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History of the eucharistic celebration XI: The Middle Ages, Roman and Gothic

English Spanish Rogelio Zelada Profile

A significant portion of the enormous artistic heritage that the Church possesses had a golden age during the Roman and Gothic Middle Ages, with the appearance and flourishing of a prodigious art that still amazes due to the solidity and beauty of enormous cathedrals, palaces, temples, convents and hospitals.

Along with this appears a strong and new current of devotion to the Eucharist. In 1088, Berengario, bishop of Tours, scandalized Christianity with his doubts about the understanding of transubstantiation. The French bishop affirmed that Christ is indeed in the bread; therefore, there is bread and there is Christ in the consecrated bread and for this reason, we cannot worship the host because we would also be worshipping the bread.

The theology and faith of the Church affirm that there is no longer bread after the consecration, but the body of Christ, and there is no wine, but his sacred blood. Accidents remain, that is, what the senses perceive, but the essence, the substance, changes. We worship the host not because Christ is in it, but because it is Christ Jesus eucharisticized.

In the midst of this, an intense movement arose in the community of the faithful, which, as a testimony of faith, began to venerate in a special way the sacred host that was reserved on the altar, in an ark adorned with precious stones or suspended above it inside a gold or silver dove. Theologians delved carefully into eucharistic theology and Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body of Christ (Corpus Christi) in 1264, a feast to which a solemn and triumphal procession was added in the 14th century, with the host placed in a richly decorated monstrance.

However, the faithful increasingly moved away from Communion. It became so rare that in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council imposed the obligation to receive Communion at least once a year on the feast of Easter. Saint Louis, King of France, amazed the whole community of believers because he received Communion more than six times a year, which indicated an extraordinary public holiness.

The few times the faithful went to Communion, the host was placed on their tongue, and as they increasingly refrained from receiving Communion from the chalice, its use disappeared in the 14th century. The custom of offering the Eucharist under the species of wine to newly baptized children had been lost earlier.

Since the previous century, the canons had built a wall around the sanctuary, enclosing it; they sought to shield themselves from the cold and be able to celebrate the divine office (the Liturgy of the Hours) more comfortably every day. This turned the presbytery into a church within a church, isolated by walls and bars, further intensifying the separation between the clergy and the faithful, who preferred private Masses celebrated on the many devotional altars erected around the temple, rather than the solemn Mass.

A deep desire then appeared among the faithful to see the host; a new devotion in the manner of a special profession of faith in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament and, at the same time, a substitute for the reception of Communion. This caused certain disturbing tumults and crowds at the entrance to the presbytery and at its side doors, where the faithful gathered in an untidy manner to see the moment when the priest raised the host a little and pronounced over it the words of consecration; that is, the account of the institution of the Eucharist.

It was such an anomalous situation that Eudes de Sully, bishop of Paris, in order to ensure respect in the liturgy and to satisfy the popular desire, asked the clergy to raise the sacred host over their heads immediately after its consecration, so that the faithful could contemplate it peacefully. From France, this new rite then extended to the whole Church in the West. It took 300 years, until the Council of Trent, for the elevation of the chalice to be added to this new rite.

In the field of the composition and performance of the music — Gregorian chant — although the monks faithfully preserved it in the great monasteries, it gave way to polyphony, which had very brilliant moments in the great cathedrals, marking with sumptuous solemnity the celebration of the Eucharist. From the "a cappella" chant typical of the Gregorian chant came the accompaniment of the organ and sometimes the chamber orchestra.

Rogelio Zelada
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Comments from readers

Rafael M. Calvo Fortd - 08/31/2020 11:43 AM
Gracias, hermano, por el aporte a la comunidad de fieles. Ojalá tengas tiempo para explicar cómo se llegó a comulgar sólo en la boca. Cómo en la naciente Igkesia y por siglos, no sé cuántos, se recibia ésta en la mano, en el rito latino o romano.
Maria Maguire - 08/31/2020 10:53 AM
Great history of the eucharistic celebration up to where we are today at Mass. Some modifications happened on the 20th century turning the celebrant to face the congregation and some musical adaptations. I would like to now (and will look for) the history and year of the beginning of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament devotion as we have it today. Blessings to you.

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