Liturgy Matters — All about the Blessed Sacrament

By Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock, director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Louisville
Dr. Judy Bullock, director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Louisville

Why do Catholics reserve the Blessed Sacrament in each parish church?

It is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church to reserve or save some of the Sacred Hosts from the celebration of the Mass for the dying, to provide viaticum or food for the journey. This is the primary reason for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is also reserved for Communion outside Mass, for those who cannot come to Mass due to prolonged illness or disability.

As early as 150 CE, Justin Martyr tells of the practice of deacons carrying Communion from the Sunday celebration of the liturgy to absent members of the community. Itinerant preachers in later centuries carried the Sacred Host on their journeys in order to minister to the dying when they encountered them. The custom of reserving the Blessed Sacrament within the church building did not become the norm until centuries later.

Today the ministry to the sick is continued by the priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who take Holy Communion from the Mass celebrated to those confined to nursing homes, hospitals and to the homes of the infirmed.

Where is the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the church?

In churches today the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a tabernacle, an immovable, solid, opaque, locked container. The tabernacle may be located either in a separate eucharistic chapel connected to the worship space or in the worship space apart from the altar of celebration. It may be placed on a pillar or stand, attached to the wall or in a niche in the wall.  The tabernacle should be accessible, easily located, beautifully appointed and allow for devotional prayer.

Why do Catholics have Holy Hours devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament?

The church teaches that since the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for the dying and for Communion outside Mass, the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is then available for adoration and prayer. All eucharistic devotional practices have their origin in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery at Mass.  Strong encouragement is given to this type of devotion, which can lead to a greater appreciation of the Mass and a deeper level of faith. In parish churches all around the archdiocese, Holy Hours are set aside for these devotions.

This time of silent prayer, proclamation of Scripture, song and sometimes preaching, offers the opportunity for quiet meditation. There are a few parishes in this archdiocese where perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held.

What is meant by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament?

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is a special devotion where the Sacred Host is taken out of the tabernacle, put in a special holder called a luna which is then placed in a monstrance for display on the altar. There are many designs for the monstrance but most have a golden display of rays that encircle the luna.

The history of this popular devotion has its origin in the people’s desire to see the Sacred Host, begun first in elevations in the celebration of the Mass around the 13th century. As the periods of adoration were separated from the Mass the practice of Benediction, a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, was added at the end of the period of adoration and exposition.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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