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.


Jeff said...

Also worth mentioning is that (as I understand it)- a monstrance wouldn't allow for the reserving of more than a few hosts and would provide no holding place for Christ's blood.

Jeff said...

Reading what I wrote again- "holding place" may be a blasphemous term. I meant no disrespect.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

There is a type of monstance, I believe, which would allow for more than the reservation of one celebrant's host. But I'm not really very informed about that subject.

Paul McCain said...

Why not perpetual adoration? Here is one definition of it:

Perpetual Adoration is a Eucharistic devotion whereby members of a given parish (or other entity) unite in taking hours of adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament (in most cases, exposed), both during the day and throughout the night, seven days a week.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Readers of this blog may decide for themselves whether Editor McCain is even reading or considering what I have written. Judicet lector.

Paul McCain said...

Pr. Eckardt, I'm asking about why you do not practice perpetual adoration in the Church since you believe Christ is present in the elements in the Tabernacle.

Your comments had to do with perpetual adoration before a Monstrance. You said that such hours before a Monstrance are a "questionable practice" though I do note you do not preclude it. But you did not answer my question about perpetual adoration.

So, why do you not practice perpetual adoration in the presence of the Tabernacle?

Venkman said...

Rev. McCain,

Please, please answer my question because I truly am trying to understand both sides of the issue. Both you and Fr. Eckardt have already either quoted or paraphrased the Formula. In a previous post Daniel Skillman pointed out the LW Altar Book refers to a reservation of the Sacrament. We've been going around in circles for quite a while now. But I honestly would like to read your opinion on what exactly the writer's of the Formula found so objectionable? What is the abuse?

Is Rome's abuse that they kneel before a piece of bread which they consider to be their Incarnate Lord? Or is Rome's abuse that they separated the Sacrament from its intended use? Or is it a mix of the two or something different entirely?

What exactly is the abuse? AND how do we address new abuses that have risen among us?


Bryce P Wandrey said...

A book published by the publishing house which you work for has this to say:

LSB Altar Book, p.168, 208, 249, 270, 285: "At the conclusion of the Distribution or duing the Post-Communion Canticle, the remaining consecrated elements are set in order on the altar and covered with a veil."

LW Altar Book, p. 29, 32, : "At the conclusion of the distribution what remains of the consecrated bread and wine may be removed to the credence and covered with a veil....After the service the presiding minister should supervise the disposal of what remains of the consecrated bread and wine. The consecrated bread may be consumed by the ministers or put into a fit receptacle (pyx) for the next Communion."

I know you have read these words and have had them quoted to you in the past. They obviously deserve another study.

You have championed the cause in the past "say the black, do the red." I assume the above comments fall within the red, rubric, category. And so, it would appear that Burnell "does the red" and he does so quite literally. He chooses to put the remaining sacrament in "a fit receptacle (pyx) for the next communion." He also says in some way or another that he proclaims the verba when distrubuting the sacrament at the hospital, nursing home, et. al., when distrubuting said sacrament.

Why are you faulting Burnell for doing exactly what the rubrics of the Altar Book of the LC-MS provide? Because he places the remaining sacrament into a fit receptacle and then into a fitting box (tabernacle)? If you are concerned about perpetual adoration: why doesn't the Altar Book, which clearly gives the option of reserving the sacrament towards the next communion, give some guidance in how to properly "adore" the sacrament before it is consumed at the next communion?

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Our editorial friend is bewildered.

He is wondering why hours of adoration are not scheduled here, in spite of the fact that I have made that pretty clear in this most recent post.

Let's parse carefully his phrase: "since you believe Christ is present in the elements in the Tabernacle."

Clearly he does not believe it, which makes it clear that we are dealing here with the receptionist error.

Anonymous said...

"He shall carefully remove the bread from the paten and ciborium to a fit receptacle, there to be kept against the next communion..."
TLH- The Lutheran Liturgy, p. 412.

Rev. Matthew J. Uttenreither, SSP

Paul McCain said...

The pastor is apparently confused.

There were two questions put to you.

Why not a monstrance?
Why not perpetual adoration?

You explained why not a monstrance.

You have not yet explained why not perpetual adoration.

I'm trying to figure out just how consistent you are in your practices.

You have made it clear you use a Tabernacle, and why.

You have made it clear why you adore the elements in the Tabernacle when you pass by them or approach the Tabernacle.

I'm just wondering why, if this is so, you do not practice perpetual adoration and why you would keep Jesus shut up in a box, all alone? After all, as our Lord said, ""Could you not watch with me for an hour?"

I'm simply trying to determine the level of consistency in your practice.

Dcn. Muehlenbruch said...

In spite of an hypothesized "receptionist error," Editor McCain does not realize that there is no symbiotic connection between Reservation and Perpetual Adoration. The Roman church, after Vatican Council II basically eliminated Perpetual Adoration.

The local cathedral has a chapel that was designed around the concept of perpetual adoration. After the Council this practice ceased.

Therefore, the remark "I'm simply trying to determine the level of consistency in your practice," is inconsistent in and of itself. The reservation of the Sacrament (in a tabernacle) for distribution (consumption) outside of Holy Mass does not mandate the practice of perpetual adoration.

If I might paraphrase a quote from the Bard of Avon, I would say "Methinks that the editor protesteth overmuch."

Venkman said...

I just can't understand why my question is being avoided. If you're a receptionist just admit it. Just say so. For crying out loud, have a back bone! If you believe the writers of the Formula were receptionists than just admit it. Just say so. I'll admit it. If the writers of the Formula truly are receptionists than I obviously take a Quatenus subscription to our Confessions in this regard. There! I said it. Hence, I really want to know.

I really want to understand both sides of the arguement. Clearly if there so much debate over this one issue than the article in question isn't as clear as either side thinks. Can we please discuss what precisely the writers of the Forumla found so objectionable? What is Rome's abuse?


Fr John W Fenton said...


Based on his statements to Patriarch Jeremias II in Acta et Scripta, more than one Lutheran has suggested that Jacob Andreae was most likely a receptionist. Such a charge, however, can never be laid at the feet of Martin Chemnitz. Whether the contrary views of Andreae or Chemnitz prevail (or a mixture thereof) is for Lutherans to determine.

What is not beyond dispute is that Wilhelm Löhe was most certainly a receptionist. (See his catechism.) I mention that only to indicate that receptionism has long had a home within Lutheranism. So the debate engaged here is nothing new.

Dcn Muehlenbruch,

Thank you for pointing out what should be abundantly obvious; namely, that while both are the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the adoration during the Mass or in the Tabernacle is neither identical to nor necessitates but is of a different "aspect" or "kind" as the adoration during Solemn Benediction or the Corpus Christ procession.

Now, if I may be permitted--who would find the adoration of Christ in His body vileness or dare call it blasphemy? Is not the desecration one of faith; namely, the prideful refusal to submit and believe that Christ is truly present even if no explicit promises can be recalled? And is not the example of the flawed Lutheran pastor in "The Hammer of God" (who thought the Sacrament "in procession" to the sickbed required adoration by passing peasants) one that Lutherans ought gladly to imitate?

Venkman said...

Father Fenton,

Thank you for your response. And Reverend McCain, I must admit that I found the question of "perpetual adoration" a bit odd. Yes, I know why it was asked, but still isn't our entire life supposed to be one of constantly adoring our Incarnate Lord and all to His glory? In fact, isn't that what the saints in heaven are doing at this very moment? Of course, they are also in constant communion with our Lord as well. Again, Father Fenton thank you for your response.


Phil said...

I acknowledge that I'm joining this conversation late.

About six months ago, when this conversation was taking place on other blogs (and with a more civil tone, generally), I posted a few thoughts of my own, hoping that the people commenting on this topic would take into account not only their own sense of harmony with practices of the Church of the first century, but also their charge to safeguard the consciences of the souls entrusted to their care (the laity, and as a member of the laity, me). I've stewed on it a bit since then, and I've run across what I think is an argument worthy of discussion.

The question being begged here, to a large extent, is the first question: "Is Christ's Body in the tabernacle?" It's a question that some here answer with an unhesitating "Yes" on the basis that there is no end to the objective presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Rev. McCain, and perhaps others, take a different approach, and either give a firm "No" or else express a concern for prudence not to say more than we can say. The distinction is important, because it affects other questions besides the use of tabernacles--"What specifically was the 'abuse' in the Roman practices? Was it that they were worshipping Christ's Body in an improper manner, or was it that they were worshipping bread as Christ's Body?"

However, this fundamental question is not a settled one; not in terms of the population of this conversation, nor in terms of the LCMS. I haven't come to a definite position myself (after Sasse), so I'm personally compelled to step back and take a different tack:

What is my epistemology as a communicant?

My faith as a communicant at the Evangelical Mass resides solely in the Words, spoken by Christ, spoken over the bread and wine, which make them to be the Body and Blood of Christ. I can check the Sacred Scriptures and verify that they are in fact Christ's Words. I observe the celebrant pronouncing the words over the bread and the wine. I have read the public confession of the celebrant and have confirmed that they contain nothing which denies the plain words of Christ. Hence, I worthily receive by faith Christ's Body and Blood.

My faith as a Christian in a hospital, however, does not find its ground in the same way when a person arrives with the intention of communing me in the manner that Rev. Eckardt has described (in which the Verba are repeated with the explicit statement that they are not a consecration). My faith confesses the Verba as belonging to Christ, yes, and it can recognize that there is no doctrine confessed by the Celebrant which opposes the plain words of Christ. However, the missing link here is more complex, because my faith has to reside in two different things: first, that the Words were spoken over the Elements, and second, that the person intending to commune me is telling the truth (that the elements were consecrated).

You may or may not think that this change is important, but I maintain that it places the faith of the believer (by which, and by which alone is the Sacrament received along with all of its blessings) in the personal fidelity of an individual member of the Church.

I would further suggest that the difference in doctrine regarding an enduring Real Presence, and communion from pre-consecrated elements, may be a consequence of the ecclesiology held by the church in question, whether Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox.

Pax Christi,


Phil said...

Pr. McCain:

Thank you for referring me to Teigen's book this past summer. I did in fact read it, and it was of course more lucid than any blog conversation.


Have you read the Teigen book (available for free at Logia's website)? It may present a clearer view than what's presented here, and it was the book which Rev. McCain said he agreed with, the last time this topic came up.

Fr. Fenton:

Eight years ago I knelt at your Communion rail in Detroit with my parents. What was it that you gave me to eat and drink?

Fr John W Fenton said...


To answer your question: All those who knelt at the Zion altar during my tenure and the tenure of my predecessors received, during Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ. About this I've been explicitly clear for several years.

Therefore, I must ask: Why the question? Or, better yet: Why the doubt on your part? Might it be driven by the existentialist epistemology that informs the "my faith" statements?

I ask, not to accuse or belittle, but to encourage one to think that perhaps "my faith" (as in "how I know and experience for myself") is not the quite as good a question as it may at first seem on the surface. The catholic faith ultimately admits little of "my" and "mine," and instead urges us to find our joy in the "our" that begins, ends and is everlastingly grounded in "our Lord." Or, to say it another way, the "our" in "Our Father" is most pointedly never a "my" (even when said quietly and privately).

Phil said...

Fr. Fenton,

I have no doubt what I received. However, I do doubt that you can say what you just said and be in agreement with your bishop and your church.

(Perhaps this isn't the best place to discuss this, but it seemed tangentially relevant and we were both here. If you'd like to take it to a different venue, you're welcome to.)

As for your comment about "existentialist epistemology", I don't think that it has to be existentialist. Sacraments are the bridge between the objective and the subjective. Operating within Lutheran theology, the faith of the subject receives the benefits of what is objectively present, no? Fides qua and fides quae. There's the danger, because if I receive the Sacrament without faith, it is objectively present and I definitely receive it, but to my damnation. The faith of those receiving the Sacrament should rest in an object worthy of faith for salvation; anything less is idolatry.

(I'm writing as someone who is an engineer by profession. I read books. I have no pretense to any more expertise in explicit theology than the liturgical theologian of Kavanagh and Fagerberg.)

Fr John W Fenton said...


A different venue would be best. You can read what I've written and retrieve my email address (for a private exchange) here: Select "For Inquirers."

Nevertheless, let me proffer these short answers:

1. What my bishop has said and the Church in its tradition teaches is not exactly what you presume.

2. "the liturgical theologian of Kavanagh and Fagerberg": now perhaps there's a not unsizable part of the problem--both from within historic Lutheran liturgical theology and from within Holy Tradition.

I look forward hearing from you.

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

There is an interesting Ostensorium / Monstrance & Paten on view in a touring exhibit from Cleveland's art museum, an early french gothic one. It has a piece of the true cross and several other relics which can be seen from the back. The exhibit is currently at the Frist Center in Nashville, TN.