By Larry Peterson
Growing up and going to Catholic school, we had religion class every day. One thing we all learned about was the “Real Presence.” There was no doubt in our minds that inside the church, Jesus was truly present “body and blood, soul and divinity. He was inside the tabernacle, and He was waiting for us to “visit” Him. The phrase, “I’m going to pay a visit,” needed no explanation. So when did “visiting Jesus” start and where did Adoration and Benediction come from?
Adoration is a centuries-old practice that evolved from the earliest Christian days when the faithful, upon leaving Mass, brought the leftover consecrated bread home so it could be distributed to the sick and those who were unable to get to Mass (as an EMHC I do something similar today, but I do not take it home).
However, there were times when some of the consecrated bread was saved to distribute to the faithful during the week. This was a time when there were no daily Masses. This leftover consecrated bread had to be kept somewhere worthy of the Son of God. The people would make special places in their homes to keep the consecrated host in repose.
It appears that after Emperor Constantine stopped the persecution of the Christians in 313 A.D., construction of churches began in earnest. It was during this time that the Holy Eucharist began being kept in the churches for distribution to the sick. The sacristy was the usual place for repose.
Over the next several centuries, the Eucharist was relocated to the sanctuary near or above the altar. An unexpected result of this was that the faithful were drawn to Christ present and began praying to Him privately.
The Middle Ages is when actual Adoration began to take hold. People were receiving Holy Communion less frequently so the church decreed that people only had to receive Holy Communion once a year. The changing customs and attitudes also saw a separation take place between the altars and the congregation. It seemed that the churches were trying to separate the priest from the people.
Being distanced from the actions on the altar during Mass and combining that with the infrequent reception of Holy Communion gave rise to a new phenomenon; the people began staring and/or gazing at the vessel holding the Blessed Sacrament. Since the people could not receive communion as frequently as they wanted to, they began what became known as “Adoration.” Seeing Christ in the elevated Host oftentimes replaced receiving Holy Communion.
People even started coming to Mass extra early so they could get a good spot to watch the elevation of the Host. This was also when the ringing of the bells at the consecration took hold to alert the people to what was happening. People even timed services so they could go from one church to another to witness the elevation again. It was during his time that the idea of the monstrance began to take hold.
In 1264, Pope Urban IV ordered that the Feast of Corpus Christi be enacted throughout the universal church. Pope Urban passed away before it was implemented, so it was not until 1317 that Pope John XXII, added it to the church calendar. Since the laity was still not receiving frequent communion, this added to the practice of Adoration. Corpus Christi processions followed.
Soon the Holy Eucharist, contained in a monstrance, was being carried by the priest in procession. The procession began led by the clergy and followed by the laity. It ended with a Benediction. By the 1600s, detailed instructions for holding Benediction were put in place by the church. Eucharistic Adoration can now be traced to the 16th century. Guidelines were put in place in 1973.
In his 1980 Holy Thursday letter to priests, Dominicae cenae, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Since the Eucharistic mystery was instituted out of love, and makes Christ sacramentally present, it is worthy of thanksgiving and worship. And this worship must be prominent in all our encounters with the Blessed Sacrament…”