By Rev. John J. Burke.
"Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day" (Ex. xx. 8).
THIS commandment teaches us that God wills the whole Sunday to be spent in His honor. We should sanctify it by good works, and by assisting at divine service. On that day servile works and improper amusements are forbidden. A salutary rest and moderate recreation are allowed, but never at the expense of duties of obligation. After hearing Mass on Sunday morning, which is obligatory on all Catholics, there is no better way of sanctifying the remainder of the day than by attending Vespers and Benediction.
The Vesper service is a small portion of the divine office, which priests must recite daily, for God's honor and glory. It consists of five of the psalms of David (Dixit Dominus, Ps. 109; Confitebor tibi, Ps. 110; Beatus vir, Ps. 111; Laudate pueri, Ps. 112; In exitu Israel, Ps. 113, or Laudate Dominum, Ps. 116), a hymn, the Magnificat, or canticle of the Virgin Mary, from the first chapter of St. Luke, and some prayers. Is it not reasonable thus to praise God in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles?
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament usually follows Vespers. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. The reasonableness of this teaching will be seen in the following article.
Since Jesus Christ is present, He ought to be adored by the faithful. Faithful adorers frequently visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament and worship Him in "spirit and in truth." Hence, the Blessed Sacrament is kept in the Tabernacle on our altars to soothe our cares, answer our prayers, and be ready at any time to be administered to the sick and dying.
Besides our private devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Church has appointed solemn rites to show publicly our faith and devotion toward the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. These rites are processions on Corpus Christi, the Forty Hours' devotion, and, especially, the rite called Benediction.
When it is time for Benediction many candles are lighted on the altar. This is done to show our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. If He were not present, this display would be unreasonable, unnecessary, and meaningless. But the candles we light, the incense we burn, the flowers and other ornaments we use to decorate the altar, and all that we do for Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ can not be too much.
Everything being prepared, the priest takes the Blessed Sacrament out of the tabernacle, and, placing it in the ostensorium, exposes it on an elevated throne, while the choir sings in honor of the Blessed Sacrament the hymn "O Salutaris Hostia," "O Saving Host." The priest incenses Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, as, according to the Apocalypse, angels do in heaven. Another hymn or a litany follows; after which is sung the "Tantum Ergo," "Down in adoration falling," followed by a prayer by the priest. Then in the midst of a solemn silence (except that a small bell is tinkled) the priest takes the monstrance, or ostensorium, containing the Blessed Sacrament, and, turning toward the people, makes with it the sign of the cross over them, thus blessing the faithful with the Most Holy One.
This is certainly a most touching and impressive rite even to those who do not believe in it. Cardinal Newman calls it one of the most beautiful, natural, and soothing practices of the Church. No one will deny that this practice, or rite of the Church, is reasonable, if Jesus Christ is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. That He is really present is our belief. This being our belief, is it not reasonable to light candles as a sign of spiritual joy, and thus to show our faith in Him who is the light of the world? He gave us all that we have. He gave us the beautiful world we dwell upon with its variety of scenery—with its snow-capped mountains, its green-carpeted hills, and its blooming valleys. He has no need of our gifts; for the earth is His "and the fulness thereof." Yet as He was pleased to receive the gifts of the Magi and the precious ointment of Mary, so, too, is He pleased to receive our offerings. And is anything too good, too beautiful, too precious, for Him? Can the altar on which He dwells be too richly adorned? Are the pure candles we light, the sweet incense we burn, the choice flowers and costly ornaments with which we decorate the altar, too much to use in honor of Our Lord and our God? Yes, the Catholic practice or rite of Benediction is dictated by right reason. Everything connected with Benediction is reasonable, beautiful, and suggestive of the noblest sentiments of the heart of man.
This is taken from Reasonableness of Catholic Ceremonies and Practices.
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