Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The monstrance and luna are sacred vessels, like the chalice and paten, used in liturgical celebrations at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. The monstrance is a decorative circular stand constructed of metal designed to hold the consecrated host. The host itself — the wafer that represents the body of Christ — is displayed in a glass-enclosed centerpiece called the luna.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the monstrance may be designed according to local customs and cultures, but must be made from precious metal. “If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, then ordinarily they should be gilded on the inside.”

The monstrance is ornate for a specific reason. According to the Catholic Education and Resource Center, they must be designed in such a way to make it apparent that “they are sacred vessels for liturgical purposes,” and not something for casual purposes.

According to sacristan Mark Labonte, the monstrance is not displayed at daily Mass and is reserved for use only on special occasions, for example, at the end of Lent or certain processions, or in an adoration chapel. 

Sixty days after Easter, or the Sunday immediately following, during the Feast of Corpus Christi, “At the basilica, a priest will parade around the block with it,” Labonte said, with the consecrated host inside the luna. “The priest wears a veil over his shoulders and he wears a coat, so he doesn’t actually touch the monstrance.” Labonte said the reason for this goes back to “Moses and Exodus, the holy of holies,” and is an example of the many overlapping rituals and beliefs between Judaism and Christianity.  

The neo-Latin synonym for the monstrance is “ostensorium,” a word originally used to describe any vessel forged by a goldsmith or silversmith for use in rituals or sacraments of any kind, though we know the term today almost exclusively in terms of sacred vessels used in the Catholic Church.

Although it is unclear when exactly the monstrance and luna were standardized, the oldest recorded use, according to “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” was in 1070 in Canterbury. A Palm Sunday procession described “two priests vested in albs” carrying “a portable shrine in which also the Body of the Lord ought to be deposited.” The account does not specify that the host was displayed in a monstrance and exposed to view, but it is widely believed that this English custom led to the practice and usage of a luna.

Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

The Sun Journal is celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, which was completed in 1936-1937. For a year, we are taking a close look at the iconic structure, its history and even some of the people who built it. We will explore rooms behind the high altar, crawl along the catwalk, explore the cellars and rooftop carvings, and peek into drawers and cabinets in the sacristy. We’ll show you historical photos and compare them with current images of the basilica. We’ll also speak with basilica experts and comb through historical documents to uncover some of the 80-year-old church’s enduring myths and mysteries.

The entire series is being archived at sunjournal.com/basilica.

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