Eucharistic Adoration and Liturgical Reform

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.

37 comments

  1. Amen. Same for many, if not all, devotional practices. It seems to me that some of the recent resurgence in their popularity may be because of this very observation…also perhaps why they are seeing much more promotion from church leaders.

  2. The only reform of Benediction that I am aware of is that the Host is to be reposed immediately after the blessing and then the Divine Praises are said and the recessional sung. The older form has the host placed again for viewing for the Divine Praises and then after which it is reposed. I think too the reading of Scripture during exposition and prior to Benediction is now encouraged.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #2:
      I have always done the divine praises after reposing the Host, but last night the priest did them before. Looking at HC&WEOM, it seems to me that either practice could be justified, with a bit of ingenuity required for the latter. I’d be interested in knowing what other folks experience is. I’d also be interested in knowing how many have experienced the public reading of scripture during adoration.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:
        I well remember when Benediction with the ciborium was popular. I’ve been to a couple of services where Benediction was preceded by scripture readings or it followed Vespers.

        I prefer adoration with the candelabra placed on either side of the monstrance placed on a raised throne. The practice of having the host exposed in some little window built into the tabernacle seems just too utilitarian, and not as conducive to adoration, or in any way uplifting. The monstrance surrounded with a blaze of candles seems to me an indispensable part of Benediction.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:
        What is Benediction? In his Garden of the Soul, Bishop Richard Challenor (1691-1781) wrote “What we call the Benediction is a devotion practised by the Church in order to give adoration, praise and blessing, or benediction, to God for his infinite goodness and love, testified to us in the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and to receive at the same time the benediction of Our Lord there present”.
        Now, however, people use ‘Benediction’ for the sign of the Cross made with the Sacrament towards the end of the service. The moving of the Divine Praises in the post-Conciliar rubrics was intended, I think, to downplay this gesture, making it simply a gesture of farewell, like that made with a relic of the Cross after it has been exposed. Hence, after this gesture, the Sacrament must immediately be reposed.

      3. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:
        In my Simple Prayer Book (1970) the Divine Phrases follow the Benediction, then “While the priest replaces the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, the following Antiphon and Psalm may be sung: Adorémus in aetérnum….”
        My daughter’s Simple Prayer Book (2011) has, after the benediction: “The Divine Phrases formerly said at this point may more properly be included within the period of adoration.” The phrases are then printed. “Immediately after the Blessed Sacrament is reposed in the tabernacle, the following may be said or sung: Adorémus in aeternum….”
        At school we had benediction twice a week exactly as printed in my book. Nowadays it seems to be a ‘make it up as you go along’ service following no apparent rule.

      4. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:
        In a parish I once attended after converting to Catholicism, the cantor would sing psalms from the high ambo throughout the period of Exposition. Members of the choir would take turns singing these psalms. During 40 Hours devotion the entire psalter of 150 psalms would be sung and during Lent only the penitential psalms were used.

        Exposition started with Lauds or Morning Prayer and ended at 5pm or so with Vespers and Benediction. It was one of the most impressive and moving paraliturgical rites I’ve ever seen in the Catholic Church. More people attended the Exposition than one ever saw at the daily Mass.

  3. Amen. More often I’ve experienced the host reposed during the concluding hymn, but it seems to depend on community practice.

    The student spiritual life team at my parish recently suggested a weekly 5:15 to 8 period bookmarked by Evening Prayer and Benediction, augmenting the long-established last-Tuesday practice. I think they’re starting up at the commencement of the Year of Faith.

    Scripture during adoration doesn’t seem to fly, though when Bishop Finn designated our parish for the Corpus Christi procession years ago, our committee followed his “recommendation.”

    One amusing personal anecdote … We offered it in my rural parish. Not being a deacon, and not having a resident priest, we couldn’t offer Benediction. The last person was praying, and I came to repose the Sacrament at the announced time. The person seemed deep in prayer. My family was in bed, so I figured I would stay, wait, and pray. Finally, after about forty minutes, the person rose and left. But I had a later conversation with the lady who complained. What? I left the host out for you because I thought you were deep in prayer. She was exasperated with me because she didn’t want to leave the Sacrament unattended. Wasn’t sure if I didn’t “count” because I was a liberal or a staff member or I wasn’t on the list of adorers.

    It seems harder to get people to sign up for an hour of adoration. But when I’ve suggested 30- or even 15-minute slots planners look at me strangely. A six-year-old can tolerate 15 minutes. Less so 60.

  4. My impression is that the preconciliar liturgy had been overtaken by the spirituality of Benediction. People came to Mass to contemplate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not to participate in eucharistic prayer. Benediction was already attuned to this contemplative tone so it did not need an overhaul as much as the Eucharistic liturgy.

    Revising the Eucharistic liturgy obviously had an impact on para liturgical devotion to the Eucharist. In some places Benediction was neglected because it is different from the liturgical spirituality people were now promoting. IMO it serves a purpose because it is different, a welcome complement to liturgy.

    As happy as I am to participate in Benediction, and even in private adoration, I can understand concerns that the spirituality of it might overtake the liturgy. Much of the ROFR seems geared toward that spirit of adoration to the detriment of active participation.

  5. “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. ”

    I don’t mind admitting, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do. I’m fifty years old, attended Catholic schools for most of my schooling, have been through deacon formation, and the church considers me a regular minister of the paraliturgy. But I don’t think I’ve attended it more than once in my life, and that because someone needed me to play “Holy God We Praise Thy Name”. I hope this doesn’t come across as me scoffing at Benediction, or being proudly ignorant. I’m grateful that some faith communities offer it. It’s just that I’ve lived for a half century with almost no exposure to it. For me, the thread of continuity is broken.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #6:
      I don’t think you’re alone in this. A few years ago we did adoration in my parish on a few evenings during Lent and it was, I believe, the first time it had occurred in several decades. Though I had seen Benediction once or twice, I had to read up (thank you, Internet) on how it was done.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #7:
        Just think of all the rules for Forty Hours Devotion. The only time I attended as a child in the 1960s, I remember the curtains/veils over the doors (our “church” was the school auditorium in the middle of the building….).

        One of the practical virtues of a variety of vibrant public devotions is that they take pressure off the Mass as something that needs to be lowest-common-denominator when it becomes the only form of public prayer of the people gathered together. This is one piece of prudent wisdom that was often (but not always) lost sight of in the reforming era.

  6. Just last week my parish started to celebrate exposition and benediction once a month with our school students grades 2-8. We have a perpetual exposition/adoration chapel, but it’s rare to see anyone under the age of 40 in there. The addition of adoration to the school schedule is meant partly to give our youth a good experience of devotional prayer.

    Going into this, we decided to not emphasize the old time super-pious aspects of adoration (absolute silence, etc.) Instead, we are using this as an opportunity to connect liturgy and life. After the opening bits including singing Down in Adoration Falling, we have one or more readings from scripture, psalms, hymns, writings by saints, or writings by contemporary authors followed by questions for reflection and a moderate period of silence–all aiming to form them for Eucharistic living. What does it mean to offer your entire life alongside the bread and wine on the altar at Mass? Write down three things that you are praying about-one for yourself, one for someone you know, and one for the world around you-then go place your paper on the altar. Etc. We then end with the usual bits, Divine Praises, hymn.

    Those among us of a progressive bent might appreciate this as an opportunity to use non-scriptural reflections, lay preaching, praise & worship music, and other more creative elements which catch the imagination of so many and yet are not properly part of the Mass.

  7. Actually, the rite of exposition and benediction was revised in 1974 and I believe it is still in place. It differs in the following ways from the preconciliar rite:

    -only a single knee genuflection is made before the exposed sacrament…equal reverence to reservered or exposed sacrament.
    -the number of candles required now is four to six “as at Mass” In many places only 2 candles flank the altar at Mass so two would make sense – again same number of candles for Mass and Adoration.
    -scripture readings, songs, prayers and silence should take place after exposition and before benediction.
    -a Special Minister of Holy Communion may expose and repose the sacrament in the absence of a priest, deacon, etc. but cannot give the benediction.
    -as noted, the sacrament is reposed immediately after the blessing.
    -divine praises OR a final hymn follows…not both. Either an acclamation (Divine Praises) or a Hymn closes the service.

    The Rite was not left untouched.

    1. @Fr. Vincent Gluc, OFM Conv. – comment #11:
      Some of these changes I was aware of, others I was not (i.e. the genuflections and number of candles). I think my original point was more about the overall ethos of the rite. That is, to a moderately inattentive observer like me Benediction looks more or less unchanged; one would have to be blind and deaf (or a parishioner at St. Agnes in St. Paul) not to notice the changes in the Mass.

      I also would be interested in knowing how many of the changes are actually observed. I don’t think I’ve been to a service of Benediction that did not include both the Divine Praises and a Hymn (which is always “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”).

    2. @Fr. Vincent Gluc, OFM Conv. – comment #11:
      -only a single knee genuflection is made before the exposed sacrament…equal reverence to reservered or exposed sacrament.

      In practical terms, this is a very small difference, as the double genuflection in the old rite of Benediction is made only on arriving in the sanctuary (or departing from it) when the Blessed Sacrament is already exposed. The following genuflections during the function are simple genuflections.

  8. Virtually every Benediction service I’ve been to – regardless of the liturgical preference of the parish – has followed the form found in my 1962 Missal. The only real difference is the language used (contemporary vs. “thee and thou” style), and sometimes Salve Regina serves as the closing hymn in place of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” I’ve never been to one that didn’t have both the Divine Praises and a closing hymn, and I’ve only ever been to one where the Tantum Ergo was sung in vernacular.

    So while there may be some differences officially, there is virtually none in practice.

  9. This is an enlightening discussion. When I arrived at my current job 12 years ago the practice of benediction was in place. I suspect it has been continuously for decades. But I was confused, having not experienced it myself, about the differences in practice from the books I had as reference. Now I see that changes weren’t made in the 70s. It’s not something I’m going to try to change. The people who pray this way are comfortable and it works for them.

  10. The quotation cited below needs to be heard as given with the best p[possible intentions:

    John Macquarie, a fine 20th Cent Anglican systematic theologian, and a card-carrying Anglo-catholic, was reputed to have said of Benediction:
    “I can find little theological justification, and I love it.”

    And that IS the theological justification, of course.
    Mark Miller

  11. Remember, too, that until the 1950s it was nearly impossible to have an evening Mass, as no one could reasonably expect a priest to fast from everything — including plain water — from midnight until, say, 7:30 p.m. So Benediction served the purpose of having an evening worship service that was not as long as Vespers, and that could legitimately have at least some of it in the vernacular.

    1. @RP Burke – comment #21:

      Into the early 2000s (and perhaps still) my childhood parish combined Vespers and Benediction into one Holy Hour service. The priest would approach the altar, expose the Host, and depart. Then, the congregation would recite a simplified Evening Prayer and a number of additional devotional prayers after the conclusion of the EP. After the hour the priest would return and complete the rite as commonly celebrated in North America (Aquinan hymns, benediction, Divine Praises, “Holy God” as the recessional).

      Interestingly, this Holy Hour was perhaps the most liturgically advanced service in the parish. Unlike at daily or Sunday Mass, where few sang, everyone at the Holy Hour sang the English or Latin hymns with gusto. Also, this Holy Hour was the only service in the parish’s calendar when a public office hour was celebrated, at least in part. I’d say that Holy Hour in my childhood parish offered greater liturgical participation than Mass regardless of the reality that the form of Benediction was essentially unchanged from the Tridentine ritual.

  12. Deacon – here is an example of a current diocesan policy on Eucharistic Adoration and Benedicition using the FCLC guidelines.

    http://home.catholicweb.com/DOSP_OFW/files/Guidelines/Concerning_Eucharistic_Adoration_and_Exposition.pdf

    The questioons contained in the conclusion are, by far, interesting.

    Would suggest that the post conciliar reform moved the Divine Praises and immediate repose to more closely align with the Eucharistic celebration.

  13. Each Wednesday evening we have an abbreviated Evening Prayer (only one Psalm, but everything else) that begins with Exposition and concludes with Benediction and takes about 15 minutes. This is followed by our parish supper and then adult and children’s religious education programs. We start with Evening Prayer at 5:30 and everything concludes by 7:30 PM. We get between 75 and 100 people each week. Oddly, the progressive that I am, I’ve always reposed the Blessed Sacrament immediately following the Benediction and if someone can lead the Divine Praises apart from me during that time, that is what occurs or I lead it after reposition. But the newly ordained parochial vicars I’ve had always place the monstrance back on the altar, lead the Divine Praises and then repose. I’ve bolviated with them about that only to be told that I was wrong. Fortunately our new St. Michael Hymnal which has the rite of Benediction at the back of it has vindicated me.

  14. Wouldn’t the current understanding of SP allow for Benediction according to the norms of 1962? it would seem that the current rule allows for celebrating benediction according to either form, as long as one follows the rite (1962 or revised) and not improvise or mix the two?

    1. Patrick Logsdon : Wouldn’t the current understanding of SP allow for Benediction according to the norms of 1962? it would seem that the current rule allows for celebrating benediction according to either form, as long as one follows the rite (1962 or revised) and not improvise or mix the two?

      The legislation given through the instruction Universae Ecclesiae certainly would even if Summorum Pontificum did not.

      I think it could also be argued that Custom has already drawn the OF Benediction much nearer to the EF than we have seen in any other rite. This is particularly true regarding the genuflections and kneeling with the thurible, as well as with the number of candles and the versicle/response.

  15. This is a very interesting discussion. Does anyone want to proffer some theological/devotional reasons for the placement of various parts of Benediction? I had really never known about the bit with Divine Praises OR an acclamation at the end.

    For what it’s worth, it always has seemed very natural to have the Divine Praises after the benediction as a sort of “mini-thanksgiving” for receiving the blessing with the monstrance/ciborium/etc. At the same time, if one chose to keep the Divine Praises there, why couldn’t one do a song after that? Benediction has always seemed very open-ended to me, and as there isn’t a spoken blessing or dismissal as at Mass or office, it seems that the end of the rite is very changeable.

    Also, were not the Divine Praises a late addition (18th C.?) to the rite of Benediction? They were formerly known as an “Act of Reparation”, with the Divine Praises title debuting in the 70’s.

  16. The question of whether the Divine Praises fit better before or after reposition of the Sacrament is an interesting one. On the one hand, there is something fitting about a final expression of praise being done before the exposed sacrament after the blessing with the Sacrament. On the other hand, I am sometimes struck that their content is a bit odd in the context of Eucharistic exposition, particularly the strong focus on Mary (four of the praises focus on Mary compared with five on Christ). So maybe it makes more sense to do them after the Sacrament is reposed.

    Does anyone know if there is any tradition of the Anima Christi being done as part of Exposition? It seems a bit more fitting than the Divine Praises, content-wise.

  17. I have never been to a Benediction service where the Divine Praises have been said after reposing the Sacrament. This to me would be a break in the continuity of the service.

  18. Devotions and the Divine Office

    My Saturday evenings before the Vatican Council could be seen as a distant relative of my Saturday evening Vigil now at the local Orthodox Church.

    In both places confession in preparation for Sunday was provided. The sing song fashion in which the Rosary was said is similar to the Reader’s chanting of prayers at the Vigil; both places are filled with candles, incense, and familiar prayers. While the All-Night Vigil lasts a little over an hour, standing for that long seems all night in comparison to the kneeling at Rosary and Benediction for half an hour.

    Although I was already praying the Divine Office in high school, I never thought of Saturday evening as being private devotional rather than public liturgical. While it was not the Divine Office, it did a decent job of providing a vernacular substitute.

    Unfortunately the Vatican II reform of the office has failed to provide us with genuine liturgical alternatives to the Mass. The Divine Office reform has ended up mainly being the reform of the private prayer of priests.

    The Divine Office is almost non-existence in local Roman parishes. Sometimes during Advent or Lent, Vespers will be offered once or twice. The resulting services are less inspiring than a well said rosary. The choir never participates; no chant, a cantor leads a couple of hymns, a kind of “low” Divine Office. Definitely feels more like a private devotion than public worship.

    The Divine Office is the prayer of both the past and the future. Think of it as the Bible formatted for prayer. In both history (cathedral and monastic traditions) or contemporary forms (Anglican, Byzantine, and Roman) there are a lot of formats from which to chose. Far more than the Mass, it can adapt to different times, places, and communities.

    The Divine Office more than Mass, the Rosary or Benediction is easy for other Christian traditions to approach. We could attract people to our parishes for worship with the Bible and our great musical heritage.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #31:
      This is where the Anglican and Orthodox churches have had a distinct advantage over so many Roman rite churches. The offices are so arranged liturgically (Morning Prayer and Evensong) as to function as an ante-communion rite, e.g. Matins with Holy Communion. These are services of public prayer culminating in the celebration of the eucharist. In effect, the Mass becomes the pinnacle of public prayer in a very powerful way. Largely, a rare occurrence in most RC parishes.

  19. Jack, agreed: devotionals (especially Stations of the Cross, from my experience) but also LotH is a great “bridge” to other Christian traditions or the unchurched. As much as it is bad that parishes don’t have the Divine Office regularly, it’s even worse that you don’t have it in most cathedrals despite the exhortation in Sacrosanctum Concilium. I suspect this has something to do with canons being uncommon in American cathedrals, but nonetheless it is a shame that every one doesn’t have Vespers on Sundays or something along those lines as a minimum.

    Deacon, I’ve never heard of that practice with the Anima Christi, but seeing as there is provision in the benediction service for readings, prayers, etc., before the actual benediction (I used to work for a place that always did the Litany of the Sacred Heart), I don’t see why you couldn’t use the Anima Christi.

    Also, your point is well-taken regarding the invocations to the BVM and St. Joseph. Nonetheless, I suppose some would counter and say their dignity derives from their parenting of and closeness to Christ, so it is only fitting that they are addressed as well.

  20. Perhaps Benediction was popular pre Vatican II precisely because it was familiar, occupied the senses, called for active participation from the laity (lots of singing and responses) and was in the vernacular.

    With mass in the vernacular the need was being met on Sunday morning, and so Sunday afternoon benediction wasn’t “necessary.”

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