessing of incense in the extraordinary form. Many commonly think that the rule is not to bless the incense in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and that to this rule there are a few exceptions. This is incorrect.
"The question is not whether the Blessed Sacrament is already exposed when filling the thurible, but rather whether anything other than the Sacrament will be incensed, or only the Sacrament. In the extraordinary form, the incense is not to be blessed when only the Blessed Sacrament is to be incensed. This is usually the case, for example, at Eucharistic exposition and Benediction. If, however, anything other than the Blessed Sacrament is to be incensed, it is blessed when put into the thurible, even though the Sacrament is already exposed. The cases of blessing the incense at lauds or vespers coram Sanctissimo (during which the altar and celebrant are incensed) and the many uses at Mass coram Sanctissimo are therefore examples of the rule, not exceptions to it."
This is the first time I have heard this explanation, but I must admit it makes sense. I thank our reader for contributing to our continuing education.