Last night a pious (in the best, truest sense of that word) gathering I attended ended with a Holy Hour — well, more like a Holy Forty-five Minutes.
I was struck by the fact that this is a form of (para)liturgical prayer that has remained pretty much unchanged since before the Council. The guidelines in chapter 3 of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass are so general that they don’t really require any change in the usual form of Adoration and Benediction. Indeed, if you were not familiar with the traditional form of a service of Benediction, you would have a difficult time figuring out from HC&WEOM exactly what one was supposed to do. So people who continued to do Benediction simply continued doing what they had always done. I can think of at least two reasons why this is the case.
First, those who were interested in reforming liturgical practice were generally not interested in Benediction. It was seen in some quarters as a distortion of proper Eucharistic worship (the quip I’ve heard was, “Jesus said ‘take and eat,’ not ‘sit and look'”) and abandoned. This lack of interest meant that those who wanted Benediction were left alone to do what they had always done.
Second, at least for those who are inclined toward the practice of Adoration, the pre-conciliar form is in fact a quite spiritually satisfying as an act of worship. Except for a couple of the hymns, it was already in the vernacular before the Council; it is highly participatory (everyone expects to join in the familiar hymns, to make the responses, etc.); it is sensually appealing (the sight of the host in the monstrance, the smell of the incense, etc.) and it has a contemplative dimension that is sometimes missing from (and, I believe, not entirely appropriate for) Mass. There is a reason why Benediction was in many places so popular before the Council: it is a beautiful liturgical form.
I love the current form of Mass, and am generally thankful that it was reformed in the way that it was. But, oddly enough, I also love the unreformed ritual of Benediction and am generally glad that it was left alone by the reformers.