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Dictionary of Eucharistic Terms

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

A Eucharistic devotion in the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite. In its traditional form, a priest, vested in surplice, stole, and cope, places on the altar or in the niche above it the consecrated Host in the ostensorium, or monstrance, and then incenses it. O Salutaris Hostia or similar hymn is usually sung at the beginning of exposition, followed by a period of meditation, praise, and adoration by priest and people. At the conclusion of the ceremony the Tantum Ergo hymn is chanted, with another incensation, and followed by blessing the people with the raised monstrance in the form of a cross. During the blessing the priest wears the humeral veil covering his hands. A small bell is rung during the blessing. The Divine Praises are then sung or recited by priest and people, and the Blessed Sacrament is reposed in the tabernacle. Benediction is commonly held on major feasts and Sundays, also during Lent, during a mission, or retreat or during forty hours' devotions. Other days may be designated by individual bishops. Since the Second Vatican Council the Holy See has simplified the traditional ritual, allowing for a variety of options in the prayers, songs, and readings "to direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord" (Eucharistiae Sacramentum, 1973, No. 95).


A covered container used to hold the consecrated small Hosts. It is similar to a chalice but covered and larger, used for small Communion hosts of the faithful. It is made of various precious metals, and the interior is commonly gold or gold-plated. Also synonymous with baldachino as the dome-shaped permanent canopy over a high altar, supported by columns and shaped like an inverted cup.

Corpus Christi

The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Thorote of Liége, at the suggestion of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon (1192-1258). Its observance was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264. The office for the day was composed by St.Thomas Aquinas, and the customary procession was approved by Popes Martin V and Eugene IV. Now celebrated as the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ on the first Thursday (or Sunday) after the feast of the Holy Trinity.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament

The ceremony in which a priest or deacon removes the Sacred Host from the tabernacle and places it on the altar for adoration. In public exposition the Sacred Host is placed in the lunette of the monstrance and elevated so that all adorers can see it. In private expositions the tabernacle door is opened and the ciborium containing consecrated Hosts is brought forward. Any good cause is reason for private adoration. Public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament requires a period of adoration, in private or public with prescribed hymns and prayers, as well as the blessing with the monstrance. Definite days for public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are no longer specified for the universal Church; now any days may be chosen for good reasons; and for regular exposition permissions are granted by the local ordinary. The ceremony was introduced in the fourteenth century under the influence of the newly established feast of Corpus Christi. Some religious monasteries and convents with special permission have the Sacred Host perpetually exposed for special honor and devotion with someone in attendance night and day.

First Friday

The customary observance of the first Friday of each month, encouraged by the Church, based on a promise made to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque (1647-90), that special favors, such as the grace of final perseverance, would be given to those who received Holy Communion on nine successive first Fridays.

Forty Hours Devotion

The solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during forty hours, in honor of the forty hours the body of Christ is believed to have rested in the tomb. The devotion was introduced by St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria in Milan and Vicenza in 1527, and propagated by the Jesuits under St. Ignatius. Approved by Pope Paul III in 1539, Pope Clement VIII, in 1592, in his constitution Graves et diuturnae and the Clementine Instructions of Pope Clement XI, in 1705, that were republished by Pope Clement XII in 1731 and established the correct form of the devotion. By the end of the eighteenth century, the custom had spread to many countries. St. John Neumann of Philadelphia (1811-60) was the first to hold the devotion in America with any degree of regularity. Where it is more feasible, the forty hours are interrupted during the night and the devotion extends over three days.

Holy Hour

A pious devotional exercise consisting of mental and vocal prayer with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It draws its inspiration from Christ's words to the Apostles in Gethsemane: "Can you not watch one hour with me?" It was taught by the Savior to St. Margaret Mary (1647-90) as one of the special practices of the Sacred Heart devotion. In the early nineteenth century a confraternity was founded at Paray-le-Monial, France, to spread the devotion, which has been highly recommended by the popes. If the hour is made publicly it is designated by a priest or the director; if made privately, any hour is suitable but preferably Thursday or Friday evening. The Passion of Christ is the theme during the hour, variously divided into meditation, vocal prayer, and singing. Many religious communities include the devotion as part of the horarium of their day.

Monstrance (emblem)

A symbol of the Blessed Sacrament since the monstrance is the sacred vessel which contains the consecrated Host when exposed or carried in procession. It is a well-known emblem of St. Clare, who is reported to have repulsed unbelievers who assaulted her convent of nuns by presenting to their gaze Christ in the monstrance. St. Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, is symbolized carrying the monstrance and blessing the people with it. St.Thomas Aquinas has the monstrance among his many emblems as the author of the famous hymns Lauda Sion and Pange Lingua, written to honor the Eucharistic Lord. St. John Neumann, who first established the forty hours' devotion in America, and St. Paschal Baylon, patron of Eucharistic Congresses, are both represented in art with the monstrance. (Etym. Latin monstrans from monstrare, to show, point out, indicate.) See also OSTENSORIUM.


A monstrance, a metal vessel usually gold- or silver-plated with a transparent section in which the Sacred Host is placed in its lunette when exposed for adoration or carried in procession. It varies in shape and ornamentation, popular models being tower-shaped or round; a metal circlet surrounded with rays or bars resting on a stem rising from a heavy base, many ornamented with jewels. The ostensorium in the Cathedral of Toledo took more than a hundred years to make and is reputed to be of gold brought by Columbus from America.

Perpetual Adoration

Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, either reserved in the tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance, continued by successive worshipers day and night without intermission. The practice of perpetual adoration of God by psalm and prayer has been maintained by monks and nuns since early Christian times, e.g., by the akoimetoi in the East, and the monastery of Agaunum, founded by King Sigismund of Burgundy in A.D. 522. Similar practices were current elsewhere before the ninth century. It was in France that perpetual adoration of the Eucharist began. Mother Mechtilde of the Blessed Sacrament pioneered the custom on request of Pére Picotte. The Benedictine convent, founded for this purpose, opened on March 25, 1654. Since then many religious communities have made perpetual Eucharistic adoration either the main or an essential part of their rule of life. Confraternities of the faithful have also been organized to practice the devotion, along with the religious or, in some cases, in their parish churches.


Sacred functions in which clergy and people parade from one place to another. They may be held within a church, between churches, or outside a church or shrine. Processions are public acts of homage to God, to give honor to him or his saints, to ask for divine favor, to thank him for blessings received, and to ask pardon for sins committed. Their practice goes back to Old Testament times to express the faith of a people, as distinct from the worship of a single individual, and of a people who symbolize their co-operative action, as distinct from merely their common profession of faith.


A cupboard or boxlike receptacle for the exclusive reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. In early Christian times the sacred species was reserved in the home because of possible persecution. Later dove-shaped tabernacles were suspended by chains before the altar. Nowadays tabernacles may be round or rectangular and made of wood, stone, or metal. They are covered with a veil and lined with precious metal or silk, with a corporal beneath the ciboria or other sacred vessels. According to the directive of the Holy See, since the Second Vatican Council, tabernacles are always solid and inviolable and located in the middle of the main altar or on a side altar, but always in a truly prominent place (Eucharisticum Mysterium, May 25, 1967, II, C).

Modern Catholic Dictionary, An Image Book Published by Doubleday,
Copyright © 1980, 1985 by John A. Hardon, S.J.

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