Monstrance as Mandala  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Benediction is a form of eucharistic devotion found in the Roman Catholic church, as well as in some very high-church Anglican communities. A large round consecrated communion wafer is placed in a sacred vessel usually called a monstrance, or more rarely an ostensorium. This allows the consecrated bread to be seen by the congregants. Traditional hymns are sung, the monstrance is incensed several times as a sign of respect, and the rite culminates with the priest taking the vessel and using it to bless the assembled community. Benediction is often done in conjunction with solemn evensong or vespers, and can also be utilized as a type of meditation practice; the monstrance is exposed for a length of time during which people can simply sit quietly in its presence or say private prayers.

A mandala is a circular spiritual symbol frequently found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

William Johnson is an Irish-born Jesuit theologian who has taught for many years at Sophia University, a Jesuit institution in Tokyo. His specialty is Christian mystical theology. Not surprisingly, he is also well-versed in the traditions of the (non-Christian) East. In his book The Wounded Stag (Harper and Row 1984) he interprets the body of Christ in the monstrance as a type of Christian mandala. The excerpts below are found on page 108 ff.


The mandala is a source of great psychic energy...

First, the circle is a symbol of integration, of wholeness, of perfection, and finally of enlightenment. ..By being present to the mandala, by interiorizing it, by becoming it, we attain to psychic wholeness and to enlightenment...

Second, the mandala is a cosmic symbol. By interiorizing the symbol I break out of my narrow individuality, becoming one with the circle and one with the universe. In India the mandala is sometimes a symbol of God...

...I believe that the Eucharist, particularly when circular bread was used and placed in the monstrance before the people, became the great Christian mandala...

In the fourteenth century the monstrance...first appeared in France and Germany; and again this eucharistic devotion was greeted with enthusiasm and spread throughout Europe like wildfire...

And the Eucharist enthroned in the monstrance has all the properties of the mandala. One is present to it, totally present. One interiorizes it by eating or (if this is not possible) by a spiritual communion in which by ardent desire one receives the body of the Lord into the depths of one's being. As one assimilates the Eucharist one is filled with the most tremendous energy--for the bread is food not only for the body but also for the spirit...And this bread of life is medicinal, healing, leading to integration of the personality, pointing beyond the state of integrity to the resurrection, which is the state of glory.

Again, the Eucharist is a cosmic symbol. Through reception of this sacrament we are united not only with the individual Jesus but with the whole Christ. We are united with those who have gone before us, with those in the state of purification, with the poor and the sick and the oppressed; for all are his members. Indeed we are united with the whole human family each of whom is related to the risen Lord in a way that surpasses human understanding.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at Wednesday, October 27, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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