Devotion to the
Blessed Sacrament -
Reverend Peter J. Elliott, M.A. Melb.,
A.C.T.S. No. 1619 / Do (1973)
* * *
This pamphlet presents a simply-written clear statement of the solid
dogmatic foundation of that true devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus
in the Blessed Sacrament which flows from an informed faith.
Its closing section suggests scripture readings and simple prayers by
which we can develop and express this devotion.
The author, PETER ELLIOTT, a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, is
a graduate of both Melbourne and Oxford Universities.
Nihil Obstat: BERNARD O'CONNOR, Diocesan Censor.
Imprimatur: JAMES CARDINAL KNOX, Archbishop of Melbourne,
6th September, 1973
* * *
DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Peter J. Elliott, M.A. Melb., B.A.
An event like an International Eucharistic Congress certainly sets you
thinking. What is the point of 'devotion' to the Blessed Sacrament? Is
it out of date now, 'contrary to the mind of the Church' after Vatican
II? We can take away all the dated and tawdry pomp of a Congress. We
must give it a fresh and modern pastoral form. But whatever we do, the
Congress still centres around devotion to the Blessed Sacrament,
embodied in the Liturgy and in public adoration of the Eucharistic
Presence. Is there any theology for this Eucharistic devotion?
We. must be honest with ourselves. If there is no sound Christian
theology behind a devotion, then the devotion would be better
abandoned. If there is no theology behind them, corporate devotions
like Exposition and Benediction had better go. Private adoration,
visits to the Blessed Sacrament, even the act of genuflecting could
also, at least, be questioned.
But there are excellent theological understandings of this devotion.
Indeed, the exciting revival and renewal of the Liturgy after the
Council provides new and clear reasons for developing and understanding
devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. We can confidently investigate these
new reasons together with sound traditional reasons for devotion to the
Blessed Sacrament. This investigation should help each of us to
appreciate more deeply that central mystery of our lives - the
Before investigating sound reasons for devotion to the Blessed
Sacrament, some very unsound reasons should be dismissed. But here we
must be gentle and sensitive to the customs, thinking and habits of
older people. In no way do I wish to say 'You were utterly wrong!' as I
criticize unsound traditional reasons for this devotion, They were
motivated by love of Christ.
In old prayer-books, devotional manuals, pious pamphlets, we read of
Jesus as 'a Prisoner' in the tabernacle or monstrance. Now we know that
Jesus Christ is really, truly and substantially present in the Host.
This is a truth of God's revelation. But is he confined in the Host,
and locked in the tabernacle as a 'Prisoner'? The language of emotion,
of devotion and prayer, may tend to say this. But it is a crude
exaggeration - and limitation - of the profound truth of
transubstantiation. It exaggerates the self-emptying and humbling of
God taking our flesh, the Incarnation, because of an enthusiastic
appreciation of that truth. When a person loves another person he will
say exaggerated things out of love. But he may distort the truth.
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest of theologians, examined this
problem carefully. If we say that Jesus is a 'Prisoner', we imply he is
in each Host just like we are in our bodies, just as we live in places.
St. Thomas pointed out that this is ridiculous. It would give Our Lord
the dimensions of bread and wine! [Summa
Theologiae, 3a. q. 76, art. 5.] St. Thomas also went into the
question of whether Our Lord really moves when the Host is moved - a
mysterious and deep question. But he would not allow that Jesus Christ
is in any way affected by the movement of the Host. [Ibid., 3a. q. 76, art. 6.] This
makes the miracle of the Real Presence too physical. It would imply
superstitious notions such as Christ being harmed when the Host, is
broken, or eaten, or even treated with irreverence.
These distortions have helped discredit devotion to the Blessed
Sacrament, because some critics have pointed to them and said. 'That's
the sort of silly nonsense it creates.' It must be admitted that the
silly nonsense has been there - but it has rested on poor theology, or
no theology at all. It rested on sentimentalism. People were urged to
make visits or to keep Holy Hours, not for the simple fact that Jesus
is there, but for the false notion that Jesus is lonely, or locked up,
or in need of consolation. The fact that, as St. Peter Julian said,
'The Master is there . . .' should be enough for us to say '. . . let
us go to Him'. Sentimental devotional distortions only harm this simple
and natural devotion.
But the tremendous and radical fact remains. The Master is there. With
this truth in our hearts and minds we can find a theological basis for
our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in its public and private forms.
THE MASS IS THE BASIS
We perhaps noticed something odd about those 'Prisoner' emotions. They
were thoughts which came from men, sentiments thought up and then
attached to the Real Presence. But the sound basis works the other way.
The thoughts and sentiments burst forth from the Eucharist itself. The
Liturgy in all its richness provides them for us. The theology of the
Mass itself is the source for the devotion.
The Second Vatican Council, and subsequent teachings of Pope Paul VI
and the Holy See, make this fact quite clear. Unless the reasons for
this devotion are derived from dogma and Liturgy, it can only be an
optional extra. But the Council and the Pope will not allow the
devotion to be a mere optional extra. It is to play a normal part in
Catholic life. However, it must be integrated into the action of the
Liturgy, the source and centre of the living Church.
The devotion is not apart from the Liturgy, something
'extra-liturgical', nice trimmings and customs, not some pious practice
we tack onto the Mass and sacraments. The Council Fathers teach that
all authorized devotions of God's People should be so drawn up that
'they accord with the sacred Liturgy, are in some fashion derived from
it, and lead the people to it, since the Liturgy by its very nature far
surpasses any of them'. [Decree on
the Liturgy, chapter I, para. 13.] This would be especially
accurate in developing devotion to the Eucharistic Presence.
What the Mass is
If we understand the Mass as it really is, from this understanding we
will see devotion of the Blessed Sacrament as a normal, natural and
valuable part of Christian life. Then let us see the Mass as it really
The Mass is The Sacrifice. In the form of a holy meal, it brings into
time the eternal sacrificial self-giving of Christ to his Father, in
the Holy Spirit. There is only one Sacrifice, offered once and for all
by Jesus Christ on the Cross. But when we ask, 'What was the Cross?',
we soon realize that it was nothing less than a historical event which
made the world perfectly open to God, to the Holy Trinity.
Giving himself up on the Cross, Jesus the God-Man atoned for the sins
of the world by the glorious gift of his love and obedience. The Cross
is the victory opening man's way to God, into God's Life, into that
wonderful open Life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus takes our
nature, our flesh and blood, into the Heart of the Trinity, for us, for
At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine and adapted Jewish
customs into his own ritual meal for his own People. This is how he
chose to perpetuate that once-and-for-all event on the Cross. In his
sacrifice-meal his own People would share God's Life, all the benefits
won on the Cross - freedom and forgiveness from sins, the assurance of
future life with God for ever.
At the Last Supper he said that the bread would be his Body, the wine
would be his Blood. In the Jewish way of thinking this would mean
(a) the food would simply be himself
(b) but it would be himself offered up in Sacrifice. By eating this
food, people would share fully in the Sacrifice, in communion with God,
in communion with one another.
We can never understand exactly how the Mass is the same Sacrifice as
the Cross. We know it does not repeat the Cross, but we also know that
it is not just a symbol of the Cross. Perhaps the Real Presence is the
key to our understanding of the Holy Sacrifice.
In a sacrifice a priest and a victim or offering have to be present.
How does this happen at the Christian altar? The answer is simple.
There is a radical change (transubstantiation). Bread and wine become
Jesus Christ. The Priest and the Victim is present in the Person of
Jesus. He is the Sacrifice - not out there, up there, over there, but
here and now, in our midst, for us men and for our salvation.
The radical change of bread and wine makes Jesus our Sacrifice present.
So we can see that the Real Presence under the appearance of bread and
wine is not something separate from the Sacrifice. This view was
presented in the past, but today a deeper understanding of the Bible
and Hebrew thought helps us to see the relationship between meal and
Sacrifice, the Presence of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus as our
Food and as our Sacrifice. In our renewed rite of Mass we find this
beautifully expressed in the Preface of the Holy Eucharist.
'Father, all powerful and ever-living
God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus
Christ our Lord. He is the true and eternal priest who established this
He offered himself as victim for our deliverance and taught us to make
this offering in his memory, so that by eating the bread of life in a
holy meal we might proclaim his death until he comes.'
The new preface of the Holy Eucharist gives us an accurate and balanced
doctrine of the mass.
However, if we have false notions of the Mass, we will fail to
appreciate the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament. If for example we
hold to the unbalanced view that 'The Mass is a meal', then the
devotion becomes nonsense. Exposition and Benediction would simply be
treating a portion of Food in an unnatural and theatrical way. If we
have been misled into believing that the only change in the bread and
wine is a change in meaning or significance or purpose, then such
devotion is a waste of time. We would say that this Food with a new
meaning or purpose is to be eaten. We would not perceive a Reality
present to be adored and loved. But we would be wrong.
The Church has not accepted these new attempts at understanding the
Eucharist. In the new rite of the Mass the Church has certainly
balanced the outer form of a meal with the essential reality of
Sacrifice. The Church has recovered the community meaning of this
Sacrifice, that we penetrate the Holy Sacrifice, best share in it,
offer it best, by eating the Eucharist together. But in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul
reaffirmed the central mystery of transubstantiation. He would not
allow sophisticated and misleading theories which tried to re-express
the Real Presence in terms of meaning, significance and purpose. The
Real Presence requires a real change in bread and wine. The meaning,
significance and purpose can only be derived from the fact of this
MAN RESPONDS TO THE PRESENCE
The Real Presence in the Eucharistic Food has always fascinated men.
>From the earliest days of God's new People, the Church, believers and
unbelievers have responded to that Presence with emotion, wonder,
scandal and awe. For the believer, the Real Presence has always been
something very wonderful, yet something quite natural - just what one
could expect from the God who comes so close to men, that he becomes
Man, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood. It is this mystery of the
Incarnation, God taking flesh, which is equally present in the
Eucharist with the sacrificial mystery of our Redemption; the Cross,
Resurrection, Exaltation and future Coming of the Lord. Where Jesus is
truly present, there everything he did and will do is somehow present.
Man's response to this Gift is a response of Faith and Love, looking
forward to the future in Hope.
In The Past
First, let us look back and see how men responded to this Presence in
the past. If we understand how the Eucharistic devotion developed, how
men were trying to express their Faith, then we may come to see how
this devotion can be re-developed in our own times.
The early Christians did not reserve the Host in a tabernacle or join
in public or private acts of adoration outside the time of the Mass.
But soon certain practical problems of persecution, imprisonment and
care of the aged and the sick led them to set aside portion of the Host
to be taken from the Mass to those unable to attend. We may be familiar
with the story of Tarsicius, the boy martyr who laid down his life
rather than give up the Host he was taking to a persecuted Christian.
Even in these times of persecution, the worship of the underground
Church developed its own 'cult', the human theatre of worship, words,
customs, actions, music, imagery carefully borrowed from Jewish and
pagan religious practices. We have evidence now that special vessels,
lamps, utensils were set apart for the Mass at a very early stage in
the history of the Church - and this was a response to the mystery of
the Real Presence, a natural human response.
When the Church emerged into toleration and prominence, public churches
were constructed for public worship. Then the practice of keeping
portions of the Host reserved carefully in private homes became a part
of public church practice. Special containers, safes, urns were
developed to keep the Blessed Sacrament secure, so that it could be
taken to the sick or isolated at any time, so that they could share in
the Liturgy. Christian worship became more colourful at this time, with
lamps, candles, incense and the gradual development of special
vestments for clergy and servers.
In Western Europe a devotion began to form around the Blessed Sacrament
reserved in the church. Men naturally paid reverence to the Real
Presence. The Roman military reverence of genuflecting was gradually
adopted, together with Eastern customs of bowing profoundly or
prostrating oneself. Gradually some of the public ceremonial of the
Mass was attached to the Real Presence prolonged beyond the time of
Mass. Lamps and hangings marked out the place where the Sacrament was
kept. People came to pray to Our Lord, present as Sacrifice and Food.
But, in the Middle Ages a less fortunate trend developed. Men made so
much of the fact of the Real Presence that they lost sight of Christ's
purpose in being with us in this special way. They came to see the Mass
as only a Sacrifice, not as a Sacrifice-Meal. They were happy to adore
the Real Presence at Mass and after Mass, but they rarely received Holy
Communion. They saw Holy Communion as the 'fruit' of the Sacrifice,
rather than as the best way of sharing in the Sacrifice. The ceremony
of elevating the Host after the consecration developed at this time,
and men saw this as the main part of the Mass.
In those days the Sacrament was reserved in various ways, in various
forms of what we call the 'tabernacle'. There were hanging pyxes, a
small tabernacle, often in the shape of a dove, suspended on chains
over an altar. There was the aumbry, an elaborate safe set into a wall
near an altar. There was the 'Sacrament House', popular in parts of
Germany, a decorated tower or pillar, set up inside a church as a
throne for a small safe.
The people's desire to see the Host led to various attempts to 'freeze'
the action of the elevation. There were glass doors set into some
tabernacles, so that people could see the pyx containing the Host.
These were later forbidden. The pyx itself developed into an ornamental
stand with a glass or crystal window set into it, the early form of our
modern monstrance. Men wanted to see the sign of Bread, and to worship
Christ under this sign.
Various public ceremonies were devised to express popular devotion to
the Blessed Sacrament. The flowers, candles and incense of the Liturgy
were taken into the action of these ceremonies. Processions of the Host
became common, and gradually the practice of blessing people with the
monstrance, Benediction, was introduced. St. Thomas Aquinas composed
beautiful hymns and prayers for these new rites, but his accurate and
balanced theology in these prayers and hymns did not always accord with
exaggerated and superstitious devotions, and certain odd customs, which
people attached to this devotion. In some places there were even
elaborate games and theatricals associated with the sacred Host,
customs which seem grotesque to us today.
The Devotion is Reformed
When the Protestant Reformation split Europe in the Sixteenth Century
there was a fierce assault not only on the Mass but on the devotion of
the Blessed Sacrament. The Protestant Reformers could point to
grotesque customs and superstitions to justify their attacks. Although
they went too far and fell into error, they prompted a healthy reaction
The internal reform of Catholic life, known as the 'Catholic
Reformation' or 'Counter-Reformation', led to a reform of the devotion
of the Blessed Sacrament. Just as the Mass was standardized for most of
the Catholic world (Missal of 1570), so the public ceremonies of
Exposition and Benediction came to take a more standard and
well-disciplined form. Many local customs were swept away. At this
time, the modern tabernacle appeared, set upon the altar.
But the reforms failed to get back to the liturgical spirit expressed
by St. Thomas Aquinas. The devotion was still cut off from the Liturgy
itself. In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries it even took on a
new and elaborate form. Exposition was a royal enthronement ceremony.
Altars were constructed like thrones, so that the tabernacle and the
canopy above it dominated and overshadowed the sacrificial table
itself. Royal canopies, crowns, gilt cherubs, cascades of candles, all
this pomp expressed the habits and instincts of the age of absolute
monarchs and their glittering courts. Christ was enthroned and adored
Certain excellent devotions developed at this time. The
Counter-Reformation devotion of the Forty Hours exposition of the Host
spread rapidly. Various religious orders devoted themselves to
perpetual adoration. In the Nineteenth Century this practice was
extended to public churches, especially through the witness of the
Blessed Sacrament Fathers. People's associations formed for
participation in perpetual adoration, in vigils, and later in our own
20th century, in the holy hour. The great international Eucharistic
Congresses encouraged the public and communal devotion of the Eucharist.
This brings us into the age of the Second Vatican Council. Once more,
as at Trent, there has been a liturgical revolution and reform. But now
the very existence of a public and private devotion of the Blessed
Sacrament is questioned. Let us set this criticism in its context - and
see a basic practical reason why the devotion must continue and develop.
THE LITURGY TODAY
Two great eucharistic movements culminated in the reforms of worship
brought in by the Second Vatican Council. The first movement was the
struggle to restore frequent Communion, to get away from the infrequent
Communion of the Middle Ages and that later wave of scrupulous
infrequent Communion brought about by the Jansenist heresy. The second
movement was the liturgical revival, which developed rapidly in this
20th century, a return to the simpler more primitive form of worship of
the early Church, a search for forms of worship suitable for men and
women today. Bringing these two movements together, Vatican II sought
the restoration of the view that the Mass is a sacrificial meal - the
Sacrifice in the form of a holy meal, eaten by a community.
We must note that public devotion to the Blessed Sacrament did not
hinder this reform of past practices. The centres of perpetual
adoration were centres of frequent Communion. Recent Eucharistic
Congresses, for example Munich in 1960, presented experiments and
reforms of the Liturgy. Was this simply a process of self-destruction?
Was the fervour of the devotion being turned into other channels, so
that people saw that full participation in the Mass, and frequent
Communion, are far more important than keeping holy hours? Some have
claimed that this is what has happened, hence the fading of parish
Benediction. But let us look at the nature of our renewed Mass and see
that it in fact requires the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament to fill
out and complete a balanced liturgical life for all Catholics.
In the renewed Mass we see clearly an accurate theology of the
Sacrifice and Presence. We see the holy meal as the community action.
We see that Jesus Christ is present as Food for his People, so that
they may fully share in his Sacrifice, making it their own Sacrifice.
We notice that in the renewed Mass there is little adoration. Indeed
there is much action, full participation, restored ceremonies, some
simple, others more elaborate. But the end of the old silent Mass, in
Latin, back to the people, means that the elevation of the Host and the
adoration pattern of worship has less emphasis. Nevertheless, men still
want to respond to the Real Presence, in ways different to the greatest
response, Holy Communion. They still want to adore. The inherited
living tradition of centuries of adoration is still part of them.
The Church recognizes this desire to adore and welcomes it. But if it
is no longer possible at Mass, when can men adore? The answer is
obvious. Far from vanishing, the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament
comes into its own again. It provides the public and private
opportunities for adoration which our renewed Mass does not provide.
This is the practical reason for Eucharistic devotion.
The Liturgy has been renewed and reformed. Therefore, this devotion
must be renewed and reformed, otherwise it would be out of step with
the liturgy, and all popular devotions are to be related to the
liturgy, as the Council teaches. Practical directions came from Rome in
1967 to cover the renewal and reform of the devotion of the Blessed
Sacrament. These are embodied in the Instruction
on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery. (Available as an
A.C.T.S. publication) [and accessible from the Vatican web-site -
www.vatican.va ]. This document is the blueprint for a truly liturgical
revival of public and private devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
We may summarize the renewal of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in
(1.) Such renewal must proceed from an understanding of the Mass as the
Sacrifice in the form of a community meal.
(2.) Such renewal must be organized to avoid the historical problem of
allowing the devotion to separate the Real Presence from the Holy
Sacrifice and Holy Communion.
The Instruction from Rome
shows a pastoral and liturgical understanding of this renewal of
devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. But because it is an official
document, taken up with practical matters, we must go more deeply into
modern theological reasons for the devotion. We cannot merely rely on
the official policy of the Church, without penetrating the new and old
thinking which lies behind that wise policy. We have seen man
responding to the Real Presence in the past, in different historical
circumstances. Let us investigate how he can respond to the Real
Presence today - and why he ought to respond to this Gift of a loving
WHY MAN RESPONDS TO THE PRESENCE
When someone loves another person, he will keep and cherish a picture
of his beloved. The lifeless object, the picture, will always remind
him of the living person whom he loves. The picture will help him
objectify his love.
The Blessed Sacrament is like this picture cherished by a lover. But
the Blessed Sacrament is far more than a lifeless symbol. It is far
more than something a man uses to objectify his love. It is God's own
way of objectifying man's love. In the Host, God provides Himself as
the object of man's love. Man does not turn God into an object, or a
'thing'. The God-Man Jesus Christ becomes present to us and for us
under the appearance of Bread. The response of man to this Gift, a
response of faithful love, will far surpass any devotion a lover would
bestow on a picture of his beloved.
The Mystery of the Real Presence
There is something clearly objective about the Real Presence. We can
point to the tabernacle and say that Christ is there, and yet say that he is not there in a crucifix set up near the
tabernacle. We can say that this Real Presence is his supreme way of
being with his People, even more intense and far deeper than his
Presence in the Word of God read at Mass, or his Presence in the whole
community gathered at Mass, or his Presence in each person. But we must
always remember that the Real Presence is a mystery. How can Christ be
present on so many altars at the same time? The key to this mystery is
the fact that he is present as the risen and glorified Lord, the
Saviour who has broken the bonds of death and made himself available to
The risen Lord, as we read in Scripture, has complete control over
time, space and place. He can be wherever he wills, whenever he wills,
however he wills. It is his will, expressed at the Last Supper, to be
with us always in the Blessed Sacrament. This is the only answer we
dare give to the question, 'How is he present on so many altars at the
But in the Western world we have less sense of mystery than the
inhabitants of the East. We like matters to be straight, clear cut and
'objective'. We ask 'how?', rather than 'why?' This is embodied in our
philosophical and scientific thinking. It also has direct bearing on
the way devotion to the Blessed Sacrament developed in the West.
Under the influence of certain philosophical traditions, Western
theologians have shown great interest in times, actions, places, that
which involves man in his world, the objects man can perceive over and
against himself. This interest in times, actions, places, is evident in
the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament, the veiled tabernacle, the lamp,
the genuflexions, the specific ceremonies of Exposition and
Benediction. Man in the West wants to relate in a direct and practical
way with the God who presents Himself to man as Bread. He wants to be objective in his worship.
The Eastern Tradition
In the Eastern Churches we find a different tradition, a different
mentality. Under the influence of other philosophical traditions and
forms of culture, Eastern Christians express the sacred nature of time
and space within the Liturgy itself. But in the Liturgy they make it
clear that the actions and places of men are only important insofar as
they reflect the eternal realities of heaven.
In the several hours devoted to the Mass, they set aside the time when
man is raised into the angel hosts, into the worship of heaven. The
great altar-screen hides the mystery of the Real Presence from the view
of men, and the mystery is wrapped in a rich garment of ritual colour,
sound, clouds of incense. At one point during the Mass there is a
ceremony similar to Benediction, but every act of devotion to Christ
present takes place within the action of the Mass. After the Liturgy,
the Blessed Sacrament is reverently reserved in a small shrine on the
altar, but no one salutes the Real Presence with a genuflexion. There
is no provision for public or private acts of objective adoration. The
people believe exactly what we believe about the Real Presence, but
find all their needs to worship and adore perfectly fulfilled in a rich
and mysterious Liturgy.
We do not have this Eastern mentality, although there are Catholics who
use these Eastern Rites and who share this liturgical mystery view of
the Eucharist. We prefer the objective relationship with Christ in the
Eucharist. We want to worship and adore him. With a renewed form of the
Mass we find that this is best expressed outside our practical Liturgy,
before the tabernacle or monstrance.
An Objective Relationship
We can see now that the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament is a Western
way of making my personal faith relationship objective. There is
nothing complicated about this. (Outlines
for this are set out in Section 7).
When I enter a church to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, I am
devoting myself to specific actions. I recognize the Presence 'over
there' in the tabernacle by genuflecting. I kneel down. In prayer I
raise myself into the Presence of Jesus Christ. I talk to him. I affirm
my own personal relationship with him. What a delightfully easy form of
prayer this is! Potentially it can be one of the free and most personal
forms of prayer.
DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
We may have been trained as children to recite certain formulas in
making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Adults should move beyond
formulas, indeed children can be encouraged to be spontaneous in
prayer. Let us be as free as possible in our personal prayer to Jesus
in the Eucharistic Bread. We may pour out our innermost thoughts and
problems to him. We may make a carefully planned holy hour. Perhaps we
only have time to drop in, to make a salute of love to our God-Man. We
may discover that the best form of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament
is uttered in perfect silence, the adoration of quietness.
In the frantic pulse of modern life, men and women, especially certain
young people, are rediscovering the ancient wisdom of silent
meditation. What better place is there to meditate, in peaceful
relaxation, than before the Blessed Sacrament? Let us learn to relax,
to be recollected, to rediscover ourselves, to revitalize our inner
peace, our Faith, in the Presence of the God who gives himself to man
in the form of Bread.
However, this objective relationship with Jesus is not something we can
keep to ourselves. The Church is a community, a People. This is why men
spontaneously seek public and corporate acts of worship of Jesus in the
Blessed Sacrament. As a community we gather for Mass, joining the
priest as he offers the Sacrifice for us and with us, together a
priestly people. We join fully in the Sacrifice by sharing the holy
meal together. But beyond the time of the Liturgy, we can perpetuate
the Liturgy in the beautiful ceremony of Benediction. As a community we
adore Christ. We accept his blessings. We are humble before the God who
humbles himself in order to feed and save the world. But for a few
Catholics today this is a difficult devotion.
Some people complain about the public rites of Benediction and
Exposition. They say, 'I don't get anything out of it. What am I
supposed to think about when I see the Host in the monstrance'? One of
the most incredible personal objections I have ever heard went so far
as to say '-. . bread is so ordinary. If God meant Himself to be adored
in this ceremony, why didn't he use something more interesting?'
Adoration demands Understanding
Bread is so ordinary. Let us start with this fact. Here is a simple
fact on which a rich and deep devotion can be rediscovered - not a
pious activity divorced from daily life, but a devotion grounded in the
life of man in this world, here and now.
Gandhi is said to have remarked once, 'If God were to present himself
to men, there would be no more appropriate way than in the form of
bread'. That was the voice of India, the voice of a land where bread
and life are tied together in a cruel and inevitable way. Man is seen
to depend for his very existence on that ordinary food - on bread.
Can we consider the Eucharist in this way? I raise my eyes to the
monstrance. I see the perfect plain form of the white Host. It is so
simple, so ordinary - and yet . . . I raise my eyes to the God who is
always presenting himself to men in the form of Bread. Here is not
something dull and lifeless. Here is the dynamic heart of the living
Church. Here is the Food which has vitalized millions for two thousand
'This is my body which will be given up for you.' With those words I
know that at the hands of a man taken from this community, a priest,
this ordinary Bread became Jesus Christ. But the meaning of those words
always penetrates this new Bread. 'My body . . . given up for you.' These are the two dynamic
words, restored to the Eucharistic Prayer in our renewed Mass, 'for you'.
The Real Presence is a constant proclamation, 'my body . . . given up for you'. In these few words the
facts of Sacrifice and Food are held together. In the ordinary form of
bread, that which man needs to survive in time, God is giving up his
only Son, to save man in Sacrifice, to nourish him not simply for time
but for eternal life beyond death itself. We have been called into a
community which depends on this Food just as much as a poor man in
India depends on natural food for survival.
The Living Bread
If we are to enrich our understanding of this dynamic purpose of the
Real Presence, let us go back to the words of Jesus himself, set out in
the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel, verses 26-58. If we can grasp
the meaning of the Host presented to us for adoration, these words of
Our Lord, where he contrasts ordinary food and the Eucharist, will give
adoration a sound and valid direction. Far from detracting from Mass,
adoration will drive us towards the Mass, with fresh understanding.
Because we can appreciate the meaning of the Host, in tabernacle or
monstrance, we can appreciate the meaning of Holy Communion.
There is a simple way of keeping this in mind. We can see that the Host
is not merely Jesus Christ present to console his Church. That view
arose out of past exaggerations of the devotion. We see the Host today
in terms of its purpose - Food. The same Host carried in procession,
raised up in a sign of blessing, enshrined in a tabernacle has but one
destiny It will be eaten in Holy Communion. The Blessed Sacrament is
always reserved primarily as Food. Whatever liturgical actions of
adoration and devotion are directed to the Blessed Sacrament after the
consecration, the completion of the Liturgy requires that this living
Bread be eaten, and that more bread be consecrated to perpetuate the
endless self-giving, the self-expenditure of God.
Perhaps this points directly to the Food meaning of 'my body . . .
given up for you'. The Father
is ceaselessly giving his Son to us. But we know that this Gift is made
in terms of Sacrifice, for, 'God so loved the world that he gave his
only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have
eternal life'. John 3: 16. We are totally dependent on this sacrificial
Food because, '. . . he who eats me will live because of me'. John 6:
As we look further into the meaning of the Blessed Sacrament in our
personal devotion we note how Jesus says 'my body . . . given up for you'. This concept of
his Body given up shows us how the Sacrifice is truly present in the
tabernacle or monstrance.
Adoration in Sacrifice
When I go to Mass, I unite my will, to some extent at least, with the
generous will of Jesus Christ giving himself ceaselessly to his Father.
Jesus is making perfect adoration on our behalf in his Holy Sacrifice.
His whole Person, Godhead and Manhood, is given up for us. By my simple
act of the will, no matter how faint it may be, even by the fact of my
making the effort to go to Mass, I am showing that I accept Jesus' gift
of himself to his Father, that I recognize that it saves me, that I
want to be part of it. I am able in this way to give myself to God. I
can share in the Sacrifice, uniting my imperfect acts of adoration and
love with the one sufficient and perfect act of adoration and love. In
history that was the Cross and the glory which followed the Cross.
When I go into a church and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, I can
renew these sentiments of sharing in the Liturgy. We have already
considered God's gift of his Son 'for us', as Food, that this is always
present wherever that Food is reserved. Now we consider that the Son's
gift of himself 'given up for you' is always present wherever this Food
is reserved - that the Presence of Jesus is directed not only to us,
but to the Eternal Father.
This is a great and wonderful mystery, and it is difficult for us to
understand it. But let us simply recall what was set out as the basis
and source of true devotion to the Blessed Sacrament - what the Mass
is. The radical change of bread and wine makes Jesus our Sacrifice
present in our community. Thus, as long as this Bread of life is
reserved in the church, so in a sense, the Liturgy continues, the
Sacrifice is still present. Jesus is present, himself adoring the
Father, as he always adores the Father. Our adoration is therefore
directed not simply towards him - but in him and through him and with
him, to the Father, in union with the Holy Spirit praying in us.
Our friend who was puzzled at Benediction would soon lose his confusion
if he realized that Benediction, or any public or private time of
adoration, is a chance to renew the same sentiments we have at Mass.
Once more we return to the practical reason for the devotion today. In
the renewed Mass we are expected to be involved, to get into the
action, to participate. This is the active way we share in the
Sacrifice. In the renewed devotion of the Blessed Sacrament we
participate in the Liturgy in a 'different key'. We are left free to
contemplate what the Liturgy means, to meditate upon the realities and
depths of 'my body . . . given up for you' and the personal and
community meanings of the Food of Sacrifice. There is a certain freedom
about this devotion which, for good reasons, has been removed from the
Once we appreciate the Real Presence of the risen Lord, giving himself
to his Father for us, giving himself from the Father to us as Food,
then we will not slide into misunderstandings of this devotion. We will
see it simply as a free extension of the Liturgy of the Mass.
The words 'time' and 'duration' are important here. Our Western
mentality is interested in time and duration. Our Western devotion of
the Blessed Sacrament consecrates time by extending the short duration
of the Liturgy of people assembled. Men, women and children, as
individuals making visits, or in groups, or in large gatherings for
Benediction, re-enter the short duration of the Liturgy whenever they
relate themselves to the Blessed Sacrament. Not only 'The Word became
flesh' has meaning for us in the Eucharist, but 'The Word became time'.
In the form of Bread, the risen Lord is involved in our time. He is not
subject to time any more - not a 'prisoner'. He is the free and risen
Lord of all time. He comes with a purpose. Men do not have to wait
until eternity to adore God. Now in time and space, in our world, our
suburb, our town, our parish, we can adore because God has provided the
objective means - the Blessed Sacrament.
ADORATION BURSTS INTO ACTION
If God is involved in our time, he is the God who cares. If God is the
God who presents himself as Bread, he is the God who cares about our
ordinary bread, our daily lives, our hopes, anxieties, problems, loves,
fears. The Real Presence is the assurance of this God who cares. In his
wisdom Jesus chose bread and wine, ordinary human food, 'work of human
hands', the matter of creation, to become the raw material of the
Eucharist. Up till now we have thought of the Eucharist in terms of the
Church. Let us now take this into the world, for which the Son gave
himself up, because the Father so loved this world.
The Host I see in the monstrance may also be called the 'Bread of the
world'. Its form and shape is part of this world. Its Reality is Jesus
- the God-Man. The Host presents to me the scandalous reality of the
Incarnation, God so close to us, too close for comfort, God involved in
this world, here, now.
How can I adore Christ in the Eucharist and fail to serve him in his
world? How can I adore this 'Bread of the world' and fail to see men
starving for their daily bread? How can I love Christ in the Eucharist
and not love him in his poor? This is the God who presents himself as
Bread so that men may never become smug and comfortable, so that men
may never retreat from the problems and sufferings of this world. If
God is involved, how can we refuse to be involved?
You cannot worship Christ in the monstrance and welcome Christ in Holy
Communion and fail to worship and welcome him in the slum, the ghetto,
the high rise flats, the crumbling rural community, the broken home . .
Adoration must burst into action. Adoration brings us face to face with
the facts about Christ, man, the world, face to face with the God who
is identified with the agony, the struggle, the defeat of life, with
the celebration, community, hope and victory of man in this world. When
the Host is presented to each of us at Holy Communion, the priest says,
'The Body of Christ'. We reply, 'Amen'. When the Host is set before us
in tabernacle and monstrance, there is a silent refrain, 'The Body of
Christ'. We must continue to say, 'Amen'. What does this 'Amen' mean?
The Meaning of 'Amen'
It means much. It means 'Yes Lord! Yes, I accept you on your terms.
Yes, I accept all you have done, all you will do. I accept your total
claim on me, in my life, because you have taken on my life, because you
penetrate my life here and now, as my Food, my Sacrifice. Yes, I accept
this Food, not as something to treasure to myself, not as a private
luxury, not even as a community pleasure, but as Food. I need this
nourishment to drive me into life, into the world you came to redeem. I
adore you now in order to go into action, revitalized, fed, nourished,
sustained by you alone. Having eaten your Body and Blood I must learn
to find you in others, in the flesh and blood of my neighbour. Having
eaten you I can trust in the strength to go into action, to find some
practical way, no matter how quiet or humble, of putting into practice
your words, "Love one another as I have loved you".'
We may seek examples of others within the Christian community who
really live off the Eucharist, who make the Blessed Sacrament the
dynamism of their action in this world, living for others. This is
evident in the lives of so many great saints of the past. Frequent
Communion, regular and prolonged adoration, well-reasoned meditation on
the meanings of the Eucharist, this is the fabric woven through so many
of the lives of the great humble ones of God. But let us look to the
guidance of a woman in our world today, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Her words are simple and to the point. 'In Holy Communion we have
Christ under the appearance of bread. In our work we find him under the
appearance of flesh and blood. It is the same Christ. "I was hungry. I
was naked I was sick. I was homeless . . ." .'
Mother Teresa's nuns live a Eucharistic life - for others. They present
to us perhaps the most striking example of Christians who know that to
'love one another' we must rediscover Christ in the Blessed Sacrament
saying to us '. . . as I have loved you'. If we can find the whole
Christ in the Host, loving us by identifying himself with the humble
appearances of bread, then we can eat this Bread of the world, then we
can receive the strength to 'love one another'. We will be identified
with the world - not by being swallowed into its sinfulness, but
identified with Christ in the world, ready to give ourselves for
others, to others, sharing in the healing and redeeming work of the
Malcolm Muggeridge perceived the Eucharistic ground beneath the lives
of Mother Teresa's nuns. The tabernacle is always prominent, central,
almost dominant in the chapels of this radically simple religious
order. The nuns know Him whom they receive each morning in Holy
Communion. They know Him, for they are often in His Presence, adoring
before the tabernacle, involved in the loving concern of a familiar
Friend. How easy it is for them to recognize that same Friend in the
frail and shrivelled flesh of the dying men of Calcutta, in the
shattered lives of the destitutes of Melbourne, or, is it easy?
If only we could know Christ in this way . . . But we can know him. We
may not be called to a heroic vocation, but each of us has a vocation
and God has given us the same source of strength to live that vocation
- our familiar Friend ever present in the Blessed Sacrament.
He is there. Let us come to him - and live!
* * *
PRAYERS BEFORE THE BLESSED
In order to bring to mind where we are, it may be useful to make a
small act of Faith, silently, again and again. For example:
(i) You are Jesus.
You are here.
(ii) My Lord and my God.
(iii) You are the living Bread from heaven.
(iv) Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
(v) I believe you are here - really, truly, substantially.
We make an act of personal adoration.
Jesus Christ, I adore you.
I adore you for what you are - my
Saviour. I adore you for what you will - my Sacrifice. I adore you for
what you intend - my Food.
Truly God, truly Man, you are present,
risen and glorious beneath this veil of Bread.
I adore you in your humility, eternal
Son of the Father, involved in our world, enfleshed in our time, coming
to us now under this simple form of Bread.
I adore you in your power, risen Lord,
King and Master of matter, space and time, the Victor who has liberated
your People from the dominion of Satan and death.
I adore you, above all, for your love,
and I see this love in your humility and your power, hidden in this
Blessed Sacrament, this generous gift of your love to us, your love to
Lord Jesus Christ, I adore you.
We may choose to make a reflective meditation on the meanings of the
Real Presence. A New Testament should be in our hands, and we may
choose one or more of the following key passages on the Eucharist.
Eucharist is instituted by Christ
I Corinthians 11: 23-25.
Mark 14: 22-24.
Matthew 26: 26-28.
Luke 22: 15-20.
The great Eucharistic discourse
John 6: 25-27. Men must seek Christ
the true Bread.
John 6: 28-34. God gives us this true
John 6: 35-40. Christ is the true
John 6: 41-51. We find this in the
John 6: 52-58. In the Eucharist we
find eternal life.
The Holy Sacrifice
I Corinthians 5: 7, 8. Christ is our
I Corinthians 10: 14-22. False
sacrifice and the true Sacrifice.
Ephesians 2: 13-18. Christ the way to
Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5: 1-10. Christ our
High Priest and Victim.
Hebrews 7: 15-28. Christ and
Hebrews 8: Christ and his New
Hebrews 9: 11-14, 15-28. Christ the
Hebrews 10: 1-18. Christ's will in
Sacrifice for us.
Hebrews 10: 19-25. Through Christ to
Hebrews 13: 8-16. Our community
Revelation 5: 6-14. The eternal
Matthew 5: 23-24. The Sacrifice of
I Corinthians 11: 27-32. Discerning
the Body of Christ.
John 15: 1-12. Union with Christ the
Revelation 3: 20. Union in a holy
Revelation 19: 6-9. The marriage
feast of the Lamb.
Luke 24: 36-43. The Presence of the
Luke 24: 28-35. 'Known to them in the
breaking of the bread.'
Before making a meditation we should ask the Holy Spirit for
Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind, strengthen my heart, encourage my will,
so that I may truly understand the meaning of this sacred Word.
Come Holy Spirit, guide me to a deeper
knowledge of this mystery of Faith.
We may choose to pray for the needs of others and our own needs,
placing these before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Lord Jesus Christ, I want to place
before you now the needs of others. You are involved, identified, at
one with, the world of men, in this world of men as the Redeemer,
presenting yourself to this world of men in the simple form of Bread.
Eucharistic Lord, hear my prayers.
Eucharistic Lord, hear my prayers. For
others . . . For world problems . . . local problems . . . For friends
. . . For peace . . . For enemies . . . For the holy souls . . .
In our own words, in our own free way, we add any other areas of need.
Lord Jesus Christ, I place myself
before you. Here is my life, my past, my present, my future. You know
what is best.
I am sorry for the past, especially .
I thank you for . . . (here we
can express past joy.)
I am involved at present in . . . (here
we can express our interests and our problems, in our own words, in a
direct way, placing them before God.)
I look to the future in hope . . . (here
we can express our innermost hopes, asking for particular graces,
favours, needs, making requests, leaving the future in the power of
Lord Jesus Christ, hear my prayers.
There are many other ways of praying before the Blessed Sacrament, and
what is suggested here is simply an outline because this personal
prayer should be truly spontaneous, in our words direct, adult, mature.
We will learn in such prayer, whether silent, simple or even wordless,
really to appreciate Holy Communion.
Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament will thus stem from the Liturgy and
lead us back to the Liturgy. By experiencing this extension of the
Liturgy we will learn to love and enjoy the mysteries of the Sacrifice
in the form of a holy meal.
We will integrate this supreme Sacrament into daily life. We will gain
the strength and the will to be active, practical Christians.
Adoration is something we do because the Holy Spirit is within us,
helping us to pray. We do not adore alone. We are, each of us, part of
the Church, not only in this world but in eternity.
We have a perfect model in adoration in Mary, our Mother. Let us always
call on her for help and companionship.
Mother of the Church, our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, pray for us,
adore with us, help us to adore, teach us the way of faithful
adoration, show us the way of humility in which the dignity of human
nature is restored, pilgrims with you in one People.
Mary Immaculate, always direct us to your Son in the Eucharist.
Through you may we know Christ Jesus. Like you, may we trust in Christ
With you, may we count all things as nothing, except insofar as we know
him, our Saviour and our Lord. Hail Mary . . .
Finally, we may see Christ in the Eucharist as the Way to the Father in
the Holy Spirit - that the Blessed Sacrament incorporates each of us
into the open and endless Life of the Holy Trinity.
to you Eternal Father,
for we thank you for the Gift of your
Son in the Eucharist, the way of thanksgiving you provide for men.
to you Eternal Son,
for we thank you for your obedient
love, in your birth, your redeeming death, your resurrection and
exaltation, all this for us, to your Father, for us, returned to us
always in this Eucharist Gift.
to you Eternal Spirit,
for we thank you for your loving
power, transforming the bread and wine of man into the Gift of the Son
from the Father, and we thank you for your life within us, renewed by
Holy Communion, for your life within us, ever showing us how to pray,
banding us together as one people.
you and in you, O Christ, we offer ourselves today, as one Host.
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honour is yours,
for ever and ever.
* * * * * * *