ASK FATHER: Exposition on a “makeshift” altar and lay testimonies

From a reader…


I was at a CRHP (Christ Renews His Parish) “evangelization of the faithful” retreat not long ago, where parishioners give their
testimony and conversion stories to other parishioners. One such testimony of about 30 minutes took place at a podium to the side of a makeshift altar, while the Eucharist was exposed in a monstrance on the altar. No priest was around at the time. This is apparently the usual practice for this frequently recurring retreat. I explained the situation to our priest, and voiced my concerns. He is a Novus Ordo pastor of a huge parish near ___ and, as far as I can tell, a faithful priest. He said it was fine and that was the way it was done. Could this possibly be correct? I thought when Jesus was exposed on the altar, then only worship and adoration should be going on at that time. Thank you very much for clarity on this subject, and for your priesthood and blog. You are in my prayers twice every day.

The rules for exposition in the post-Conciliar manner of things are rather vague.  However, there can be readings, hymns and sermons during exposition.

However, in the spirit of mutual enrichment we might take a clue from the traditional way of doing things.

Even in the most solemn way of exposition the Blessed Sacrament, 40 Hours Devotion, during the Mass celebrated in the midst of 40 Hours, sermons were only “tolerated” and it would have been unthinkable for the sermon not to have been by a bishop or priest.   The moment of the “tolerated” sermon would have been fully liturgical, no question.

It seems to me that a “makeshift” altar and testimonies by lay people are not the sort of context that the custom of exposition foresees.  It seems rather to lessen attention on the Blessed Sacrament, doesn’t it?

This in no way diminishes the sincerity or utility of testimonies.  But, perhaps they should be given before exposition, rather than after.  And the monstrance needs something more than a “makeshift” altar, don’t you think?

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes, for Eucharistic processions, we set up “makeshift” altars.  But in general they are beautiful, even sometimes over the top.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Sawyer says:

    I think another faddish (mis)use of Eucharistic exposition is LifeTeen’s XLT (short for eXauLT). The Eucharist is exposed, Christian rock praise music is played by a band or sometimes by one musician on a guitar, one of the musicians gives a testimony, there is some silent adoration, sometimes O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo are sung, sometimes to “contemporized” musical settings, and it concludes with Benediction. The rock music is the highlight of the whole thing, and I think it upstages adoration. Quite the fad in the Youth Ministry Industry.

  2. bigtex says:

    CRHP retreats, ACTS retreats, Forming intentional disciples, C&L, Catechumical Way… these are all protestant nonsense bordering on cult behavior. It’s no surprise that they would behave irreverently before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Just join a traditional third order or oblate community – tried and true.

  3. edm says:

    I seem to recall that at one time it was customary to use a little banner with a Eucharistic design which would be placed before the monstrance for the duration of the sermon. Perhaps, in theory, since the Host was not in view, it was something like a momentary suspension of Exposition.

  4. de_cupertino says:

    Opus Dei centers host monthly recollections at which a priest exposes the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, gives a talk, hears confessions during a time of silent prayer, and then gives another talk before final benediction. The talks are spiritual in nature, and the priests during their reflections periodically address our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I find it very reverent and nourishing, but I’m not sure how it fits in with the preconciliar practice as you describe it.

  5. WmHesch says:

    The Sanctissimum was never traditionally exposed upon the altar itself (ie altar stone). Old rubrics called for a “throne”- whether in the altar crucifix niche, or upon a corporal over a raised platform.

    Makeshift “altars” (in the vernacular use of that term) are totally traditional: processions, Eucharistic Congresses, etc. Anyone truly absorbed in the Mystery he adores won’t be distracted by flowers or gilding or even the lack thereof.

  6. DavidJ says:

    Sawyer, I’ve been to several XLT events as a volunteer, though it’s been 10 or so years, and at least around here, they were quite reverent when the Eucharist was processed in and exposed. Yes, the band played but there were periods of silence as well. I found no fault with the essay it was handled, though I can imagine that depends on the people putting it on. The clergy involved at the ones I went to were solid and wouldn’t have put up with anything less than reverence. Your mileage may vary.

  7. Huber says:

    What can we expect when the collective bishops at their annual meeting in Baltimore disrespect the Blessed Sacrament by leaving Our Lord out like a prop while multiple speakers blabber about inane things and talk about the (self) importance of bishops councils next to Him while completely ignoring Him?

    Here’s one of the speakers giving her secular talk while next to Our Lord displayed in some art deco monstrance that looks like a Cardassian spaceship:!Aro_W8Q-Zpcawrd146KeX7bKOQKddg

    And here’s a heterodox pantsuit sister from San Antonio dressed like a Romulan officer next to Our Lord:!Aro_W8Q-Zpcawrd2lHBs1xI5qW92-w

    If we cant expect bishops to set the example for reverence during the exposition of Almighty God, what else is there? Our Lord should never be a stage prop.

  8. GHP says:

    I thought testimonials and talking about “brokenness” (when did that become so popular?) was solely a Protestant thing. Has my head been in the sand?

  9. Sawyer says:

    DavidJ and others who want more information about what XLT has become. Ten years ago was one thing when it started, now the musicians have latched onto it as a way to perform under the pretense of adoration, in the model of evangelical praise and worship concerts. It’s like Catholic musicians said, “Hey, with this we can do what evangelical Christian bands do but since we have the Eucharist exposed it’s Catholic!”

    This mentality is especially apparent at mega LifeTeen and Steubenville youth conferences, where the band plays praise and worship rock music while the Eucharist is exposed and/or processed around the convention arena where hundreds to thousands of teens have gathered.

    For an example of this as it is currently practiced, if Fr. Z will let me post the link, see the YouTube video below of a Steubenville youth conference from two years ago. Video starts where the Eucharist is processed into the arena:

    Eventually (starting at about 1:52:00) Fr. Mike Schmitz, who is a pretty solid priest, processes the Eucharist around the arena and blesses the youth in attendance with it. That takes a long time (an hour) because he seems to go to every arena seating section, up and down stairs and so forth. All the while praise and worship music is played by the band on stage.

    Almost all the youth are kneeling (part of the time) and reverent. Some have quite apparent emotional reactions to the Eucharist and reach out almost to touch the monstrance as Fr. Mike brings it to them. The procession with music goes on for an hour. But with the Eucharist being processed around so much, it doesn’t seem to be quite adoration but rather a Eucharistic procession inside a large room.

    I have many concerns about this, but I don’t want to write an essay since it’s not my blog. Two primary concerns: I think the music upstages adoration in this format, and I wonder whether the music in that setting is emotionally manipulative such that youth are not being taught to distinguish between an emotional response/feeling and a deep spiritual experience.

  10. Joe in Canada says:

    regarding what is described in XLT (and I suppose FOCUS, here in Canada CCO) – if the only option is this or nothing, which would you prefer?

  11. Discerning Altar Boy says:

    With regard to FOCUS, I can assure you that their biggest concern is true inner piety. At their official events, they promote that through a variety of legitimate styles. At their national conferences last year, three of the five full conference Masses featured chanted propers and ordinaries. I’ll grant that at the full conference adoration the music was more modern, but there is also perpetual silent adoration throughout the duration of the conference. Ultimately, I think it’s beautiful to see 16,000 of my fellow young people gathered to adore Eucharistic Lord, regardless of how they might be expressing their inner piety.

  12. BrionyB says:

    Sawyer said: “…I wonder whether the music in that setting is emotionally manipulative such that youth are not being taught to distinguish between an emotional response/feeling and a deep spiritual experience.”

    I think this is an important point, and probably the thing that worries me most about charismatic/youth events – these intense emotional experiences generally don’t last forever, so, if there isn’t something of more substance behind them, what happens when they fade or disappear?

    Having said that, it’s something we all need to be careful about. I’ve often heard traditionally minded people say of the modern Mass “it doesn’t do anything for me,” or “I don’t get anything out of it,” or words to that effect. And I see their point, but I wonder if there’s a danger of falling into that same trap of thinking our emotions are the most important indicators of what is good and right. Of course, many people will say the same things about the TLM, or maybe “I felt excluded,” “it didn’t speak to me,” etc. So it’s clearly not a convincing argument for either form of the Mass.

    Beyond that, even, it’s maybe a problem of modern society that we’re encouraged to place emotional fulfillment above everything else, hence people giving up on marriages because, yes, “I wasn’t getting anything out of it”. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with feelings of elation and fervour during worship, any more than there’s anything wrong with feeling blissfully in love with your spouse – but the real test is how we behave when those feelings are (temporarily or permanently) gone.

Comments are closed.