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Bungling Benediction


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 31


Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament at the magnificent Domciscan Church in the Metropolitan City of New York[1] is a function to life the heart and mind to God, and to rejoice even so severe a critic as the Liturgiologist. Yet, as the two old friends drove down the Avenue that August Sunday afternoon, our fat and febrile[2] friend listened with but an ill grace to the encomiums[3] of the Antiquary, to whom the perfect Gothic of the fane they had just left had been an unmixed delight.


“It is not that I fail to realize what the Domciscans are doing for both architecture and liturgics,” said the Liturgiologist, finally, in answer to a query from his friend as to why he lacked enthusiasm. “Their work for souls in this enormous city parish, and others hardly less notable elsewhere, certainly entitles them to every luxury of worship. But for one such church, there are thousands where the most sacred rites of our holy religion are performed in so slipshod and careless as fashion as to excite the comment, not only of non-Catholic visitors, but of Catholics from more fortunate climes, where the functions of the sacred liturgy are not regarded as mere episodes, and the rules and rubrics for their performance ignored.”


Pere! Pere!” remonstrated the Antiquary, “such bitterness from you! Surely we’re not so bad as all that!”


Zelus Domus”—muttered the Liturgiologist—“Zelus Domus!”[4]


The “Scoot” had somehow, more by the grace of God than the skill of the old priest’s driving, managed to get over to Riverside Drive, and was running smoothly along towards the north, although it had been the intention of the two priests to go south and east for a brief inspection of Long Island.


“We are even worse,” growled the Liturgiologist. “Our neglect of the provisions of the liturgical law of the Church amounts to a positive contempt. Take, just for example, the way Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is given. It would seem to be the simplest ceremony imaginable, in the rendering of which it would be impossible for the priest to go astray. Yet hardly two perform the ceremonies alike, and it is seldom, if ever, that one sees it done as prescribed in the liturgical books.”


“But Benediction is an extra-liturgical service, is it not?” pleaded the Antiquary in his gentle way.


“In the sense that it is not contained in the missal, yes,” conceded the Liturgiologist. “But its ceremonies are prescribed by the Church, and we have no more right to deviate from them than from any other regulations of the sort. We prate to our people about respect for the law, and the very laws which concern the common actions of our professional life, we ignore.


"Now, this afternoon, I was glad to notice the good Domciscans had a white veil on the monstrance while it was standing on the altar before and after the ceremonies. That, as you may happen to remember, is prescribed the Congregation of Sacred Rites (D. 4268, 7). Yet how seldom one sees it.


"Again: Take the matter of genuflections during the ceremony; they are clearly directed in every book of ceremonial, yet even the good Domciscan Friar this afternoon omitted two of them. It’s easy to remember them, for the run in pairs.


"Of course the usual reverences on coming to the altar and going away will bother nobody and it’s second nature to every priest to genuflect immediately upon opening the tabernacle door (and just before closing it). Having placed the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance, the celebrant genuflects, the monstrance standing on a corporal in the middle of the altar. He then places the monstrance upon the throne, and again genuflects. That is the first pair.


"When he goes up to give the actual benediction, he genuflects, with his hands on the altar, before taking the monstrance from the throne, and again directly he has placed It on the altar, before turning it around to raise it for the sign of the cross. That is the second pair.


"After saying “Blessed be God,” etc., he goes up, genuflects, removes the lunette from the monstrance and places it in the tabernacle, and again genuflects. That is the third pair—”


“Quite a basket of summer fruit, as the Prophet Amos might remark!”[5] laughed the Antiquary, swerving the “Scoot” into the driveway of a filling station, and effectively cutting off the flow of the Liturgiologist’s rancorous oratory. But that worthy was not to be done out of his prey, and once the “Scoot” was again on its way he returned to his subject with fresh zest.


“Then look at the way the Sign of the Cross is made with the monstrance. Why, it’s like anything but the Sacred Sign of our Redemption! Yet the directions, for example in Wapelhorst, are perfectly simple. Taking the monstrance in his hands, which are covered by the veil, the right holding it by the node (which is part of the proper construction of a monstrance, tho you ofttimes see them, and even chalices, without it), his left holding it by the foot, he turns by his right towards the people. The action which follows is not a sort of exposition of the Sacrament, but a blessing by the Sign of the Cross made with the monstrance thus:—first, as he turns, he holds the monstrance before his breast. Then he raises it to the level of his eyes, not about his head. He then lowers it slightly below his breast, lower, therefore, than his shoulders, and brings it back to the level of his breast. Without moving his feet, he then makes the lateral arms of the Cross, first towards his LEFT shoulder, then towards his right. This done, he may continue towards the right, turning clear around to replace the monstrance upon the altar, or he may bring the monstrance again before his breast, pausing an instant, and then turn by his right to replace it upon the altar. The point is not so much how he will turn, which is optional, but that he does not swing clear around to the sides as he blesses the people, but confines the Sign of the Cross to the narrow space occupied by his own body.”


“In other words,” said the Antiquary, showing languid signs of interest, “he makes the Sign of the Cross as a bishop would, only he does it once instead of three times.”


“Exactly,” beamed the Liturgiologist. “It is, emphatically, a small Sign of the Cross, not a swinging about to display the Blessed Sacrament to the side walls of the sanctuary!”


“Anything else before we eat?” asked the Antiquary, drawing up before another sort of filling station.[6]


“Lots,” said the Liturgiologist, with a hungry gleam in his eye. “But I’ll only cast one more pearl before we betake ourselves to the husks. After the giving of the actual Benediction, the monstrance is not replaced upon the throne, but upon the altar, where it stands while the vernacular prayers are recited. This point is regulated by a decree of the S.R.C. (1563,2) more often honored in the breach than in the observance. It would seem—”


But the homily was interrupted by the arrival of a waiter.



1 This play on words seems to be referring to the Dominican church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City.


2 Feverish looking.


3 High praises.


4 Latin for “zeal for the house” in reference to Our Lord’s reaction to the money changers in the Temple.


5 A humorous reference to "pears" instead of "pairs" in connection with the words of the Prophet Amos (7:14): "And Amos answered and said to Amasias: I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet: but I am a herdsman plucking wild figs."


6 Meaning a filling station for human consumption.

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