Mass and Benediction

Question: I recently ordered a DVD by Father Robert Barron that was advertised under the title of “The Blessed Sacrament of the Mass.” It turned out to be completely about the Mass. But why would Father Barron refer to the Mass as “the Blessed Sacrament”? Surely that is a term used for the devotions associated with the host in the tabernacle (such as Benediction and exposition)? Also, why do some Catholics seem more attracted to Benediction than to Mass?

— Name and address withheld

Answer: I think Father Barron is right on in using the expression “The Blessed Sacrament of the Mass,” though this usage is somewhat unusual. “The Blessed Sacrament” does refer primarily to the Mass, from which all eucharistic devotions flow and back to which they refer. Eucharistic benediction, exposition, adoration, processions, congresses — all these have the Mass as their beginning and end.

Why do some Catholics seem more attracted to Benediction than to Mass? There is certainly something problematic in this. Benediction should always be seen as a prolongation of the Mass and as preparing for the next occasion on which the Mass is celebrated.

Beyond this, I would propose the following general principle: The style of the celebration of Benediction is characterized by elements that are often missing in the celebration of Mass.

I would spell out the differences as follows: There is often more of an atmosphere of reverence in Benediction than is found in the celebration of the Mass; there is (and was) always music accompanying Benediction, while music is often missing from Mass (though things have improved in this area since Vatican II); silence and a contemplative atmosphere accompany Benediction more than it does Mass; the focus in Benediction is always on the host, while many celebrations of Mass have elements of distraction that tend to scatter the mind; the priest has a self-effacing role in Benediction, while at Mass, there are many opportunities for the priest to draw attention to himself — and to talk too much; incense is always used at Benediction, but rarely at Mass (many people do not like incense, but the more “traditionally minded” do); Benediction is usually done with more beauty and solemnity (more candles, nicer vestments, a generally consciously reverent handling of holy things) than is found in the Mass.

Is all of this good or bad? Well, it just happens to be the way it is. I have no agenda here to promote Benediction at the expense of the celebration of Mass. But I do have an agenda to bring (back) into the celebration of Mass many of the elements that I have ascribed to Benediction.

Socialist ties?

Question: A priest who knows you from your seminary days told me that you were a socialist when you were studying for the priesthood. Please comment on this.

— Name and city withheld, California

Answer: In the seminary, I always voted socialist — only because there were no communists in County Tipperary. But that was more than 40 years ago! For many years, I was quite enamored of the Catholic communist movement in England led by Brian Wicker and Terry Eagleton. All this used to bring my very politically conservative father (and the seminary president, not to speak of my adopted bishop) close to heart attacks.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.