|Link - Benediction at St Sebastian's Church in Salzburg.|
BENEDICTION.As Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament usually concludes the services of Sunday and the greater Festivals, so a few words on the subject may fittingly bring to a close these Simple Instructions on the Holy Eucharist. The word Benediction means a blessing; the rite of Benediction is one of the most devotional acts of worship the Church offers to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament ; at its close, the priest blesses the people with the Sacred Host, and thus the name Benediction is extended to the whole service. The form it usually takes amongst us here in England is well known to all : the singing of the O salutaris, of the Litany of Our Lady, of the Tantum ergo, and then the blessing. Owing to its greater length, this Litany naturally occupies the greater portion of the whole service. To many, no doubt, it may seem strange that, with Our Blessed Lord solemnly exposed to view, the larger share of our devotions should be addressed to His holy Mother. Yet, as a matter of history, it is devotion to the Blessed Virgin that has brought about the beautiful rite of Benediction.
But for Our Lady, in the actual dispensation of God, we should never have had Jesus at all ; and, historically, but for the gathering of our forefathers in the faith to rehearse the praises of Mary, we might never have had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It is true that Exposition of the Sacred Host was known in Catholic Spain as far back as the sixth century, testifying to the belief of the Church in the Real Presence; but Benediction, or the blessing, is of much more recent date.
In the former days of faith, pious members of the Church, both in this country and elsewhere, often bequeathed legacies for the purpose of securing a service of devotion to the Mother of God in the evening, accompanied with the burning of lights in her honour. One or other of the anthems of the Breviary was to be said or sung, after the public office of the Church was ended, and quite as a distinct service. This was chiefly undertaken by the Laity, who, not being bound to recite the Breviary, yet wished to show their love for the Mother of God by singing her praises, sometimes even providing organ accompaniment for the same. For this purpose, they usually chose the Salve Regina, or some other anthem or hymn in her honour, and they even founded guilds or associations, in order to secure regularity and permanence in the devotion.
In the course of time, praises to the Blessed Sacrament came to be added to this evening-service of Our Lady, especially on Friday, the day of Our Lord's mercy and love to man. At first it was probably a simple exposing of the Sacred Host, and then later, developing further, about the sixteenth century, the blessing was given with It over the bowed heads and hearts of the faithful.
For this solemn rite, the Altar is usually adorned with candles and flowers, in greater or lesser number, according to the nature of the feast. The lighted candles express our festive joy and add splendour to the worship we wish to pay to our Sacramental Lord, while the flowers denote our love and our endeavour to enlist in His service all that is most beautiful in nature. This display of lights and flowers in the most popular of modern devotions is a great source of attraction both to Catholics and non-catholics, the latter being more willingly present at this evening service than at the morning offering of Holy Mass. The Faithful should deem it a privilege to supply both flowers and candles for the Altar, especially as the greater festivals come round. These candles burn and consume themselves, while the flowers exhale their perfume and spend their frail lives before the Blessed Sacrament, as a silent prayer before Him from whom they have their being; such sweet prayer cannot fail to bring a blessing on those who gave them in His name.
The O salutaris is part of a hymn written by the angelic Doctor, S. Thomas of Aquin, in the thirteenth century, it is addressed directly to the Blessed Sacrament:
" O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of Heaven to man below, Our foes press on from every side,
Thine aid supply, thy strength bestow."
The opening words appropriately begin the service, as the priest opens the door of the Tabernacle, to take therefrom the Sacred Host and place It in the Monstrance. This the priest then places on the Throne above the Tabernacle in full view of the assembled Faithful. When Our Lord is thus enthroned, we pay homage to Him as our God, our King and loving Saviour. He holds, as it were, a royal reception, and we are privileged to be presented at His Court. The first act of homage is the offering of incense which, with triple swing of the thurible, the priest presents to Him from the steps of the Altar.
The use of Incense in divine service is very-ancient. From God Himself Moses received particular instructions (Exod. xxx. i) to build an Altar in the Tabernacle, whereon to burn incense, as an emblem of prayer ascending to God from the hearts of men. The early Christians followed the example of the Jews, and used incense at the celebration of their Liturgy, as is done to this day during solemn High Mass. This rite is one of the most conspicuous in the Catholic Church, for the offering of incense has ever been figurative both of personal reverence and of religious homage. We know how the Magi presented their new-born Saviour with "gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matt. ii. n). And from history we learn that kings and emperors have furnished gold and silver thuribles to the Church for the burning of incense at the Altar.
This use of incense indicates that the place is holy and consecrated to the worship of God, to whom alone incense is offered. The fragrance of the burning spices is typical of the Good odour of Jesus Christ, which should exhale from the souls of all who come into His presence. Then, incense has invariably been regarded as a beautiful figure of the prayer of the sincere Christian, and appropriately so ; for the cloud of incense cannot rise in the air until it first be enkindled, and the prayer of the heart cannot ascend to God unless the heart be inflamed with His love. The psalmist cries out: " Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight" (Ps. cxl. 2).
From these considerations, it should be clear how appropriate and becoming is the use of incense during Benediction, when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed before us, and how truly it testifies to our belief in the Real Presence, for to offer it to mere bread would be nothing less than idolatry.
When the O salutaris is finished, the Litany of Loreto usually follows. This has, in more recent times, come into vogue, in place of the former Salve or other anthem, though its history goes no further back than the sixteenth century. It is quite familiar to the practical Catholic, whether in Latin or in English.
From what has already been said it will appear that Benediction, in its origin, was essentially a devotion of the Laity, a popular service. What a pity then it is that so many nowadays fail to attend it, seem to think it quite superfluous and of no account, content with the Mass of obligation in the morning ; and with those that do come to it, it has so far lost its popular character, that very seldom do the Faithful take their part in the singing, which must accompany Benediction. Here, at any rate, there should be no difficulty in the Congregation joining in and taking their part in the service. The music is simple and easy, usually familiar to them, and should not therefore be left exclusively to the choir. Nothing is more beautiful and devotional, nothing more thrilling and soul-stirring than the hearty congregational singing so often heard in the churches in Germany, but, it must be confessed, too seldom in this country. Let each one, therefore, strive to take part in the Litany and other prayers sung at Benediction, the solemn rite that attracts non-Catholics to the church more than perhaps any other of her services.
After the verse and prayer that belong to the Litany, there follows next the Tantum ergo. This contains the last two verses of the Pange lingua, another of S. Thomas' beautiful hymns, in honour of the Blessed Sacrament.
" Down in adoration falling,
Lo ! the Sacred Host we hail;
Lo ! o'er ancient forms departing Newer rites of grace prevail,
Faith for all defects supplying Where the feeble senses fail."
Suiting the action to the words, veneremur cernui, we bend down and adore the Blessed Sacrament before us. At the beginning of the second verse, the priest again puts incense into the thurible, and thrice offers it up as before. Then comes the versicle so familiar to our ears, Panem de cӕlo, of which an explanation has already been given ; this is followed by the response and the prayer.
When this is ended, the Veil is laid over the shoulders of the priest, who then goes up to the Altar and lowers the Blessed Sacrament from Its throne. In his hands, now covered out of reverence with the veil, he raises the Monstrance, and turning round with it blesses the adoring congregation, reminding us of Jesus blessing the little children of old!
As during the Elevation at Mass, so, while this blessing is being given, absolute silence seems more appropriate and more impressive than the sweetest music the organ can give forth, more impressive certainly than the music that is often heard!
When the Monstrance is placed again on the Altar, there follows in this country the saying or chanting of the Divine Praises, " Blessed be God," etc., by which an indulgence of two years may be gained. The object of these ejaculations is to make reparation for the irreverences of every kind that are committed by wicked men against God and Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of love, against His Holy Mother and the Saints. Such reparation is nowadays more than ever needed ; let us join very heartily in saying them, and meanwhile gain an indulgence that can bring relief to the suffering souls in Purgatory.
The priest then replaces the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle, the sacred rite is ended, the public reception is over, the audience closed. We sing the Adoremus, " Let us for ever adore the most holy Sacrament." " O praise the Lord, all ye nations, praise Him, all ye people" (Ps. cxvi.). " Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."
Thus ends the beautiful and popular service of Benediction, the usual feature of our Sunday evening devotions. And when we leave, each one going to his own home, the sweet influence of this blessing of Jesus is upon us, and goes with us, like the fragrant perfume of incense that hung about His throne. If we have been remiss in the past, let us try to realise all this, and resolve not to miss such a grace in the future, but make the most of so precious an opportunity.
The end has now been reached of these Simple Instructions on the great mystery of the Christian Religion, the most holy Eucharist. If the reader will just again look over the Contents, he will see the ground we have covered, and perhaps be able to get a general bird's eye view of the entire subject. It has naturally fallen into two great divisions, inasmuch as this Divine mystery instituted by Our Lord is both Sacrament and Sacrifice, each differing from the other in many respects, and therefore needing separate treatment. The chief points under each have been considered, and it is hoped that real instruction has been provided for such as need it. If what has been said in a simple and humble way be taken to heart and dwelt upon, an increase of love towards the Blessed Sacrament should be the result ; this love will manifest itself in many practical forms, but especially by more frequent attendance at the Holy Sacrifice and more fervent reception of Holy Communion. This will help to bring back, in these our days of coldness and indifference, the practice of the early ages of faith, which the Church so earnestly longs to see adopted once again by her children.