BENEDICTION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
by Fr. William Saunders
Director of the Notre Dame Institute
Unfortunately, the lack of familiarity with exposition and benediction of the Blessed
Sacrament is not uncommon these days. I remember when I was "growing up" in the
60s that on special occasions my home parish had exposition and benediction. Then, for
whatever reason, this beautiful ritual disappeared. I never remember encountering the
practice until I went to the seminary in 1979, where we had exposition and benediction for
Sunday Vespers, Wednesday Holy Hours and 40 Hours Devotion. Nevertheless, when I was
assigned as a college chaplain, I met several college students who had never witnessed
exposition or benediction, or even understood what the terms meant. A sad commentary
Exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is not only a very old devotion in
our Church, but one that highlights the fundamental mystery of the Holy Eucharist that our
Lord is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament.
In his holy Thursday letter to priests, "Dominicae cenae" (1980), Pope John
Paul II wrote, "Since the Eucharistic mystery was instituted out of love, and makes
Christ sacramentally present, it is worthy of thanksgiving and worship. And this worship
must be prominent in all our encounters with the Blessed Sacrament" (No. 3).
While emphasizing the importance of the Mass, the Holy Father recommends various forms
of Eucharistic devotion: personal prayer and periods of adoration before the Blessed
Sacrament, exposition and benediction, Forty Hours devotion, Eucharistic processions,
Eucharistic Congresses and a special observance of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. All of
these devotions, which focus on the Blessed Sacrament, aid in out spiritual union with our
Lord. As Jesus said, "I Myself am the Bread of Life. No one who comes to Me shall
ever be hungry, no one who believes in Me shall ever thirst" (Jn 6:35).
The ritual for exposition and benediction as presented most recently by the Sacred
Congregation for Divine Worship (1973) basically follows this ritual: The priest places
the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance or ostensorium on the alter for adoration. (A
ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament may also be used, but the monstrance allows one
to view the Holy Eucharist.)
At this time, a hymn of praise (such as "O Salutaris Hostia") is sung as the
priest incenses the Blessed Sacrament. During the period of adoration, the faithful may
pray in quiet and foster a deeper spiritual communion with the Lord. However, the
adoration period should also include prayers, such as a novena or Liturgy of the Hours,
and readings from Sacred Scripture accompanied by a homily or exhortation to increase the
understanding of the Eucharistic mystery.
At the end of the period of adoration, the priest again incenses the Blessed Sacrament
as a hymn of praise is sung (such as "Tantum Ergo"), and then blesses the
congregation with the Blessed Sacrament, making the sign of the cross. After the blessing,
the priest reposes the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.
This ritual seems to have arisen around the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi
by Pope Urban IV in 1264. On this feast day, the Holy Eucharist was carried in procession
in vessels similar to our present day monstrances, which allowed the faithful to view the
Blessed Sacrament, Eventually a custom arose, especially in Germany, of keeping the
Blessed Sacrament continually exposed to view in all of the churches.
At the same time, members of guilds began to gather to sing canticles in the evening
after work in honor of the Blessed Mother. In particular, the singing of the "Salve
Regina," composed in the 11th century, became popular in these devotions. These
evening services were called "Salat" in France.
Over the next two or three centuries, these two services seem to merge. The faithful
would gather, usually in the evening, for chanted prayers, particularly in honor of our
Blessed Mother. The Blessed Sacrament would be exposed, more prayers would be chanted or
recited, and the service would end with benediction. Interestingly, benediction is still
known in France as La Salat.
Taken from the August 4, 1994 issue of the Arlington Catholic Herald (c) 1994.
The newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, 1-800-377-0511.
Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.