Most Precious Treasure

TIM DRAKE

Historically, perpetual eucharistic adoration was reserved only for cloistered convents and monasteries. Today it is a form of devotion on the increase among the laity. "People come to adoration because they are hungry and thirsty for the Lord," says Father Conlin, pastor of St. Columba Parish in St. Paul. "They find peace by being with him and they come away more focused, more courageous and more generous in living their faith."


Individuals enter the Marian side chapel at St. Columba Church in St. Paul, Minn., 365 days a year, every hour of the day, come rain or shine — just as they have been since Sept. 11, 1994. Non-Catholic neighbors may wonder what brings this steady stream of people to the church. Anyone entering through the chapel doors would find the answer is none other than Jesus Christ, in the flesh.

A gold-colored monstrance at the front of the chapel exposes the Eucharist. Visitors come day and night in prayer and adoration. St. Columba is only one example of a growing resurgence in eucharistic adoration and devotion throughout North America, further exemplified by eucharistic congresses, Forty Hours programs and tabernacle watches.

Historically, perpetual eucharistic adoration was reserved only for cloistered convents and monasteries.

Today it is a form of devotion on the increase among the laity. Perpetual and partial eucharistic adoration programs have been embraced in dioceses from Bridgeport, Conn., to Atlanta, and San Antonio to St. Paul. Eucharistic adoration is a traditional form of prayer that involves the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament displayed in a monstrance. Perpetual adoration recalls Christ's question to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane before his passion: "Could you not watch one hour with me?" In response to Christ's question, the faithful sign up for one hour of adoration each week.

"The evidence suggests that perpetual eucharistic adoration began as early as the sixth century in Lugo, in northern Spain," says Missionary of the Blessed Sacrament Father Victor Warkulwicz of the Apostolate for Perpetual Adoration in Mount Clemens, Mich.

One of the first recorded instances of perpetual adoration occurred at Avignon, France, on Sept. 11, 1226.

In compliance with a wish of Louis VII, who had just been victorious over the Albigensians, the Blessed Sacrament, veiled, was exposed in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, as an act of thanksgiving. So great was the throng of adorers that Bishop Pierre de Corbie judged it expedient to continue the adoration by night, as well as by day, a proposal that was subsequently ratified by the Holy See.

According to Father Warkulwicz, about 1,000 parishes throughout the United States have instituted perpetual eucharistic adoration. The Real Presence Association maintains a Web site (www.therealpresence.org) listing dates, times and parishes where adoration programs are in place. The association estimates that more than 5,200 parishes in the United States (out of nearly 20,000) have partial adoration of some kind.

In his 1980 apostolic letter Dominicae Cenae, Pope John Paul encourages eucharistic devotion outside of Mass. "Adoration of Christ in this sacrament of love must also find expression in various forms of eucharistic devotion: personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, hours of adoration, periods of exposition — short, prolonged and annual (Forty Hours) — eucharistic benediction, eucharistic processions, eucharistic congresses."

Not only has the pope encouraged all parishes to institute adoration programs, he made the Eucharist the focus of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. He himself instituted perpetual eucharistic adoration at St. Peter's Basilica on Dec. 2, 1981.

Perhaps the best way to understand eucharistic devotion, however, is to see it in action.

ADORATION CHANGES PEOPLE

Knights of Columbus in Pinehurst, N.C., have taken a special interest in the eucharistic adoration program at Sacred Heart Church. The first adoration coordinator was Past Grand Knight Vincent D. Kaptur Jr. of Sacred Heart Council 11103, now deceased.

Five years ago Florence Miller had never heard of perpetual adoration. Today she is the parish's program coordinator. Miller sees the Knights' involvement as natural since "they serve as the protectors of the Eucharist."

Knight Thomas G. Cestone took on the responsibility of promoting eucharistic adoration when he became Council 11103's Church activities director.

"When I became Church activities director I was given a booklet describing my duties, and supporting perpetual eucharistic adoration was one of the responsibilities."

After talking with Miller, Cestone set out to promote adoration among the Knights and recruit members for hard-to-fill time slots. Currently, three Knights serve as team captains, and nearly half of the council's 170 members are regular adorers.

"Every now and then," says Cestone, "I'm surprised to see a Knight that I didn't know was an adorer leaving the chapel."

Cestone says he has seen a definite change in parishioners' attitudes toward religious devotion. Miller agrees, saying that she has seen an increase in the number of parishioners active in other parish programs. "If you're afraid of falling in love with the Blessed Sacrament, adoration isn't for you," Miller says. "It changes people."

Miller says she has seen the big and little ways adoration has influenced her parish. "It unites the church," she says. "We have all kinds of adorers — old and young; men, women and children; men's and women's prayer groups; Scripture study groups; parish staff and committees; and the parish council are all represented as adorers."

"Until December 1999," she adds, "outside of Mass, the church doors were locked both day and night." After conducting a survey of adorers, they asked that the church remain open.

"People are coming and going all the time. There is a hospital across the street, so people can now come to pray for loved ones who may be sick. We have more adorers today than we did when we conducted the survey.

Only the dear Lord himself knows how many visitors who may not otherwise have come have spent hours with him," Miller says. St. Dominic Church in New Orleans has not had perpetual eucharistic adoration for long, but parishioners have already said that they have seen the difference it makes. The parish started its program on Palm Sunday in 2000.

"Our adoration chapel is the result of other things that have been done in the parish," says Dominican Father Neal McDermott. Several years ago he started a faith enrichment program for adult couples called "Supper and Substance."

"Couples could see that they had a spirituality that had to be nourished through Mass and the Eucharist," Father McDermott explains, "The program spread to 40 area churches. In time, these same people began asking for perpetual adoration. In the year since it was instituted here at St. Dominic, there has been a genuine growth in love" for the Eucharist.

"People are regaining a sense of sin in their lives," Father McDermott says. In response, he has started hearing confessions twice a day. "The closer you get to Christ, the more aware you are of sin. It convicts us and makes us want to be better."

Father McDermott believes adoration has also benefited the priests at St. Dominic. "Adoration has drawn us priests much closer to our people. That's been a real blessing for me. It used to be that only the cloistered nuns had perpetual adoration. Sometimes when I go into the chapel I have to pinch myself to think that we have perpetual adoration. This is something extraordinary."

Susie Veters, a parishioner at St. Dominic, says adoration changed her life. She now coordinates the parish program and is on the archdiocesan committee that hopes to have adoration programs started in every parish in New Orleans.

"Archbishop Francis Schulte has been promoting it," says Veters. "Out of 140 parishes in New Orleans, approximately 100 have some form of adoration and 16 have perpetual eucharistic adoration." Archbishop Schulte is a member of Parkersburg (W. Va.) Council 594.

YOU SHALL KNOW HIM BY HIS FRUITS

A resurgence of adoration programs may signal that Catholics are not as ignorant about Church doctrine on the Real Presence as some recent surveys indicated.

Father Daniel C. Conlin, pastor of St. Columba Parish in St. Paul and a member of St. Agnes Council 9831 also in St. Paul, says he has seen the fruits of adoration in those who come to pray. "I see families praying together. Kids come with their parents, husbands come with their wives, and grandparents come with their grandchildren. That is more than sufficient grace; that is fruit enough aside from any miracles.

"People come to adoration because they are hungry and thirsty for the Lord," Father Conlin adds. "They find peace by being with him and they come away more focused, more courageous and more generous in living their faith."

SPIRITUAL RESOURCES

Want to learn more about Church teaching on the Eucharist?
Want to strengthen your devotion to Christ and the Blessed Sacrament?

The Catholic Information Service of the Knights of Columbus has a new booklet, Questions and Answers on the Eucharist (#312). Written by the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania, the booklet has been printed with permission of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. A new prayer card (#4194) featuring O Sacred Banquet, An Act of Spiritual Communion, Anima Christi and The Divine Praises is also available. To obtain a copy of each, send $1 (U.S. currency only to cover shipping and handling) along with your name and mailing address to:
Columbia Magazine
1 Columbus Plaza
New Haven, CT 06510-3326

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Tim Drake "Most Precious Treasure." Columbia (June, 2001).

Reprinted with permission from Columbia, the magazine of the Knights of Columbus, and Tim Drake.

THE AUTHOR

Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist and author.  He has published more than 600 articles in various publications. He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. Tim Drake is the author of There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots, Saints of the Jubilee, and Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church. He resides in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. Visit his website here.

Copyright © 2001 Columbia
 


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