Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

Benediction

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BenedictionTwo weeks ago, at the feast of St Luke, I officiated at a solemn evensong with benediction of the blessed Sacrament. It was the first benediction I had officiated at. I remember attending benediction for the first time as an undergrad at Durham and being moved by the experience, but without the theological literacy to unpack the experience. A few years later I attended another benediction in Cardiff. It was one of those ‘precious’ high churches, with bevies of ordinands trying to out do each other in the laciness of their cottas, and the smartness of their genuflections. That event put me off benediction for over a decade.

Personal experience must be at the heart of religious faith. One bad experience made me theologize that the efficacy of the eucharistic Sacrament is in the eating and drinking, leaving benediction high and dry from sacramental grace. I think this is the mainstream Protestant view of benediction. However, my recent experience, on the other side of the humeral veil, put me back in touch with my first, positive experience of benediction.

Never having had officiated at benediction before, I was in a state of blessed ignorance, totally focused on remembering what I was to do next. I was weighed down by what felt like half-a-ton of grade-one ecclesiastical drapery round my shoulders that constantly pulled my stole and cotta out of place. I also had to struggle to keep a football of a thurible under control while still making it smoke sufficiently. However, the slowed pace of benediction put me in a place of meditation, concentrating on the ritual practicalities kept the usual distractions away. As I lifted the Sacrament in the monstrance, heavy cope and humeral veil obscured me, making me suitably faceless to the congregation at the point of benediction, and plunging me into a private tabernacle of grace. The organ crashed and bells shimmered.

I have been reflecting on this experience since. There is something in it that reminds me of worship I’ve experienced in various Eastern Christian churches, a sense of heaven come close. There is something specifically iconic about the exposition of the blessed Sacrament. There is something here that we miss in the parish eucharist, with its packed hour of word and sacrament, hymns and prayers, notices and neighbourliness. We need all those things, but we miss this meditative space where we come before a window on the Eternal.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

One thought on “Benediction

  1. For quite some time I experienced the less papalist Anglican “Eucharistic Devotions” which were essentially benediction without the final ritual waving of the monstrance but with a verbal meditation to accompany the exposition of the Sacrament. The moment of Benediction provides a climax which was rather lacking in this Anglican adaptation in which Jesus went back inside his box rather anti-climatically. On the other hand it still seems to me to be a rite in search of a theology.

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