The Principal Catholic Practices, Chapter 14 – The Benediction Ineffable

The Principal Catholic Practices, by Father George Thomas SchmidtThe Blessing of Our Eucharistic Lord of the Tabernacle

To this day the memory of a blessing clings to me as vividly as on the day it was bestowed. I was preparing to leave home to finish my studies at a European university. When the day of leave-taking finally arrived, my father, taking holy water, made the sign of the cross on my forehead. Somehow the dread of a great journey and of the prospects of a long sojourn far away from home seemed to vanish. I felt convinced that the blessing of my father accompanied me and clung to me until I was able to return home as a priest of God.

It is only reasonable to suppose that a blessing properly given and with the right motives is countenanced and approved by God. The blessing of Jacob by his aged father was productive of vast results. But above all, the blessing of priests, who have a special commission to bless and consecrate, will bring the benign benediction of God upon the people and things that they bless. And thus we bring our sacred images, our rosaries and various other articles to the priest to be blessed. In many countries the priests are requested by the faithful to bless their homes, their acres, and their cattle. And not seldom the Catholic priest will journey a great distance to lay his hands upon a sick child.

However, it is of another blessing or benediction that this chapter deals – I mean the Benediction Ineffable, the priceless blessing of Our Eucharistic Lord of the tabernacle. It cannot be possible that Catholics realize the grandeur and value of this benediction, else our churches would be filled to overcrowding at the afternoon and evening services.

It all looks so simple – a few burning candles on the altar, the monstrance containing the Sacred Host on the throne, the priest kneeling in prayer or incensing the Blessed Eucharist, while from the choir loft the solemn and inspiring notes of the O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo rise and fall in rhythmical modulation. And yet, what a glorious privilege it is to kneel there and look pp to the Blessed Host with faith and love supplanting what the eyes cannot see! Can we doubt but that the angels of heaven are hovering about the altar – that they too breathe forth a celestial O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo? Do we not believe that they rejoice in the privilege of being present in our churches and about our altars?

Oh, if we could lift the veil that hides the majesty and magnificence of the glorified Saviour! But no; our eyes would be dazzled, our hearts filled with fear at the sight of the majestic God whom we so often have offended. Fear and trembling would seize us. Our happiness it shall be some day to see this Beatific Vision with eyes that are no longer bound in the flesh- But now, thank God that He has covered His majesty with the veil of the sacramental species. For om* faith tells us that He is there; and we know that we could not see His glory and live. Far better for us that we cannot behold His splendor. For now we can confidently prostrate ourselves before His altar; now we can look up to Him, speak to Him, beseech Him for His guidance, and receive His answers in our heart.

The exquisite hymn of praise, the Tantum Ergo, is finished. The priest arises to chant the Panem de coelo praestitisti eis – “Thou hast given them the Bread from heaven.” To which the choir responds: “Omne delectamentum in se habentem” – “Containing in itself every sweetness.” Thereupon the priest chants the following oration:

“Let us pray. O God, who in this wonderful sacrament hast left us the memory of Thy passion: Grant us the grace, we beseech Thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy body and blood, that we may fully perceive the fruit of Thy redemption, who lives and reigns world without end.”

As the last note of the “Amen” dies out, the eyes of the faithful turn expectantly to the altar, where the priest, wearing the benediction veil over the cope, ascends the altar steps and takes down the monstrance from the throne. Covering his hands with the ends of the veil, for not he but Christ is blessing, he raises the monstrance aloft, making with it the sign of the cross. What a beautiful act of faith is here made, as silently and reverently the faithful bow their heads to receive Christ’s own blessing. As the light clouds of fragrant incense ascend to our God and King, the angels, too, are spreading before Him the sweet odors brought with them from heaven. Not a friend or father is blessing us, not a priest, but God Himself, from whom all blessings flow.

How fitting that on Sunday, the first day of the week, we should seek the blessing of God! Those of the faithful who forego some pleasure or relaxation in order to attend Benediction – will they not take home with them the sweetness of God’s blessing to lighten the burdens of the coming week and to make fruitful their endeavors?

Now I am asked, Is there any obligation to attend Benediction? Absolutely none. The blessing of the Saviour is given us unattended by commandment or precept. It is ours if we want it. But what must be the caliber of that man’s religion who goes to church only when commanded under pain of mortal sin? Can our faith in the Real Presence be so weak and so anemic that we must needs be compelled to visit the house of God?

O sinful, material world, where is thy love? Where is thy faith? Where is thy desire for the soul’s salvation, that thou canst so stupidly ask if there is an obligation to attend Benediction?

The almighty God in heaven, before whom as Judge you will one day stand as culprit, deigns to shower upon you His personal blessing in order that your trial before His tribunal may be less severe. Take advantage of the glorious privilege. Go as often as possible to church when He is enthroned above the tabernacle and is lifted up to bless you. The memory of that sweet benediction will cling to you throughout the week. It will accompany you to your home and to your work. God will be with you.