Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

The Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar
From the May AD 1995
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin
Our Sacred Faith - Part IV

    Our series on the sacred aspects of the Catholic Faith continues with this installment on the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

    Of all the seven Sacraments, there is one that stands out; one which merits the name of "The Blessed" Sacrament. All of the Sacraments were instituted by Christ, but this one sacrament, in fact, is Jesus Christ.... "Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands, and having raised His eyes to heaven, unto Thee, O God, His Father almighty, giving thanks to Thee, blessed, + broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take ye all and eat of this:  FOR THIS IS MY BODY.... Take ye all, and drink of this:  FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD, OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT: THE MYSTERY OF FAITH: WHICH SHALL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR MANY UNTO THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS."

    Our Lord spoke these words, commissioned His Apostles as priests to do likewise in His place, gave them His Body and Blood Sacramentally, and then went out to consummate this sacrifice with the shedding of His Blood on the Cross. Perhaps a year before, He told a crowd that they must eat and drink His Flesh and Blood, which He would soon give them. Many left Him in disbelief. But on the night of His last supper He made good His promise. This time there could be no mistaking His words—He told us that here indeed was His Body, and His Blood that would be shed for many—and then He immediately went out and gave up that Body and shed that Blood.

    It has been the constant teaching of the Church, a teaching that comes to us directly from the Apostles, that our Lord's words are to be taken quite literally. There was, after all, no reason to take them figuratively. If He hadn't really meant to leave us His actual Body and Blood, He surely would have called back all those who left Him from that crowd at Capharnum (John vi). If He didn't really mean that the unleavened bread and the wine were to become His Body and Blood in sacrifice, He certainly would have been more careful about allowing His crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

    St. Paul, who obviously had an accurate knowledge of Apostolic teaching, repeats it to the Corinthians (1 Cor. xi), and takes it a step further. He discusses the consequences of unworthily receiving the Blessed Sacrament, or of receiving It without distinguishing It from ordinary bread and wine: "Whoever eats this Bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord.... he who eats and drinks unworthily, without distinguishing the Body, eats and drinks judgment to himself."

"As though it were Gold"

    The tradition of the Church on the respect due to the Blessed Sacrament is quite clear. The reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament is the respect due to God Himself—for they are one and the same. Certainly, where it is understood that the Communion Host consists of the Humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ, it will be treated as the most precious of mankind's possessions. Indeed, where the Blessed Sacrament is treated in a lesser manner, it should be known that heretics are in power.

    The practices of the Church in reserving the Blessed Eucharist have varied from century to century. In the Apostolic era it was understood that the consecrated bread and wine were truly the Lord's Body and Blood, but it probably did not occur to anyone to keep Them outside of Mass for public veneration. In any case, the circumstances of persecution would have made such reservation almost impossible. When the Blessed Sacrament was first reserved apart from the Mass it was to bring Holy Communion to the sick, the imprisoned, and those otherwise unable to attend Mass in person. But once such reservation began, the respect so obviously due to the Sacred Host in its place of repose began to bring about the worship of our Eucharistic Lord. Simply stated, it was not possible to be in the presence of Something acknowledged to be God Himself without assuming an attitude of worship.

    During the Roman persecutions, the Blessed Sacrament was probably hidden away in as safe a place as possible, with little or no concern about making It available for public adoration. But with more favorable times, the manner of reservation became more public. An aumbry, or sanctuary wall safe, gave way to a dove-shaped pyx hanging above the altar, and ultimately to a tabernacle mounted on the main altar. Primarily in the Germanic countries, there were "sacrament houses"; bronze cages containing the pyx, visible for all to see yet still secure. In all cases, liturgical history tells us that Mass was offered on the finest cloths available (usually linen, sometimes elaborately embroidered) and that the vessels for reservation were of the noblest materials (gold or silver or platinum). Often, heretics criticize the Church for having such valuable furnishings, "which could be sold for much and given to the poor." They criticize because they do not understand that the treasure inside the gold ciborium makes the ciborium trash by comparison.

    Sixteen centuries ago, St. Cyril of Jerusalem cautioned his followers about receiving the Blessed Sacrament respectfully. At that time, Communion was still received in the hand in many places, and St. Cyril was concerned about avoiding the all too common abuses:

    Partake of the holy Body, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it. For if you mislay any of it, you would clearly suffer a loss, as it were, from one of your own limbs. Tell me, if anyone gave you gold-dust, would you not take hold of it with every possible care, ensuring that you did not mislay any of it or sustain any loss? So will you not be much more cautious to ensure that not a crumb falls away from that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?[1]

    Not long after, Communion in the hand was prohibited altogether ...  not to be revived until the Protestant revolt with its denial of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Those Anointed Hands

    It is obvious that only the ordained priest can bring the Blessed Sacrament into being through the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. I has, therefore, generally been the practice of the Church to restrict the ministration of Holy Communion to the ordained priest—indeed, at ordination his hands are anointed to make them proper channels of God's graces. When necessary, because they also share in the priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, deacons may be allowed to distribute Hosts previously consecrated by a priest.

    During the persecutions of the early Church, it was often necessary to allow those of lower rank to bring Communion to the sick. Church history mentions that those who had been ordained to the order of Acolyte were sometimes given this great privilege and responsibility. A member of this highest of the minor orders, St. Tarcisus is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on August 15th for having given his life to protect the Sacred Host from heathens who stoned him to death while trying to take It from him.

    While the Modernist practice of having lay distributors placing Communion into the hands of the communicants is not evil in and of itself, it does raise questions about the belief of those who do so. In particular, it raises questions about the beliefs of those who insist upon forcing this practice on Catholics who still feel a sense of reverence for our Eucharistic Lord. Protestants, for the most part, don't claim to have a priesthood set aside from the laity in any meaningful fashion; nor do they believe that they are receiving anything more than common bread and wine as mere symbols of Christ's Body and Blood. The Modernists seem to be adopting their doctrine along with their practice. Although lamented in theoretical terms by the authorities of the New Order, such denials of Catholic orthodoxy flourish undiminished in practice.[2] And, lest anyone forget, "People believe according to the way in which they worship."

    But rather than lament the disrespect of the misguided, let us resolve that we ourselves will never depart so far from the Catholic Faith as to treat the Blessed Sacrament with carelessness or disrespect. The central core of our Faith revolves around the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and His continuing sacrificial action in Holy Mass.

[V] Thou didst give them Bread from heaven. Alleluia!

[R] Containing in Itself all delight.  Alleluia!.

Let us pray:
O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament hast left us a memorial of Thy passion; grant us, we beseech Thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, that we may ever feel within us the fruit of Thy redemption. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


1. Catechesis mystagogica V xxi-xxii, in Michael Davies, Pope Paul's New Mass, p.456-7.

2. e.g. Pope John Paul II, Dominicæ Cenæ, Holy Thursday 1980; Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Certain Questions Concerning the Minister of the Eucharist, August 3, 1983.


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