A monstrance, also known as an ostensorium (or an ostensory), is a vessel used in Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, High Church Lutheran and Anglican churches for the more convenient exhibition of some object of piety, such as the consecrated Eucharistic host during Eucharistic adoration or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It is also used as reliquary for the public display of relics of some saints. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare, while the word ostensorium came from the Latin word ostendere. Both terms, meaning "to show", are used for vessels intended for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but ostensorium has only this meaning.
In the Catholic tradition, at the moment of consecration the elements (called "gifts" for liturgical purposes) are transformed (literally transubstantiated) into the body and blood of Christ. Catholic doctrine holds that the elements are not only spiritually transformed, but are (substantially) transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Although the elements retain the appearance, or accidents of bread and wine, they become the body and blood of Christ. The presence of Jesus Christ God in the Eucharist is known as the doctrine of the Corporeal Presence within the Roman Catholic Magisterium. The Corporeal Presence is believed to be real (in Latin: realiter) and of the whole (totaliter) Christ, in Body, Soul and Spirit. The name "Corporeal Presence" concerns the Corporal reserved to the chalice, paten and the ciborium during the Holy Mass.
Other Christians (notably in the Anglican Church, Old Catholic Church, and Lutheran Church) accept the doctrine of the Real Presence, whilst rejecting transubstantiation as a philosophical concept (cf. sacramental union). Owing to these beliefs, the consecrated elements are given the same adoration and devotion that Christians of these traditions accord to Christ himself.
Within churches of these traditions the reserved sacrament serves as a focal point of religious devotion. In many of them, during Eucharistic adoration, the celebrant displays the sacrament in the monstrance, typically on the altar. When not being displayed, the reserved sacrament is locked in a tabernacle (more common in Roman Catholicism) or aumbry (more common in the other traditions mentioned).
In the service of benediction, (the priest blesses the people with the Eucharist displayed in the monstrance). This blessing differs from the priest's blessing, as it is seen to be the blessing by Christ rather than that of the individual priest. The exposition of the monstrance during Benediction is traditionally accompanied by chanting or singing of the hymn Tantum Ergo.
Monstrances are usually elaborate in design; most are carried by the priest. Others may be much larger fixed constructions, typically for displaying the host in a special side chapel, often called the "Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament". For portable designs, the preferred form is a sunburst on a stand, usually topped by a cross.
Before the Council of Trent, the most common design was the tower. The sun design derives from Latin American Catholicism, where missionaries employed monstrances with the sunburst to appropriate sun imagery to the eucharist, and hence supplant sun worship among the natives. This was part of a larger scale entwining of helioatry that was present both in Catholicism and pagan cults in Latin American.
Medieval monstrances were more varied in form than contemporary ones. Those used for relics, and occasionally for the host, typically had a crystal cylinder in a golden stand, and those usually used for hosts had a crystal window in a flat-faced golden construction, which could stand on its base. The monstrance was most often made of silver-gilt or other precious metal, and highly decorated. In the center of the sunburst, the monstrance normally has a small round glass the size of a Host, through which the Blessed Sacrament can be seen. Behind this glass is a round container made of glass and gilded metal, called a lunette, which holds the Host securely in place. When not in the monstrance, the Host in its luna is placed in a special standing container, called a standing pyx, in the Tabernacle. Before the current design, earlier "little shrines" or reliquaries of various shapes and sizes were used.
Every year, during the Corpus Christi procession in Valencia, the largest Monstrance in the world, made of 600 kg of silver, 5kg of gold, 75 grams of platinum, hundreds of precious stones and thousands of pearls, runs through the streets of Valencia under a shower of flower petals. To understand its origin one must go back to 1940, the year in which the master Valencian goldsmith Francisco Pajarón Suay began building it, commissioned by the Cathedral in order to replace the one destroyed in 1936 during the civil war. It took 15 years to complete, and it wouldn't have been possible without the donations from the Valencian people. It was created as an offering to the people of Valencia after suffering during the Civil War sacrileges that destroyed large part of the Cathedral's works of art. The Monstrance of Corpus Christi is also known as the Monstrance of the Poor, as it was largely paid for by devotees and the local parish. Each devotee donated whatever they could. Not just physical money, but also in the form of cutlery, candlesticks, ornaments, jewellery and household items made with precious metals. The precious stones were placed directly in the Monstrance and the rest was melted down to create different parts of the monument. The master goldsmith and jeweller Francisco Pajaron Suay (his workshop in Valencia founded in 1890 is still in business today) orchestrated a team of carvers, carpenters, blacksmiths, enamelers and goldsmiths. In total, they put in more than 500,000 hours of work, used 11 kilometres of silver solder and almost 36,000 screws to unite more than 20,000 pieces. This monstrance is considered the greatest piece of artwork created by a goldsmith in the 20th century and treasured by the Cathedral of Valencia and its devotees. When not in use during the processions it is protected behind glass in the Cathedral Museum for everyone to contemplate.
Monument with a Monstrance in Rybnik, Poland in front of the Church of St. Laurence.
Polish Rococo monstrances.
Monstrance from the museum in Pelplin, Poland.