The Ancrene Rewle Salutations of the
Blessed Sacrament
Hildegard of Bingen Catherine of Siena


    The Ancrene Riwle was written for English solitaries who lived a rule of life in close proximity to a church where they could worship daily. From what is written about their prayer and daily discipline it seems to have been taken for granted that attending Mass would not necessarily mean receiving communion. It is significant that the rule's primary eucharistic concern is with the women's devotion to Christ present in the sacrament rather than with communion. Since Christ was always present in the sacrament, it was possible for them to reverence him there at all times, even when they were not physically present in church.

    The rule directed their devotion to Christ on the altar from the moment of rising in the morning:

When you are quite ready, sprinkle yourself with holy water... and turn your thoughts to the Body and precious Blood of God on the high altar and fall on your knees towards Him with these greetings: Hail, author of our creation! Hail, price of our redemption! Hail, viaticum of our journey! Hail, reward of our hope! Hail, consolation of our time of waiting! Be thou our joy, who art to be our reward; let our glory be in thee throughout all ages for ever. O Lord, be always with us, take away the dark night, wash away all our sin, give us Thy holy relief. Glory be to thee, O Lord, who wast born of a virgin.

    The mention of the blood of Christ as well as of the body suggests that the women were asked to attend to a celebration going on in the church rather than to the reserved sacrament. Even if this is so, it is a devotion connected with attention to the mystery of Christ's coming on the altar rather than with communion. The same prayer was prescribed for use at the elevation during the actual hearing of Mass. It could also be used on the occasions when the women received communion by reciting it before the Confiteor that was said immediately before receiving. In other words, the same faith and devotion could be expressed, whether in turning one's mind to a celebration in progress, or at the elevation of the consecrated host, or in receiving communion, and this last act was less frequent than the previous two.

    As a formula that embodies the traditional meaning of the sacrament, the prayer in question is very fitting. It combines acknowledgment of Christ's godhead with acknowledgment of his humanity. In the manner of early prayers and of the theology traced to Irenaeus, it connects redemption with creation. It looks to the sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, and it is intensely eschatological in its hope. The only peculiar thing about it is its frequent use in situations other than that of communion.

    In giving the women directives on how to attend Mass, the rule adds other prayers to be said at the elevation, at the kiss of peace, and during the priest's communion. These are of an intensely personal nature and do not shun from using the language of sacramental feeding for the act of looking and reverencing. When the priest raises the host, the women are to pray:

But what place is there in me into which my God may come, and remain in me, God, who made heaven and earth? Is there, O Lord my God, that in me which may receive thee? Wilt thou come into my heart and inebriate it, and shall I embrace thee, my only good?

The elevation prayers dose with a petition that uses the image of feeding:

Grant we beseech thee, Almighty God, that him whom we see darkly and under a different form, on whom we feed sacramentally on earth, we may see face to face as he is, and that we may be worthy to enjoy him truly and really in heaven through the same Jesus Christ, etc."

Finally, at the kiss of peace and when the priest receives communion, the women are instructed to pray in this manner:

Forget the world [the rule admonishes], be completely out of the body, and with burning love embrace your Beloved who has come down from heaven to your heart's bower, and hold him fast until he has granted you all that you ask.

    These prayers and prayer instructions, which are intended to accompany the devout look, in fact use the language of consuming the elements. They express a desire for an eternal union with Christ, or with the Word made flesh. There is certainly the emphasis on the godhead of Christ .., but it is the fact of the incarnation that makes it possible to combine warm intimacy with holy reverence.

David N. POWER, The Eucharistic Mystery. Revitalizing the Tradition.
Dublin. Gill and Macmillan, 1992, pp. 187-189

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    The Lay Folks Mass Book… was originally composed in French in the twelfth century and shortly afterwards translated into English. It is really a catechesis on hearing Mass and about the attitudes and prayers appropriate to doing this. It offers a number of prayers for the elevation of the host. Hemmed in by Paters and Aves, the person hearing Mass is to greet the elevated host in this way:

Praised be thou, king, and blessed be thou, king,
of all thy gifts good and thanked be thou, king.
Iesu, all my joying, that for me spilt thy blood and died upon the rood, Thou givest me
grace to sing the song of thy praising.

    This prayer embraces the nature of the Eucharist quite fittingly. It offers thanks and praise and remembers the passion in the image of the spilling of Christ's blood upon the cross. It could well be part of a eucharistic prayer and is certainly suited to sacramental communion, even though placed at the elevation. (…)

    When on rising in the morning the women [for whom the Ancrene Riwle was written] are instructed to greet Christ on the altar, they are also exhorted to address this prayer to a crucifix:

We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world. We adore thy cross, O Lord. We commemorate thy glorious passion. Have mercy on us, thou who didst suffer for us. Hail, O holy Cross, worthy tree, whose precious wood bore the ransom of the world ... O Cross, O victorious Wood ... Medicine of Christians, save the sound and heal the sick.

    Similar salutations of the cross are found in the pre-Carolingian and Carolingian collections that contain salutations to be addressed to Christ before sacramental communion. The salutations of the cross are in fact more numerous. It looks therefore as though salutations of the cross such as that cited above served as models for later development of communion or elevation prayers.

    From the thirteenth century onward, the prayers for the elevation took a turn that concentrated less on the mystery of redemption and more on the glory of the Word made flesh. Thus in a thirteenth-century text words almost identical with those in the Riwle are followed by these:

Hail Jesus Christ, son of the Virgin Mary, word of the Father, lamb of God, salvation of the world, holy victim, word made flesh, fount of piety.
Hail Jesus Christ, praise of the angels, glory of the saints, vision of peace, wholly God and wholly human, flower and fruit of the Virgin Mother.
Hail Jesus Christ, splendor of the Father, prince of peace, gate of heaven, living bread, parturition of the Virgin, vessel of purity.
Hail Jesus Christ, light of heaven, creator of the world, our joy, bread of angels, delight of our heart king and spouse of the Virgin Mother.
Hail Jesus Christ, way most sweet, supreme truth, our reward, fount of charity, sweetness of love, our rest and eternal life. Amen.

Note: This is taken from the Psalter of Lyre, end of the thirteenth century. The Latin text reads:

Ave Ihesu Christe, fili virginis Mariae, verbum patris, agnus dei, salus mundi, hostia sacra, verbum caro, fons pietatis.
Ave Ihesu Christe, laus angelorum, gloria sanctorum, visio pacis, deitas integra, verus homo, flos et fructus virginis matris.
Ave Ihesu Christe, splendor patris, princeps pacis, janua cell, panis vivus, virginis partus, vas puritatis.
Ave Ihesu Christe, lumen celi, principium mundi, gaudium nostrum, panis angelorum, iubilus cordis, rex et sponsus virginis matris.
Ave Ihesu Christe, via dulcis, summa veritas, premium nostrum, fons caritatis, dulcor amoris, requies nostra, vita perennis. Amen.

    In conjunction with devotion to the Word made flesh, prayers to the Virgin Mother came to be associated with eucharistic veneration. Praised for her role in the incarnation, she was also asked to mediate with her Son or to unite the suppliant with him. One manuscript prayer follows up address to Christ with this address to Mary:

Rejoice, O gracious Virgin, for by your word you conceived the Word.
Rejoice, for as a fruitful branch you brought forth the fruit of life.
Rejoice, beautiful rose blossoming forth in the resurrection of Christ.
Rejoice, O mother made glorious in the ascension of Jesus into the heavens.
Rejoice as you flow with delights, for you are now a rose joined to the lily. Wash us from our vices and join us to your son. Amen.

From a Troye manuscript. The Latin text reads:

Gaude tellus fructuosa fructurn vite protulisti.
Gaude rosa speciosa Xto vernans resurgente.
Gaude mater gloriosa Jhesu celos ascendente.
Gaude fluens deliciis nunc rosa iuncta lilio.
Emunda nos a viciis et tuo iunge filio. Amen.

David N. POWER, The Eucharistic Mystery. Revitalizing the Tradition.
Dublin. Gill and Macmillan, 1992, pp. 189.191-192.

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Hildegard of Bingen, founder and first abbess of the Benedictine community of Bingen, often described as the "Sybil of the Rhine," was the last of ten children in a noble family of Bermersheim near Alzey. Her parents, Hildebert and Mechthild, as a pious act gave over their eight-year-old daughter to an aristocratic hermit named Jutta, under whose tutelage Hildegard learned to read the Latin Bible and to chant the monastic office. Other women joined them and they formed a Benedictine abbey. When Jutta died in 1136 Hildegard was elected abbess.

In 1141 she received the prophetic call, her awareness of a special vocation from God, that in time led to the composition of her most famous work, the Scivias (The title Scivias is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Scito Vias Domini, "Know the ways of the Lord"), and to her public mission.


The section of Book Two of the Scivias that presents Hildegard's eucharistic doctrine is entitled "Christ's Sacrifice and the Church". Hildegard pictures the Church as a bride prepared for marriage to her husband, Christ crucified; Lady Church's dowry is his body and blood.

Scivias 2.6

And after these things, I saw the Son of God hanging on the cross, and the aforementioned image of a woman coming forth like a bright radiance from the ancient counsel. By divine power she was led to Him, and raised herself upward so that she was sprinkled by the blood from his side; and thus, by the will of the Heavenly Father, she was joined with Him in happy betrothal and nobly dowered with his body and blood.

Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, this event is remembered by the Father as the dowry of Lady Church is shown to him.

Scivias 2.10

And as that image grew in strength, I saw an altar, which she frequently approached, and there each time looked devotedly at her dowry and modestly showed it to the Heavenly Father and His angels.

Owen Cummings comments: "This vision is beautifully captured in a miniature painted under Hildegard's own direction, expressing succinctly her eucharistic ecclesiology There is an upper and a lower picture in the miniature. In the upper picture, Christ is depicted on the cross, with Lady Church close by him so that some of his blood flows on to her and some into the chalice which she is holding. In the lower picture Lady Church kneels before the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist, with her outstretched hands pointing toward the chalice containing the blood of Christ, that is, her dowry The upper picture is connected to the lower by fire reaching from the cross to the altar. In the vision, Christ and Lady Church become ontologically one through the Eucharist, but the Eucharist understood as dowry Here in medieval dress and under the image of marriage, the indissoluble union of Christ and Church are affirmed. This is eucharistic ecclesiology. It is all God's work for human salvation."

Hildegard comments on the vision, this woman coming forth from the brightness of the divine radiance.

Scivias 2.6.1

When the innocent Lamb was lifted up on the altar of the cross for human salvation, the Church suddenly appeared in Heaven by a profound mystery ... and by the Supreme Majesty she was joined to the Only-Begotten Son of God.

The Bride of Christ, Lady Church, now becomes a mother, Mother Church, giving birth to her children for eternal life.

Scivias 2.6.1

As a bride, subjected to her bridegroom in her offering of subordination and obedience, receives from him a gift of fertility and a pact of love for procreating children, and educates them as to their inheritance, so too the Church, joined to the Son of God in the exercise of humility and charity, receives from Him the regeneration of the Spirit and water to save souls and restore life, and sends those souls to Heaven.... She is nobly dowered with His body and blood; for the Only-Begotten of God conferred His body and blood in surpassing glory on His faithful, who are the Church and her children, that through Him they may have life in the celestial city.

In Hildegard this nuptial image is grounded in faith in the eucharistic presence of Christ, a presence which she sees is also trinitarian.

Scivias 2.6.5

As the goldsmith first unites his gold by melting it in the fire, and then divides it when it is united, so I, the Father, first glorify the body and blood of My Son by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit when it is offered, and then, when it is glorified, distribute it to the faithful for their salvation.

Her use of the expression, "the sanctification of the Holy Spirit," suggests an epiclesis, and points once again to the trinitarian character of the eucharistic mystery. Similarly in Vision Six, she associates the Eucharist with the Son's mission from the Father.

Scivias 2.6.28-29

For as wine flows out of the vine, so My Son went forth from My heart; and My Only-Begotten too was the true Vine, and many branches went forth from Him, for in Him the faithful have been planted who through His Incarnation are fruitful in good works ... As He came sweetly forth from the heart of His Father, He now sweetly displays His blood as wine; and as he was miraculously born of the Virgin, so His body is miraculously manifested in bread, for He is the cluster of grapes that will never suffer defect or loss.

Hildegard also draws upon the mysteries of the annunciation and incarnation to gain a certain understanding of the transformation of the eucharistic gifts.

Scivias 2.6.15

The Blessed Virgin heard true words of consolation from the angel in secret, and believed ... and said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to your word."... The priest ... offering Almighty God in devotion of heart speaks the words of salvation in the service of humility: then the Supernal Majesty will receive this oblation and transmute it with miraculous power into the body and blood of the Holy Redeemer. How? As My Son miraculously received humanity in the Virgin so now this oblation miraculously becomes His body and blood on the altar.

She expresses this idea even more clearly in one of her letters.

That same power of the Most High which formed flesh in the Virgin's womb changes the oblation of bread and wine on the altar into the sacrament of flesh and blood, brooding over it with his power, at the words of the priest.

In consequence of such a profound union with Christ, fruit of the Eucharist, her sufferings too are lived in a new way, in union with Christ.

Scivias 2.6.22

And then for My name's sake you will endure many tribulations, and I will endure them with you; not because I will suffer any miseries in the body after this, as I did when I was in the world in the body, but because you will endure them in My name. Therefore I will endure them with you, since you are in Me and I am in you….[Christ's] body and blood must be worshipped in the Church in a true service," she maintains, "until the last person to be saved by the mystery appears at the end of the world ... (and thus, humanity will) attain to the banquet of eternal beatitude.

It is remarkable too how much importance Hildegard gives to communion under both kinds.

Scivias 2.6.46

But let not anyone who receives this sacred flesh refuse to take the blood of the mystery too; for My Son is pure above all things and a mirror of virtue, and so His noble blood must be received.

She is quite clear also that it is not simply by multiplying sacramental acts that communion becomes more effective.

Scivias 2.6.41

But let those who receive this sacrament in greater or lesser quantity understand that the receivers of more and of less have received the same amount of power, for the sacrament consists not in quantity but in holiness. It saves those who receive according to their faith.

For her, the correct and respectful performance of the rites has its importance too.

Scivias 2.6.48

One who unknowingly does something wrong in forgetful neglect as to vestments or words pertaining to this office must be corrected by a severe and salutary penance; but if he seeks My mercy he shall find it, for he did not perpetrate the transgression voluntarily in malice of heart. But if one transgresses knowingly in these sacramental rites, either from mental apathy or from wickedness of heart, I will be offended. . .

Toward the end of the section of her vision on the Eucharist, Hildegard distinguishes in a vivid and picturesque way five distinctive states of communicants.

Scivias 2.6.51-57

First are those "who are bright of body and fiery of soul." These are the people who have a true and faithful recognition that the sacrament is the body and blood of Christ.
Second are those "who are pale of body and shadowed in soul." They lack firm belief in the sacrament, perhaps entertaining some doubt or other.
Third come the sinners, "who seem hairy in body and dirty in soul." Contaminated by serious sin, they should have attended to the Sacrament of Penance before receiving communion.
Then there are the people "surrounded in body by sharp thorns and leprous of soul," people marked by anger, hate and envy.
The fifth state consists of "those bloody in body and foul as a decayed corpse in soul." Hildegard says that such "make divisions among people with bloody hands and render their souls foul with the putrefying corruption of cruel wickedness. . ." (Cummings observes, "The most obvious way of making sense of this group is to understand them as people who split the communion of the Church, in the manner described by Paul in 1 Corinthians, people who for whatever reason seem to delight in splitting up into competing factions the one body of Christ. Those who are not worthy to receive the sacrament should mend their ways, confess their sins and return to the banquet of life.")

Finally, she warns against the danger, increasingly prevalent in her time, of an excessive concern with purely rational explanation of the Sacrament.

Scivias 2.6.60

But if you, O human, say to yourself in your vacillating heart, "How did the oblation on the altar become the body and blood of God's Son?" I will answer you: Why, O human, do you ask this, and for what purpose do you enquire about it? Do I require you to know it? Why do you peer into my secrets about the body and blood of My Son? You should not seek out these things, but only keep them diligently and accept them in fear and veneration.

Texts from Owen F. CUMMINGS, Mystical Women Mystical Body,
Portland Oregon: Pastoral Press, 2000, pp. 5-15

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Dominican tertiary from the age of 16. Having, as she believed, received a command from Christ to leave her solitude to care for the sick and poor and convert sinners, she was soon called upon to act as a mediator between local factions and in higher matters such as the conflict between Florence and the Holy See. She helped to persuade Gregory XI to transfer the Papacy from Avignon back to Rome in 1377. In her writings (letters, prayers, and the synthesis of her teaching known as the Dialogo) the central theme is that of Christ crucified; she saw His blood as the supreme sign and pledge of Divine love and the chief motive for ours.


Like Mechthild of Magdeburg in the previous century, Catherine was aware of the profoundly trinitarian reality involved in the Eucharist. In communion, she insists, we receive "the whole of God." She hears God saying to her.

The Dialogue, 112

When [the soul] receives this sacrament she lives in me and I in her. Just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish, so am I in the soul and the soul in me, the sea of peace.... When this appearance of bread has been consumed, I leave behind the imprint of my grace, just as a seal that is pressed into warm wax leaves its imprint when it is lifted off. Thus does the power of this sacrament remain there in the soul; that is, the warmth of my divine charity, the mercy of the Holy Spirit, remains there. The light of my only-begotten Son's wisdom remains there, enlightening the mind's eye.

For Catherine this union with the Trinity is also union with the Church, indeed with the rest of humankind.

Prayer, 13

And just as you give me yourself by communicat-ing to me the body and blood of your only begotten Son, therein giving me all of God and all of humanity, so boundless love, I ask you to commu-nicate to me the mystic body of holy Church and the universal body of Christianity

Behind this eucharistic vision is her faith in the reality of Christ's eucharistic presence. This she express in Prayer 10.

Prayer, 10

Just as you gave us yourself, wholly God and wholly human, so you left us all of yourself as food so that while we are pilgrims in this life we might not collapse in our weariness but be strengthened by you, heavenly food. O mercenary people! And what has God left you? He has left you himself, wholly God and wholly human, hidden under the whiteness of this bread.
O fire of love! Was it not enough to gift us with creation in your image and likeness, and to create us anew to grace in your Son's blood, without giving us yourself as food, the whole of divine being, the whole of God? What drove you? Nothing but your charity, mad with love as you are!

There is never question of our worthiness for communion; as she noted in a letter to her friend Ristoro Canigiani, even the greatest virtuous deeds in the world would still leave a person unworthy.

We are unworthy of God. But God is worthy of us and desires to give himself to us as food; with his own worth Jesus makes worthy those who desire him.

However, a sense of unworthiness is not a reason to withdraw from communion. Her frequent spiritual advice to others who felt this way before the Eucharist was to become spokesperson for Christ speaking to the soul,

But I am worthy that you should enter into me.

Jesus does not consider our worthiness, but, for Catherine, he wishes to nourish us rather with the flame of divine love.

The one fire of love inflaming the blood of Christ becomes a fire burning in each of us individually and in all of us together, until the entire world grows to share in its light and warmth.

Texts from Owen F. CUMMINGS, Mystical Women Mystical Body,
Portland Oregon: Pastoral Press, 2000, pp.50-60.

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