Questions Answered

                 The Virgin of the Host by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854)

Question:  Concerning Eucharistic adoration, some chapels have a small monstrance with a door in front of it and when people are not going to be present the whole time they are instructed to close the door. Is it alright to do this with perpetual adoration? If so, why don’t all churches do this?

Answer:  The practice of perpetual adoration of the Eucharist has a long and venerable history. For much of the history of the Church, it was reserved mostly to cloistered convents, or to shrines established for the purpose. Today, many of the faithful wish to avail themselves of the privilege of this form of worship in local parishes.

The Church has dealt with this more contemporary need by basing the practice on to two basic documents. The first, Eucharistae Sacramentum (ES), was promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship in 1973 in the somewhat heady and ambiguous days of the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II. After almost 30 years of reflection, the Church returned to clarify certain important aspects of the norms for Eucharistic worship outside of Mass in Redemptionis Sacramentum (RS), published in 2004 by the same congregation under the pontificate of John Paul II.

Both documents share important theoretical foundations for the nature of the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass. They also share the emphasis that such adoration is of great value precisely because it is an extension of the worship of Christ in the sacrifice of the Mass, and not a substitute for it. “The worship of the Eucharist, outside the Sacrifice of the Mass, is a tribute of inestimable value in the life of the Church. Such worship is closely linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (EE), n. 25: AAS 95 (2003) pp. 449-450)

The older document, which comes immediately after the liturgical renewal of Vatican II, teaches that the primary purpose of the reservation of the Eucharist is for communion to the sick. Still, it also clarifies that the giving of Holy Communion, and adoration, are important secondary purposes. “The primary and original reason for reservation of the Eucharist outside Mass is the administration of viaticum (food for the journey“—the Holy Eucharist which is given to those in danger of dying). The secondary ends are the giving of communion and the adoration of our Lord Jesus Christ present in the sacrament. The reservation of the sacrament for the sick led to the praiseworthy practice of adoring this heavenly food that is reserved in churches. This cult of adoration has a sound and firm foundation, especially since faith in the real presence of the Lord has as its natural consequence the outward, public manifestation of that belief.” (ES, 5)

While not contradicting this teaching, the latter more recent document emphasizes the importance of Eucharistic adoration, and the responsibility of pastors to promote it. “Therefore, both public and private devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, even outside Mass, should be vigorously promoted, for by means of it the faithful give adoration to Christ, truly and really present, the ‘High Priest of the good things to come’ and Redeemer of the whole world. ‘It is the responsibility of sacred Pastors, even by the witness of their life, to support the practice of Eucharistic worship and, especially, exposition of the Most Holy Sacrament, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species’.” (EE, 450) This includes providing for perpetual adoration in parishes where this can be prudently done. To emphasize this is not just a separate devotion from Mass, the place where such a devotion is fostered should also be a place, or close to one, where Mass is celebrated. “The Ordinary should diligently foster Eucharistic adoration, whether brief, or prolonged, or almost continuous, with the participation of the people. For in recent years in so many places, ‘adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness,”although there are also places “where there is evident almost a total lack of regard for worship in the form of Eucharistic adoration.” (EE, 439)

Because Mass may be celebrated in the place of adoration, and also because at times there may not be enough adorers to be certain the adoration of the sacrament occurs, some chapels have chosen to fix the tabernacle and monstrance in the way you describe. There are doors which can be shut, or there is small lunette with doors which can be shut, when there are no adorers, or during the celebration of Mass. This is a laudable practical way to ensure that Eucharistic adoration can take place for the greatest number of people, and not be abused. Perhaps all parishes do not do this because they have enough adorers and the celebration of Mass is not as common there.

__________

Question:  Is the Christmas carol “Mary, Did You Know?” denying the Immaculate Conception? According to the law—lex orandi, lex credendi—does not this song lead to confusion among the faithful who sing it, and so lead to heresy?

Answer:  The hymn in question is this one:

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kiss the face of God?

Mary, did you know… Mary, did you know
The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great, I Am.

There are two things to say about this question. First, the lyrics of all songs which are used in the liturgy must reflect appropriate theology. The musical lyrics for many of the hymns composed for Church use after Vatican II have not respected this principle. The Council Fathers were very clear in their analysis of the liturgical renewal that Gregorian Chant was to have pride of place as it is the Church’s liturgy par excellence. If there were hymns approved for Church use, both the melody, and the lyrics, had to reflect sound doctrine. Unfortunately this very prudent approach to liturgical adaptation has opened the flood gates to many strange hymns, and even songs which not only do not correspond to authentic doctrine, but even contradict it, and are heretical.

Second, the questioner wants to know if this hymn does correspond to this. Though there is a progress in the faith of Our Lady during the lifetime of Our Lord, sound theology would not indicate that this would entail ignorance about his role as the Messiah and Redeemer. After all, the angel Gabriel evangelized Mary at the Annunciation concerning her role in salvation with the stupendous news that the Father as “the power of the Most High” was the father of her child, the Holy Spirit would “come upon her” and so her child would be the “son of God”. So as to the general truth of the mystery as a result of the Annunciation, not the Immaculate Conception, Mary would not be ignorant. However, as to the specific way in which this would be carried out, she could certainly progress in knowledge after the Annunciation. Simeon further prophesied to her of her suffering, and Christ explained when they searched for him, that they should not have looked elsewhere for three days. The first place they should have searched was the Temple.

Regarding the hymn in question, prescinding from the fittingness of the language for liturgical use, the doctrine regarding the mission of Christ in certain specific works—like making the blind see and the lame walk—certainly are experiences from which Mary could increase in knowledge. However, his general mission of redeeming sons and daughters—being Lord of all creation, and ruling the nations—are things promised as the mission of the Messiah. So to hold that Mary was ignorant of those, and needed to learn it after the Annunciation, would not be dogmatically indicated. The hymn does not seem to make dogmatic statements. In the sense that it merely asks questions of the believer, there is not a real strong case to assume it would be contrary, in itself, to doctrine.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, "Questions Answered".

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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Comments

  1. Frank Magill says:

    Thanks for your answer, Father. I remain, however, doubtful about the propriety of this song for use in any Catholic context because of the last line of the first stanza: “This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” To me, this rather strongly denies the fact of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which of course had already occurred before the birth of Christ. I think that is the statement the first questioner had in mind.

    • Bob McDonner says:

      In my simplistic way of thinking, the line means that Mary delivered “gave birth to” Jesus and that by his dying He would enable Mary and all of us to be delivered to salvation.

  2. Deacon Jim Stagg says:

    Very diplomatic, Father Brian.

    As to the first item about Eucharistic Adoration: From where do I remember the warning that the exposed Blessed Sacrament must NEVER be left alone? Perhaps it would be appropriate to repeat that instruction, somewhat left unsaid among the many options for (temporary) reservation.

    As to the second, this song is included in many presentations by a “choir” before Midnight Mass. on Christmas, as well as in countless (Catholic) Christmas pageants. It is most inappropriate for children to hear who cannot discern, as you do, that these are “questions”, as opposed to erroneous statements. This rates right up there with the use of Amazing Grace in Catholic environments, including the Liturgy.

  3. Regarding “Mary, did you know?” Almost from the first time I heard it sung I “heard” Our Lady say, “Yes,” to each query., And, the song touches me each time the choir sings it “correctly” (according to my standard).
    Is this a mystical experience? No, rather it is an interpretation, a kind of expansion of meaning, flowing logically from the Scriptures and the Church’s doctrine regarding Mary’s fiat and her pondering in her heart (Luke 2:19, 52) what to expect from her son.
    Written by an Evangelical, the song seems to me to be an unconscious bridge from the Evangelical Protestant to orthodox Catholicism. Is there any other contemporary Christian song that articulates so much of which the Church teaches about Mary?

    • David Scott Pringle says:

      Deacon Pilger: The protestants deny Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and see no reason why the Mother of God should be venerated above anyone else including themselves. The hymn seems superficial and as stated denies Our Lady’s part in the plan of Salvation, reducing Blessed Mother to the status of bystander. There does not seem to be any unconscious bridge here to the truth of doctrine. Note, for Our Lady to ponder these things in Her Immaculate heart, She must first have knowledge of the items pondered which is not what this hymn implies.

  4. H. Bludau says:

    I’ve been personally boycotting singing one song in our current hymnal with a completely unscriptural, non-theological verse declaring ‘WE ARE the Bread of life…’ Jesus called us a lot of things (His Body, the Light and Salt of the world), but that title He reserved only to Himself.

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