The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers, wounded or killed, who have defended the United States against threats and attacks by an enemy in wartime. Originally known as the Badge of Military Merit, George Washington presented the first badges during the Revolutionary War. While never abolished, the awards didn’t officially return until after World War I.
World War II veterans from Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Baltimore donated their Purple Heart medals for the purpose of fashioning a monstrance. Maybe this was a common practice after World War II, though I don’t know of another monstrance like it.
It’s beautiful. Purple Hearts encircle the luna, the center space that holds the Body of the Lord for adoration, and they also adorn its golden base. The names of the recipients are engraved on the underside of the base. It has endured for generations, beyond memories of the siege of Leningrad and the battle of Iwo Jima. The gift of the people who earned it lives on. It links the soldiers’ personal wartime sacrifices to the eucharistic sacrifice of Christ. We can only guess if the recipients intended to bring together the Body of Christ and symbols of the wounds of war.
Some might find a Purple Heart monstrance jarring. The contradiction between war and the Eucharist seems clear. The Eucharist represents unity and communion; it is the source of comfort, healing, peace, and reconciliation. Juxtaposing it with a symbol associated with violence, harm, and the destruction of life seems unthinkable.