'So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing enough, but human nature is weak' (Matthew 26:41-42).Now that we've significantly examined the theological dimensions and meanings of the Eucharist, and understand that it truly is Jesus Himself whom we receive in Communion as our New Covenant sacrifice, I want to wax personal as I draw our attention and devotion to an aspect of this Blessed Sacrament that goes beyond the celebration of the Mass, and into the private, individual aspect of the spiritual life. For when the Church teaches that Jesus Christ is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the sacred species, she maintains that this presence is ongoing for as long as the Eucharistic Elements remain intact. In other words, for as long as the Consecrated Host looks and acts like bread, it is actually Jesus. But once that Host has broken down and decomposed, then it ceases to be Jesus. And the same goes for the consecrated Wine. As long as it has the characteristics of Wine, it remains Jesus.
The Eucharist Outside of Mass
As such, the Eucharist which is not consumed during Mass is treated with the same respect and worship with which we are to treat Jesus Himself. This is the reason that the left-over Eucharist is placed in the church's Tabernacle, as a place of honour in the church, usually made of gold, so that He may be easily found and worshipped upon entry. This is the reason why Catholics genuflect (that is, kneel down) upon entering the church and before sitting in their pews. And this is why those Catholics who are unable to attend Mass may be brought the Eucharist afterward--because even though the Mass has ended, Jesus remains, to be received by any and all the faithful who desire Him.
Throughout the centuries, particularly in the Western Church, this truth of Jesus' enduring presence in the Eucharist has led to further devotions. I've already talked about the Corpus Christi Procession, in which the Eucharist is paraded through the streets of the parish while parishioners follow in prayer and song. But while that happens only once a year, Jesus is available every day. And over the centuries this led to the practice of coming and spending a "holy hour" with Him in what is known as Eucharistic Adoration.
Worshipping the Eucharistic Lord
Unlike the liturgical celebration of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration is an opportunity for a person to individually spend time with Jesus. He may be reposed in the Tabernacle, but many churches have set up Chapels specifically for the purpose of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and during specific hours (or, at some parishes, perpetually), the Eucharistic Host is placed into a Monstrance, which is a golden object having a clear glass or plastic case into which the Host is placed for easy viewing. Around this clear case are golden decorative sculptures, often taking the form of a Cross, or rays of a sun, or sometimes resembling the Gothic frontispiece of an altar. The effect is one of housing Jesus in a setting that elevates our minds to the dignity of this Sacrament--the fact that what we are looking at is not merely bread, but is actually God Himself.
Upon entering the chapel and beholding the monstrance, one genuflects to Jesus, and, finding a seat, begins simply being with Him. What you do with Jesus is completely up to you--it is a time of private, personal prayer. You might pray a Rosary, or read the Bible or other spiritual writings. You may simply sit in silence, or, provided you aren't disturbing any other adorers, you may sing. You may stand, sit, kneel, or completely prostrate yourself in the presence of the Lord. It truly is your time with Jesus. I personally often like to bring my sketchpad, and draw inspiration from my time with Jesus for new paintings.
Spending Time in the Presence of Jesus
Fundamentally, though, it's not about what you do in Adoration. It's about building that personal relationship with Jesus. How are we supposed to get to know Jesus if we never spend any time with Him? And if that time spent is always in a "group setting" at Mass, there is a danger that our knowledge and love for Him could remain merely superficial. This, of course, is not necessarily the case, since receiving Jesus in Communion is the most intimate experience we can have with Him. However, if we're not allowing ourselves the time to spend with Him outside of the Mass, and especially doing so in Adoration, we're depriving ourselves of an opportunity to be completely honest with Jesus about our needs, our failings, our sufferings, our trials, our joys, and in sum, who we are as a whole. And the converse is true, that in Adoration we take the time to sit in silence, and just listen to Him. In the silence of Adoration, we learn how to listen, and what to listen for. We gaze upon our Lord, knowing that He has humbled Himself to appear to us in Bread, reminding us that He Himself is our sustenance, that He knows our needs and wants to take care of us. As one man put it, "I look at Jesus, and He looks back at me."
The Benefits of Adoration
At this point, it may seem utterly superfluous to enumerate the effects of Adoration. It seems that one who is already sold on having an opportunity to spend time in the tangible presence of our Lord, and dialoguing with Him in a loving relationship, doesn't need to hear about the wonderful results of doing so; on the other hand, one who doesn't already feel compelled to start visiting Jesus in this manner will likely remain complacent no matter what reasons I could provide. Nevertheless, it is possible that the benefits might push a fence-sitter over the edge, and that hearing them clearly stated might serve to refresh and rekindle the cooling devotion of one who already participates in Adoration. In any case, I shall describe them here if for no other reason than that it is always good to tell of the wonderful works of our God.
1. A Deeper Relationship with Jesus
Obviously, the first and primary benefit of Adoration is the deepening of one's own relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus. In my former Christian tradition, much was made of having a "personal relationship with Jesus," but the thought that He might truly be present in a tangible, real sense in the Eucharist was not thought of, or even flat-out denied. It was once I understood this amazing truth, and began to practice Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, that my intimacy and closeness with Jesus really began to grow exponentially. If you feel far from Jesus, and your spiritual life feels dry, I encourage you to seek Him out in the Adoration Chapel. He is waiting for you there.
2. Spiritual Strength
The next great benefit is having more time, more energy, and greater vision to serve Jesus. Many object to Adoration as taking time away from the active life of ministering. Yet Jesus Himself led by example, taking quiet times during the day to commune with His heavenly Father. If Jesus needed these times of spiritual solitude, how can we suggest that we should neglect them? On the contrary, spending time with Jesus strengthens us to become more productive and fruitful labourers in His vineyard.
3. Growth in Personal and Corporate Holiness
Third, Adoration increases sanctity in one's life. Obviously, spending time with the All-Holy God cannot help but make us more holy ourselves. In His presence, our sinfulness is brought clearly to mind, and the compuction necessary to make a good Confession is produced. I have experienced this many times, to the degree that when I feel most attached to my sins, I am actually afraid to go to Jesus in the Sacrament. Just as it is a great sacrilege to receive Communion in a state of sin, so just being in the presence of Jesus in Adoration will compel us to get to Confession as soon as possible! This increase in holiness that results will overflow into other areas of our lives, strengthening our marriages, our families, our parish's life and vitality, and on and on. I read about one parish whose attendance doubled and collections tripled just from beginning Perpetual Adoration there! Our intimate, personal, one-on-one time with Jesus spills out into the life of the entire community!
4. Increase in Vocations
Of the many effects of Adoration, I will content myself to name just one more: Adoration has been shown to lead to an increase in vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life. The increase of the spiritual vitality of a parish resulting from Adoration prompts more men and women to live their faith more ardently, and to respond to God's call in their lives to surrender their lives utterly to Him. And the very act of Adoration stills the soul so that one is more responsive to hearing His voice calling. If anyone is unsure about God's plan for their life, take it to the Lord in Adoration, and He will reveal it to you there; whether that be to the clerical state, religious life, marriage, or whatever else He has planned. Place yourselves before Him, and like Samuel of old, say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."
Jesus is waiting for you in the Blessed Sacrament. Go and meet Him!
(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist;
Catholic Devotions: Eucharistic Devotions)