Eucharistic Adoration: Another Dimension

FR. BENEDICT J. GROESCHEL, C.F.R.

I would like to discuss an aspect of Eucharistic devotion which is probably not central to the thinking of many of our readers: the social meaning of Eucharistic adoration itself. What should the Eucharistic presence mean to believers in terms of their membership in the Church and, going even further, as members of the human family, the children of God?


Recently I heard a distinguished theologian say that a good touchstone to discern the seriousness of someone's commitment to renewal and reform in the Church is their attitude toward Eucharistic adoration. Of course, he included other criteria like loyalty to the Holy Father and devotion to Our Blessed Mother, but I was impressed by his emphasis on Eucharistic adoration.

In the book I coauthored with James Monti, In the Presence of Our Lord (Our Sunday Visitor, 1998), we traced the history, theology, and psychological meaning of this devotion, which centers on not only the prayer life but also the emotional life of tens of millions of Catholics. This includes millions of believers in the United States.

I would like to discuss an aspect of Eucharistic devotion which is probably not central to the thinking of many of our readers: the social meaning of Eucharistic adoration itself. What should the Eucharistic presence mean to believers in terms of their membership in the Church and, going even further, as members of the human family, the children of God?

As I write these words I can sense the hackles rise on some of my readers. Moreover, if I did not know what I was about to write, I myself would admit to being turned off by exploring the social or community aspect of the Eucharist, because this approach has often led to a Reformed Protestant understanding of this sacrament.

Catholics know that the Mass is sacrifice, sacrament, and presence. As a sacrifice it draws all the members of Christ into the paschal mystery by which we are saved:"[W]hen I am lifted up . . . [I] will draw all men to myself" (Jn. 12:32). Unquestionably, this is the central reality which brings us together as members of Christ. For this reason, St. Augustine calls the Eucharist "the bond of charity — vinculum caritatis."

The Eucharist is also a sacrament — the receiving of Christ. In a mystical and mysterious way the individual believer is invited to the table of the Lord to share in the Bread of Life — truly a mysterious family meal of the members of Christ. For this reason one should be free of all animosity and ill will. One should be at peace and resolve to be generous and kind. St. John Chrysostom explores this when he asks us what good it does to receive Christ in the Eucharist and then pass Him by disguised as a beggar in the street.

When it comes to the prayerful adoration of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, one can mistakenly think that this act of worship pertains only to the spiritual life of the individual. While it is true that for any degree of deep experience of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, silent prayer and adoration are necessary, this prayer also pertains to the whole community of His Church. We do not pray to Christ in the Eucharist "alone with the Alone," to quote an old formula of the mystics. Eucharistic adoration is best understood as an extension of the thanksgiving after Communion in the Mass.

However, the tradition of Eucharistic processions, of 40 hours, and especially of Corpus Christi with multitudes of adoring faithful, reminds us that this adoration of Christ is not a completely solitary experience. The prayerful acknowledgment of the divine presence is, among other things, a perfect witness to the need for social justice, charity, and mutual responsibility.

The Eucharistic presence of Christ is an absolute equalizer of persons. Popes and peasants, rich and poor, kings and beggars all fell on their knees together before Christ present in the Holy Eucharist. In the Presence of Our Lord carries a fascinating account of Habsburg Emperor Charles II, meeting a priest bringing Holy Communion to a poor gardener who was dying. The emperor put the priest in his carriage and "with his own hand" led the team of horses down the narrow lanes to the poor man's home. The emperor helped the priest alight and he remained in prayer while the man received the sacraments. He then gave the man a sizable gift of money and promised his weeping daughter a dowry so that she would not be in danger after the father's death. Then the emperor accompanied the priest back to the church where he received the blessing given to those who assist in the reception of the sacraments for the sick. This is a marvelous account of how we all kneel together in the presence of Christ.

Those devoted to Eucharistic adoration are often accused of an excessively individualized piety, one uninterested in others. Certainly, it is true that adoration is a personal act and that silence and concentration are required. Followers of the Zen Buddhist tradition and even those Christians who use the Zen style of meditation are always silent and in deep concentration, and yet I have never heard them accused of being socially uninvolved. The icon of concern for others, of charity and compassion to all, Mother Teresa, built her life around Eucharistic adoration. At least one Holy Hour before the presence of Christ in the Eucharist was a non-negotiable part of her daily schedule. The same can be said of several great canonized religious sisters — including Mothers Seton, Cabrini, and Drexel — all of whom were especially devoted to Eucharistic adoration and superb models of social and community responsibility.

While dismissing the charge that Eucharistic adoration is a form of withdrawal unworthy of a Christian, one has to admit that at times some who lack concern for their neighbor have found this prayer opportunity attractive. You would not have to be around a chapel of Eucharistic adoration very long before you would meet such a person. But let's see what this means, because socially withdrawn adorers can fall into two different groups.

The first group are those who find crowds and groups difficult to handle psychologically, that is, constitutionally introverted people. They are often quite sensitive and caring to others in a quiet way. But they are not good at functioning in groups. Thank God they find solace and strength in the Eucharist. My patron saint — Benedict Joseph Labre — a homeless, mentally ill man, found the anchor he needed to survive in the Eucharistic presence. He often begged for food for other homeless people and even organized the devout homeless into religious activities. But he needed several hours of prayer in the presence of Christ every day to cope with life.

The second group are those who have a selfish ego-centered spirituality, and these are not confined by any means to those who are attracted to Eucharistic piety. I refer to those who are centered excessively on themselves and on an image of God who looks suspiciously like themselves. I really don't meet such people very often. They are severe, judgmental, angry, and isolated. In ancient times many of these people became anchorites and earned the almost universal criticism of the Fathers of the Church. St. Ambrose asked them pointedly, "If you live alone, whose burden do you carry an d in relationship to whom do you take the lowest place?"

A hermit's life can be a legitimate vocation, but it is rare. It is important to note that the Carthusians and the Camaldolese, both orders of hermits, make fraternal charity and prayerful concern for the salvation of souls central considerations of their lives.

Although a person devoted to adoration may not be the self-centered person I have described, we all need to keep watch that our spirituality does not become self-centered, and even selfish. I appeal to my fellow devotees to Christ's presence in the Eucharist to examine their consciences and to ask the following questions:

  1. Am I really and generously concerned about the spiritual and physical welfare of others? Or is my concern of a perfunctory fulfilling of the obligation on a hit and miss basis? In particular, do I have a charitable and understanding attitude toward my family and close associates?
  2. When coming to and returning from adoration, do I give a special Christian response to those I meet, especially my fellow Eucharistic adorers?
  3. When I spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, do I sincerely pray for the world, for those who misunderstand me, and even for my enemies and the enemies of the Church?
  4. Would anyone ever say of me what the pagans said of the early disciples of Jesus, "See how they love one another"?
  5. During group activities, liturgical or even social, connected with the parish or the group of Eucharistic adorers, do I attend in a cheerful way, showing real friendliness and charity?

If the honest answers to these questions are negative or doubtful, then we need to meditate on these words of Jesus: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven."

On the other hand, if we reflect the loving Christ in our relations with others, His patience, His willingness to forgive, His solicitude for the physical and spiritual welfare of those He met, His almost total availability to others that we see in the Gospel, then we can hope to hear Him say, "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world" (Mt. 25:35).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Groeschel, Fr. Benedict J. "Eucharistic Adoration: Another Dimension." Lay Witness (October, 2000).

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness magazine.

Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

THE AUTHOR

Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R. writes from Larchmont, NY. He is the coauthor of In the Presence of Our Lord, which may be ordered by calling Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640.

Copyright © 2000 LayWitness
 


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