Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forget Health Care, It's About Eucharistic Adoration

If this looks a little squashed it's because in it's original form it was way too vertical to fit in this blog.

Fr. Richard McBrien has written a column this week in which he discusses the Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration. It started out as a kindly defense of a non Catholic reporter of the Boston Globe who was reporting on the increase in Eucharistic adoration in Boston. However, this particular reporter, Michael Paulson, was instrumental in the Globe's 2002 expose of clergy sexual abuse in Boston. In certain Catholic circles Mr. Paulson is considered very anti Catholic precisely because his expose was seen as an attack on the Church, rather than an objective reporting of the truth. Paulson's current Globe article generated more commentary along the same lines.

Fr. McBrien attempted to come to his defense. After that I'm not quite sure what Fr. McBrien was thinking, as he ended his article with quite the statement. The following is an excerpt from the NCR article:

"However, as time went on, eucharistic devotions, including adoration, drifted further and further away from their liturgical grounding in the Mass itself.

Notwithstanding Pope Benedict XVI's personal endorsement of eucharistic adoration and the sporadic restoration of the practice in the archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere, it is difficult to speak favorably about the devotion today.

Now that most Catholics are literate and even well-educated, the Mass is in the language of the people (i.e, the vernacular), and its rituals are relatively easy to understand and follow, there is little or no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions. The Mass itself provides all that a Catholic needs sacramentally and spiritually.

Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward." (Not too many people remembered the rest of his commentary after reading this sentence.)


When I read this last sentence, I thought "Oh, my. This zinger needs more explanation, because as it stands, it's going to cause quite the stir." It has. There are references to this article all over the blogosphere and the article itself has generated an enormous number of comments, virtually all of which call Fr. McBrien to task, and quite a number of them not too gently.

One comment pretty much summed up my own view:

Dear Fr. O'Brien, While I appreciate your columns very much, I disagree with your final sentence in this piece, as would contemplatives everywhere. The Real Presence in the Mass does "provide all" that is needed, but the Mystery is inexhaustible and some in the Body of Christ feel compelled to extend worship beyond the actual time of the Eucharistic celebration. To say that there is "no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions" seems similar to debunking intimate friendship, being in love, the time "wasted" by lovers for whom simply communing is a value in itself. Moreover, we will never know till we get to the other side, how much blessing has come to the world in those hours of communion before the Blessed Sacrament that some are called -- even today -- to offer. "Taste and see how good the Lord is..."

Personally I wish the terminology surrounding this practice would be modified from Eucharistic Adoration, to Eucharistic Contemplation. Not because I'm some sort of intellectual elitist, but because most people who practice this form of devotion will find themselves spending more time contemplating things, mentally talking things over, and relaxing in the environment, than actively adoring Jesus. These are the very things we do with our own flesh and blood friends, lovers, and family. That I believe is the point. If Jesus is present as flesh and blood, incarnate as we are, then the relationship should be a relationship, and not an exercise in adoration.

Jesus Himself said that adoration was reserved for His Father. His role in the Trinity is that of friend and teacher. The mystery of the Eucharist is in this timeless presence of friendship, compassion, mercy and love, and the connection this represents along the whole history of the Church. To me it's an incredible notion that I experience the same invitation from the same Jesus that Catholics have had for millenia. That is unity. Unity doesn't mean that my particular relationship has to be expressed the same way as a sainted predecessor experienced their relationship. After all, none of my friends relate to me in the exact same way. (It might be a lot easier on me if they did, but it would get boring in the long run.)

I suspect Fr. McBrien was alluding to some of the trappings that have traditionally been associated with Eucharistic Adoration or Benediction. The kind of trappings that emphasize an up there, out there, and vertical conceptualization of Jesus. The strain of Christology that is centered on raising Jesus above and beyond us mere mortals and tends to define Him by His job--savior of a fallen mankind--rather than His personhood--human like us in all things save sin. As fully human, like all of us, He needs personal relationships to fulfill his humanness, and the best are loving relationships.

The other thing humans need are symbols and signs. It's how our brains work, especially our right hemisphere. While I can pray and meditate in my own home and connect with His presence, I am also personally aware of the fact that my other relationships aren't based on everyone always coming to my house. I too go to their house. It's an act of honoring them and respecting them.

Symbolically, the physical Church is a sign of Jesus's own home. It has a certain feel and presence that says here I am, this is My home. Although I'm also aware of the fact that this is in part an enculturated experience, I also know that doesn't negate the reality of the feeling or detract from it's meaning. Churches, like Native Holy sights, have a different energy and create a distinct visceral feeling that certainly distinguishes them from say, McDonald's. They should, the character of these places has been laid down by the specific human intent to relate with the transcendent. I have zero problem with people desiring to meet with Jesus in His own home. The sad thing is so many of them are locked up like Fort Knox.

In any event, Fr. McBrien's column has certainly stirred up discussion about this devotion. As with any number of other Catholic issues, one's understanding is based on one's Christology. That seems to be an area of misunderstanding and hard feelings which has a very long tradition with in the Church. In that respect, Fr. McBrien is in good Catholic company, no matter his opinion on the backwardness of Eucharistic Adoration.


  1. Colleen, I just returned from reading Fr. Richard McBrien's column and in responding to it as well. My thoughts dovetail yours.

    I have had the pleasure of Eucharistic adoration and I found it to be very helpful and a beautifully peaceful experience with Christ.

  2. I like the concept of sitting quietly in the presence of the Eucharist and listening to the Presence within. The Eucharist is a call to live a way of life not utter meaningless praise words. I do not mean to put down the practice but to some it does not change how they treat others. Didn't Jesus say something to the effect that these people honored him with their lips but not their hearts??

  3. The words Tantum ergo sacramentum still permeate my very being. Some times while I am striving to get through the traffic of a busy freeway and some times when I am meandering down a quiet country road. I remember and sing or hum these words. The come to me from the Saturday evenings serving Benediction as a youth. The first time I HAD to go to Benediction with my Mom, I remember saying to her but why, why do I have to go and waste my time. Then as I became a server at Mass and other functions, it meant more points. Get enough points and I can go to summer camp paid for by the Parish. I must say as a young person from where the memories of these songs stir is the idea of getting points and the suffering through the Saturday evening service. Nothing else better to do than to get a point for camp.

    Later on when I learned the Jesuit spiritual exercises, I recall sitting in the presence of Our Lord on the side of a stream and watching in a non judgmental way all the life around me. I thought, "And the Lord said it is good." I think this was the beginnings of contemplation for me. We are always in the Church of the Lord if we allow Him into our hearts and presence. The difficulty is to allow Him in. While sometimes when I am trying to center, trying to let him in the Melody of Tantum Ergo comes to me and it helps, as a youth I some times put my whole voice into this song while I snatched a look at the beautiful young girl in the third row, etc.

    I guess I would agree with Father McBrien's thoughts for the Lord is with us where ever we go when we let Him in, but it takes work to let him in and in the Benedictions of my youth it was a lot more interesting to check who was in the crowd. I guess it just depends on where we can let Our Lord into our hearts. That's where I want to go so, I probably will not go to the nearby Church as a routine when I have so many miles of streams and sea shore. "And they are good!"

    I belong to two centering groups and on occasion, we find a beautiful sanctuary or a monks monastery to find Him, but mostly try to find Him in His creation. dennis

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  4. Dennis, I want you to know I will not get Tantum Ergo out of my head for the rest of the night. Thanks.

    When I was in high school and driving a tractor at three miles an hour in endless circles for 12 hours a day, I would completely disassociate for hours and when I returned to reality that song would be going through my head.

    If it wasn't that one, it was You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille. Now I won't get that one out of my head. Horrors.

    Coolmom, there's a reason Jesus said that. It is entirely possible to be in the presence of a powerful spiritual energy, with the wrong intent, and the results are not beautiful.

  5. The Eucharist is the action of the presider and people around the altar.

    It is NOT a thing.

    Jim McCrea

  6. Jim I could get really new agey on you here. OK I will.

    You are correct that the Eucharist is the action of the presider and the people. However, that action can charge inanimate material with the essense and energy of the intent of the action.

    In some spiritualities they are called spirit objects, in some medicine objects, and in some focus objects. Eucharistic Adoration is in pretty universal spiritual company in this regard.

    It follows in the whole Catholic tradition of blessing various objects. To paraphrase Karen Armstrong, these are about the unconscious power of myth, not the practicality of logos.

  7. I was very moved by this. Here in post communist-Prague, the custom of Eucharistic 'contemplation' is frequently practiced. We are still quite a conservative community here. While the altar has been turned around and we do have Eucharistic ministers, the host goes directly onto the tongue. Don't even think about holding out your hand, you will simply confuse everybody (except at English masses for tourists). So I've always loved the fact that this somewhat defensive community has preserved this very special devotion, because it highlights the very essence of the Roman Catholic tradition - an appreciation for the 'mystical' dimension to the Eucharistic celebration and the mystery of the "Real Presence". This is something that has been given to us to preserve, and the practice of separate hours of contemplation of the exposed Eucharist is a witness to this mystery. I say this despite the fact I have a rather heterodox sacramental theology (as to who actually has the 'power' to confect the Eucharist, must it always be an ordained, anointed minister? I think of those heroic nuns traveling for hours, sometimes days, on horseback over mountains in Latin America so they can bring consecrated hosts to isolated communities who see a priest (for baptisms) only once a year! Wouldn't it be simpler if the Church simply empowered these women to celebrate the Eucharist with these deprived communities? A huge issue, to be sure.) My, I do go on!

  8. Will the duplicity of Ratzinger, the Bishops & most priests never stop?

    The endless rants about Eucharistic Adoration in print, on EWTN (the global Opus Dei network), online, & from certain mouths....are just so much hot air......when better then 90% of churches are locked 95% of the time!

    On in some cases if you ring the rectory doorbell....and somebody actually bothers to answer....and actually admits you to the holy of holies (the pastor's plush residence!).....'can I...pretty please...pray before the Tabernacle?"

    You are made to feel like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. Of course you are disturbing Father's nap/phone/meal/snack/beer break., etc.

    For those locked out....or homebound.....or not around during the 3.5 minutes a day the church is actually open, might I suggest:

    It is 24/7 webcast of Perpetual Exposition in a convent chapel. Complete with a large choice of meditative prayers, litanies, etc.

    I hope this may be of genuine help to souls.

  9. The tiny church of St.Aldabert in Prague, around the corner from my apartment, is open from 6am to 8pm every day because of an ingenious solution. The fathers have erected a giant metal grill across the width of the church in the back, which of course is locked most of the time. But in front of the grill they have placed two pews and sets of kneelers just inside the entrance. I always stop by on the way to the market.

  10. Jayden that's really a novel solution. I hope people who read this blog further this idea.

    Where I live now locked churches are not a problem because a lot of them are tourist attractions, which is another issue altogether when it comes to contemplation.

    Anonymous, when I was writing the article I had the same thought. How in the world do you do this when most churches are locked up like Fort Knox. To me it was just another indication of how out of touch certain people in the Church really are.

  11. amen, amen, amen.

    Piety has taken its toll on Catholics and it's time to move on (grow!).