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O sacred banquet!

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, transferred from the usual Friday after Trinity Sunday. The texts for the Divine Office and the Mass for the feast were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, and they show the poetical side of the man, not often on view. The Antiphon for the Magnificat of Second Vespers is in prose but might as well be poetry: “O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis ejus, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur–"O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” 

The antiphon has been put to music many times. Here it is in Gregorian chant; here by Tallis; here by Messiaen; here by Ludovic da Vladana ; and the one I came to love in the seminary, by Roberto Remondi, here, here, and here.  

As elsewhere in Aquinas's texts for this liturgy, there is profound theology in the antiphon, which he spelled out in his Summa theologica (III, q. 73, a. 4) in which he considered the question whether it was appropriate that the sacrament had more than one name. His crisp answer is Yes because believers have many names for the eucharist. And he explains:

This sacrament has a threefold sign-value. One is with regard to the past insofar as it commemorates the Lord's Passion, which was a true sacrifice... and this is why it is called the “sacrifice.”  A second sign-value is with regard to the present reality of the Church’s unity to which people are gathered through this sacrament; and this is why it is called “communion” or “synaxis.” St. John Damascene says that “it is called ‘communion’ because through it we communicate with Christ, because we share in his flesh and godhead, and because through it we are united with one another. Its third value has to do with the future because it prefigures our enjoyment of God in our homeland, and this is why it is called “Viaticus” because it offers us the way to get there. In this respect it is also called “Eucharist,” that is, good grace because God’s grace is life eternal, and because it really contains Christ, who is full of grace. In Greek it is also called metalepsis, i.e., “assumption” because as Damascene says, through it we assume [take on] the Son’s Godhead.

The historians argue over whether St. Thomas also composed the much-loved Adoro te devote.  Ann Olivier complained on another thread that we don’t ask enough of poets when it comes to translation.  Here is what two poets did with this hymn.

First, the metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw:

With all the powers my poor heart hath

Of humble love and loyal faith,

Thus low (my hidden life!) I bow to Thee,
Whom too much love hath bow'd more low for me.
Down, down, proud Sense! discourses die!
Keep close, my soul's inquiring eye
Nor touch nor taste must look for more,
But each sit still in his own door.

Your ports are all superfluous here,
Save that which lets in Faith, the ear.
Faith is my skill; Faith can believe
As fast as Love new laws can give.
Faith is my force : Faith strength affords
To keep pace with those pow'rful words.
And words more sure, more sweet than they,
Love could not think, Truth could not say.

O let Thy wretch find that relief
Thou didst afford the faithful thief.
Plead for me, Love I allege and show
That Faith has farther here to go,
And less to lean on : because then
Though hid as God, wounds writ Thee man;
Thomas might touch, none but might see
At least the suffering side of Thee;
And that too was Thyself which Thee did cover,
But here ev'n that's hid too which hides the other.

Sweet, consider then, that I,
Though allowed nor hand nor eye,
To reach at Thy loved face; nor can
Taste Thee God, or touch Thee man,
Both yet believe, and witness Thee
My Lord too, and my God, as loud as he.

Help, Lord, my faith, my hope increase,
And fill my portion in Thy peace :
Give love for life; nor let my days 
Grow, but in new powers to Thy name and praise.

O dear memorial of that Death
Which lives still, and allows us breath!
Rich, royal food! Bountiful bread
Whose use denies us to the dead; 
Whose vital gust alone can give
The same leave both to eat and live.
Live ever, bread of loves, and be
My life, my soul, my surer self to me.

O soft, self -wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps balm for wounded man :
Ah, this way bend Thy benign flood
To a bleeding heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my world of sins from me.

Come Love ! come Lord ! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal'd source of Thee :
When Glory's sun Faith's shades shall chase,
And for Thy veil give me Thy face. Amen. 

And here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s version:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Many thanks for this preparation for the feast. But shouldn't it read "the usual Thursday after Trinity Sunday"?

The Body of Christ suffers because of the acute suffering of refugees throughout the world. 51 million people. A staggering figure. And most are children. As we celebrate this great feast we are one with our sisters throughout the world who lack the essentials. 

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Teresa of Avila 

The sequence "Ecce panis angelorum." A traditional melody (not the full text) and the Gregorian.



It wasn't meant to be. At least given my minimal skills.

Thank you, Claire.

Fr. Komonchak, thank you for lovely material for reflection on the feast day.  I remember the Remondi's "O Sacrum Convivium" from grade school choir days.  Though I'm sure we were not nearly as polished as the group on youtube!

St. Tommy's "Angelic Bread" sung by Andrea Bocelli  :)  ....

While i was at Georgetown late this evening for exercise (or what now passes for exercise in my increasing decrepitude), it dawned on me that the sequence for Corpus Christi is the majestic "Lauda Sion Salvatorem," not "Ecce Panis Angelorum." Before making the comment at 6:20 pm, I had been glancing at the readings in the Italian Missal. It gives the "Ecce Panis Angelorum" as the sequence, in Latin and in a translation.

It's striking how many "options" or "variations" the Italians have been allowed in their Missal (1983). It helps to be right next door to the seat of power. And despite the 2001 Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, which required all conferences to revise their Missals over the next ten years, the revision  of the Italian Messale Romano is still promised. One sticking point between the conference and the Congregation for Divine Worship is the translation of "per tutti" ("for all") in the Institution Narrative over the chalice (cup). The conference wants to retain "per tutti," while the Congregation insists on "per molti" ("for many"). Stalemate. As well, the German-speaking conferences on the same point ("fur alles"). And those conferences just may prevail under Pope Francis.

The Anglophone bishops are always obedient and quick off the mark.

I too remember the Remondi setting of the "O Sacrum Convivium." And in my eight years as a student in the Augustinians, every chapel exercise, and there were many, began with the antiphon, its verse and response, and concluding prayer. Many decades later, I can still manage them.

In this one thread, I think I have used all my turns for June. And July. There is a a wonderful sermon of Anastasius of Sinai in the breviary for the feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August. Time enough till then.

And for Thy veil give me Thy face.

Miraculously I found a votive eucharistic prayer at the back of the missal this morning which perfectly chimed with the feast...

Recently on a liturgical blog I argued that the best poets should be invited to participate in the translations of Scripture and the liurgy and invited to write new lyrics for hymns.  Someone argued against my position that great poets are too individualistic to write hymn lyrics. Hopkins, it was said, could not possibly write a fine hymn because his method (or non-method?) of prosody ("sprung verse") would prevent his writing verse that would match the typical rhythms of Catholic hymns.

The example above shows, I think, that that is simply false.  There's no sprung rhythm there, and there is fine religious poetry.  (Oh, the tiresome biases of liturgical professionals!)

Another eucharistic hymn I love is “O esca viatorum,” here to Haydn’s music:

O esca viatorum,
O panis angelorum,
O manna coelitum,
Esurientes ciba,
Dulcedine non priva
Corda quaerentium,
Corda quaerentium.

O lympha, fons amoris,
Qui puro Salvatoris
E corde profluis
Te sitientes pota,
Haec sola nostra vota,
His una sufficis,
His una sufficis.

O food of men wayfaring,
The bread of angels sharing,
O manna from on high!
We hunger; Lord, supply us,
Nor Thy delights deny us,
Whose hearts to Thee draw nigh.

O stream of love past telling,
O purest fountain, welling
From out the Savior’s side!
We faint with thirst; revive us,
Of Thine abundance give us,
And all we need provide.

A great one!  

(In grade school in Kansas City, we sang it much faster, as the words seem to suggest it should be sung.  It's a processional, not a dirge.)

I don't think of "O esca viatorum" as a processional.  I've heard it only as a meditative piece.

Is there a typo-- futurae gloriae not futurae gloria--or do we have some weird little ablative designed to drive me crazy here?

My mistake, Cathy. I'll go back and change it to: "futurae gloriae".

John Page: 

You wrote,

In this one thread, I think I have used all my turns for June. And July.

No way!  Keep 'em comin'!


"I don't think of "O esca viatorum" as a processional.  I've heard it only as a meditative piece."



In grade school, the Benedictine Sisters (liturgically sophisticated) had us sing it at processions:  Holy Thursday, First Communion, Corpus Christi.  

In high school, the Ursuline Sisters (liturgically sophisticated) had us sing it during the Communion procession.    

The lyrics suggest movement:  draw nigh, wayfaring, welling, etc.

Schillebeeckx once quipped that Aqunas was most un-Thomistic with the line sensuum defectui in Tantum Ergo!!

Lordy, Miss Scarlet:  listen to THIS version!

I am sure someone mentioned Panis Angelicus. If not why. The music and the poetry are just awesome. 

Panis Angelicus fit panis hominum
Dat panis coelicus figuris terminum
O res mirabilis! Manducat Dominum
Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis
Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis

English Translation

The angel's bread becomes the bread of men
The heavenly bread ends all symbols
Oh, miraculous thing! The body of the Lord will nourish
The poor, poor, and humble servant
The poor, poor, and humble servant

The viaticum is a hallowed extension of the Eucharist and reminds us that the sick and dying, though absent, are a part of the eucharistic community. The second extension, adoration of the reserved sacrament, is equally important, and gives the celebration of Mass a rootedness in a community of prayer and contemplation. The aesthetics of Benediction contrast with those of the average vernacular Mass. Perhaps rather than modernize Benediction we need to bring back to the Mass some silent contemplation and even some Latin.  

At least once this haunting version of the Benediction hymn "O Salutaris" was used as a funeral hymn:

Which, given the words, is not entirely inappropriate.

Well that didn't work out, sorry about that.  Type "saddest song ever, O Salutaris" into
Google, the link will come up. we have some weird little ablative designed to drive me crazy here?

Ah, I well remember the Driving Crazy Ablative, aka Ablativus Nutsificus, from Mr. Daly's class. It was a regular feature, and not at all rare.

"The second extension, adoration of the reserved sacrament, is equally important, and gives the celebration of Mass a rootedness in a community of prayer and contemplation. The aesthetics of Benediction contrast with those of the average vernacular Mass. Perhaps rather than modernize Benediction we need to bring back to the Mass some silent contemplation and even some Latin."


The Mass is a celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus by his people. What you state above subverts that whole theology.  

I don't know what "Benediction" means here. Are you referring to something specific, a liturgical celebration of some kind, that used to exist?


(Salut?)  It was a devotional service that often followed high mass on Sunday.  It was the closing ceremony of a retreat or a novena or a mission, Forty Hours,  Etc.

Nice, because people knew the hymns and sang them with vigor:  O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo.  

The Blessed Sacrament was placed in a monstrance for adoration.  The priest wore a cope and a large stole.  Following the two hymns, the priest would conceal his hands in the stole and elevate the monstrance before the congregation.  He would then move it in the sign of the cross -- the blessing/benediction.  After replacing the monstrance on the altar, the priest knelt and led the congregation in the Divine Praises.  After that, he removed the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance and replaced it in the tabernacle.  Then, for the closing number, the congregation belted out Holy God, We Praise Thy Name!


Thank you Gerelyn.

Gerelyn writes about Benediction in past tense, but it's not really that uncommon, at least around here.  Having said that, I've only been to it once in my life, and they never taught us how to preside at it in deacon school.


If you've only been to Benediction ONCE in your life, it IS uncommon.


I looked on YouTube to find one to show Claire, but the only one I saw was one where NO ONE was present except the priest offering the Benediction and a man in a Franciscan habit.  The server?  The two of them sang/squawked ALONE in the vast church.  Not a good illustration of what Benediction was like in days of yore. 


My parish offers Eucharist Adoration for several hours a day Monday through Friday, ending with the Benediction service somewhat as described by Gerelyn.    As this precedes a late-afternoon Mass, it is fairly well-attended by the daily Mass-attenders, many of whom come by after work.      Not relegated to "days of yore", nor is the practice of contemplation or wordlessly gazing upon the Lord, within oneself or in the consecrated species.       

Thomas Merton and the Trappists did a lot after Vatican II to promote and popularize again the practice of "centering prayer" and contemplative prayer.    Such practices need not be regarded as antithetical to the apostolate or social justice activity.    We need and are nourished by both, and each strengthens the other.   

We still do Benediction here; mainly in Lent on Friday evenings after Stations of the Cross. Usually one of the deacons presides.  I often play the organ accompaniments to the hymns.  There are bazillion versions of those, but the most common, and the ones we use, are the tunes "St. Thomas" for the hymn Down in Adoration Falling (Tantum Ergo); and "Duguet" for O Saving Victim (O Salutaris Hostia). It is a short but lovely devotion. Many people find it peaceful and healing.

Carol --

I agree that contemplative prayer and communal prayer are not opposed.  Yes, they're different, but not entirely.  Both are prayer, both address the Lord.  The difference is that when we use words together we are praying the same thoughts but sometimes (not always) when we are silent we're praying somewhat different thoughts.  

But why does it need to be assumed that at Mass everyone is praying the same thought at every momen?  Mass is a communal human meal, and at such a meal not everyone is saying the same thing or listening to the same thing.  Conversation is part of the meal.  There are some quiet times in the Mass (e.g., when the Host is elevated) when  no one says anything, but can anyone doubt that the community is united in silent prayer? At other times, (e.g., when returning after receiving Communion) I don't doubt that there are many personal prayers going on, but that doesn't stop the Mass from being a human meal.  

I think the whole topic needs to be reviewed.    


Agree with Bill. The Eastern churches consume all the species with nothing reserved. Contemplation can be done with icons which actually has a much longer history and tradition. Or better yet with psalms.

the body of Christ is the people; the world. The tomb is empty and we are the living stones.


Ann --  I agree with what you said.    Felt prompted to mention the practice of Benediction, etc. in my parish, not at all a "backward" one, as some of the (younger?) folks on this thread  inquired about it and perhaps have not had much experience of it in their respective locales.

I also resonated with the suggestions made by Joseph O'Leary.  They call to mind the efforts of our bishops to bring a bit more silence and reflection to the Eucharistic liturgy, such as by having a few quiet moments after Communion, a time period that might have been filled in with more communal (or other) singing (verbal input).

When Bill M. countered those (JOL's)  remarks, it reminded me that sometimes some folks feel the "church" is going to be pulled backward, away from the communal thrust of recent years, by maintaining some of the common devotions of our tradition.    Or, some may think or fear that if personal prayer is too much promoted, it may lead to a privatistic piety that also might diminish the gains achieved regarding our appreciation of communithy and communal liturgical celebration.  That need not and should not be.

What people who practice a regular prayer life generally experience is that the prayer experience is very much related to the life of charity and surrender to God.    If the latter falters, so will the prayer experience.   Both are critical to our wholeness, holiness.  

Recent popes and a number of theologians have written eloquently and exhortatively regarding the practice of adoring prayer before the Lord present in the Sacrament.    They say better than I ever could that the event of the Mass is so stupendous, the time period of the Mass is not adequate for us to express the worship and thanksgiving it rightly evokes.  They urge us to have "holy hours" and the like.    "Taste and see how good the Lord is!"

I see George D has commented.  I agree that it is not necessary to be in church or with the consecrated species in order to commune deeply with Jesus and the Trinity.     All I can say is how wonderfully powerful and life-altering it has been for me since my parish made the opportunity available.

There are some quiet times in the Mass (e.g., when the Host is elevated) when  no one says anything, but can anyone doubt that the community is united in silent prayer?

Yes, one can doubt it. Look around you at those times and see the parent chastising their kid, the person playing with their scab, the one examining their nails and the other one going through their purse. It is distracting, and I used to find it downright disheartening - very lonely.  Now I mostly focus on the priest, but still, if he happens to glance at his watch in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, it is such a let-down.


Claire --

Maybe you need to focus on the Host?  And that's exactly what we mainly used to do at Benedction -- focus on the Host, the presence of the Lord.

It seems to me that people are designed not to focus too much on one thing -- life in the jungle was safer when we noticed irregularities more quickly.  Theses days especially we seem to need to learn to focus better.  How else to account for the popularity of all those Hindu and Buddhist focusing/contemplation techniques?  Life is too scattered these days, and even at Mass it's difficult to keep our attention where the action is, so to speak.  And that's one of the reasons, I think, that many of us are asking for more quiet times in the Mass when we're *supposed* to be focusing on the Lord, when all eyes are pointed to the same One.

Ann, yes of course, but, you know, you're incorporating the presence of other people into your consciousness as well, aren't you? And what is more uplifting than, say, a prayer of the faithful that happens to echo what's in your heart, or the dizzying sight of one person after another receiving communion attentively?

Claire,  some cities, some parish communities are better than others "awareness-wise".   You may find a better one someday.

Your observation reminds me of a very different experience at my church last Christmas Day.  So many come only on that day and families bring guests.  So, the pews were packed end to end and so were the aisles, the vestibule, people pouring out the door.  I wonder what the fire department would have thought of that, with candles everywhere and flamable decorations.

I expected to live through the most distracting Mass of my life.   How impressive it was to me that at the moment of elevation - and perhaps beyond - that entire church was completely still!    WIth all those children and babies,  the excitement of Christmas in the air, all those bodies uncomfortably jammed into a too-small space.

After Mass, I talked to a man from another state  and his little girl.   We both remarked that in the midst of the racket and hassles of the season, we felt we'd been lifted out of time for an hour and a half.  (Yes, "and a half" - with that many people coming to Communion.)    It was so beautiful and reverent and consoling.  Consoling.   Sometimes there's a moment when the world and the church look as they are meant to be - at one.


Sometimes there's a moment when the world and the church look as they are meant to be - at one.


Claire --

I don't think we really disagree.  Our tendency to be distracted is quite natural, I think.  And there are both communal and personal aspects of the Mass.  in fact, I think we need to go back a bit to some of the  silences in the old Mass.  Even old folks like me who have welcomed most of the changes do miss the old reverence that was obvious especially in some of the old quiet parts.

The focus should not be on the priest. Rather on the presence of the Lord and that we are one family in the Lord, being made new and refreshed in love and forgiveness.

If you've only been to Benediction ONCE in your life, it IS uncommon.

Hi, Gerelyn - it's at least equally likely that I've just missed the boat.  Actually, your comment spurred me to check out the nearby parishes to see which ones offer regular Eucharistic adoration.  I checked 10 nearby parishes; nine out of the 10 have it on their weekly calendars.  Mine does it on Friday mid-mornings, which is the middle of my work day, but there are plenty of evening options.  I don't know how many of them end their adoration with Benediction, but it's a pretty safe bet that at least some of them do.  

Fwiw, I attended Catholic school for most of my grammar school years, all four years of high school, four years of college, and I've been through a diaconate formation program (all of the above in the post-Vatican II era) - but, as I say, to the best of my knowledge/memory, I've only been to Benediction one time in my life.  My parents, who each attended 12 years of Catholic school but in the pre-Vatican II days, had a very different experience.

Btw, it was quite interesting to see the other parish's websites and bulletins, so I'm grateful for your motivating me to do this little research project.



I celebrated Benediction last Holy Thursday, so it cannot be quite as extinct as some seem to think. As to eucharistic adoration it is not at all opposed ot "celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus by his people." If it were it would not be recommended by the Church as an extension of the Eucharist similar to the Viaticum. Just as the Viaticum brings us closer to God's people by integrating the sick and dying into the community, so eucharistic devotion often brings us closer to God's people, praying silently in churches in Dublin for example. The Paschal Mystery is celebrated just as deeply in contemplation as in lively songs and dances..  


The feast of Corupus Christi only rose to prominence due to the influence of the Beguines in the Middle Ages. That does not make it illegitimate but neither does it make it part of the patrimony of the apostolic Church. I have no objection to benediction if it facilitates greater mindfulness, awareness, and simplicity. The problem is that it frequently devolves into superstition. 

I do think that the clear emphasis of liturgical reform was to highlight the communal nature of liturgy. I would rather see a resurgence in the recitation of the liturgy of the hours than in benediction which lacks a scriptural or biblical basis.

I don't see prayer at a Benediction service as an individualistic sort of prayer even though some of the prayer is silent.  That there is silence doesn't imply that we are not praying together, each in our own idiom, perhaps.  We are all directed our attention to the Lord together, and there are communal spoken prayers and singing hymns together.  It is not the sort of private contemplation encouraged in convents and monaseries, although tindividual adoration *before* the service while the Host is exposed *prior* to the service could include that sort of private experience.. 

I don't see prayer at a Benediction service as an individualistic sort of prayer even though some of the prayer is silent.  That there is silence doesn't imply that we are not praying together, each in our own idiom, perhaps.  We are all directed our attention to the Lord together, and there are communal spoken prayers and singing hymns together.  It is not the sort of private contemplation encouraged in convents and monaseries, although tindividual adoration *before* the service while the Host is exposed *prior* to the service could include that sort of private experience.. 

Re:  George D.'s comment about benediction and adoration frequently devolving into superstition; I don't see how one would draw that conclusion.  Maybe a couple hundred years ago when people were not encouraged to receive the Eucharist often. Not in my lifetime in the parishes I have attended. As far as "communal vs contemplative", why not both / and.  Yes, the liturgy of the hours is a treasure of the Church, so is Eucharistic adoration.  So why not do them both. Our parish has had adoration 24/7 for sixteen years(except during the hours when Mass is celebrated).  The fruits of that have been overwhelmingly positive, and have added to, not subtracted from, the communal bond of the parish.

The Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy made the famous statement that "the liturgy is the summit toward which the Church's activitiy is directed and the source from which all her strength flows" (#10). But it preceded this statement with this one: "The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church" (#9), and it followed it with this one: "The spiritual life is not confined to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is assuredly called to pray with his brothers and sisters, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father in secret (cf. Mt 6:6)" (#12) and then with another: "Popular devotions of the Christian people are warmly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church.." It then returns to the initial statement: "Devotions should be drawn up in such a way that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since the liturgy of its very nature far surpasses any of them" (#13).

When I was a kid in the upper rural Midwest, Benediction was one of THE most popular communal prayer activities and was held immediately after the principal Sunday mass.  It was popular, among other reasons (I guess), because it was one of the few times when the attendees could actually sing together in English. something was wasn't insipid Marian stuff.   "Holy God We Praise They Name" was a real tub-thumping roof raiser.

Jim McC. --

You are so right about the insipid Marian stuff.  It's enough to discourage devotion to her.   Talk about superstitions!

ISTM that the official Church needs to do a much better job teaching about all the different sorts of prayer available.  Some kinds are entirely private and appropriate for monks and contemplative nuns.  Others are private, but for everyone.  And some are communal.  And, yes, some popular stuff is superstition, but if the people who used h practices understood the real stuff better superstition wouldn't be a problem.

I'd add to Catholic practices some of the Asian ones that help with contemplative practices -- some of the different sorts of concentration and mindfulness ones -- the ones that are also very good for both mental and physical health.  And I'd teach about the mental and physical benefits of all prayer.  And, of course, I'd teach Centering Prayer and the Jesus Prayer to the laity.  I'm sure there are many Catholics who have never ever heard that such prayers are for everyone, not just nuns and priests.  All this concern about evangelizing other people seems strange to me when the already baptized have been so badly taught about prayer.  Further, if people understood more about the various storts of prayer I bet there wouldn't be nearly so many shameful Catholic fights over what that Mass is and isn't.



Totally agree! And to the extent that adoration facilitates that kind of space, then it should be supported. But this is a good direction for the Church to engage in. Mindfullness, of the sort developed through centering prayer, has been used for treatment of PTSD. Anti-anxiety and anti-derpressants are two of the top five pharmaceuticals being sold. I am not anti-med but there are other reliable, psychospiritual practices that help and we should be front and centre with those. 

The EEGs of Carmelite nuns have shown marked changes during mystical experiences when they felt they were at one with God. In a state like this, individuals may also feel as if they have found the ultimate truth, lost all sense of time and space, are in harmony with mankind and the universe, and are filled with peace, joy, and unconditional love. Neuropharmacological studies show how crucial the activation of the dopamine reward system is in such experiences. \

"The Anglophone bishops are always obedient and quick off the mark."

True.  But then they were subject to some unseemly "persuasion" (read 'interference in the democratic process) by Cardinal George, who brought the "do it or else" message from the Curia.  A shameful display of cowardice by the American bishops.  I don't know what transpired in the other Bishops' Conferences, but it must have been something similar.

All described in John Wilkins' 2005 article, "Lost in translation: the bishops, the

Vatican & the English Liturgy" in this very journal (Dec 2, 2005).


George D. ==

While the article you quote from no doubt has a lot of reliable data concerning certain experiences and brain chemicals, and while the author does at least ask 'why are people reiigious?', it displays a total ignorance of the evidence showing that there is not just one basic sort of religious or mystical experience, but there are many of them, and some that are called "religious" do not seem to involve God at all.

This is not surprising considering the obviously neo-atheist assumptions of the author.  This reduction of all experiences *called* religious to one kind is a huge mistake.  It allows some personal, private, supremely pleasurable experiences to be mistaken for what are apparently genuine meetings with a transcendent Other, which is what, I daresay, most scholars of mystical experience would call genuinely religious mystical/religious experience.  And he doesn't even consider the possibility that "religious faith" might be of various kinds and be based on more than one kind of experience or one kind of evidence.

The over-simplifications and ignorance of the holders of scientism such as Shaub, the author of this article, are truly breath-taking.  Why aren't the mystical theologians engaging with these ignoramuses? The ignoramuses seem truly interested in their subject.  They deserve more he

John Page, I think you'll find that the Italians have not been allowed extraordinary license in the instance that you mention. I don't have the books in front of me, but I think you'll find that "Ecce panis angelorum" begins a section of the sequence "Lauda Sion." What's more, in the only chant book that came out of the Second Vatican Council (Graduale Simplex), that section is given as the sequence rather than the much longer Graduale Romanum text that begins "Lauda Sion."

I've been looking for reference to Benediction in Vatican II's constitution on the liturgy but couldn't find it. Paul VI brought out Mysterium fidei while the Council was still on, perhaps to counter threats he saw to full belief in the Real Presence and to encourage eucharistic adoration. I wonder was there some tension between pope and bishops on these fronts?


I did grad research on spirituality and mental health. Probing brain chemistry reactions to prayer and meditation is no more reductionistic that probing brain chemistry reactions to love and other form of flow and aesthetic appreciations. As Aquinas said all revelation is received in the mode of of the recipient. Our brain receives and synthesizes all of our experiences.

There have been clinical criterial developed to differentiate between the mystical experience and the psychotic one which it sometimes resembles.

One of the major differences between psychotic states and mystical states is that phenomena that may occur in acute psychotic states, such as self-destructive acts and aggressive and sexual outbursts, are not part of the mystical experience, though the latter have been observed in some states of ‘possession. Another noticeable difference between the psychotic and mystical experience is the experience of terror and fear. It was observed that people with schizophrenia who reported mystical experience also reported a significantly higher incidence of terror and fear. 


But, indeed, more work needs to be done and further study to assist pastoral workers, spiritual leaders, and psychologists and psychiatrists.



D'Aquili and Newberg are two neuroscientists engaged with theology

Also Meister Eckhart said that if your mind should be such that you seek God and ensure that all your good intentions and endeavours are directed from him and appropriately detach from things (his version of mindfullness and detachment). 


"If you trod on a stone while in this state of mind, it wourl be a mroe godly act than if you were to received the body of our Lord while being concerned only for yourself and having a less detached attitude of mind"

Absent some degree of self-discipline, moderation, and ascetic practices, benediction and adoration, etc. will not have their intended effect. And the converse is true, if you practice proper ascetics, discipline, and mindfullness then it will not matter where you are or what you are doing.

But the priority needs to be on lifestyle changes, psychological dispostion, and all of that. Not just a pious practice.

Thus, these practices should not be promoted as a stand alone kind of ritual but in a broader context of simple, mindful practices.

Not that I am anywhere near either of these by the way. But I have been in the past and I know there is a diference in my affect, mood, and ability to handle stress. And others notice too. But it is work and requires quiet time alone. The computer and internet is a major distraction (for me anyway)

"There have been clinical criterial developed to differentiate between the mystical experience and the psychotic one which it sometimes resembles"\

George D. --

I'm glad to hear that D'Aquila and Newburg now realize that some of the people called "mystics" are in fact schizophrenic.  When I read them, and Gazzaniga, many years ago, they didn't seem to realize the fact that some "mystical" thinking is indistinguishable from schizophrenic thinking.. They lumped all mystics together.  But the psychiatrists realized long, long ago that many who are called "mystics" are in fact schizophrenic.  True, it  seems that some psychiatrists thought that *all* mystics were schizophrenic (Freud maybe?), and they were wrong about that.  .  

To belabor my old point, R.C. Zaehner's extraordinary scholarship supported the psychiatrists' conclusion in holding that *some* mystics are schizophrenic, while he also held that the other mystics are not crazy; some of them are *wrong* - they have nto met God, but they arent' crazy.  (I DO wish you'd read the Zaehner!)

My continuing problem with D'Aquila and Newburg (at least last I read of them)  is that, with the panenhenic mystics, they are willing to dispense with the principles of logic (i.e., dispense with rationality) -- specifically they accept, with the panenhenics,  that a thing can be itself and other than itself..  D and N really just retrogress back to the old thesis of Rudolf Otto and what he called the "superior" sort of knowing that he claims all mystics have.  This is what the psychiatrists call crazy.  I'm with the psychiatrists on this one.  I'm just surprised that there hasn't been a battle started between the psychiatrists and psychologists such as D'Aquila and Newburg.  Or has there been?

(No, I don't remember the last thing I read by D and N.  Sorry.)

George D, --

About mindfulness -- there are different sorts of mindfulness, and the uses of them no doubt vary from person to person. i don't doubt that you are right that the practices shouldn't be pushed at all people.  But there is a great deal of evidence from the cardiologists that the practices are valuable from a physical perspective, and they don't seem to have noticed that there are many people who have been harmed by it.  So how much evidence is there that the practices are damaging psychologically for many folks?

What I'm getting at is that it seems to me that mindfulness meditation would probably be very valuable *religiously* for many, many Christians. I know from my own experience with it that it helps eliminate non-essentials when trying to focus on the Lord.  Granted,more research on the subject may be needed so that damage isn't done to those whom it might injure spiritually in some way..

Would it be apposite to recall that that Christianity is not centrally about meditative techniques but about faith in the salvation won by Christ's sacrifice? We walk by faith, not by such auxiliaries as mindfulness.

Terms like "slavation" and even faith for that matter are pretty murky. Returning to Witt, he saw these terms as having meaning only to the extent that they produce meaningful, observable changes in people and not to the extent that they signify some supra-meaning detached from particularized human contexts.

So, that leaves us with establishing criteria by which we can determine whether any relgious practices lead to positve outcomes. And those outcomes (or fruits) as they are described in Romans 8:9-11 are:

love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

The outcomes opposed to these are:

sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy

So, what kinds of practices facilitate the above? Notwithstanding grace, there are tangible things that we can do to facilitate these spiritual fruits. Generally, most effective have been psychospiritual practices.

Many people today say that they are spiritual and not religious. And by spiritual they mean they try to live according to what is described in Romans.







On the theme of spiritual but not religious, we need to ask some pretty critical questions around the structure of the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer wrote towards the end of his life of the challenge of a religionless Christianity.

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God--without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even "speak" as we used to) in a "secular" way about God? In what way are we "religionless-secular" Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?

The Pauline question of whether [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from [circumcision] is also freedom from religion.


Practices that lead to positive outcomes:   St Teresa of Jesus, well-known as a reformer and foundress, left her followers no methods but the "prayer of recollection".    "I tried as hard as I could to have Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me.  That was my way of prayer."   Teresa was at first taken by neo-Platonic theories and thought to eliminate focusing on Christ (!).    Her directors, many of whom were members of the newly formed Society of Jesus, instructed her to never prescind from "the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ".    One of her well-known phrases is: "to represent Christ" (within), for her not discursively but with a simple image.     Her Order, the Discalced Carmelites, has produced thousands of contemplatives over five centuries (500th anniversary of her birth in 2015).    Pretty good "fruit"!

George D. --

I agree with your last two posts wholeheartedly, especially what you say about practices helping outcomes.  If I regularly fly off the handle at my brother and mindfulness helps me to not get mad at him, then the practice is itself a grace.  And it can have other sorts of spiritual benefits besides.

Christ died for us when we were yet sinners, and clothes us with the mantle of his own righteousness despite our sinfulness. This is what is called justification. There follow on it sanctification, the fruits of the Spirit. But if you make the justification of the sinner contingent on his having the fruits, and indeed on have the fruits in an empirical, measurable way,you are putting the cart before the horse. Salvation is a gift claimed by faith, not a reward for spiritual attainments or for having spiritual graces and charisms. If spirituality without religion means spirituality without faith in Christ's saving death then you can throw your hat at it! 

This has been an interesting discussion. It is interesting to see how a range of people respond to the mass - in a way that I don't. It almost seems at times, however, as though the part of the mass that "touches" most is the music.   Centering Prayer brings some (including me) much closer to God than the mass, especially large Sunday masses, crowded with people. I have no problem missing mass because I don't feel that it is the summit of anything, really, at least in my personal spiritual life. Quiet, contemplative masses with a handful of people, no music, and a very brief homily are much more meaningful to some. Like me. But, I still have a lot of trouble with the mass because I struggle with the church's definition of the eucharist to begin with (literal understanding of "this is my body" and "this is my blood" instead of a metaphorical understanding - already discussed here ad nauseum and I don't wish to get into that again, fortunately for all of you), and with atonement and sacrificial death theology. I don't believe that Jesus had to die for us to be "saved" - to be forgiven by a loving God. I believe that Jesus' life was meant to save us (not just his death) - from ourselves, really, not from the wrath of a vengeful God who would insist his son become a human sacrificial "lamb" in order to forgive human sinfulness. There are many prayers in the mass that I can no longer say.  The understanding that Christ died for our salvation is a teaching that seems repellant in many ways, on the surface at least for we ordinary, non-theologically trained folk, and makes some not want to have anything to do with a god that would demand such a thing. 

how a range of people respond to the mass

I heard today that one reason why people start taking heroin is that it makes them feel profoundly at peace, and gives them heightened awareness of what's around them. So Mass is a little like heroin!


Claire, I also have heard that some types of drugs give a pseudo-religious or mystical experience.  I would guess that this is one of the reasons that people are suspectible to abuse and addiction: people search for meaning.

R,C. Zaehner met the problem of distinguishing pseuo-religious experiences from real meetings with God.  He concluded that the genuine religious mystics say that they have met a benign/loving Absolute,  that they are inspired by the meeting to be loving to all things and some are recognized as saints.  They do not confuse themselves with God, at least not on reflection.  Some mystics have had all three basic sort of experiences, and they tell us not to confuse one kind of with the other.

Zaehner even found that some 'mystics' whose experiences have been caused by drugs have done somevery evil deeds.  The most famous example is the infamous Charles Manson who claimed he was God and plotted to slaughter a number of people.

Christ died for our salvation is indeed a difficult truth to grasp and believe, yet it is the very core of the Christian fatih. I love this somewhat sentimental rendering of it:

Here is the most beautiful of all eucharistic anthems:


@ Anne Chapman - please,  could you guide me to what you call discussions that you have raised 'ad nauseam'?! They are  not  'ad nauseam' to me - I may not have been reading Commonweal for long enough.  Everything you say resonates with me and I am trying to  understand the issues and reasons more clearly. I've had such technical difficulties wth Commonweal today I dare not say more -  I wrote at greater length this morning and lost it all!  I have no theological training either.  Lorna

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihayl has done a lot of research into the phenomenon of what he refers to as "flow". Flow refers to that feeling of ease and postivity and being lost and absorbed that athletes experience at times, poets immersed in their writing, dancers, artists, any occupation which requires skill, attention, and challenge.

He discusses how consciousness is altered through drugs and the difference between that and flow:

Any activity that tranforms the wy we percieve reality is enjoyable, a fact that accounts for the attraction of "consciousness-expanding drugs" of all sorts, from magic mushorooms to alcohol to the current Pandora's box of hallucinogenic chemicals. But consiousness canot be expanded; all we can do is shuffle its content, which gives us the impression of having broadened it somehow. The price of most artifically induced alterations, hower, is that we lose control over that very consciousness we are supposed to expand.

In contrast to that he writes that:

In our studies, we found that every flow activity, wheter it involved competition, chance or any other dimension of experience, had this in common. It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality, It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of self lies the key to flow activities.

William Blake who was a Catholic poet wrote of the importance of perception and clarification of the mind.  "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern"

I don't think that it is realistic or healthy to chase after flow or mystical experiences as ends in and of themselves. They are byproducts of disciplined life of the mind and spirit. 

"I struggle with the church's definition of the eucharist to begin with (literal understanding of "this is my body" and "this is my blood" instead of a metaphorical understanding."

The church teaching is that the accidents remain unaltered while the substance is transformed -- that is so mysterious that it cannot be "literal". I suggest that we can think of it more dynamically as follows: the entire meal event is transubstantiated into a participation in the Paschal Mystery. 

" atonement and sacrificial death theology. I don't believe that Jesus had to die for us to be "saved"

The Fathers of the Church agree with you. But they defend the actual economy of redemption because it enters fully in the fabric of our mortal flesh. It gives a clear redemptive significance to suffering and death -- not only to Jesus's death but to mine -- and that is Good News.

"I believe that Jesus' life was meant to save us (not just his death) - from ourselves, really, not from the wrath of a vengeful God who would insist his son become a human sacrificial "lamb" in order to forgive human sinfulness."

But that is not the image projected either by the New Testament or by the texts of the Mass. God lovingly lays on Christ the iniquity of us all and Christ lovingly accepts this role. By his stripes we are healed. The entire story is gracious from beginning to end.

I remember a time when one prayed to Mary to hold back the arm of her wrathful Son, prepared to strike. But the New Testament language is far deeper than such popular conceptions.

"The understanding that Christ died for our salvation is a teaching that seems repellant in many ways, and makes some not want to have anything to do with a god that would demand such a thing."

Do you blame God that we must suffer and die? So why blame him for giving positive meaning to suffering and death, and for making the death of his beloved son the powerful means of washing away our sins and allowing us to stand before God with confidence, in the hope of the resurrection.

"Christ died for our salvation" is the very center of the Christian faith -- we need to meditate on it long and deeply. 






William Blake's family were dissenters but he was baptized at a C of E church, St James' Piccadilly. 


Blake saw Dante as an atheist. .

Blake is reported to have been in the forefront of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots.

Blake is recognized as a saint in the Ecclesia Catholica Gnostica...

Except that some over Blake's intuitions have been validated by social science research. Where is that index of forbidden books when you need it eh!

Social research is not needed to validate Blake's intuitions -- he was a prophet of the first magnitude -- but to call him "a Catholic poet" is odd. 

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