Monday, February 23, 2009
The Difference between a Tabernacle and a Monstrance
The discussion continues.
We're now up to 185 comments on, I think, four posts. Click on the "reservation of the elements" label for all the relative posts.
Let's consider now the difference between a tabernacle and a monstrance.
Aside from the obvious, the monstrance allows for a perpetual elevation of the host. The monstrance essentially does what the celebrant does when he holds the host aloft immediately after it is consecrated. With its gilded rays, it also silently confesses that the host is the Body of Christ.
All in all, a monstrance is certainly preferable to a wastebasket!
And yet, as one ponders its use over against the use of a tabernacle, the question of abuse does inevitably arise, which we will do well to define carefully.
What is the abuse against which the Formula warns? I would suggest that the abuse is twofold, when one attempts to use the elements for a purpose for which they were not intended. We could all agree that using the host as an amulet or charm is an abuse. Placing it into the coffin of a loved one, or on one's mantle, is an abuse. What about a Corpus Christi procession? What about a monstrance?
The nature of possible abuse here is, it seems to me, one of two kinds, or both. It's either in expecting the Sacrament to do something it has not been instituted to do--we'll call this the abuse of questionable expectations--or in keeping it from doing what it has been instituted to do, namely, forgive sins when it is received in faith. We'll call that the abuse of impediment. And the abuse of questionable expectations may have the potential of giving rise to the abuse of impediment.
In itself, the nature of the former abuse, of questionable expectations, is somewhat forgivable. The woman who came up behind Jesus to touch the hem of His garment was certainly not chided for expecting something good to happen to her where Jesus had not promised it, and yet, in that case, something good did happen to her, and Jesus certainly did not rebuke her, though she feared He might. Similarly the people who expected something good to happen to them by the shadow of the Apostle Peter passing by were not reproached for this expectation, either by the Apostle, or by St. Luke the writer.
In a curiously similar way, people who expect good to come from proximity to the Sacrament, though it is not specifically promised, may perhaps be forgiven for this (especially the uninformed). They might even benefit from it, for all we know, though we have no promise that they will, and we become uncomfortable with the idea that people might turn to this kind of thing rather than to blessing where blessing is specifically promised and given. That would become the second abuse--I have called it, for lack of a better term, the abuse of impediment. That abuse is certainly the abuse of greatest concern. In fact, the primary difficulty with the abuse of questionable expectation may well be that it leads to the abuse of impediment.
So the matter of the use of a monstrance might be said to fall within the category of questionable expectation, though not necessarily.
Elevation of the elements prior to their reception is certainly not an abuse; yet it is specifically for adoration alone that the elements are elevated. It is a confession that what we are about to receive is truly Christ. No false expectation there, and no impediment. It is a laudable thing to elevate the host and cup.
Hours of adoration before a monstrance seem to fall within the category of questionable expectation, since people come to the church for no other reason than to pray there, before the exposed Sacrament. Put together with the faulty view sometimes promulgated within the Church of Rome that there is more benefit to be gained from merely witnessing the Mass than from receiving the Sacrament, this can be a problem, an abuse of the impediment variety.
Hence, the tabernacle seems a better receptacle for the reliquae than the monstrance, though not necessarily. We certainly would not want to discourage oral reception of the Sacrament. I suppose there might conceivably be a setting in which a monstrance would be understood as the fit receptacle for reliquae waiting to be carried to the sick, though I'm certainly not convinced of it. For my part, I think a tabernacle is preferable, since it is more clearly a place whose intention is reservation for the intended use of the Sacrament, in addition to which it is a safer place, when there is no one keeping guard.
Interestingly, and in spite of this, a recently uncovered reference in Luther indicates that he seems to have thought a monstrance acceptable, believe it or not. German scholar Jurgen Diestelmann has some new evidence which needs to be considered, of which you may expect a review to come forth from the pen of John Stephenson, in the next issue of Logia. Now if Luther recommended a monstrance, whatever else that might mean, it certainly adds weight to the already substantial mound of evidence that he believed that the real presence was not a temporary thing.
And that, of course, is something I am eager to confess. And this was the reason I determined the tabernacle to be ultimately a better thing than a pyx and cruet kept in the sacristy.