Benediction Question

The on-going motu proprio discussion thread has made its way around to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (the paraliturgical adoration of Jesus in the consecrated host most often attached to Solemn Evensong) and has brought up questions for me on use and official policies.

As we all know, the BCP is the official source for all public liturgies within the Episcopal Church supplemented by the Book of Occasional Services.

Neither of these contain Benediction.

That means that to officially do Benediction, the parish must receive permission from the bishop or else do it under the radar.

My sense is that most bishops turn a blind eye to parishes doing Benediction—but I don’t know that for sure. So, here are my questions:

  1. Are there any Episcopal dioceses where the bishop has given permission for Benediction?
  2. How does your bishop handle Benediction (if at all)?
  3. Has anyone heard of a bishop disciplining diocesan clergy for doing Benediction?

34 thoughts on “Benediction Question

  1. Michelle

    Well, we had a monstrance at Cursillo recently, so I suppose the Benediction was done earlier when it was set up. I don’t know what the bishop’s opinion is of the practice. Cursillo may be a special circumstance anyway.

  2. bls

    (BTW, is it “Benediction” if there’s no Exposition and/or Monstrance? Suppose, for instance, a group simply sang the O Salutaris after Vespers, and said special prayers (“O Lord, who in a wonderful sacrament has left us a memorial of His Passion….”) at that time? That’s the procedure at at least one monastic house, and probably at others.

    And how do monastics have services like the Assumption of the BVM if it’s not in any of the books, BTW?)

  3. *Christopher

    I know of one parish here that does it, they still have our monstrance from some time back so we don’t currently do Benediction, but I don’t know if they have official permission–I wish we did at least once a month. I have a mixed sense about the practice theologically speaking, both deeply moved by the practice and at the same time having seen the practice lead to a sense of “personal Jesusism” that is dismissive of one’s fellows. Personally, the practice expanded Eucharist as a lens for all of life.

  4. Caelius Spinator

    bls- U2 Eucharist falls under the free-form “Holy Eucharist Rite III” of the BCP.

    I think my present bishop would give you permission if you asked. In fact, I think he probably did for the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Placentia, which lists Benediction with Evensong a few Sundays per month.

  5. John-Julian, OJN


    There are plenty of the old Biretta Belt dioceses where Benediction is universal, or at least common. Fond du Lac, for instance, has Solemn Mass, procession of the Blessed Sacrament, and Benediction every year at the Diocesan Eucharistic Festival (with the bishop officiating) – since 1960. I grew up in a parish there where it was Evensong, Benediction, and Parish Supper every Friday year ’round.

    At the monastery, we have Benediction after
    Compline on the Vigils of all major Holy Days and Exposition from the end of Mass till Evensong on First Fridays.

    I thought a lot about it before instituting it, but decided that the contemplative monastic tradition of (sometimes Perpetual) Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was venerable enough to justify it — and a clear point is made that it is detached from Eucharist (i.e., it is never a “substitution” for Communion as its liturgical origins may have intended it). I think there is still some true spiritual value in contemplative prayer before the Exposed Sacrament.

  6. Derek the Ænglican

    There are adaptations of current propers and such for feasts celebrated but not included within our current kalendar. If I remember right, the Priest’s Handbook has a list of collects/prefaces/etc. for certain non-prayer book observances like Assumption.

  7. John-Julian, OJN


    There are variations galore: just hymn-singing (Adoration) just an open tabernacle door (Exposition), or just a ciborium on the altar (Exposition), or even use of a monstrance but no sign-of-the-cross with the monstrance (still Exposition).

    I was in one place where “Benediction” was forbidden, so all the ceremonies were done just as at Benediction, except that when the priest turned with the monstrance, he just held it steady instead of making the sign of the cross with it (of course, it often did seem to wobble a just a little bit cross-wise……)

    Man, it was a life-and-death issue in those days….

  8. Derek the Ænglican

    I encountered Benediction only after moving to NYC and experienced it at Smokey Mary’s. I was rather suspicious of it at first especially because it’s not part of the monastic culture I know best as it is a new innovation (13th century). (I consider most anything after the 11th century to be a new innovation… :-D Like I just don’t get Sacred Heart…)

    In time I found it growing on me because it did give me a broader understanding of Christ’s Eucharistic presence.

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    Michelle–I’ve *never* heard of Benediction or even Exposition connected with Cursillo. Those folks–at least in the areas I’m familiar with–tend to be very Evangelical and wouldn’t be caught dead with a monstrance. Maybe things are different there…

  10. Michelle

    I think it was more Exposition in a monstrance.

    Sometimes ‘the Network’ is an odd place to be…

  11. Anastasia

    we do it, you know that. and I have never heard it discussed as such, so I don’t know for sure about permission. However, we started holding the service under Fr. Former Priest and I think it’s extremely unlikely that he would have celebrated the service without official authorization.

    I also don’t know if there’s some reason we don’t celebrate it as a stand alone service. is that normal?

  12. Mother M+

    I am almost certain we need permission in our diocese for this so most priests do it under the radar. There is only one other parish than Anastasia’s that does it here. In the diocese of PA it is the same way. My last parish did Solem Evensong and Benediction several times a year and I know for a fact is was under the radar.

    I think that Benediction is usually attached to Evensong and then certain feasts such as Corpus Christi, but I am not positive.

  13. Derek the Ænglican

    Anastasia, it certainly can be done by itself but the Anglican norm that I’ve experienced is with Evensong.

    Michelle, Most of the people doing Cursillo here are the Baptists who married Episcopalians; I’ve never been around Anglo-Catholics doing Cursillo…

  14. bls

    Interestingly, they are talking about this very topic at Ship of Fools – look here.

    The post refers to Common Worship, and this instruction for Evening Prayer: “The service concludes with a blessing, dismissal or other liturgical ending.”

    So I wonder if Benediction could fit under the rubrics for “An Order of Worship for the Evening” in our BCP? Here’s a possibility: Prayers. A litany, or other suitable devotions, including the Lord’s

    Why couldn’t Benediction be “other suitable devotions”?

    See? Rite III for the Office!

  15. The young fogey

    BTW you need the bishop’s permission to have Exposition or Benediction in the Roman Church too. Always did. Sunday Vespers with it was an RC norm at least through the 1800s and remained in some places through the first half of the last century. You still can see it at the end of some devotional services such as the Novena Prayers to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

    AFAIK the only version Fr John-Julian didn’t mention was Minor Benediction (Benediction with the ciborium not a monstrance), something that’s in the traditional Roman books but I’ve only seen Tridentine Anglo-Catholics do.

    I am almost certain we need permission in our diocese for this so most priests do it under the radar.

    As I’m sure has happened in most of the history of Anglo-Catholicism – before there was a biretta belt for example.

    I love it of course but, getting back to Rome’s rule that you need the bishop’s permission, traditionally it always was limited so it wouldn’t displace the Mass and (in theory anyway) the office. (Only certain religious orders had daily Exposition.)

    Both it and the Sacred Heart devotion (which is connected to the Sacrament as I blogged today for the feast) sprang up as reactions to problems in the West (denial of the Real Presence going back to Berengarius, and later Protestantism and Jansenism) that weren’t problems in the Christian East so naturally the Eastern churches (Orthodox, Oriental and Assyrian) never developed these devotions and retain the pre-C11 emphasis on the Eucharist as it was intended to be used (sound familiar?), though infrequent Communion by the laity became the norm (and still is in Orthodox countries) just like traditionally in the West.

    That’s right, Derek – superstitions have got to be old to be any good! :D

    There is IIRC an Exposition craze among IMO well-meaning conservative Roman Catholics (parishioners asking for Exposition every day for example) as a reaction, I think, to desacralisation in the Mass. Like I said, well-meant but neither traditional (see above on getting the bishop’s permission) nor getting to the root of the problem. I think bls and I can agree (how about that?) that bringing back ‘liturgical east’ in most places would fix a lot.

  16. Michelle

    I don’t know why other Anglo-Catholic areas wouldn’t do Cursillo considering it started in the Roman Catholic church. I would have thought that more evangelical areas wouldn’t like it.

  17. The young fogey

    Michelle: because American ACs tend to be 1) traditional and 2) consciously Anglican. English ones are more likely to copy modern Rome so there have been AC charismatics among them.

  18. Michelle

    There was nothing particularly charismatic in our Cursillo. What about Cursillo do you consider charismatic?

  19. The young fogey

    As I’m not a cursillista I can’t say. I simply was trying to say you’re less likely to find enthusiastic modern practices imported from the RCs among American ACs than English ones.

    As a teenager I did go on an RC retreat that was based on Cursillo and liked parts of it very much – I’ll even say it was therapeutic – even though its liturgics ‘didn’t take’ with me. I’d already been indoctrinated and inoculated as a kid – old Prayer Book facing east – so I was heading towards the Missal and other points traditional. In my mind I took the love and joy of the experience and not even consciously translated it into traditional forms if that makes any sense. I still do.

    I understand from some friends that both charismatics and cursillistas tend to like modern guitar hymns, preferring them to the Episcopal hymnal for example.

  20. Derek the Ænglican

    bls, Rite III for the Office sounds good to me…

    [I’ve figured out what it is–WordPress puts into moderation comments with links…]

  21. Tobias Haller

    I’m with bls concerning the rubrics here. I’ve never obtained permission for Benediction as I regard it to be a form of “blessing” (in fact, a most solemn form) and that

    1) priests are ordained to bless

    2) many of the BCP liturgies end with an instruction that allows for a blessing, without providing a form of words;

    3) the hymns traditionally used in B are in the Hymnal

    4) the actual texts of Benediction are conformant with Scripture.

    I have used it at the end of the Eucharist on feasts such as All Saints; as well as at the end of Evensong.

  22. C. Wingate

    Cursillo in Dio. Maryland crossed many churchmanship lines but tended to end up as an Anglo-evangelical spin on modern RC praxis, which is to say, broad with praise songs (e.g. St. Louis J-boy stuff). St. Peter’s Ellicott Cit used to do it on occasion in Gay M-G’s day. I don’t know that he would have asked, but Maryland is used to a lot of variation in churchmanship and I suspect even Eastman would have allowed it.

    While we’re at it: if benediction, then what about altar calls? Does one need permission for those?

  23. Derek the Ænglican

    Hi C. Wingate, thanks for commenting here. Liturgically there’s no prohibition against altar calls partly because it doesn’t conflict with the theological priciples of the 39 Articles; Benediction of course, is right on the line…

    That having been said, when I get questions about altar calls from my Methodist and Baptist students I often tell them that we do it every week–sometimes more frequently. People coming down to the front to kneel at the altar to rededicate themselves to Christ and to his presence in their lives, and his intimate personal relationship with them–yep, sounds like Holy Eucharist to me! (With the exception that it also binds us to one another and rededicates us to a life of community connected in Christ as well.)

  24. Derek the Ænglican

    The altar call is a liturgical phenomenon that appeared during the Great Awakenings. At the end of an evangelistic service, the preacher would invite those who had felt God’s call to conversion to come down to the front (to where the altar was) to either pray/be baptized/etc.
    Denominations influenced by the piety and practices of the Great Awakenings–in my part of the world the Methodists and Baptists–began periodically incorporating these into their Sunday services. So, at the end of Baptist/Methodist services (especially at camp meetings or other forms of revival meetings) after the sermon (which is at the end of the service), the preacher will invite those who have been changed/converted/moved to rededicate their lives to Christ to the front for prayer with the preacher or another pastor.

  25. John-Julian, OJN

    Goodness, Derek, you’ll have to be careful: this is actually turning into FUN!

  26. trueanglican

    Benediction is offered every Sunday with evensong at St. Paul’s K Street in Washington. I have no idea whether it’s authorized by the bishop or not.

    I regret that benediction, or more precisely “exposition,” faded away in my congregtion decades ago. For me the rite, while theologically shaky, is deeply spiritual. It’s too bad that many clergy find it distasteful.

  27. The young fogey

    Why’s it theologically shaky? After all classic Anglicanism agrees there is a lasting Presence in the elements after the service is over (which is why the Prayer Book says the remaining elements are to be reverently eaten and drunk not thrown to the birds or poured into the ground).

    Regarding the Protestant objections in the Articles of Religion that that Sacrament was not by Christ’s ordinance gazed upon, carried about, lifted up or worshipped an old Catholic answer is neither did he command Morning Prayer with surplice, scarf and hood… nor for that matter praise bands.

    It’s too bad that many clergy find it distasteful.

    Catholic belief has been on the wane for years… including among the Romans.

  28. trueanglican

    Young fogey, I suggested that benediction of the blessed sacrament is theologically shaky because it is peripheral to what I understand to be the heart of eucharistic practice: priest and people offering bread and wine, giving thanks and praise to God over these oblations, breaking the bread, and sharing the sacrament among one another. Re-presenting an Action in a series of actions.

    When I was a young fogey, eucharistic worship concerned me and Christ’s Real Presence in the eucharistic elements. Fifty and more years later, Christ remains really present for me in the elements. But having made the great thanksgiving usually standing in a circle with others around the Table Sunday by Sunday for more than forty years, I find now that Christ is also and equally present in the faces of those friends and strangers who stand with me in the circle. More and more I know God in my worshiping community.

    To me this form of liturgy is unquestionably a product of Catholic belief, which is not declining but growing in my experience. I continue to recite the rosary, I continue to adore and meditate on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I continue to miss benediction, but being able to participate every Sunday in the four actions that make up the great Action (and every day, if I wish) is far more important. It makes me a member of the great cloud of witnesses who are the church of every time and place.

    That’s Catholic.

  29. The young fogey

    Thanks for your answer.

    The reasons given in your first paragraph are why historically the church has restricted Exposition and Benediction, to keep that perspective – why the recent Exposition craze I mentioned is not in fact traditional.

    But they still have their place.

    (You probably remember the old joke that a real Catholic believes Jesus instituted the Eucharist exactly so we could have Benediction.)

    Believe it or not I see the beauty in what you’re describing and don’t mind it as an occasional option (using an old rite as the text) but a steady diet of it seems a boomer enthusiasm not only YFs like me but many people Derek’s and M’s age don’t share.

    I’m not accusing you of attacking the old religion but the implied arguments here against it (that it’s individualistic, pietistic and doesn’t care about your neighbour or the community… what about the ritualist slum priests’ social ministry?) are themselves about 40 years old… they set up a false opposition Protestant fashion between modes of presence.

    The orthodoxy and Godwardness of the old rites are important to put it mildly.

    I see and feel community when my brethren and sistren and I along with the priest are ‘facing east’ as Christians have done for more than a millennium.

    A criticism of ‘church in the round’ and of versus populum is that a church closed in on itself symbolically is not good liturgically or theologically: the suburban upper-middle-class congregation celebrating itself as if it didn’t have enough self-esteem.

    To quote the Venite:

    O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the Lord our Maker.

    I see God in the faces of my neighbours too but… Godwardness.

  30. The young fogey

    P.S. You might remember this one as well, to the tune of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’:

    No, you can’t put a muffin in a monstrance…


  31. Ellen Brauza

    I have the honour to be priest-in-charge of the only fully Anglo-Catholic parish in our mostly plain-vanilla diocese. We do Benediction. Our resources, musical, human, and material, aren’t what they once were, but we possess two decent monstrances, and a couple of good if threadbare numeral veils. Our bishop not only knows and has given permission, he comes to officiate when his schedule allows. Gleefully, I might add.

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