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O Sacrament Most Holy

(The Rite of Exposition and Benediction)

Connie Bagnoli POSTED: 2/28/12

“The Lord bless thee and keep thee.  The Lord show His face to thee and have mercy on thee.  The Lord turn His countenance to thee and give thee peace.”

(Numbers 6:24-26)

Thus are the words spoken by Our Lord to Moses, Aaron and the sons of Aaron, prescribing a priestly blessing in the Name of the Lord to His Chosen People.  This benediction is completed and perfected in the New Law when Our Lord Himself, truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, blesses His People through the Holy Priesthood of the Catholic Church.

“Thy Throne, O God, is Forever and Ever” (Psalm 44)

The Rite of Exposition and Benediction is the holiest and greatest of devotions, a practice most pleasing to God and most beneficial to our own souls. To adore Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament is to share the life of Mary, the Living Tabernacle, when She adored the Word Incarnate in Her virginal womb. 

Eucharistic adoration is the most perfect exercise for the virtues of faith, piety, charity and humility.  When we are present before the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord is in our midst as truly as He was in the midst of the Apostles at the Last Supper.  Our Lord is here to be adored, praised and thanked for the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, which proclaims His infinite love for us.  As we ponder the Real Presence of Our Lord, let us seek forgiveness of our sins and make reparation for the insults offered to Him in this most adorable Sacrament, while offering renewed love and devotion to the Sacred Heart, which has endured so much for sinful and ungrateful mankind.

Holy Mother Church has provided for her children a most profound devotion to give honor and glory to Our Lord by means of a solemn and sacred ceremony – the Rite of Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

A Brief History   

Devotion to the Real Presence

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this I seek:  To dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life… to gaze on the Lord’s beauty”  (Psalm 27)

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is an ancient practice and is the logical result of faith in the Real Presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.  Yet, it is believed this devotional ceremony of giving Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was not observed during the early ages of Christianity for fear of profanity and persecution.  Historical evidence, however, shows that even during this early period, in times of great difficulty and serious trials, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on private altars for the veneration of the faithful so that they might obtain peace, light, consolation and strength.

Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the day before He suffered His passion and death on Calvary.  As this momentous event in the life of the Church falls amid the sorrows of Holy Week, it cannot be celebrated with the utmost joy inspired by so great a favor and blessing conferred on mankind.  To commemorate this fully, Pope Urban IV, in 1264, instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, named from two Latin words meaning “Body of Christ”.  The introduction of this feast can be traced to the visions of St. Juliana, who was born in Belgium in 1193.  At the age of 16, when she was an Augustinian nun, a heavenly voice revealed the desire of Our Lord for the establishment of a Feast of the Most High and Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. 

Thus the Feast of Corpus Christi, presently celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday, has ever since been one of the most impressive Holy Days of the Church, celebrating the venerable and sublime mystery of the Blessed Eucharist.  With pomp, reverence and magnificence, the Sacred Host, enclosed in a Monstrance, a sacred vessel, beautifully crafted encircled by impressive rays of gold or other precious metal, is borne by a priest under an ornamental canopy of elegant tapestry. The priest, splendidly vested, prayerfully processes through the streets followed by pious faithful who have come to honor Our Lord and seek His grace and blessings.  This awe-inspiring public expression of faith testifies to the Catholic Church’s irrefutable belief in the True Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.  It jubilantly proclaims the sovereignty of Christ as Lord of All and King of Kings.

From this majestic Feast, came the Rite of Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a ritual most fitting to express adoration and gratitude before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a Monstrance on the High Altar.  This sacred rite of the Church, celebrating and giving honor to the Greatest Treasure of Our Faith, brings the faithful together to praise and adore Our Lord so that we will desire to be more closely united to Him.  The solemn hymns “O Salutaris Hostia” and the “Tantum Ergo”, composed and arranged by St. Thomas Aquinas, teach us that the Holy Eucharist is the greatest of all Sacraments and the Blessed Sacrament embodies all of God’s gifts to us.



“It is an excellent and fruitful thing, that the priest, holding the Bread of Angels aloft before bowed heads, and turning It about duly in the form of a cross, should pray the Heavenly Father kindly to turn His eyes to His Son, crucified for the love of us, and because of Him and through Him who willed to be our Redeemer should command supernatural gifts to flow forth to those who have been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb.”

A Ceremony of Praise, Adoration and Thanksgiving

“O God, you are my God—for You I long! 

For You my body yearns; for You my soul thirsts.” (Psalm 63:2)

The Rite of Benediction is a means by which Our Divine Redeemer blesses in His own Person the faithful before Him by means of His servant, the priest, who conveys His benediction.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the simplest, yet one of the most sublime liturgical services of the Catholic Church.  The priest, arrayed in vestments enhanced by a white or gold Cope, a regal cloak, reaching from the shoulders to the feet, ascends to the altar, genuflects, unlocks the Tabernacle and piously removes the Sacred Host.  With great reverence, the Blessed Sacrament is inserted into the center of the Monstrance, held securely in place by a Luna, a glass container rimmed in gold or silver. The Luna symbolizes the Virginal Womb of Mary, the Mother of God, fair as the moon, presenting to us Her son, Jesus, the Heavenly Sun, symbolized by the golden rays of the Monstrance.  

The Monstrance is set prominently in a place of honor on the high altar in the midst of twelve lighted wax candles.  As the faithful begin to sing “O Salutaris Hostia” in Latin, the priest, using a thurible, thrice offers incense to the King of Kings, before Whom he is kneeling.  After “O Salutaris Hostia” is sung, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary may be recited along with other prayers and hymns in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. 

The priest then intones the “Tantum Ergo,” softly joined by the choir and the faithful.  The priest rises and again incenses the Blessed Sacrament.  Assisted by an altar boy or deacon, the celebrant’s shoulders are draped with the Humeral Veil, a wide band of cloth the same material and color as the Cope.  Taking the ends of the veil wrapped around his hands, he raises the Monstrance and, turning to the congregation, makes the Sign of the Cross over the kneeling faithful.  This is done in profound silence.  The organ is silent; the choir is silent.  The Church is permeated with a peaceful and somber silence, gently stirred by the ringing of the altar bells.  It is the most profound benediction of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament.  Jesus alone is the officiating High Priest Who solemnly and silently blesses His people, the very same blessing He gave when He walked the earth. “And He put His arms about them, and laying His hands upon them, He began to bless them.” (Mark 10:16)

Having been infinitely blessed by Our Lord and Redeemer, the congregation, led by the priest, recites the Divine Praises, making reparation for offenses against the Holy Name by offering homage and thanksgiving to the Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity, Our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and all the angels and saints.

During a time set aside for adoration in Sacred Silence, it is well to recall the consoling words of Our Lord: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened:  I will give thee rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  In these quiet moments, transported from worldly concerns and desires, we acknowledge the nothingness of the creature who would not exist but by the love and will of Almighty God.  This is the time to bow down before the Living God and petition Our Lord for the graces and mercies He awaits to give us.

As the priest prepares to return the Blessed Sacrament to the Tabernacle, a closing hymn is sung in Latin “Adoremus in Aeternum” – “Let us adore forever the Most Holy Sacrament” – a hymn which exults and glorifies Him Who is deserving of all our love.

A closing hymn, “Holy God We Praise Thy Name”, may be chanted softly as the faithful give final thanksgiving before processing from the Church.

At Benediction, a peace covers us that is not of this earth, a calm resignation that comes from intimate union with God.  United with the Mother of God, may we fervently adore the Fruit of Mary’s womb so that we may become fruitful in ways that best please Almighty God and give unending glory to Jesus Christ, Our Savior. 

As the sweetness of the incense lingers about the Sanctuary, so do the graces remain with us long after we leave the House of God.  It is these graces and mercies that lead us to Heaven where we will see the same God face to face in the Beatific Vision.  The beautiful words of the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas express our glorious destiny – to eternally glorify Our Lord, Whom we adored on earth.

O Most Loving Father, grant that I may one day forever contemplate Him, unveiled and face to face, Whom on my pilgrimage I receive under a veil, Your beloved Son, Who with You lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.  Amen

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