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Eucharist Outside Mass, Worship of the


On the feast of Corpus Christi, June 21, 1973, the Congregation of Divine Worship revised the regulations

regarding "Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass" (HCWE). Two decades later (in 1994), certain aspects of the teaching found in HCWE were reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). "Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration. 'To visit the Blessed Sacrament is a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord"' (Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei 66)" (CCC 1418). This article focuses upon the principles and practices described in both these documents.

Principles. "Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass" (79, 81) reaffirms the Church's teaching that the liturgical assembly's celebration of Mass is the "source and culmination of the whole Christian life," and that "prayer before Christ the Lord sacramentally present" in the reserved Sacrament "extends the union with Christ which the faithful have reached in Communion." Thus the liturgical celebration of Mass is both "the origin and the goal of the worship which is shown to the Eucharist outside Mass" (HCWE 2). Thus the altar, not the tabernacle, is the center of Christian worship. But because the Eucharist is reserved, it is fitting and proper that it be adored. The legislation of the Church has always been clear on this point. Participation in the Mass has always been fostered, while exposition of the reserved Eucharist is limited to extraordinary occasions.

The primary and original reason for reservation of the Eucharist is, of course, to provide Communion for the sick and dying (viaticum). The secondary reasons are to provide Communion outside Mass and to permit adoration of Christ in the reserved Sacrament. Following the lead of Vatican Council II (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7), HCWE affirms the many presences of Christ in his Church. "First, he is present in the very assembly of the faithful, gathered together in his name; next he is present in his word, when the Scriptures are read in the Church and explained; then in the person of the minister; finally and above all, in the eucharistic Sacrament" (HCWE 6). Among these many presences of Christ, the eucharistic presence is distinctive and preeminent: "In a way that is completely unique, the whole and entire Christ, God and man, is substantially and permanently present in the Sacrament" (HCWE 6). For this reason, "it is highly recommended that the place [for the reservation of the Eucharist] be suitable for private adoration and prayer, so that the faithful may easily, fruitfully, and constantly honor the Lord through personal worship" (HCWE 9). Finally, HCWE notes that because the celebration of Mass is source and summit of the Church's activity, "Eucharistic devotions should be in harmony with the Sacred Liturgy, take their origin from the Liturgy, and lead people back to the Liturgy" (HCWE 79).

In light of these principles, HCWE provides liturgical forms for Holy Communion outside Mass (ChapterI), for Communion of the sick and dying (Chapter II), and for worship of the Eucharist outside Mass (Chapter III). Among the latter are exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, eucharistic processions, and eucharistic congresses.

Exposition and Benediction. "Exposition of the Holy Eucharist, either in the ciborium or in the monstrance, is intended to acknowledge Christ's marvelous presence in the Sacrament" (HCWE 82). In light of the principle found in HCWE 79, however, "exposition must clearly express the cult of the Blessed Sacrament in its relationship to the Mass" (HCWE 82). For that reason, "Mass is prohibited in the body of the church" while exposition is taking place (HCWE 83). "If exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is extended for an entire day or over several days, it is to be interrupted during the celebration of Mass" (HCWE 83). During the exposition, customary signs of reverence are used (lighted candles, incense) and "there should be prayers, songs, and readings To encourage a prayerful spirit, there should be readings from Scripture with a homily or brief exhoration" (HCWE 85; 9394). Silence, song, and praying parts of the Liturgy of the Hours are also appropriate (HCWE 9596).

Exposition ordinarily concludes with benediction and reposition of the Sacrament in the tabernacle (HCWE 97100); however, "exposition which is held exclusively for the giving of benediction is prohibited"(HCWE 89). Historically, benediction probably developed from the showing of the Host at the various stations of the Corpus Christi procession. The first known example of Benediction similar to that common today was at Hildesheim in the fifteenth century. It was a response to the growing desire on the part of the faithful to look upon the Host, a desire enhanced by the earlier theological disputes over transubstantiation and the exact moment of consecration. Concurrent with the strengthening of this desire was the gradual introduction of an evening service for the faithful centered around the Salve Regina, which had been composed in the eleventh century. By 1221 it had been joined to Compline in the Dominican monastery in Bologna. As early as 1250, it was part of a popular evening devotion in France. During the next two or three centuries the two devotions, one to the Blessed Mother, the other to the Blessed Sacrament, were combined, whence Benediction is still known in France as Le Salut.

The rite of benediction given in HCWE is simple; it consists of a eucharistic hymn or song, incensation (if the Sacrament is exposed in a monstrance), a brief period of silence, prayer, a blessing of the people with the monstrance (or ciborium) in the form of a cross (the priest or deacon wearing a humeral veil), reposition of the Sacrament, and concluding acclamation (HCWE 97100).

Processions. It is for the local ordinary to judge whether eucharistic processions are opportune in today's circumstances (HCWE 101). Some processions, such as the annual procession on the feast of Corpus Christi, have "special importance and meaning for the pastoral life of the parish or city," and hence it is "desirable to continue this procession, in accordance with the law, when today's circumstances permit and when it can truly be a sign of common faith and adoration"(HCWE 102). Such processions "should be arranged in accordance with local customs" (HCWE 104). The priest who carries the Sacrament in procession may wear a chasuble (if Mass has just been celebrated) or cope (HCWE 105). Again, "in accordance with local customs," lights and incense accompany the Blessed Sacrament, which is carried under a canopy (HCWE 106). At the end of the procession, benediction is given and the Sacrament is reposed (HCWE 108).

Congresses. Finally, HCWE speaks of "eucharistic congresses [which] have been introduced into the life of the Church in recent years as a special manifestation of eucharistic worship"(HCWE 109). These large assemblies may be international, national, regional, or local. Their purpose is to deepen understanding of, and devotion to, the Eucharist by gathering "an individual local church," or "the entire local church," or even all the churches "of a single region or nation or even of the entire world" for the sake of manifesting "some aspect of the eucharistic mystery" and expressing through public worship "the bond of charity and unity"(HCWE 109). "Specialists in theological, biblical, liturgical, pastoral, and humane studies" are to be consulted beforehand concerning the place, theme, and program of the congress (HCWE 110). HCWE also encourages sound catechesis and "more active participation in the Liturgy" as appropriate preludes to a congress (HCWE 111). Criteria for celebrating the congress are also provided (HCWE 112). Such gatherings were especially popular in Catholic dioceses during the Jubilee Year 2000.

Historically, the origins of eucharistic congresses can be traced back to the work of Marie Marthe Emilia Tamisier (d. 1910), who first encouraged pilgrimages to places in her native France where eucharistic miracles were commemorated: Avignon, Ars, Douai, Paris, and Paray-le-Monial. The experience of seeing about 60 members of the French Parliament kneel in Margaret Mary Alacoque's chapel at Paray-le-Monial and pledge themselves to resist the secularist policies of the French government, convinced Tamisier of the potential that could be unleashed if Christians were brought together to profess their faith in the Eucharist and in the teachings of Christ. Thus, at the outset there was a socio-political dimension to such gatherings, especially in places where conflict between Church and culture was acute.

A Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses was instituted in 1879 by Pope Leo XIII; more than a century later (1986), it was established with new statutes by Pope John Paul II. The first attempts at organizing a eucharistic congress in Europe failed, but one was eventually held at the University of Lille in June of 1881 with 800 people attending from Belgium, England, Spain, France, Holland, and Switzerland. Numerous such meetings followed, and it became customary for the pope ro honor the international eucharistic congress by the presence of a legate a latere. After the congress at Lourdes in 1914, meetings were interrupted by World War I. At the congress in Rome, 1922, Pope Pius XI decreed that future meetings be held every two years. From then until World War II regular international congresses were held, including meetings in Africa, South America, Australia, and the Philippines. International congresses were resumed in 1952, and they have continued (at irregular intervals) until the present time.

See Also: eucharistic congresses.

Bibliography: n. mitchell, Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (New York 1982). Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, I Congressi Eucaristici Internazionali per una Nuova Evangelizzaione (Città del Vaticano 1991).

[n. d. mitchell]

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