Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Is it appropriate to shine a spotlight on the monstrance during adoration? Is it appropriate to place the monstrance on a pedestal on the altar of sacrifice? — T.H., Smithtown, New York
A: The norms regarding this topic, insofar as they exist at all, are found in the rites of Holy Communion and Eucharistic Worship Outside of Mass.
The document elucidates some of the general principles involved in Eucharistic worship:
“79. The eucharistic sacrifice is the source and culmination of the whole Christian life. Both private and public devotion toward the eucharist, therefore, including devotion outside Mass, are strongly encouraged when celebrated according to the regulations of lawful authority. In the arrangement of devotional services of this kind, the liturgical seasons should be taken into account. Devotions should be in harmony with the sacred liturgy in some sense, take their origin from the liturgy, and lead the people back to the liturgy. […]
“81. Prayer before Christ the Lord sacramentally present extends the union with Christ which the faithful have reached in communion. It renews the covenant which in turn moves them to maintain in their lives what they have received by faith and by sacraments. They should try to lead their whole lives with the strength derived from the heavenly food, as they share in the death and resurrection of the Lord. Everyone should be concerned with good deeds and with pleasing God so that he or she may imbue the world with the Christian spirit and be a witness of Christ in the midst of human society.
“82. Exposition of the holy eucharist, either in the ciborium or in the monstrance, is intended to acknowledge Christ’s marvelous presence in the sacrament. Exposition invites us to the spiritual union with Him that culminates in sacramental communion. Thus it fosters very well the worship which is due to Christ in spirit and in truth. This kind of exposition must clearly express the cult of the blessed sacrament in its relationship to the Mass. The plan of the exposition should carefully avoid anything which might somehow obscure the principal desire of Christ in instituting the eucharist, namely, to be with us as food, medicine, and comfort.”
The introduction contains little regarding practical questions. However, the actual rubrics for exposition offer clearer guidelines:
“63. If the holy eucharist is not reserved at the altar where the exposition is to take place, the minister puts on a humeral veil and brings the sacrament from the place of reservation; he is accompanied by servers or by the faithful with lighted candles. The ciborium or monstrance should be placed upon the table of the altar which is covered with a cloth.
“If exposition with the monstrance is to extend over a long period, a throne in an elevated position may be used, but this should not be too lofty or distant. After exposition, if the monstrance is used, the minister incenses the sacrament. If the adoration is to be lengthy, he may then withdraw.”
Thus, this answers one of our reader’s two questions. A throne may be placed upon the altar for longer expositions. I would say that it could also be used for shorter periods if it were necessary to improve visibility.
There are no universal norms regarding spotlights, but the Liturgy Office of the bishops of England and Wales offer a Supplementary Appendix to the Rite of Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction in which the office addresses catechetical, pastoral, and practical points. With respect to the latter it states:
“Light is a visual aid, though we seldom think of it as such. (Further remarks about other visual aids will be found below.) Subdued lighting will normally assist in producing an appropriate atmosphere for prayer and meditation. However, enough lighting will be required for the people to be able to read the words (and the music) of anything that they have to say or sing.
“It will often be found useful to alter the lighting in some way — in intensity, or in area, or by changing the focal point — in the course of a service in order to give visual relief and contrast. (It is envisaged that such a change in atmosphere would occur at the beginning of the second stage of silent adoration during the suggested format for Holy Hour on p. 70 above. See also below under Music.) Lighting changes may also be carried out by means of lighting (or extinguishing) candles if the electric lighting system is not sufficiently flexible. The transition from one kind of lighting to another should not be too abrupt (see also below under Silence) since this will risk destroying the atmosphere of prayer and meditation.
“It is generally better to have too much than not enough. If a real spirit of prayer and adoration has been promoted in the service, there will be no such thing as a surfeit of silence. A major point to remember is the transition from silence to something else — normally a spoken prayer or reading. (See above under Light.) The atmosphere is easily broken when a spoken voice utters something in a ‘public reading’ or ‘proclamation’ style after a period of silence. A softer, more intimate, delivery is called for, at least at the beginning of the new section. (Such a delivery will be necessary throughout prayers of the Meditation Prayer type, if these are used; it should also be noted that these are specifically designed for use after a period of silence and not after a reading or song.) The priest or reader should remain open and sympathetic to the mood of the worshipping community at all times, as in any other liturgy.
“Nothing too demanding should be sung. Uncomplicated hymns and psalms — which need not necessarily be accompanied if no musicians are available — will generally work well. So also will litanies and other forms that include recurring refrains that can easily be picked up. It is probably best not to attempt to teach anything new, except in unusual circumstances (such as an extended vigil before the Blessed Sacrament). It might seem that this principle would create a problem for such forms as acclamations, which are short and probably not known by the people. In such cases, it is sufficient for a cantor to declaim the acclamation, everyone repeating it after him or her.
“There is a particular place in meditative services for background music as an aid to prayer. If an organist is available, there is a large repertoire of suitable pieces to choose from. An unaccompanied woodwind instrument such as a flute or recorder may also prove effective, as may a plucked (not strummed) guitar. Much will depend on the resources available.
“If there are no musicians, recorded music on tape, cassette or disc could well be played through the church loudspeaker system. Background music, if it is used, will be most effective during a period of silent adoration, and perhaps occasionally during a reading (careful selection will be required in this case). It would be particularly effective at times such as the second stage of silent adoration in the suggested Holy Hour structure given above, in conjunction with the change of lighting suggested (cf. supra). Whenever background music is used, it should be precisely that — an unobtrusive background. This should cause no problems with musicians, but some experiments may need to be carried out for recorded music-levels with the church loudspeaker system. A list of suitable pieces is given below; any other suitable pieces may be selected at choice.
“The rite of exposition suggests that an Opening Song be sung while exposition takes place. This will be a Processional Song if the eucharist is not reserved at the altar where the blessed sacrament is to be exposed. If exposition follows immediately after Mass (see para 64 of the rite) the Opening Song here will replace the Song after Communion of the Mass. This would be the normal practice. On some occasions, however, it may be thought preferable to begin the service with exposition carried out in silence. Similarly, the rite suggests that a song or acclamation be sung during reposition. It will normally be found that song and not silence will be better at this point.
“4. Visual aids.
“As already mentioned above, light itself is a visual aid and could well be used as such in a service of eucharistic devotion. Other visual aids, such as paintings and posters, are often useful in bringing out the seasonal tone of a celebration. Color-slides projected in darkness on to a screen or light-colored wall can also be effective. In the context of a eucharistic devotional service, it is suggested that slides should not be used during periods of silent adoration as they will tend to be a distraction. On the other hand, their catechetical value could well come into play on occasions as the accompaniment to a reading. As with all the other elements of preparation, the selection of visual aids, and especially slides, will require care and thought.”
Although the supplement consists of pastoral suggestions and not norms, it does come from an official ecclesial source.
As such, at the very least, it reflects acceptable practice for adoration. Its comments regarding light could be interpreted as embracing the possibility of using a spotlight for the monstrance, especially if subdued lighting is used in the rest of the chapel.
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