ROME, JAN. 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: We have a very unusual problem in my parish regarding the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Our pastor is very devoted to the Holy Sacrament and dedicated to the adoration of the same. He spends long hours in the chapel and encourages all the parishioners to do the same. However, he believes that the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is unimportant and unnecessary. Christ is present in the tabernacle, and having the door of the tabernacle open or closed does not make any difference. His logic seems to be: that the parishioners should be taught to pray and adore the Blessed Sacrament all the time and that the practice of exposition in the monstrance is irrelevant and counterproductive to any real devotion. Your thoughts, please. — J.L., Cumberland County, New Jersey
A: The pastor’s devotion to the Eucharist is commendable, and our reader is surely thankful for this. The pastor also has a valid point in stressing adoration of Our Lord in the tabernacle, since reverence toward the tabernacle has often been neglected in recent times. It is necessary to do all that is possible to recover the spirit of silent prayer and adoration in many of our churches.
Adoration of Our Lord in the tabernacle is and remains the normal and most common mode of adoration. There is, however, a small number of Catholics who emphasize exposition of the Blessed Sacrament so much as to give the impression that they consider this to be the only authentic adoration.
That said, I think the pastor should go deeper into Church doctrine so as to discover that it is not a question of aut–aut but of et–et. Almost all magisterial documents recommend both practices. In some cases, they allude to exposition and Benediction as bringing to the fore certain doctrinal aspects that are less apparent in adoration in the tabernacle.
Thus, Pope Pius XII in his 1947 encyclical “Mediator Dei” speaks of how adoration has contributed to doctrinal progress with a deeper understanding of Christ’s presence outside of Mass. He points out that the different forms of Eucharistic adoration “have brought a wonderful increase in faith and supernatural life to the Church militant upon earth.”
Regarding Benediction, he says: “Of great benefit is that custom which makes the priest raise aloft the Bread of Angels before congregations with heads bowed down in adoration, and forming with It the sign of the cross.” This “implores the heavenly Father to deign to look upon His Son who for love of us was nailed to the cross, and for His sake and through Him willed […] to shower down heavenly favors upon those whom the Immaculate blood of the Lamb has redeemed.”
The 1967 instruction on the Eucharistic Mystery underlines the importance of both forms of practice:
“58. Devotion, both private and public, toward the sacrament of the altar even outside Mass that conforms to the norms laid down by lawful authority and in the present Instruction is strongly advocated by the Church, since the eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of the whole Christian life …
“60. Exposition of the blessed sacrament, either in a ciborium or a monstrance, draws the faithful to an awareness of the sublime presence of Christ and invites them to inner communion with him. Therefore, it is a strong encouragement toward the worship owed to Christ in spirit and in truth.”
It is possible to quote many other magisterial sources, such as Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Mysterium Fidei,” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1378.
I believe the following texts from the two most recent Holy Fathers is sufficient to illustrate the point.
Pope John Paul II in his final encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” admirably summed up the doctrinal essentials:
“25. The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass — a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain — derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species.
“It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the ‘art of prayer,’ how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!
“This practice, repeatedly praised and recommended by the Magisterium, is supported by the example of many saints. Particularly outstanding in this regard was Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote: ‘Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.’ The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace. A Christian community desirous of contemplating the face of Christ in the spirit which I proposed in the Apostolic Letters Novo Millennio Ineunte and Rosarium Virginis Mariae cannot fail also to develop this aspect of Eucharistic worship, which prolongs and increases the fruits of our communion in the body and blood of the Lord.
“In the course of the day the faithful should not omit visiting the Blessed Sacrament, which in accordance with liturgical law must be reserved in churches with great reverence in a prominent place. Such visits are a sign of gratitude, an expression of love and an acknowledgment of the Lord’s presence.”
Finally, our present Pope touches on this theme in the postsynodal exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis,” Nos. 67-68:
“The practice of eucharistic adoration
“67. With the Synod Assembly, therefore, I heartily recommend to the Church’s pastors and to the People of God the practice of eucharistic adoration, both individually and in community. Great benefit would ensue from a suitable catechesis explaining the importance of this act of worship, which enables the faithful to experience the liturgical celebration more fully and more fruitfully. Wherever possible, it would be appropriate, especially in densely populated areas, to set aside specific churches or oratories for perpetual adoration. I also recommend that, in their catechetical training, and especially in their preparation for First Holy Communion, children be taught the meaning and the beauty of spending time with Jesus, and helped to cultivate a sense of awe before his presence in the Eucharist ….
“Forms of eucharistic devotion
“68. The personal relationship which the individual believer establishes with Jesus present in the Eucharist constantly points beyond itself to the whole communion of the Church and nourishes a fuller sense of membership in the Body of Christ. For this reason, besides encouraging individual believers to make time for personal prayer before the Sacrament of the Altar, I feel obliged to urge parishes and other church groups to set aside times for collective adoration. Naturally, already existing forms of Eucharistic piety retain their full value. I am thinking, for example, of processions with the Blessed Sacrament, especially the traditional procession
on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Forty Hours devotion, local, national and international Eucharistic Congresses, and other similar initiatives. If suitably updated and adapted to local circumstances, these forms of devotion are still worthy of being practiced today.”
From this, it seems clear that the Church desires the practice of both adoration in the tabernacle and exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. If well-prepared, exposition should lead to more-frequent visits to the tabernacle and to a deeper living of the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
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Follow-up: Adapting the Mysteries of the Rosary
Related to our reply regarding the mysteries of the rosary (Dec. 22), a reader from Harare, Zimbabwe, asked: “The months of May and October are generally and popularly known as set aside for devotions to Mary. The question is: Can we call all these two months ‘rosary months’ or it is that May is simply a month of devotion to Mary and October is the actual rosary month?”
Regarding Marian months, the Directory for Popular Piety states the following:
“190. With regard to the observance of ‘Marian months,’ which is widespread in the Latin and Oriental Churches, a number of essential points can be mentioned.
“In the West, the practice of observing months dedicated to the Blessed Virgin emerged from a context in which the Liturgy was not always regarded as the normative form of Christian worship. This caused, and continues to cause, some difficulties at a liturgico-pastoral level that should be carefully examined.
“191. In relation to the western custom of observing a ‘Marian month’ during the month of May (or in November in some parts of the Southern hemisphere), it would seem opportune to take into account the demands of the Liturgy, the expectations of the faithful, their maturity in the faith, in an eventual study of the problems deriving from the ‘Marian months’ in the overall pastoral activity of the local Church, as might happen, for example, with any suggestion of abolishing the Marian observances during the month of May.
“In many cases, the solution for such problems would seem to lie in harmonizing the content of the ‘Marian months’ with the concomitant season of the Liturgical Year. For example, since the month of May largely corresponds with the fifty days of Easter, the pious exercises practised at this time could emphasize Our Lady’s participation in the Paschal mystery (cf. John 19, 25-27), and the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 1, 14) with which the Church begins: Our Lady journeys with the Church having shared in the novum of the Resurrection, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The fifty days are also a time for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation and of the mystagogy. The pious exercises connected with the month of May could easily highlight the earthly role played by the glorified Queen of Heaven, here and now, in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.
“The directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the need to orient the ‘minds of the faithful … firstly to the feasts of the Lord, in which, the mysteries of salvation are celebrated during the year,’ and with which the Blessed Virgin Mary is certainly associated, should be closely followed.
“Opportune catechesis should remind the faithful that the weekly Sunday memorial of the Paschal Mystery is ‘the primordial feast day.’ Bearing in mind that the four weeks of Advent are an example of a Marian time that has been incorporated harmoniously into the Liturgical Year, the faithful should be assisted in coming to a full appreciation of the numerous references to the Mother of our Saviour during this particular period.”
Notice that at this point the document makes no mention of October as a Marian month. But shortly after, in No. 198, and referring to the blessing of rosary beads, it suggests: “As indicated in the Benedictionale [Book of Blessings], Rosary beads can be blessed publicly, on occasions such as a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, a feast of Our Lady, especially that of the Holy Rosary, and at the end of the month of October.”
Every celebration of the Christian mystery’s Marian dimension is typically characterized by an emphasis on praying the rosary. It would appear, however, that the month of October is especially apt for promoting this pious exercise and hence the title of “rosary month” is probably best reserved to it.
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