This is the fifth article in a series about the five pillars of the Eucharistic Revival, a three-year-long initiative of the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops. The initiative aims to promote faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. For the other articles in the series click here.
Catholics have formed many traditions over the centuries to express their love and adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist. As the source and summit of our faith, it is the sacrament of unity that brings all Catholics into communion with Christ and one another. Adoration and Holy Hours, Benediction, Eucharistic Processions, and the Feast of Corpus Christi are just a few of the many intercultural traditions that unite all Catholics through the Blessed Sacrament.
In the U.S.--as in places across the world--the very name and its variations have been called upon to be the patron of parishes, religious orders, and even cities. Some examples are Holy Eucharist Parish in Tabernacle, New Jersey, and the Knights of the Holy Eucharist in Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as cities such as Corpus Christi, Texas and Sacramento, California. The examples can go on. Clearly, anyone who says Christ is not central to the Catholic Faith does not understand the devotion we have to him the Blessed Sacrament.
Eucharistic Adoration and Holy Hours
The tradition of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament dates back to the early Church. In our time, many churches set up Perpetual Adoration chapels and devise a schedule made of hourly slots, when adorers can come and worship Christ in the Eucharist reserved in the chapel. The organizers make sure all the slots are filled so someone is adoring Christ in the Eucharist 24/7. In part, the tradition of the Holy Hour springs from Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he said to his disciples, "Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37).
Religious orders have taken Jesus’ words to heart, and have taken up the challenge by making a Holy Hour part of their daily devotions. For example, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, a Franciscan order of brothers, have made a daily Holy Hour part of their order’s customs:
Seeking to foster devotion to Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Knights provide an example of reverence and devotion both in serving at the altar and in their daily hours of adoration. Although other pressing duties and scheduled activities may at times call him away from his allotted time of adoration, each Knight is asked to spend at least one complete hour before our Eucharistic King each day.
The Eucharist and the Tabernacle
The reverence for Christ in the Eucharist can be traced back to at least the 4th century. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., tells us:
As early as the Council of Nicea (325) we know that the Eucharist began to be reserved in the churches of monasteries and convents…. naturally its sacred character was recognized and the place of reservation was set off from profane usage. (The History of Eucharistic Adoration: Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church, John A. Hardon, S.J.)
From Apostolic times to the Early Middle Ages, “As far as we can tell, the Eucharist was originally kept in a special room, just off the sanctuary but separated from the church where Mass was offered,” Fr. Hardon added.
Over time, this tradition changed as the Church noticed the importance of placing the tabernacle containing the Eucharist in the center of the Church or in a “a distinguished place”. Code of Canon Law (1983) states:
The tabernacle in which the blessed Eucharist is reserved should be sited in a distinguished place in the church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer. (Can. 938)
In either case, the altar of a church or Eucharistic chapel are suitable places for a tabernacle containing our Lord, since both places are distinguished and set off from profane use.
In the Rite of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, the faithful sing and pray as a group as they worship the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The songs usually pertain to the liturgical season or the mystery of the Eucharist. Usually, Salutaris Hostia (“O Saving Victim”) and Tantum Ergo, both written by St. Thomas Aquinas, are sung. At the end of the Benediction, usually after the faithful have had some time to adore in silence, the presider and the faithful pray “The Divine Praises” (Blessed be God … his angels and saints). As the Sacrament is reposed, they usually sing “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”.
The Rite was published in 1973, but the songs and prayers used go back much further. The hymns were written by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century for the Feast of Corpus Christi, and “The Divine Praises” was written in 1797. The song “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” was written by the German Catholic priest Ignaz Franz, who “wrote the original German lyrics in 1771 as a paraphrase of the Te Deum, a Christian hymn in Latin from the 4th century.”
There are different ways to receive Communion, depending on personal preference and which Catholic church one goes to. While we may receive on the tongue, or in the hand, on an altar rail, or in a Communion line, all of these traditions are acceptable. Some may kneel or bow before receiving or kneel as they receive. This is an acceptable sign of reverence for our Lord. It is up to the Catholic communicant to decide how he or she wants to receive.
Canon Law also states that a baptized person must not be admitted to Communion if they are aware of having committed a grave sin and have not gone to sacramental confession to confess it, or if they have not fasted for at least one hour beforehand (Canon 919).
In some Catholic churches, such as in the Byzantine Rite, the Body is dipped into the Blood and then given to the communicant. This is called intinction. Some churches in the Roman Rite, such as the Anglican ordinariate, also distribute Communion in this way.
The Feast of Corpus Christi
The Feast of Corpus Christi originated in the 13th century in Belgium after St. Juliana,, prioress of Mont Cornillon, experienced a vision. In the vision, St. Juliana saw the moon with an opaque line running through it. The moon represented life on earth, and the line represented the lack of a feast in which the Eucharist was adored. Thomas Aquinas composed three hymns for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Latin hymns typically sung at Benediction, Salutoris Hostia and Tantum Ergo, are parts of those three hymns.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, it is common to see Eucharistic Processions, where a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance walks down the streets from one sacred place to another–usually from a church to a chapel, cemetery, or another church. The priest is joined by other priests, deacons, altar servers, sacristans, acolytes, and laypeople. The Eucharistic Procession is a public display of their Faith in the Real Presence. It is a way of showing that they “Go with God” and will follow Christ wherever he goes, just as Peter followed Christ back to Rome. As they process through the streets, they often pray a Rosary or other prayers and sing hymns venerating the Eucharist.
One Lord, One Church
While Eucharistic traditions may vary from rite to rite and from parish to parish, there is still only one son of God and one Catholic Church. As a universal Church, the Catholic Church has accommodated many different customs over the centuries. The important things to remember about these Eucharistic traditions is that they ought to show reverence for our Lord, and they need to be imbued with the gospel truth that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
One local Eucharistic tradition that I love comes from a hymn written by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), who converted from Anglicanism to the Roman Catholic Faith. After Communion at my parish, the cantor or priest sings these words from the English hymn writer:
Jesus! my Lord, my God, my all!
How can I love Thee as I ought?
And, how revere this wondrous gift,
So far surpassing hope or thought?
Sweet Sacrament! we Thee adore!
O, make us love Thee more and more!
Let that be our prayer for the three years of the Eucharistic Revival and beyond.
This article is sponsored by the Knights of the Holy Eucharist based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Learn more about the order at knights.org.