A popular evening devotion in the Catholic Church is Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. At Benediction, the Sacred Host is exposed for us to look upon it and adore it, and then the priest blesses us with the Host. It is a way for us to participate in some of the graces of the Holy Eucharist. Even if we cannot consume the Host, we can still unite ourselves to God and receive his grace by adoring the Sacred Host and being blessed with the Host at Benediction. Benediction is not part of any liturgy, and its form is not governed by any official documents. What I will describe here is the most common practice.
Benediction grew out of popular devotion to the Blessed Sacrament during the thirteenth century. After the elevations of the Host and Chalice after the consecrations were introduced at Mass toward the end of the twelfth century, many of the faithful developed a devotion to looking upon and adoring the Sacred Host. At one time, if a dying person was unable to receive Holy Communion as part of the Last Rites, the priest would still bring him the Blessed Sacrament to look upon. In 1246, the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. It was and continues to be observed by large processions of people with the Blessed Sacrament. The modern devotion of Benediction comes from these thirteenth century customs.
Today, Benediction is commonly done in the evening before or after Mass or Vespers. At various times and places in the Church's history, customs have existed of gathering in the evening for various devotions, which may have included Vespers, sermons, hymns, the Rosary, or Benediction. Mass was not allowed to be said in the evening until 1953, so Benediction was a way to still adore the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass.
At Benediction, the priest wears a surplice, stole, and cope. He is assisted by at least two servers in surplices. Benediction is a joyful occasion, so the liturgical color is white and the organ is played, even during Lent. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in an elaborate silver and gold vessel called a monstrance. Pictured below is the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance.
The hymn O salutaris Hostia is sung when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. This hymn consists of the last two stanzas of the hymn Verbum supernum prodiens, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas and sung at Lauds on the feast of Corpus Christi. It is a hymn of praise to the Blessed Sacrament. During the singing of this hymn, the priest incenses the Blessed Sacrament. Servers may hold torches at the foot of the altar throughout the ceremony, just as they do during the Canon of the Mass.
|O salutaris Hostia,
Quæ cæli pandis ostium:
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria,
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.
|O saving Victim, opening
The gate of heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side;
Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.
To thy great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, one in three.
O grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with thee.
Next, there is a period of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The amount of time spent in adoration varies from a few minutes to several hours. A popular devotion is to spend one hour (known as a holy hour) adoring the Blessed Sacrament, in response to our Lord's question in his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Matthew 26:40). Sometimes, as part of the adoration, Vespers is offered before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Hymns and devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary are frequently included, and the Holy Rosary may be said. Generally, the priest will lead whatever devotions he thinks are necessary and beneficial for the parish.
After the period of adoration, we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and sing the hymn Tantum ergo. This hymn consists of the final two stanzas of the hymn Pange lingua gloriosi, also composed by St. Thomas Aquinas and sung at both first and second Vespers of the feast of Corpus Christi. In the second line of the Tantum ergo, at the words “Veneremur cernui,” we bow in adoration of our Lord. The priest then incenses the Blessed Sacrament again. There are two well-known chant tunes for the Tantum ergo. Both originate from different parts of Spain.
|Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Præstet fides supplementum
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.
|Down in adoration
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.
To the everlasting Father,
And the Son who reigns on high
With the Holy Ghost proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honour, blessing,
Might, and endless majesty.
This is followed by a versicle and response (the versicle and response sung after the hymn at Vespers) and the collect of Corpus Christi.
|Panem de cælo
Omne delectaméntum in se habéntem.
Deus, qui nobis sub Sacraménto mirábili passiónis tuæ memóriam reliquísti: tríbue, quǽsumus, ita nos Córporis, et Sánguinis tui sacra mystéria venerári; ut redemptiónis tuæ fructum in nobis iúgiter sentiámus:
Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre, in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, per ómnia sǽcula sæculórum.Amen.
|Thou hast given them
bread from heaven.
Having within it all sweetness.
Let us pray.
O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament left us a memorial of thy Passion: grant, we implore thee, that we may so venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, as always to be conscious of the fruit of thy Redemption.
Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.Amen.
Then comes the Benediction itself. The priest takes the humeral veil, goes up to the altar, and takes the monstrance. He turns toward the people and makes a large Sign of the Cross with the monstrance to bless them. While he is doing so, bells are rung and the Blessed Sacrament is incensed a third time, like at the elevation at Mass. The priest turns back to the altar and places the monstrance back upon it.
The priest and servers then kneel before the altar and say the Divine Praises. These praises were written at the end of the eighteenth century as a devotion to make reparation for sacrilege and blasphemy. They are usually said in English. The priest says each line, with the people repeating it.
|Blessed be God.
Blessed be his holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Blessed be the Name of Jesus.
Blessed be his most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be his most Precious Blood.
Blessed be Jesus in the most holy Sacrament of the altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her Holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints.
The Blessed Sacrament is then put back into the tabernacle. Benediction is concluded with Psalm 116, a psalm of praise sung at Lauds on Mondays, with the antiphon, “Let us forever adore the most holy Sacrament.”
|Adoremus in aeternum
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes: laudate eum omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus: et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
Adoremus in aeternum sanctissimum Sacramentum.
Gloria Patri, Filio, et Spiritui Sancto: Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Adoremus in aeternum sanctissimum Sacramentum.
|Let us forever adore the
most holy Sacrament.
O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
For his mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.
Let us forever adore the most holy Sacrament.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Let us forever adore the most holy Sacrament.
Alternatively, a suitable hymn may be sung. The English hymn Holy God We Praise Thy Name is often sung at the end of Benediction. This is the end of the ceremony of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Once again, this is merely the most common practice. Individual dioceses or countries may have their own guidelines, but there is no official form for Benediction. This is because Benediction, unlike the Mass or Divine Office, is not a liturgy. Rather, it is a beautiful devotion that has grown out of the faithful's zeal and devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament – A popular devotion involving adoration of and blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.
monstrance – An elaborate silver and gold vessel in which the Sacred Host is exposed.
O salutaris Hostia – A hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas, sung when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.
adoration – Worshipping the Blessed Sacrament for a period of time, usually including various devotions and periods of silence.
holy hour – Adoration for one hour, in response to our Lord's question, “Could you not watch one hour with me?”
Tantum ergo – A hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas, sung after the adoration and just before the Benediction itself.
Divine Praises – A devotion originally written to make reparation for blasphemy, said in English after Benediction.