Monstrance of His Holy Name
Although a cradle Catholic, there is so much about the faith that I continue to learn. I like to use these blogs as a way for me to “take notes” so to speak. In writing about this piece, I thought I’d just start at the beginning; so we can all understand. I have many followers/visitors to this site who are not Catholic; I hope I answer questions that you may have about Catholicism through these art pieces. And for all of you scholars... if I get something wrong, please message me and I'll get it fixed!!
What is a monstrance in the first place?
We can start with the root of the word. In Latin, the word “monstrance” means “to show.” So, what is shown in a monstrance? In the Catholic faith, a monstrance is the name given to the transparent vessel in which the consecrated Host is exposed for veneration.
As Catholics, we believe that once the priest has consecrated the Host in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it maintains the outward look of a host, but in all actuality, has been transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. During Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and during Eucharistic adoration, the consecrated Host remains exposed in the monstrance for reverent worship.(The mystery of transubstantiation is often a difficult hurdle for Christians and for many Catholics as well. When my oldest child prepared for his First Holy Communion, we bought Kathryn Griffin Swegart’s book, “Heavenly Hosts” to help deepen his faith by exploring the miracles of the Eucharist throughout history. I encourage anyone to research Eucharistic miracles, as they have been given to us by the Father to increase and strengthen our faith.)
When in use, a monstrance is often housed in an area of the Church designated for worship, such as an Adoration Chapel. Often the monstrance sits atop an altar designed to resemble the Ark of the Covenant, reminiscent of the Old Testament when God remained with the Israelites ('tabernacled' with them) as they journeyed through the desert. This is meant to be a reminder that God is truly present in that space.
Why a monstrance piece?
Upon moving to Indiana, I attended a retreat at our parish and experienced Adoration for the first time. Up to that point, I had never really known what to do in an Adoration Chapel. It all seemed pretty “beyond me” and I didn’t want to do something wrong. Good news is, God wants you to visit, the only thing I was doing wrong was not showing up for Him!
Following the retreat, I often felt called to go to the Adoration Chapel, but with little ones, I was concerned that our potential outbursts would not be welcomed by other adorers. Enter an awesomely devout, fellow mom who began a mothers’ ministry, in which we took turns watching each other’s little ones and allowed each other silent, focused prayer time with the Lord. It was an amazing and treasured time for me.
Unfortunately, in March of 2020, our Adoration Chapel, as well as our church, closed due to COVID restrictions. I soon realized that I had never cherished that time with our Lord so much as the days and months when I was not permitted to be in His presence. In his wisdom, our pastor moved the monstrance to the windows of the church for daily “parking lot adoration.”
As the church remained closed, on any given day, what once was done by our church community in private, was exhibited in a very public and beautiful way. Cars filled the lot; young, old, and entire families knelt outside of their cars in prayer, worshipping our Lord.
The monstrance is used to house our Lord for worship. It is a symbol of His dwelling among us and within us following the Eucharist. I wanted this piece to be a constant visual in our family prayer space of the Truth, the Light, God the Father made Man, our Alpha and Omega.
Symbols of The Monstrance of His Holy Name
I created Monstrance of His Holy Name to reflect the variety of symbols used throughout history to represent Jesus Christ. In this piece there are 10 symbols: IHS, the consecrated host, twelve stars, the ichthys (Jesus fish), Chi Rho, the names Yeshua and Yahweh, crowns, the Alpha and Omega symbol, and a variety of crosses.
The Christogram “IHS” (also seen as JHS and YHS in various translations of Greek) adorns the top of the monstrance as the monogram of the name of Jesus in the Greek alphabet. Christians regularly shortened Jesus’ name by only writing the first three Greek letters, I H ∑ (from His full name IH∑OY∑). In Latin, the Greek sigma (∑), is written as the letter “S,” thus the monogram commonly used in the Latin rite, as IHS.
Consecrated host surrounded by the 12 stars/tribes of Israel
The consecrated host is encapsulated in the middle receptacle for adoration. It is the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the source and summit of our faith. Surrounding it is a burst of light, adorned with 12 stars, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The twelve tribes were descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Jesus, through the line of David, is a descendant of the tribe of Judah.
The oval rays emanating from the center are stylized versions of the “Jesus fish” symbol, or Ichthys. They serve to remind us that Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior is present.
Image includes ichthys, Chi Rho, crowns and crosses
Four circular Chi Rho Christograms adorn the middle ring of the monstrance. The first 2 letters of the Greek word XPI∑TO∑ (Christos) intersect, such that the downstroke of the rho (P) intersects the center of the chi (X). Throughout history, this symbol has been found marking Christian graves, on Roman Christian signet rings, and in Christian architecture and fresco artwork.
Yahweh, Yeshua on crossbeams
Two triangular rays emanate laterally from the Blessed Sacrament. These form the crossbeam of the larger cross of the monstrance. On each ray is Jesus’ name. To the right reads “Yeshua” (Jesus) in ancient Hebrew, to the left, the Father’s name “Yahweh.” Additional crosses adorn the middle ring of the monstrance, a reminder of Jesus’ suffering for our redemption.
Alpha and Omega
The outer ring connecting the ichthys is adorned with crowns symbolizing Jesus Christ, our Lord, our King. At the base, the Alpha and Omega (AΩ), lift the monstrance. These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and the title of Christ and God in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 21:6, 22:13), “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End.”
I am certainly no scholar when it comes to Christian iconography, but I am learning, and the deep history associated with these various symbols strengthens my faith. I hope it does the same for you. Use this piece in your own home as a reminder that Jesus is not only present, but humbly awaiting your answer to His invitation to walk with Him, lean on Him, and be still with Him.
Your Sister in Christ,