Exposition and Adoration
Not long ago, on a Friday evening, while visiting a major international Marian shrine recognized by the Holy See, I attended exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. There are a number of priests on staff at this particular shrine. The sacristan, a layman who manages to be unfailingly kind and business-like at the same time, emerged from the sacristy; opened the tabernacle; removed from it the monstrance containing the Sacred Host; placed it, rather unceremoniously on the altar; genuflected and left.
There was no singing, no use of incense, and no priest, therefore no use of the humeral veil and none of the marks of reverence and adoration that should accompany such a rite: liturgical minimalism of the most egregious sort.
A Para-Liturgy of the Laity
A couple of devout ladies in the first pew took charge, announcing page numbers and reciting a sequence of vocal prayers at at pace that was more than lively. Their recitation was so fast that I marveled at their ability to crank on without stopping for a breath. The entire service was conducted by laypersons. At the conclusion there was, given the absence of a priest, no Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The monstrance containing the Sacred Host was summarily removed from the altar, replaced in the tabernacle and . . . well . . . that was it.
A Spiritual Cancer
I found myself grieving over the whole situation. It was an experience of liturgical minimalism such as I have never seen. It was exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament on the cheap. The absence of the priest was symptomatic of a spiritual cancer that, even after the Year of the Eucharist and the Year of the Priest, is metastasizing throughout the Church.
It Was Bound to Happen
What was happening there? The liturgical minimalism and irreverence that have come to characterize the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in so many places have now invaded the rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It was bound to happen. The ethos of Holy Communion received in the hand, of the abusive use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and of the loss of any awareness of sacred space has now overflowed into the cultus of the Most Holy Eucharist outside of Mass. The rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is fast becoming the exclusive purview of the laity, and often of the sacristan, or of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. A rite that, in the mind of the Church, is to be solemn, festive, and hierarchically ordered has become something sad, bland, and common.
The Priest and the Body of Christ
The practice I witnessed first-hand at the shrine of X. is symptomatic of something grievously wrong. A wedge is being driven between the cultus of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the priest who is ordained not only to confect the adorable Body and precious Blood of Christ, but also to offer the Holy Sacrifice, to handle the Sacred Species, and to present the Body of Christ to the gaze of the faithful and to their adoration.
Foretaste of Heaven
In former times, the authorization of the Ordinary was required for exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I remember well seeing, as a young lad, a framed and beautifully handwritten document on the sacristy wall listing the days on which exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament were permitted. Exposition and Benediction were privileged moments, anticipated with joy: a foretaste of heaven that passed all too quickly, leaving the fragrance of incense hanging in the air.
Something Has Gone Very Wrong
In fifty years time we have come to quite another scenario: a layman in work clothes (or a lay woman) places the monstrance on the altar and walks away. A few ladies begin a series of devotional prayers. And, here and there, in the semi-darkness of the church, a few souls weep, for they understand that something has gone very wrong. Very wrong indeed.