Q: Can you describe the different aspects of Eucharistic Adoration?
Jul 12, 2022

Q: Can you describe the different aspects of Eucharistic Adoration?

Editor’s note: The dioceses of the United States began a three-year period of “Eucharistic Revival” on June 19, 2022, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. A high point of the revival will be the National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 in Indianapolis, IN, to be followed by a period of intentional mission until Pentecost 2025. In brief terms, the Eucharistic Revival seeks to return and rekindle divine life in the Church and the world through the Eucharist. “It takes time to kindle a living, loving relationship,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Eucharistic Revival website says, “and a relationship with Jesus Christ is no exception. That’s why the Eucharistic Revival allows three years for discernment, encounter, and grassroots response on the diocesan, parish, and individual levels” (see www.eucharisticrevival.org).

U.S. Catholics are encouraged to learn more about the Eucharist during this time, to pray more often and more fervently the Mass during these years, and to find inspiration to take Christ into their homes, workplaces, and culture. Eucharistic adoration, while not the primary focus of the program, nevertheless occupies an important part of any Eucharistic Revival. The following Rite Questions address many of the queries surrounding Eucharistic Adoration.

Q: Is there a liturgical book that describes the rites at Eucharistic devotions?

A: Yes, and at the time of this writing, the liturgical book bears the name “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass” (HCWEOM). This ritual book was one of the first texts promulgated after the Second Vatican Council—the Latin typical edition in 1973 (De Sacra Communione et De cultu Mysterii Eucharistici Extra Missam), and the English translation in 1976. At the moment, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has submitted a subsequent translation of the text, one based upon the translation principles of Liturgiam Authenticam (2001) and following the procedures outlined in Magnum Principium (2017), with a slightly different title: “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass.”

HCWEOM contains the following collection of rites: 1) the Rite for Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass, whether in a church or outside of it, during the week; 2) Administration of Communion and Viaticum to the Sick by an Extraordinary Minister (these rites also appear in the ritual text Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum); 3) Forms of Worship of the Holy Eucharist, including rites for exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as instructions on Eucharistic processions and Eucharistic congresses. In addition to a general introduction on Eucharistic reception and worship outside of Mass, the book also collects additional texts for use during the celebration of the rites, as well as an appendix with a model outlining Eucharistic exposition and benediction, including one with the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours during the period of adoration.

Q: What are the terms that describe Eucharistic devotions?

A: The Church has her own unique terminology for her liturgical rites—and the same is true for official Eucharistic devotions. “Exposition” begins the period of prayerful worship, and finds the minister placing the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance (see below) or placing a ciborium on the altar. This ritual of “Exposition” also includes a hymn and incense. “Adoration” follows the exposition and can be a brief period (although “exposition which is held exclusively for the giving of benediction is prohibited” (HCWEOM, 89)); a more lengthy period, such as 40 hours devotion, or a period of all-night adoration; or it can take place to begin a period of perpetual adoration. “Benediction” indicates the rite used at the end of the period of adoration. Like exposition, benediction includes hymns, prayers, and incense while the priest or deacon blesses those present with the Eucharist. “Reposition” names the action of returning or “reposing” the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle at the end of benediction.

In short, “exposition” begins the period of prayer; “adoration” names the time during which those present pray, either individually or collectively; “benediction” concludes the period of adoration with the blessing (the meaning of “benediction”) by the Blessed Sacrament; “reposition” sees the Eucharist returned to the tabernacle.

Q: How is Eucharistic adoration related to the celebration of the Mass?

A: HCWEOM emphasizes the connection between the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass and the reception and adoration of the Eucharist outside of Mass throughout the text. In its general introduction, the ritual states clearly that “The celebration of the eucharist in the sacrifice of the Mass is truly the origin and the goal of the worship which is shown to the eucharist outside Mass” (2). Later, as it begins the section on Exposition of the Holy Eucharist, the Church says emphatically that “exposition must clearly express the cult of the blessed sacrament in its relationship to the Mass” (82).

But more than mere teaching on the connection, the rites themselves unite the Eucharistic celebration to Eucharistic adoration. “In the case of more solemn and lengthy exposition,” the rite instructs, “the host should be consecrated in the Mass which immediately precedes the exposition and after communion should be placed in the monstrance upon the altar. The Mass ends with the prayer after communion, and the concluding rites are omitted” (94). The rite similarly instructs that a eucharistic procession begins “after the Mass in which the host to be carried in procession has been consecrated” (102).

Q: What are the items called that the Church uses during Eucharistic adoration?

A: Just as the sequence of Eucharistic worship differs—exposition, adoration, benediction, reposition—so too are there a variety of liturgical items, themselves with unique nomenclature.

First, Eucharistic adoration usually focuses on the Blessed Sacrament after it has been placed in a “monstrance,” a word which means “to show.” A “luna” or “lunette” holds the consecrated host and is inserted into the monstrance. The luna consists, or originally did, of two crescent-shaped clips (hence luna, “moon”) that held the flat host in an upright position so that it could be seen at the center of the monstrance. Oftentimes, the luna or lunette is stored in a “custodia,” a housing that contains the luna while reserved in the tabernacle. More recently, tabernacles have been developed that have the host placed into a luna embedded in the front of the tabernacle, the cover or door of which can be opened or closed, but such designs do not appear in keeping with the present legislation.

Second, the monstrance or, alternatively, the ciborium (a sacred vessel containing consecrated hosts) is usually placed on a “corporal,” a roughly 18-inch square fabric, often starched, and folded into thirds both horizontally and vertically, thus appearing as nine smaller squares (3 x 3). If adoration in a monstrance “is to extend over a long period, a throne in an elevated position may be used, but this should not be too lofty or distant.”

Third, the rites surrounding Eucharistic adoration also include unique vestments, and these will be addressed below.

Q: Who can lead Eucharistic exposition and benediction?

A: If for no other reason than their service at the altar, the ordinary ministers for the rites of exposition and benediction are a priest or a deacon. Because of the sacred character of holy orders, a priest or deacon blesses those present with the Blessed Sacrament during the rite of benediction.

In the absence of a priest or deacon, or if he is impeded for a legitimate reason, the rites book permits “an [instituted] acolyte or special minister of communion,” or “a member of a religious community or of a lay association of men or women which is devoted to eucharistic adoration, upon appointment by the local ordinary” (91). But since these latter ministers lack the character and office of a priest or deacon, the details of their leadership are limited: “Such ministers may open the tabernacle and also, if suitable, place the ciborium on the altar or place the host in the monstrance. At the end of the period of adoration, they replace the blessed sacrament in the tabernacle. It is not lawful, however, for them to give the blessing with the sacrament” (ibid.).

Q: What vestments are worn by the ministers who lead Eucharistic devotions?

A: A variety of vestments are used during Eucharistic devotions, some varying according to the kind of minister presiding, others according to which ritual is being celebrated (i.e., exposition, adoration, benediction); the vestments to be worn are also dictated by whether the Eucharistic rites are associated with Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours.

The ritual book says: “The minister, if he is a priest or deacon, should vest in an alb, or a surplice over a cassock, and a stole. Other ministers should wear either the liturgical vestments which are used in the region or the vesture which is suitable for this ministry and which has been approved by the local Ordinary” (92). In light of the 2011 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, this vestment is likely an alb: “The sacred garment common to all ordained and instituted ministers of any rank is the alb” (336).

In addition to alb or cassock, “the priest or deacon should wear a white cope and humeral veil to give the blessing at the end of adoration, when the exposition takes place with the monstrance; in the case of exposition in the ciborium, the humeral veil is worn” (92). A cope finds its etymological root in “cloak,” which it resembles exactly. A “humeral veil” signifies both the sacredness of the object touched—the monstrance or ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament—and the humility of the minister. Practically speaking, the humeral veil is about 18-24 inches wide and 10 feet long. After it is draped over the shoulders of the priest or deacon, he grabs the lower ends of the veil as he holds monstrance or ciborium.

If exposition of the Blessed Sacrament concludes the celebration of Mass, the priest (and assisting deacon) would normally stay vested in chasuble (and dalmatic) as at Mass, and not change vestments prior to exposition. If the Liturgy of the Hours is celebrated during the period of adoration, the cope worn would be the color of the celebration (e.g., red for a martyr), and the matching humeral veil, if available, would similarly be the color of the celebration (e.g., red), rather than white.

Q: Are there prescribed texts or songs for use during the period of adoration?

A: The body of the text in HCWEOM outlines the rites of exposition and benediction, and describes the period of prayer during adoration, in general terms. In fact, what many experience as normative—such as singing O Salutaris Hostia (“O Saving Victim”) at exposition, and singing Tantum Ergo (“Down in Adoration Falling”) and reciting the Divine Praises at benediction—are not prescribed in the ritual itself. Instead, the ritual only directs at these occasions that “eucharistic songs” or prayers or readings may be used.

In the United States, the Catholic Bishops have suggested a more precise order in the appendix to its translation of the second edition of the ritual book. As the US Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship noted, “This [proposed] form includes new English translations of O salutaris Hostia and Tantum ergo, confirmed by the Holy See as a part of the hymnody of the Liturgy of the Hours, Second Edition. It also includes a standard text of both the versicle following the Tantum ergo [V/. You have given them Bread from heaven., R/. Having all sweetness within it.] and the Divine Praises. Certain rubrics were expanded to include customary practices or provide necessary clarification” (Newsletter, November 2021).

Q: Is there anything in particular that ought to be done during the period of adoration?

A: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass gives both general direction and particular options. During the period of adoration, “there should be prayers, songs, and readings to direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord. To encourage a prayerful spirit, there should be readings from scripture with a homily or brief exhortations to develop a better understanding of the eucharistic mystery. It is also desirable for the people to respond to the word of God by singing and to spend some periods of time in religious silence” (95). The instructions go on to suggest praying part of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the present appendix provides a model for incorporating Evening Prayer into the period of adoration.

The Holy See’s 2001 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines offers further instruction: “The faithful should be encouraged to read the Scriptures during these periods of adoration, since they afford an unrivalled source of prayer. Suitable hymns and canticles based on those of the Liturgy of the Hours and the liturgical seasons could also be encouraged, as well as periods of silent prayer and reflection. Gradually, the faithful should be encouraged not to do other devotional exercises during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Given the close relationship between Christ and Our Lady, the rosary can always be of assistance in giving prayer a Christological orientation, since it contains meditation of the Incarnation and the Redemption” (165). A common question seems addressed by the Directory in this paragraph: should Stations of the Cross be prayed during the period of adoration? Certainly this devotion is encouraged by the Church; however, the practice of traveling around the nave and directing our attention to a particular station requires that we cease giving full attention to the Eucharist exposed. Accordingly, “the faithful should be encouraged not to do other devotional exercises during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament” (ibid.).

—Answered by the Editors

The Editors