A monstrance is the vessel used in the Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches to display the consecrated Eucharistic Host, during Eucharistic adoration or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In the medieval periods monstrances were constructed for the public display of relics, but the term is now usually restricted to those used for hosts. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare, meaning “to show”, and is cognate with the English word demonstrate, meaning “to show clearly”. In Latin, the monstrance is known as an ostensorium (from ostendere “to show”), and in Anglican churches it is called a monstre/monstral.
In the Catholic tradition, at the moment of Consecration the elements (or “gifts” as they are termed for liturgical purposes) are transformed (literally transubstantiated) into the actual Body and Blood of Christ.
Catholic doctrine holds that the elements are not only spiritually transformed, but rather are actually (substantially) transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The elements retain the appearance or “accidents” of bread and wine, but are indeed the actual Body and Blood of Christ. This is what is meant by Real Presence; the actual presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Because of this belief, the consecrated elements are given the same adoration and devotion that is accorded to Christ.
Because Catholics believe that Christ is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist, the reserved sacrament serves as a focal point of devotion. During Eucharistic adoration, the sacrament is displayed in the monstrance, typically on the altar. When not being displayed, the reserved sacrament is locked in the Tabernacle.
In the service of Benediction, the priest blesses the people with the Eucharist displayed in the monstrance. This blessing differs from the priest’s blessing, as it is seen to be the blessing of Christ, rather than that of the individual priest. The exposition of the monstrance during Benediction is traditionally accompanied by chanting or singing of the hymn Tantum Ergo.
Whenever the monstrance contains the Host, the priest will not touch it with his bare hands, but instead out of respect holds it with a humeral veil, a wide band of cloth that covers his shoulders (humera) and has pleats on the inside in which he places his hands.
Thanks to Belen Sagales, Eduardo “Toto” Amadeo, and Carlos “Caloy” Lloveras and their families! May God reward you and your families with His choicest blessings!