The Seven Monstrances

In Catholic Eucharistic devotion, a consecrated host is sometimes displayed, either during a liturgical service of benediction, or in a special chapel where people gather for silent prayer and adoration to Christ present in the host. In these settings, the host is exposed in a monstrance (a word etymologically related to “demonstrate”), a vessel considered to be sacred since it contains the veritable Body of Christ, present in the host. Now, I know this is the kind of thing that makes not only most Protestants but even some liberal Catholics grind their teeth — “wafer worship” is how one Episcopal priest described Eucharistic adoration to me — but I think to dismiss veneration of the consecrated host as mere idolatry is to make the same mistake as the iconoclasts did in the eighth century. Sacramental or mystical spirituality is grounded in the conviction and belief that the entire universe is shot through with the grandeur and presence of God. Thus, to venerate Christ present in the Eucharistic host is simply to acknowledge the particularity of the Divine presence which we know to be truly universally present, for “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Yesterday I was having luch with my friend Charles and we were speaking of the sacrality of the mouth, in the context of learning a foreign language. I had an insight: “As someone who participates in the Mass every morning, my mouth is graced with the real presence each day.” Then this thought occurred to me: for that one moment in which I am chewing and then swallowing and digesting the host and the precious blood (consecrated wine), I have become a “living monstrance” — not in the sense of exposing the consecrated host, but hopefully in the sense of displaying the image and likeness of God in my eyes, my heart, my life. From there I began to see connection after connection, and realized that to embrace a live a eucharistic faith means to see monstrances wherever I turn: sacred vessels holding, displaying, revealing the miraculous real, mystical, sacramental presence of the Christ. Obviously, an actual monstrance that holds the consecrated host is one such ostensory. And the body of each faithful person who receives the blessed sacrament is yet another. But other examples of holy “containers” that hold and reveal the sacred presence abound. Consider Mary, the blessed mother of God, whose very womb became a monstrance as she carried Christ from conception to birth. And then there’s the church, that social and mystical “structure” containing the unified body of all who seek to allow God to engrave the Divine image and likeness onto our hearts and souls. For that matter (this will make my Reformed friends happy) the Bible is a monstrance, a physical object containing and revealing the Divine Word through sacred narrative and liberating proclamation. Since Christ reminded us that whenever we take care of “the least” of our brothers and sisters we are actually ministering to him, it is obvious that those who are poor or in need reveal the glory of the Living Source of Love and Light, for those who have eyes to see. Finally, what all of the above have in common are their existence here in the world of physical form, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that the earth/the cosmos — that is to say, nature herself — resonates and quivers with the ineffable honor of containing the glorious presence of her Divine Lover.

Seven monstrances, seven portals through which we can encounter the Living Presence. A mystical spirituality is indeed a fountain of blessings.

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Pentecost and Ecstasy
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Peggy

    I have a Tarot deck called the Tarot of Marseilles. It is based on one of the oldest known renderings of the Tarot figures. The card representing the Cup has a castle perched on it. The card respresenting the “COIN” or “PENTACLE” card is simply a round object. I placed the two cards side by side and I realized I was looking at the paten and chalice of the Holy Eucharist. The Castle may not be a castle per se but a representation of the Temple. I have always suspected that the GRAIL story did not have anything to do with physical cups or bloodlines but had to do with the great mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory…” I left pentecostalist fundamental religion because I felt drawn to a more sacramental and incarnational Christian expression. I am in “it” for the MYSTERY, however that may manifest. Tomorrow is Pentecost and we will hear the Gospel read in many different languages. I look forward to that again. I’ve come back to my beginning.