If you talk to those who frequent Eucharistic adoration, sign up for holy hours or even make just occasional church visits to pray privately in front of the Blessed Sacrament, you’ll likely hear about the healing, transformative power of this particular prayer practice. But for many other Catholics, adoration can be a little intimidating. What do we do while we sit in the quiet? Are there special prayers? How did this practice start, and what is its purpose?
Truth be told, no matter how much we define and explain Eucharistic adoration, some sense of mystery will always be at its core because of the very nature of the Eucharist, and that’s a good thing. So often in our world today, we are caught up in wanting, needing to know every last detail and explanation of everything we do, everything we see, everything we eat. Adoration requires us to approach prayer not from that intellectualized place but from the place of deep mystery and faith where God is waiting for us.
Despite the mystery — or maybe precisely because of it — adoration is growing in popularity and practice among American Catholics. Perhaps that’s because daily life, for so many, has become chaotic that there is a desperate search for a place and practice that can become the calm amid the storm: Eucharistic adoration can become that place.
|Adoration can be an oasis of rest and peace. Photo by Agnus Images
Origins of the devotion
Msgr. Charles Murphy, author of “Eucharistic Adoration: Holy Hour Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ” (Ave Maria Press, $12.95), said the practice of adoration grew out of the challenge Jesus made to the sleeping apostles during the agony in the garden:
“Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mk 14:37).
“An hour actually passes very quickly, but if done on a regular basis, it establishes a structure for our entire week,” Msgr. Murphy told Our Sunday Visitor, explaining that after the Reformation, the “enduring presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass received new emphasis.”
“With the help of saints like St. Charles Borromeo, the tabernacle became a more important part of every sanctuary. After the Second Vatican Council, emphasis was placed rightly upon the Eucharistic celebration as an ‘action’ requiring the active participation of the people,” he said. “A nice balance is now being achieved between action and contemplation through the practice of Eucharistic adoration.”
In each of the parishes where he has served as pastor, Msgr. Murphy has encouraged the establishment of the practice of adoration not just for one 24-hour period, but seven days a week.
“You cannot describe the change this makes within the whole parish community — the awareness that at every hour of the day and week prayer is going up to God by our members on behalf of all of us,” he said. “Those who signed up for the so-called ‘sacrifice hours’ during the night did not mind the inconvenience and loss of sleep. They said they looked forward to that hour all week as a time of refreshment and peace.”
Adoration — when the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance so that people may pray while looking at the Blessed Sacrament — is an extension of what happens during every Mass and comes in several forms. Some parishes may offer adoration on a particular day, for example on the first Friday of each month.
Other parishes may offer nocturnal adoration, which goes through the night, or perpetual adoration, which is held on a 24/7 basis.
In each of these instances, parishioners sign up to sit and keep vigil, praying in front of the Eucharist for a set period of time. Additional prayer services connected to adoration include Exposition and Benediction, with Scripture readings, hymns and prayers prayed as a group, or holy hours, which can be prayed with structured prayers by a group or silently by an individual.
And, of course, many people who do not have access to adoration still make visits to pray quietly before the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle.
Balance in the modern world
Daniel Clough, who lives in the Diocese of Albany, New York, recently founded the Adoration in Albany Facebook page in order to provide a complete listing of adoration times to people in the 10,000-square-mile diocese.
“I thought I could use some of my computer skills to help spread this devotion. I think it’s important to make Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament more known and honored,” he said. “Oftentimes people are disturbed by some bad things going on in the Church, but the purpose of promoting adoration is to try to replace those bad things with something good. It’s the principle that St. Paul taught us: ‘Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good’ (Rom 12:21).”
So far Clough has been pleased with the positive response, as people “like” his Facebook page and share listings about adoration and holy hours. The most obvious outcome to date is that people are beginning to realize that many more places offer Eucharistic adoration than they previously thought. For Clough, adoration provides a much-needed counterbalance to the fast-moving, self-focused ways of the world.
“In a world where we are invaded with all kinds of information that comes to our senses anywhere we happen to be, adoration allows us to find Our Lord in the quiet, away from the world and hidden from our senses,” he told OSV. “It’s almost like the opposite of what mobile computing is offering to us because it invades every aspect of our life with all kinds of information and noise, but in the holy Eucharist we find God present in silence and hidden from our view. It’s a personal encounter with the Lord who remains there out of love for us.”
Clough said that Eucharistic adoration is what changed his life and made him grow deeper in his faith. When he was young, his mother would bring him before the tabernacle and teach him to pray there. That early foundation only grew stronger as he came to a deeper understanding of Eucharist.
“I always knew Jesus was there because she taught me, but I didn’t know until I encountered Him with a different kind of knowledge. ... We do not come to know him so much intellectually as we do knowing him through love. Love can provide us with a kind of knowledge that is different than intellectual knowledge. Anyone who has ever fallen in love can attest to this fact. It is the same with Jesus in the Eucharist. We must come to know him through love, and when we spend time with him there in adoration then we learn what great love he has for us,” he explained. “Oftentimes I’ve entered the chapel and been tired or sleepy but after spending time there with the Lord, I’ve been strengthened and rejuvenated so that I’m no longer tired. Our Lord gives us strength from his loving presence there so that we can spread that love to others. Jesus in the Eucharist is the source of charity for others.”
Even if you can’t get to an adoration chapel or holy hour, sitting before the tabernacle in the quiet of your parish church can have a profound impact on your spiritual life, according to those who make a habit of this prayer practice. Celia Wolf-Devine, retired philosophy professor and author and lecturer, remembers being drawn to the Eucharist even before she became a Catholic and was told by a priest to always sit close to the tabernacle, advice she continues to follow.
“Whenever you see the red candle lit you know that the sacrament is present. This makes a big difference for one’s prayer, I find. ... Even a short visit to a church bringing whatever is on my mind before him in the sacrament has a lot of power, and making that special effort to go there is well rewarded,” she said.
Wolf-Devine said there are a number of ways to work adoration into your prayer life, from a more intensive retreat at a monastery to an hour on a weekday afternoon in your parish.
“If I go to perpetual adoration, I sign up an hour a week in the summer. It’s good because it forces me to go. I never regret it,” she told OSV. “I’m not one for endless rote prayers. I start by just opening myself to the presence of the Lord. This can be jarring in that we suddenly recognize how frantic and uncentered our activity that day had been up to that moment. So I just sit a good while and soak up the feeling, letting it kind of set me straight.”
She advised those who decide to give adoration a try to feel “relaxed and at home” when sitting before the Eucharist. Let down the barriers that are often up and be yourself, she said.
“Bring whatever is on your mind to Him. Adoration chapels usually have a basket for intentions, so while I sit there I gradually make a list of what comes to my mind to pray for,” she added. “Fulton Sheen used to spend an hour a day in front of the sacrament and more when he was really busy. Let God put things in perspective so you know what is highest priority and what you should cut from your list.”
Praying in adoration
Msgr. Murphy offers a few simple steps for those who want to try adoration. First he suggests kneeling before the Eucharist. Enter “consciously into the Eucharistic presence and focus on the One who is there with you,” he said, suggesting a prayer “mantra” to set a rhythm, such as the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Next comes the actual adoration, which involves sitting quietly in prayer. He suggests reading a Scripture passage several times and trying to discern what Jesus might be saying to you, in the style of Lectio Divina. “Stop thinking and just rest in the Lord’s presence,” he said. “Feel gratitude for this privileged moment.” Finally comes the conclusion, kneeling again. Say a favorite prayer and make an intercession for the needs of others.
“This year of 2015 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, the Church’s ‘Doctor of Prayer.’ I love her definition of prayer, which very much applies to Eucharistic adoration: ‘Prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking the time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us,’” said Msgr. Murphy. “Prayer doesn’t need words or even thoughts. Even so, focusing upon the Eucharistic presence does lift us out of ourselves and lets our minds become refreshed with new visions of life and gives us peace.”
Mary DeTurris Poust is a retreat leader and the author of seven books on Catholic spirituality, including “The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass” (ALPHA, $14.74).
FATHER FRANCIS HOFFMAN
(aka Father Rocky), a priest of Opus Dei and executive director of Relevant Radio
“The Eucharist is the event that is at the center of absolutely everything.” When I first read those words in Pope Benedict XVI’s book “Light of the World,” I did a double take, thinking, “That’s quite a statement from a very intelligent scholar who chooses his words carefully.” And yet those words are true. If the holy Eucharist is really Jesus, and Jesus is God, what could be more important, more sacred, more sublime, than the real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist? Everything depends on the holy Eucharist: life, happiness, history, the created universe, for all things have been made “through Him, with Him and in Him.” As a baptized member of the faithful called to know, love, follow and imitate Jesus Christ, I daily draw strength, consolation and grace from my time spent in adoration. At Relevant Radio, we have adoration every weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I remind our adorers, “your kneeling prayerfulness here in the presence of our Lord is what keeps us on the air!” So if YOU have a need, a problem, a concern — take it to Jesus, and you will find him in the holy Eucharist in adoration.
Managing editor, Catholic Portal of Patheos.com and author of “Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life” (Ave Maria Press, $15.95).
In the “Seven Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton wrote of the holy Eucharist, “I tell you there is a power that goes forth from that sacrament, a power of light and truth.” Time spent in adoration proves his assertion. To remain before the real presence of Christ’s flesh and blood is to be invited into a stillness that goes beyond what we might experience, for instance, in prayerful meditation with the Rosary. Just as one sits in the sun and only later feels the burn, so with adoration. When I first participated in regular adoration, my children were teenagers and I often found myself dozing off before the monstrance; I castigated myself for it before realizing that Christ Jesus was permitting me a kind of holy respite from exhausting duties. In later years, I tried to “write” through adoration, to “make it productive,” but I came to understand that what I was being invited into was the quiet; the “peace beyond all understanding.” Now, I kneel before the Lord, delivering to him the intentions and concerns of so many, and then I simply sit back. I look at the Master, and the Master looks at me. It is absolute beauty.
(aka The Catholic Foodie), author of “Around the Table with The Catholic Foodie: Middle Eastern Cuisine” (Liguori, $25.99).
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament made a deep impact on me early in my adult life. I spent two years in formation in Tijuana, Mexico, with Mother Teresa’s priests, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, and I was blessed to meet Mother Teresa on a number of occasions. She had such a marvelous way of connecting the Jesus I encounter in the tabernacle or monstrance with the Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. It is the one and the same Jesus, fully God and fully man, who empties himself for love of me (cf. Phil 2:7). That same act of Jesus’ — pouring out, emptying — has been my fundamental experience of adoration. Though I am no longer able to go to the adoration chapel daily (as I could while in the seminary), when I am there, I am pouring myself out. I pour out my heart before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I empty myself of all my worries and concerns, my faults, my failures and even my successes. I ask Jesus to fill me with his light, with his love, with his Spirit. And I trust that all will be well. I find peace in his presence.
Editor-in-chief, Legatus Magazine
Eucharistic adoration is spiritual radiation therapy. When we’re in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, our very being — our very soul and every cell of our body — is bombarded by the holy presence of Our Lord. It’s rather like sitting in front of a block of plutonium, but the results are infinitely better! The late author, speaker and teacher Father George Kosicki gave that description of Eucharistic adoration to me about 15 years ago. I never forgot it. The concept of coming face-to-face with Jesus in adoration was relatively easy for me to grasp even though my parents — faithful Catholics — didn’t go to adoration other than Benediction after special Masses at our parish. We didn’t live anywhere near a parish with regular adoration, so I didn’t even know that Catholics adored Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament until I was well into my 20s. Shortly after I met my wife, we signed up for an hour of adoration at our parish where perpetual adoration was available. It was transformative for us. Now, with five children, we regularly visit the adoration chapel at our new parish. It’s been transformative for us as a family. This kind of “radiation therapy” has become essential for us!
Catholic radio host, blogger, author, retreat leader
Ten years ago I was coerced, in the nicest way possible, by a friend to commit to a weekly adoration hour. Although I hesitated (greatly) as the only slot available was Saturday at 2:30 p.m., there was something in my heart urging me to answer this invitation. I dutifully arrived the following week quite unsure how I would occupy myself in the quiet for an entire hour. I pulled out my Rosary (as that seemed the appropriate adoration activity), knelt down and prayed. Much to my chagrin when I glanced down at my watch, only 17 minutes had passed. My knees were hurting, and I was at a loss to what I would do for the remaining 43 minutes. Then I was struck with the craziest idea. I would ask Jesus how to spend my visit — He was right there after all. First, the Holy Spirit instructed me to sit down. It was not necessary to kneel for the entire hour. Followed by inspirations to bring spiritual reading each week — a Bible, a book, even a good Catholic magazine; I added to that a journal. Most importantly, the Spirit reminded me that this time of quiet was an opportunity to hear Jesus speak to me. I got cozy, looked at Jesus and listened. My life and my faith have never (in the nicest way possible) been the same.