Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapels: Their Place in Our Busy WorldTOM O'TOOLE
"The church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to meet Him in adoration in contemplation full of faith and open to making amends for serious offenses . . . of the world.
"To visit the Blessed Sacrament is . . . a proof of gratitude, an expression of love and a duty of adoration to Christ our Lord" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 1418 from Paul V Mysterium Fidei).
If you have read the section on the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you most certainly have been struck by the passage that says the Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life," "the sum and summary of our Faith" (CCC 1324, 1327). While it all sounds great, keeping it the source of our Christian life is another story; by midweek the lesson of the Sunday liturgy is ancient history, and even if you are fortunate enough to attend a morning Mass on weekdays, the remembrance of the daily bread is often a distant memory by nightfall. So to keep "our way of thinking attuned to the Eucharist" (CCC 1327), more and more parishes are offering a booster dose of what St. Irenaeus called "the medicine of immortality" by keeping the Sacred species exposed in the sacred spaces known as Perpetual Adoration Chapels.
While the Eucharist has always been the constant source of our strength in Christ through the context of His Church, two recent developments have greatly aided accessibility to its Presence in the life of the laity. The first occurred when St. Pius X, "The Pope of the Eucharist", in his decree of Dec. 20, 1905, urged the frequent reception of the Eucharist. St. Pius X expressed as only he could:
Holy Communion is the shortest and the safest way to Heaven. There are others: Innocence, for instance, but that is for little children. Penance, but we are afraid of it. Generous endurance of the trials of life, but when they come we weep and ask to be spared. The surest, easiest, shortest way is by the Eucharist.
Ironically, while Pius X decried Modernism, which was the virtual worship of science and technology, transportation advances also made the reception of daily Communion more convenient. For example, where we live, there are ten daily Masses at four Catholic churches within ten minutes of our house ranging in times from morning to noon to seven p.m. at night. So in my suburban situation, barring sickness or car problems, there is no reason (excuse) to miss a daily Mass.
But if daily Mass can be seen, at least in our country, as the spiritual anecdote to the increase in mechanization that occurred at the dawn of the 20th century, Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration must be viewed as the Sacramental weapon to combat the excess of computerization as we approach the 21st. Although Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration has long been a part of the worship of many Religious orders and communities, its emergence on the parish level in the mid 80's (which coincidentally coincided with the rise of personal computers and cable TV) caught many prelates by surprise. In the Chicago area (which mirrors the experience of many metropolitan areas), the first parish Perpetual Adoration Chapel was established at St. John Vianney's (Northlake, IL) on the feast of Corpus Christi, 1986. As Father Charles Fanelli, the pastor of St. John Vianney's recalls, "I was just recently assigned as pastor of St. John Vianney's when I attended a dinner put on by the Daughters of St. Paul in the fall of 1985. I was introduced to Bishop Thomas Daily (then bishop of Palm Beach, Florida). Well, when he heard I was a new pastor, he told me 'If you want your parish to flourish, you have to start Perpetual Adoration.' I was so impressed by his talk, that I decided to establish it here, if at all possible."
Although Fr. Fanelli smiles when he sheepishly states that "Perpetual Adoration was a big leap. Sometimes I think we only went ahead with it because we did not know what we were getting into," there was a bit of truth to that sentiment back in 1986. The then latest directive of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops called Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, written in 1974, was fairly vague on the issue. Although it stated in item 82 that "Exposition of the holy Eucharist either in the ciborium or in the monstrance is intended to acknowledge Christ's marvellous presence in the sacrament . . . It fosters very well the worship which is due to Christ in spirit and in truth," it also asserted "This kind of exposition must clearly express the cult of the blessed sacrament in its relationship to the Mass." Thus, while in a Religious community whose "institute has been approved by the Church . . . The form of adoration in which one or two members of the community take turns before the blessed sacrament is also to be maintained and recommended" (#90), the bishops suggested that for most parish churches "the exposition of the blessed sacrament for an extended time" be only "once a year" (#86). There was no history of Perpetual Adoration among the laity, and thus grass roots movements for Perpetual Adoration Chapels such as the one at St. John Vianney's were investigated rigorously by the local Ordinaries, and some were closed down.
In the case of St. John Vianney's parish, however, Perpetual Adoration survived. Although the Archdiocese of Chicago did send out its representative, Fr. (now Bishop) Raymond Goedert, to inspect the chapel, Fr. Goedert was highly impressed by the worship there, and his favorable report resulted in uninterrupted Eucharistic Adoration in the little chapel across the street from St. John Vianney's main church, which continues to this day. And, while Fr. Fanelli humbly claims "We are probably a bad example for promoting Perpetual Adoration because we've had no great miracles here," the change in the Sacramental life of his parish these past twelve years would suggest otherwise.
Fr. Hardon states, "Prayers before the Blessed Sacrament should be seen as an extension of Holy Communion," in other words, it should never take people away from the Mass, but lead them to it. This is exactly the case at St. John Vianney's; the daily Masses at the parish, which in 1986 were lucky to attract fifty people, now draw over two hundred. Meanwhile, although attendance at the four regular Sunday Masses has remained constant, the parish has since added a Spanish Mass, a Filipino Mass, and a Polish Mass to meet the needs of worshippers far and near. Participation in the other Sacraments has increased also. Fr. Fanelli personally hears between fifty and sixty confessions a week, and his associates hear similar numbers. By comparison, the pastor of a nearby Catholic church (without Perpetual Adoration), when asked about confessions replied sadly, "This week I heard two." St. John Vianney's also attracts many missionary priests who visit the chapel and then are invited to say Mass, and their comments are illuminating. For example, Fr. Fanelli told me the story of a missionary priest from Spain who stayed with him for several days. As this priest had visited many parishes both in Europe and the United States, Fr. Fanelli asked him if he noticed anything different about St. John Vianney's, and he nodded yes. "Do the men and women act differently?" Fr. Fanelli wondered. "No, no, it's not the adults," the missionary exclaimed. "It's the children! I've never seen so many children in the congregation as you have. That is a good thing for your parish!" Not to mention this is a sign that the Sacrament of Marriage is flourishing here too!
Of course, the vibrant spiritual life at St. John Vianney's can not all be attributed to Perpetual Adoration. As Fr. Fanelli points out, "A lot of our parishioners are avid readers of Fr. John Hardon, and Fr. John recommends a weekly trip to the Sacrament of Penance. At Confession, sometimes the penance, or a possible solution to a sinful condition, may be a trip to the Adoration Chapel. So one complements the other, and the graces all work together."
And yet, as the one thing that stands out most in the prayer life of St. John Vianney's (when looked at by outside observers), more and more parishes are adopting this answer (Perpetual Adoration) to the question of how to deepen their communion with Christ and each other. St. John Vianney's was the first parish to establish Perpetual Adoration in the Chicago area, but there are now more than twenty. Visitation of Elmhurst is a good example of a parish that recently embraced Perpetual Adoration due to Fr. Fanelli's recommendation.
Visitation's pastor, Fr. Michael Lane, after witnessing the increase of faith at St. John Vianney's, called Fr. Fanelli, hoping he would explain this phenomenon to him personally "When a pastor calls upon another pastor, it is not usually to say 'Hey, how's it going?"' Fr. Lane explained. "I think Fr. Fanelli already knew I was interested in Perpetual Adoration. We soon began to talk about the subject and Fr. Fanelli spoke at great length on how powerful Perpetual Adoration was. Since the parishioners do all the scheduling and arrangements, he said his main job, besides prayer, was to continue to urge people to go, to deepen their commitment to Adoration once the novelty wore off."
"Did you talk to any others priests about Adoration?" I inquired.
"Yes. Many of the priests I talked to, who did not have Perpetual Adoration, said it would never fly. They said my parishioners are too busy to commit to something like that every week. But I prayed about it, and we went ahead with the plans. The first sign-up day (for adorers) was to be Pentecost Sunday. If I didn't get at least one hundred worshippers to pledge one-hour-a-week, I was going to cancel the plans. Well, the Spirit was working because five hundred signed up that day, with an additional one hundred alternates." Needless to say, Fr. Lane went ahead with the chapel, and on the Feast of Corpus Christi (1997), Perpetual Adoration was formally established at Visitation.
"Perpetual Adoration is a great lay apostolate," says Fr. Lane. "I pray in the chapel and sometimes watch it from my window, but the people do all the scheduling, finding substitutes, etc. They also give me a lot of suggestions."
"Such as?" I wondered.
"One person wanted to put an ad in the local newspaper to publicize our chapel to the nearby towns. Another suggested, and paid for, the renovation of the chapel. A third asked if he could commission a marble statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus, while Jesus holds the Eucharist. I approved the plans, and he went ahead with the project for the statue at his own expense."
But why do so many people pray at these chapels, and what is it that keeps them coming back? "In our busy world, there is an almost constant level of activity and noise," noted Fr. Fanelli. "People need a place where they can pray in silence."
"You mean what Mother Teresa said, 'The fruit of silence is prayer,'" I offered?
"Exactly. In the beginning, we had certain times set up in the chapel for group recitation of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and other novenas. But we found that those types of prayers are better said in the church, and the chapel was better served by silence."
"Also, with so many retail stores not only open Sundays, a practice the Church frowns upon, (CCC 2184-2188), but twenty-four hours a day, a twenty-four hour place of prayer is a great way to counteract the effect this warped work schedule has on families," I added, and Father agreed.
Another poignant use of Perpetual Adoration is as perhaps the premiere alternative to the mass media's monopoly of our time and manipulation of our minds, especially through television and personal computers. When exploring this subject on his popular EWTN show, Life on the Rock, host Jeff Cavins talked about how many people (Catholics included) sit in front of a TV and/or computer several hours a day. First, the proliferation of stations due to cable and satellite dishes increases our television choices making it harder to turn the set off. Secondly, the use of remote control allows us to watch (if not comprehend) several shows at one time. Our mind is literally flooded with images until the shows practically overwhelm our senses and our ability to find any goodness or truth or beauty in what we are viewing. Similarly, browsing endless websites, entering random chat rooms, or spending hours on computer games can eventually lead us to deny the necessity to bear witness in the real world, if not the belief of His Real Presence in it.
By contrast, the eyes of a soul who often looks upon the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament see not random images, but a single Light. Unlike television viewing, where the TV dominates the exchange, in Eucharistic Adoration there is constant communication, the Lord listening as the soul speaks, then the soul listening as the Lord responds. And while many agnostic computer experts dream of capturing time and space by literally plugging us (complete with tiny microchips in our foreheads) into the "Net," Fr. Hardon in his article Prayer Before the Blessed Sacrament explains that "The prayer before the Eucharist believes that time is erased by the miracle of the Real Presence, and so is distance and space." Computer technology may lead you to believe that through the information highway man can someday conquer the world, but faith in Christ's Death and Resurrection, strengthened by belief in the Real Presence convinces us that Christ already has.
But while the Perpetual Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist can surely guide all believing Catholics humbly yet confidently into the next millennium, is there any real hope for our separated Christian brethren? After all, the Protestant churches "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness ..." thus "Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible" (CCC 1400). Still, although Protestants cannot receive Holy Communion in a Catholic church and thus will never really know Jesus "in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35) barring conversion, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament may be the way of allowing our Protestant brothers some experience of the Real Presence, and must be explored as a possible road not only to individual conversion, but the eventual reunification of Christianity. While Fr. Michael Place, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, after noting the different context Protestants have for communion and the priesthood, doubts the likeliness of a significant change in a non-Catholic due to Perpetual Adoration, "because they don't have the same predisposition to its graces," Fr. Michael Lane is not so sure. "If Perpetual Adoration can enliven the soul of a lukewarm Catholic, it can certainly change the heart of an evangelical Christian. In fact, why limit (Perpetual Adoration) to Christians? God is an opportunist and will use whatever means He has available. A great sinner might stop in to get warm, but it could be the start of his conversion. Recently I saw a teenager going by here on rollerblades, and when he sped by the chapel, he suddenly stopped. I invited him to come in, and he later did. Maybe he entered this first time out of curiosity, but his next trip here might be out of conviction."
Commenting on the place of his parish's Perpetual Adoration Chapel in the faith community, Fr. Fanelli said "Sometimes its presence is like good weather. You don't appreciate how much good it does until much later. I know our chapel has encouraged some vocations within our parish, but I'm sure it has contributed to many outside our boundaries as well. I've heard some stories, but who knows how many men have left their houses after a fight, planning never to return ... but then stopped into our chapel. And because they found this place to pray, they also found courage to go back home. Who can know how many evils the prayers here have prevented, or how many people, so weighed down with the worries of life, could not have even gotten out of bed some morning without the Adoration offered here?"
Father is right. By ourselves, we cannot, as St. Paul suggests, "Pray without ceasing" (1Thes 5:17), but in union with Christ and the communion of saints, we can. Likewise, Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapels unite the parish community in continuous prayer as never before, and even makes John Paul's plea "Let our adoration never cease" possible. "For God, all things are possible..." (Matt 19:26) a dramatic increase in vocations, the reunification of Christianity, the end of abortion and, depending upon how much Eucharistic Adoration increases, "even greater works than these" (John 14:12).
O'Toole, Tom. "Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapels: Their Place in Our Busy World." The Catholic Faith 4, no. 4 (September/October 1998): 33-36.
Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.
Tom O'Toole is a freelance writer from Elmhurst, Illinois.
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