March 8, 1998
Brother John Raymond
Jesus promised to be with us always. (Matt. 28:20) At a very early period in the Church's history there arose the practice of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. In those days, perhaps because of the dangers of persecution, celebrations of the Mass could not be frequent, and between celebrations the faithful reserved the Blessed Sacrament in their homes and sometimes communicated themselves. After the persecutions the Holy Eucharist continued to be reserved, but in churches where people could go to pray and worship in the very presence of Christ.
The practice of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament began in the Middle Ages. The sense of Christ's living presence, already experienced by the faithful through reservation of the Holy Eucharist, was intensified by opening the doors of the tabernacle or by exhibiting the Host on a throne in a monstrance (c. 1500). St. Bridget of Sweden (1303 - 1373) is, as far as I know, the earliest person to have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord told her to place a glass ciborium on the altar for adoration. St. Gertrude the Great (1256 - c. 1301) gave more impetus to this pious practice by saying that every time a person looked at the Holy Eucharist with love their place in heaven was raised.
It is easy to understand how this practice soon caught on. We feel that people are really present to us when we are able to see them. That is why talking on the telephone just isn't the same as a personal visit with someone.
At some point another pious practice developed. The priest, in giving Holy Communion, would first make the sign of the cross with the Host over the head of the recipient.
The combination of these two practices brought the Benediction service into existence. Prayers were added, drawn partly from the Book of Psalms (Psalter), from St. Thomas Aquinas and at a later time, from the Jesuit priest, Fr. Louis Felici. In response to these pious currents, there finally crystallized the service of Benediction as we know it today.
Part of the Benediction service involves adoration of the Holy Eucharist exposed either in a ciborium or in a monstrance. Exposition "leads us to acknowledge Christ's marvelous presence in the Sacrament and invites us to the spiritual union with Him that culminates in Sacramental Communion. Therefore it is a strong encouragement toward the worship owed to Christ in spirit and in truth." (The Rites, Volume I, p. 671) The Church encourages worship of the Holy Eucharist outside of Mass. Benediction or the blessing with Our Eucharistic Lord is normally the climax of periods of Eucharistic adoration or Eucharistic processions before the Lord is reposed in the tabernacle.
Certainly Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a very moving experience and a pious practice that people appreciate very much. Many healings, physical and spiritual, have taken place at Lourdes when the sick were blessed with the Blessed Sacrament during the special afternoon Eucharistic procession. Some people today have no experience of a Benediction service. I pray that every one of my readers has the blessing of being able to attend often Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.