lördag 29 april 2017
Things we Catholics do #2 - Eucharistic devotion
Eucharistic devotion is the practice of worship of the consecrated host which is really and truly the Body of Christ. It takes several forms.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is the use of the consecrated host as an object to meditate upon, rather as Buddhists might contemplate a mandala or Orthodox Christians an ikon. The host is placed in a monstrance, a container with glass windows at front and rear. It is held in position by a clip called a lunette. Monstrances come in two main patterns. The Gothic pattern resembles a reliquary. The monstrance on the altar in the photograph is the more common sunburst style, which seems to date from the Baroque period and may have originated in Peru, since the Incas had a sun-god cult and depicted their deity as a sun.
Benediction is a short service with hymns and a short period of contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. The hymns usually sung are to texts composed by St Thomas Aquinas: O salutaris hostia, and the last two verses of Pange lingua, Tantum ergo, and Psalm 116 with the antiphon Adoremus in aeternum. Benediction usually includes some kind of litany such as The Divine Praises.
Blessed Sacrament processions. These usually takes place on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The priest carries the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, and walks either under a canopy called a baldacchino, with four bearers or under an ombrellino (an umbrella-like canopy) carried by a single bearer. These are flanked by torch-bearers and preceded by a thurifer carrying a censor with incense.
The Feast of Corpus Christi is a feast in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. It was instituted in the thirteenth century in obedience to the vision of a nun, the Blessed Juliana of Liege, a Praemonstratensian (Norbertine) Canoness. This was at about the same time as St Thomas Aquinas was developing the doctrine of Transubstantiation; he composed the text for the liturgy for the feast day, including the long sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem and the processional hymn Pange lingua. The introit to the Mass is a beautiful Gregorian tune to the text Cibavit eos. The feast is celebrated on the first available Thursday after the Easter season, ie the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. These days, unfortunately, the feast day is usually moved to the following Sunday, which breaks the connection with Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, and it is rare to hear the Latin texts with their special and characteristic tunes. This is particularly sad as these post-Vatican 2 changes have lost us a quintessentially Catholic feast.
None of these devotions would have been possible for practical reasons if the Latin church had not adopted the practice of using unleavened bread for the eucharist and they could therefore not exist in the Orthodox churches. They are a medieval development and grew up after the Great Schism. Whether we should really be following them at all is a question that we might usefully consider. Our Lord's command was to take and eat my Body and drink my Blood. Chapter 6 of St John's gospel makes it clear that these were not symbolic; that is why we are told the Jews were shocked at this teaching. However, eucharistic devotion is a big step beyond eating and drinking. As number XXV of the Anglican articles of faith puts it, "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them."
Whether the Anglicans are right about this is another matter, but it is worth remembering that the practice is not followed in any of the other ancient apostolic churches so they might just have a point.
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