Externals of the Catholic Church – Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

It may be well to give here a short account of this beautiful rite, which has become very common in our churches. The Sacred Host is exposed in an ostensorium, and is incensed during the singing of hymns, which vary in different localities, but which always include the “Tantum Ergo.” After the chanting of a versicle and prayer, the priest, wearing a humeral veil, makes the sign of the cross over the people with the ostensorium. This blessing is given in silence, but with us it is customary to have the sanctuary bell rung three times.

Wax candles, to the number of ten at least, must be used, and the incensing may not be omitted. There is a diversity of customs in different countries regarding the hymns and prayers. In some places the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, the Te Deum and other hymns are chanted before the Tantum Ergo.

This devotion is of rather modern origin. After the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1246, processions and expositions of the Blessed Sacrament became common, and after a time the Sacred Host was carried in a transparent vessel resembling the ostensorium. Later on, especially in Germany, the continual exposition of the Blessed Sacrament came into vogue, although this was repeatedly condemned by the ritual laws. On some altars a sort of revolving tabernacle was devised, which could be rotated and opened, thus permitting a view of the Sacred Host. In England and France the custom arose of having evening services in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and at these the Blessed Sacrament was sometimes exposed on the altar. It was natural, then, to give a blessing with the Sacred Host, for this had been previously done after processions. Thus the Benediction developed into its present form. It is often used as a conclusion of other services, such as Vespers, the Stations of the Cross and the devotional meetings of sodalities, and has become deservedly popular in our times.