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by Paul Turner

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a service of worship and blessing centered on the Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It began in the Middle Ages as a popular devotional exercise. In recent years the frequency of its celebration has lessened, but it remains in our liturgical books. Some older Catholics remember it fondly; some younger Catholics have never heard of it.

After Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church revised its order of service for Benediction along with all the other liturgical rites. The full title, "Rite of Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction," helps explain its purpose. The faithful gaze at an unconsumed host from a previous Mass and worship the presence of the risen Christ in that host.

The ceremony has four parts: exposition, adoration, benediction, and reposition. During exposition, the minister goes to the tabernacle and removes a large host reserved there. Placing it in a monstrance (a windowed liturgical vessel which displays the host), the minister sets the object of our devotion on the altar. The period of adoration may be lengthy. Prayers, Scripture readings, songs, homily, and silence may fill the time. At the close of this period, if the minister is a priest or a deacon, he blesses the assembly with the monstrance and says a concluding prayer. This blessing is the benediction from which the service derives its name. If a communion minister is presiding, he or she does not give a blessing. Finally, the minister removes the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance and places it back in the tabernacle, an action called "reposition."

Traditionally, Catholics have sung two popular eucharistic hymns during the adoration, "O Salutaris Hostia" and "Pange Lingua" but any eucharistic hymn will serve. A litany of acclamations to God "The Divine Praises," usually concluded benediction, but the revised liturgy does not specifically include them. Any acclamation or song of praise may close the service.

Benediction enhances our devotion to the Eucharist and whets our appetite for the Mass. The main reason we have eucharistic bread is to consume it in communion with one another and with Christ. However, it may also serve as an object of praise, a vision of the great treasure we share at every Mass.

(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY, copyright (c) 1996, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to

(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University.)

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