BEHOLD THE ANGELIC BREAD! – The Glorious Monstrance

BEHOLD THE ANGELIC BREAD! – The Glorious Monstrance

The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word ‘eukharistos’ meaning ‘thanksgiving’. It denotes the sacrament (bread/wine professed as the Body and Blood of Christ) and the sacrifice of the Mass. Outside the Mass, the Eucharist is housed in a sacred vessel called the Monstrance. This sacred vessel holds its own history and story.

The etymology of the word Monstrance can be traced to its Latin counterpart Ostensorium. It is derived from the Latin word ostendere meaning ‘to show/display’. Before being used in the Church, these vessels served as objects of exhibition. They were employed by goldsmiths and silversmiths to display their works of art and commerce.

Primeval references affirm the use of a portable tabernacle for adoration, benediction and processions. This came to be replaced by the ciborium wherein the sides of the cup were prolonged in crystal or glass. It served as a receptacle to carry the Sacred Host and distribute Holy Communion.

The essential milestone in the history of the Monstrance was the institution of the Feast of the Corpus Christi in 1264 by Pope Urban IV. The feast enhanced and ignited devotion towards the Blessed Sacrament. The Church now felt the need for a special sacred vessel. Thus the Monstrance came to be introduced.

The stylistic approach of Monstrance during this era was architectural and upright. It imitated the character of a Gothic Cathedral. By the 15th century the pattern was altered. In order to capture one’s complete attention onto the Divine, the size was reduced. The Monstrance was also surrounded by rays and popularly called the ‘sunburst’ monstrance. The luna or lunette (Latin for moon) that holds the Sacred Host was initially shaped as a crescent. In the 20th century a watch case style was popularized so as to secure the blessed host.

Today’s artefact in consideration is taken from the collection of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum. Dating back to the 1800’s, its provenance can be traced to the Church of Our Lady of Glory, Byculla. In imitation to the Church facade, one can immediately associate its style to the 1300’s. The roofed niche is surmounted by the Portuguese Order of Christ or the Vasco da Gama Cross.

The tower imitates the flamboyant design of Late Gothic cathedrals. This is observed through its elaborate spires, canopies, pinnacles, finials, croquets, gables and delicately carved flying buttresses. The Monstrance is further enhanced with figural motifs. Cherubs adorn the sides of the Luna, honoring the ‘Angelic Bread’. Next, our attention is promptly targeted to the stem of the monstrance which is crowned by an angel. Garbed in a cloak, the angel holds on to a cross announcing the mystery of faith

The cushion knop right beneath the angel is poised on four pillars, each displaying a distinct pattern. They symbolically represent the four Evangelists, namely- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The entire structure of the monstrance is bedecked with curled acanthus leaves. Now the acanthus leaf symbolizes everlasting life. It thus professes that God who dwells in the species of the Blessed Sacrament is everlasting.

In conclusion, stressing on the extra-ordinary significance of the ‘Angelic Bread’ Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Without the Eucharist the Church simply does not exist’. The Monstrance that serves as an abode for this ‘Corpus Christi’ draws the faithful in benediction, in praise, in worship, in prayer, in adoration and in love. A marvelous love that senses cannot grasp!

Joynel Fernandes

Asst. Director – Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.

For a guided tour please contact 022 – 29271557


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