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Eucharistic Adoration: Reviving An Ancient Tradition | Valerie Schmalz | October 3, 2005

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"The Church draws her life from the Eucharist." - Opening sentence of Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist

FLORRISANT, Missouri | For ten years, at about 3 a.m. twice a week, Delphie Russell would close down BJ’s Tavern, her family’s restaurant and bar in this suburb of St. Louis, and pop into St. Ferdinand Catholic Church for an hour or two of Eucharistic adoration.

"It really was perfect for me," Mrs. Russell said. "If I had to work, I was out of the bar by 2:30 and I could always do the 3 a.m. I did Mondays and Thursdays. Because we owned a saloon, I never went to bed until the saloon closed, whether I went to work or not."

St. Ferdinand’s has had perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the convent chapel next door for 23 years, with thousands of people through the years committing to spend an hour or more a week keeping Our Lord company, said Ann Linkul, St. Ferdinand’s coordinator of adoration. It all began when two parishioners, Ed and Blanche Rowles attended a Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia more than 25 years ago, Mrs. Rowles recalled.

"Archbishop Fulton Sheen was there and he gave this powerful homily on the benefits of making a Holy Hour. He sold my husband so much that on his own he got permission from our pastor," got a key to the church, and began spending an hour in adoration before the 6 a.m. Mass each day, she said. Sheen, who made a promise at his ordination to spend an hour a day in a Holy Hour, was a strong advocate of Eucharistic adoration.

In 1982, when the Rowles’ pastor gave them permission to see if they could muster interest for perpetual adoration at St. Ferdinand’s, 650 people signed up, Mrs. Rowles said.

St. Ferdinand is part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which is remarkable for experiencing a surge in Eucharistic Adoration that now includes almost every church in the diocese, according to George Knollmeyer, a member of the archdiocesan committee on Eucharistic adoration.

Eucharistic adoration is a long-standing Catholic tradition that fell into disuse in most quarters after Vatican II despite the council’s emphasis on the Eucharist as the "source and summit of life" (Lumen Gentium 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324) in its discussions and writings.

During the first part of the twentieth century, it was common for Catholics, young and old, on their way home from work or school, en route to the grocery store or a sports practice, to "stop in for a visit" to the Blessed Sacrament in their local church. Most times the Eucharist was not exposed, but a red candle–then, as now–showed the Presence in the tabernacle.

With a rise in crime, more closed churches, an increasingly hurried and harried society, and a different approach to Mass and the Eucharist, the practice drifted away.

However, Eucharistic adoration is returning around the country, says a priest who for the past sixteen years has helped parishes set it up. Father Robert Goedert, O.P. works with Chicago-based The Real Presence Association, an organization devoted to spreading the practice of quiet time before the exposed Eucharist on the altar. "I’m booked now through December" in places from Texas to California and Colorado, Father Goedert told IgnatiusInsight.com.

Father Rob Panke, who works with young adults in Washington, D.C., agrees that adoration is showing up in niches around the country, including in his hometown of Scarsdale, N.Y. where his mother has successfully established Perpetual adoration.

"Adoration is making a comeback. I think it is just the desire of the Lord," said Father Panke, founder of a monthly young adults adoration group Christ in the City [http://www.usccb.org/generationchrist/maniatis.shtml] at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C, and director of priest vocations for the D.C. archdiocese.

Father Panke said his group, founded about two years ago, now has 300 people on its list, with 125 attending at the most recent second Thursday. The group has branched out, helping others, going on hikes and even pilgrimages.

"It’s really popular. People really come," Father Panke said. "I do believe special graces are given to those who have a devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It makes all our hearts a little softer and many graces are won."

"The basis for all Eucharistic devotion is the fact that Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is the Son of God in human form," wrote the late Father John Hardon, S.J., founder of The Real Presence Association. Visiting with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, exposed or within the Tabernacle, is an opportunity for grace, Fr. Hardon writes: "Provided we approach the Real Presence with believing love, Christ will perform wonders of His grace in our lives."

Eucharistic adoration began in some form early in Church history but it was clearly promoted by a succession of popes beginning in the Middle Ages, including Pope Urban IV who established the Feast of Corpus Christi in the 13th century and Pope Pope Clement VIII who in 1592 instituted 40 Hours Devotion. In present times, Pope Paul VI issued a doctrinal analysis of the Eucharist in his 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei in 1965 and in 2003 Pope John Paul II published Ecclesia De Eucharistia, which will be the basis of much of the discussion at the October 2-23, 2005 Bishops’ Synod in Rome.

The 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will have as its topic "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church." Among the topics included in Instrumentum Laboris, issued in preparation for the Synod, is that of Eucharist Adoration, which it states belongs both within the Mass and also outside of Mass.

John L. Allen, Jr., reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, notes that a 1993 Gallup poll found only thirty percent of Catholics believe they are receiving the body and blood of Christ in communion.

"Many Vatican officials, bishops and liturgical activists believe that in the reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which tended to emphasize the role of the worshipping community and the dimension of the Mass as a meal, this core teaching has been to some extent eclipsed," wrote Allen in a recent edition of his popular The Word from Rome column (September 30, 2005).

Going to Mass comes first, says Father Panke, "Adoration flows from the sacrifice of the Mass, that’s where we get the Eucharist–through the sacrifice of the Mass."

Real Presence’s Father Goedert says many parishes can manage a certain number of hours of adoration rather than Perpetual adoration. The key is having accessible times, Father Goedert said. For instance, many parishes will try to have it only during the day–a time that doesn’t work for most working people or parents with small children.

"Any pastor will tell you, once they get adoration going, it definitely increases attendance, weekdays and Sundays," Father Goedert said. "Some people who have a problem with adoration say it will take people away from Mass. That’s nonsense. All the facts show that people who start going to adoration start going to Mass more and. There’s no competition. It’s the same Lord."

Father Panke agrees: "I think what can intimidate pastors is Perpetual adoration. I am a firm believer in starting small; start with one hour a week."

Many say vocations and Mass attendance can increase with adoration.

"All of those fellows who have entered the seminaries in the last five years–I would be willing to say a huge number have told me they found their vocation through Eucharistic adoration," Father Goedert said. "Because they are there alone with the Lord, there are no distractions. It’s a very personal visit with the Lord: somehow the Lord speaks to them."

A devotion to the Blessed Sacrament underlies some cloistered religious orders, including the Order of Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, the Maronite Monks of Adoration, and the Holy Adoration Sisters.

Since 1995, a concerted push has been underway in the St. Louis Archdiocese, begun by then-Archbishop Justin Rigali (now Cardinal of Philadelphia and an elected representative to the Synod underway in Rome) and continued by Archbishop Raymond Burke, said Knollmeyer.

When it started in 1995, there were about nine parishes with Perpetual adoration and "twenty or so with an organized approach to Eucharistic adoration," Knollmeyer said. Now there are 23 Perpetual adoration parishes and most of the archdiocese’s 200 parishes have organized Adoration at some point during the week, he said.

St. Louis-based Covenant Network radio stations are dedicated to evangelizing the Catholic faith "through the grace we receive from Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament," said Tony Holman, president of Covenant Network. The network is dedicated to the Real Presence and includes sevens stations and five translators from the Dakotas to Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois.

In the Instrumentum Laboris issued in advance of the Synod, the topic of Eucharistic adoration is addressed as one of the ways to restore a sense of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist to the faithful. Coming on the heels of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, it emphasizes the Eucharist’s centrality to the Church. The document focuses particularly on how the faithful understand the Eucharist and proper action in regard to it.

"The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass, we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace," wrote Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

In that document, Pope John Paul II also noted that the liturgical reform inaugurated by Vatican II "has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the faithful."

He added, "In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness…. Unfortunately, alongside these lights, there are also shadows. In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned."

John Paul II wrote that it was the responsibility of pastors to encourage the practice of Eucharistic adoration "and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular."

In his writings as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI also emphasizes the significance of Eucharistic adoration as part of the life of the Church. In his book God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, for instance, Pope Benedict XVI says: "Only within the breathing space of adoration can the Eucharistic celebration indeed be alive …Communion and adoration do not stand side by side, or even in opposition, but are indivisibly one."

Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles and columns:

The Meaning and Purpose of the Year of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
Eucharistic Adoration: The Hour That Makes My Day | Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
The Doctrine (and the Defense) of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
Our Daily, Everlasting Bread | Carl E. Olson
Forgive, For Eucharist's Sake | Carl E. Olson
Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly) | James V. Schall, S. J.
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord | Anthony E. Clark
The Biblical Roots of the Mass | An Interview with Thomas J. Nash

Related Ignatius Press books and resources:

Adoration: Eucharistic Texts and Prayers throughout Church History | Daniel Guernsey
God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist | Abbot Vonier
Our Splendid Eucharist: Reflections on Mass and Sacrament | Raymond Moloney, S.J.
The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist | Fr. James T. O'Connor
With Us Today: On the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist | Fr. John Hardon, S.J.
If Your Mind Wanders at Mass | Thomas Howard
Coloring Book: Eucharistic Adoration | Katherine M. Sotnik
In the Presence of Our Lord (video) | Fr. Benedict Groeschel
I Am the Living Bread: Discovering Jesus in the Eucharist (video)
The Power of His Presence (video)
When Children Adore (video) | Fr. Antoine Thomas
Benedictus: A Eucharistic Healing Album (CD) | Flynn Family
O Divino Nino: Hymns to Our Eucharistic King (CD) | Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration

Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.

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