Exposition and Benediction

These are rituals in the Roman Church which are not seen much any more. Of course, if there is no belief in transubstantiation it all seems rather pointless. If, on the other hand, there is a strong belief that during the Mass the elements of bread and wine do actually become the body and blood of Jesus, while retaining the appearance of bread and wine, then these devotions have enormous meaning and significance.

The priest places the consecrated host, now the body of Christ, also called the Blessed Sacrament, in a monstrance, which is a receptacle, usually in the form of a golden sunburst, with a chamber in which the consecrated Host is exposed through a crystal or glass panel in the front. (A ciborium, or covered vessel, containing the Blessed Sacrament may also be used, but the monstrance allows one to view the Host.)

It is placed on the high altar for the adoration of the faithful. I'm not quite certain how an atheist would view the hushed atmosphere in the church during the exposition, but with the eye of faith it is a special time in the physical presence of the Diety. A hymn is sung at the beginning of the exposition, like Ol Salutaris Hostia, written by Thomas Aquinas in 1264. The first verse follows:

O SALUTARIS Hostia                               O SAVING Victim opening wide
Quae coeli pandis ostium.                        The gate of heaven to all below.
Bella premunt hostilia;                          Our foes press on from every side;
Da robur, fer auxilium.                          Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow. 

The monstrance is censed in the ancient manner to purify the area and to demonstrate profound respect for the Body of Christ. After some time when any number of devotions may be performed, the monstrance is again censed and another ancient hymn is sung, the Tantum Ergo. The first verse follows:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum             Down in adoration falling,
Veneremur cernui:                   Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Et antiquum documentum              Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing
Novo cedat ritui:                   Newer rites of grace prevail;
Praestet fides supplementum         Faith for all defects supplying,
Sensuum defectui.                   Where the feeble senses fail.

The priest raises the monstrance and blesses the congregation by making the sign of the cross over them with it. This is the benediction. This ritual seems to have started at the same time as the feast day of Corpus Christi ( = "Body of Christ") in 1264. On this feast day, the Holy Eucharist was carried in procession in vessels similar to our present day monstrance, which exposed the Host to view.