Online Edition – Vol. IV, No. 1: February/March 1998
Eucharistic Adoration in a Parish Setting
By Father James Moroney
Father James Patrick Moroney, executive director of the NCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy, It was originally an address to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis at a symposium on Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on February 2, 1998, sponsored by Archbishop Justin Rigali. Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul also addressed the priests. Another meeting on the same subject was held on February 7 for delegates from parishes. This article is printed with Father Moroney’s permission.
The celebration of the Eucharist is the center of the entire Christian life, both for the Church universal and for the local congregations of the Church.1
Thus does the rite for Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass begin.
This central act of the Church’s doxological life is characterized by an active dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue of worship through which the Church is grafted onto the perfect sacrificium laudis of Christ’s paschal death upon the cross. No act of Christian worship is possible, therefore, without the active presence of Christ who is himself the altar and the sacrifice, the giver and the gift.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council makes this clear in its famous reflection on the different modes of Christ’s presence at Mass.2Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass expands on this passage:
In the celebration of Mass the chief ways in which Christ is present in his Church gradually become clear. First he is present in the very assembly of the faithful, gathered together in his name; next he is present in his word, when the Scriptures are read in the Church and explained; then in the person of the minister; finally and above all, in the eucharistic sacrament. In a way that is completely unique, the whole and entire Christ, God and man, is substantially and permanently present in the sacrament. This presence of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine "is called real, not to exclude other kinds of presence as if they were not real, but because it is real par excellence."3
In the years since the Council, we have done a marvelous work in appreciating the many presences of Christ in the liturgy. We have opened wide the doors on the treasury of Sacred Scripture with the reform of the Lectionary for Mass and have made important first steps in assuring the effective proclamation of the Word of God. Indeed, the proclamation of God’s Word is at the heart of each of the reformed liturgical rites.
Likewise, the essential role of the congregation assembled for worship and the presence of Christ among those who gather in his name has led to a recognition of the many and varied ministries of the Body of Christ and the "full, conscious and active participation" of the faithful which was so highly recommended by the Council fathers. 4
The presence of Christ in the priest who convenes the assembly in persona Christi has been a bit more of a challenge for us, as witnessed by the recent interdicasterial instruction and by the crisis of delineation of roles of clergy and laity.
However, only in recent years have we begun a more critical reflection on the ultimate presence of Christ, described by the Council fathers as his presence par excellence: the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species.
Since the Council we have been blessed with an extended reflection on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery by Pope Paul VI (Mysterium Fidei) and the liturgical book Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass to aid us in discovering the role of eucharistic worship in the life of the parish and the life of the Church.
Both these important documents teach us that a major part of this same tradition of praying in the presence of God is the reservation and adoration of the Eucharist is our churches. Presently witnessing a resurgence in many places, the establishment of eucharistic chapels can be of significant support to the spiritual and sacramental life of a given parish. But from the outset, both priests and the faithful must keep in mind the dynamic relationship between eucharistic adoration and Mass itself. The former is the gift of the latter.
For in the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice, we are joined to Christ’s own death and resurrection, offered on our behalf. Mass is a giving over, a movement of Christ to his Father which effects union with God. Because of its enormity as a world-reconciling event, we often forget that the goal of the celebration of Mass is to extend this saving dynamic throughout every hour and act of our lives. This is the essential notion which now guides the celebration of the liturgy of the hours, for example, intended to bring this same eucharistic or redemptive spirit into every canonical hour and indeed, every moment of our daily rhythm. And what is at the heart of the canonical hours? It is the mysterious cycle of redemptive acts in a morning prayer of praise for the beauty of creation, a noonday remembrance of the death of Jesus, an evening prayer of thanksgiving and repentance, and night prayer of preparation for death and eternal life. At every moment, we are the Lord’s, remembering his death and resurrection in our coming and going, our work and rest.
A similar approach to understanding eucharistic adoration may be helpful. For once seen against the backdrop of the Mass, eucharistic adoration becomes an extension of — and not a substitute for — the saving act of Christ in his surrender to the Father. The reserved species is the gift which perdures from that act, rather than its principal effect. Eucharistic adoration is one of the most important ways in which the presence of Christ continues in the Church following the celebration of Mass and, as such, is meant both to help us sanctify everything we do and to draw us back to our next celebration of the Eucharist. Appreciating this dynamic is essential in keeping eucharistic adoration in its proper perspective. What we do at the Eucharist is to eat and drink deeply of the food of our salvation. Adoration outside of Mass is meant to stimulate our appetites, as it were, for our next sacred meal.
This brief presentation is designed to share with you one parish’s journey of rediscovery of the gift of eucharistic worship and the impact which adoration of the Blessed Sacrament had on its liturgy and its life. I will attempt to interweave the teachings of Mysterium Fidei and Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass with my story, in the hope that it might aid you in this important journey of faith in your parish as well.
I am a parish priest. It is my proudest boast and my greatest joy. The role I presently fulfill as Executive Director of the BCL Secretariat is by way of exception. For fifteen years I served as a parish priest and I look forward someday to returning to parish ministry.
Like many of you, I believe that the parish is the grassiest of grass roots of the Church and that her life thrives most intensely in the parish. Like many of you, I have spent the better part of my life struggling to live the life of the Church authentically and faithfully as a pastor and a parish priest.
My last parish assignment was rather unique from the outset. Not only was I pastor of two parishes at once, but two parishes separated by one parking lot. While this brief talk cannot sufficiently explain (I wonder whether an even longer talk could explain!) the situation, let it suffice to say that the two parishes were served by two churches, each seating close to 1,000 people: one French and one Irish.
I recall when I first visited Spencer after I had been told of my new assignment. I entered the "French" Church and was poking around as one is wont to do when imagining what miracles God will work in the years that lie ahead. As I was looking through the latest bulletin, an elderly woman came up and with a heavy Canadian accident demanded, "Who are you? " I told her that I was Father Moroney. "Another Irish spy!" she spat out, and hustled into the Church, purportedly to pray for my dissolution.
There are other horror stories as well, some of them more than a century old, and by their age the richer for the telling. But since the subject of this talk is not the relationship of rival ethnic parishes, allow me to cut to the chase.
Five years later, I stood in the same vestibule of the "French" Church as the bishop entered to suppress the parishes of Saint Mary’s and Our Lady of the Rosary and create a new parish in its place under the title Mary, Queen of the Rosary. How, in those five years, did we get from contention and confrontation to unity and hope? That is, of course, a complex question, but its most essential element, I would suggest, is worship.
In that first year as a priest of Spencer I knew only one thing clearly: we needed to pray. We needed to celebrate the liturgy with authenticity, integrity and "that full conscious and active participation which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy." We needed to foster a life of private prayer and devotion which could pave the way to the summit of the Mass. We needed to realize that we could do nothing without God and his grace.
So we started to pray. Each morning we celebrated Morning Prayer and a half hour later, the Mass. Every other month we celebrated communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Penance. We began communal celebrations of the Anointing of the Sick and reformed all our processes of preparation for Sacramental Initiation. We devoted great resources to the Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults, both in recruitment and in experience. And, we built a Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.
At first the chapel was built atop a long flight of stairs and was visited for a few short hours a day by those who would sign up to spend an hour in prayer for the parish and for the needs of the world. But due to popular demand those hours grew, and it became apparent that we had a real need for a separate chapel, accessible and private for those who wished to pray with the Eucharistic Lord.
"We were right with you," some in this room may be saying, "through all the liturgical renewal you undertook, until you got to eucharistic adoration. But why eucharistic adoration? Why spend time on the adoration of the static presence of Christ in the eucharistic species when you could put those energies into the Mass itself? Isn’t eucharistic worship a relic of a preconciliar spirituality which de-emphasizes participation for observation? Isn’t eucharistic worship more akin to private devotionalism rather than public liturgical celebration?"
I too asked those same questions. And I found an answer, at once beautiful and profound, in the words of the great Pope Paul VI, when he wrote:
the devotion which leads the faithful to visit the Blessed Sacrament draws them into an ever deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery. It leads them to respond gratefully to the gift of him who through his humanity constantly pours divine life into the members of his body. Dwelling with Christ our Lord, they enjoy his intimate friendship and pour out their hearts before him for themselves and their dear ones, and pray for the peace and salvation of the world. They offer their entire lives with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and receive in this wonderful exchange an increase of faith, hope and charity. Thus they nourish those right dispositions which enable them with all due devotion to celebrate the memorial of the Lord and receive frequently the bread given us by the Father. The faithful should therefore strive to worship Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in harmony with their way of life. Pastors should exhort them to this, and set them a good example.
We live in a society which loves to "get things done." We are great doers. Thus we are able to embrace with gusto the aspect of the liturgical reform which called us to do more. But we’re not so good at reflecting, at meditating on the mysteries we celebrate. Without such meditation, without a life of reflective prayer, we will never be able to celebrate the Mass fully, consciously or actively.
Adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament draws us into the Paschal Mystery, gives us grateful hearts and nourishes an intimate relationship between Christ and his people. By so doing, Eucharistic worship nourishes our souls and kindles a hunger for eucharistic celebration with the Lord whom we have encountered in the act of meditation and reflection.
I remember one of the first times this truth came home to me. It was one night after I had been in the parish for only a few months. Around 2 a.m. I got a sick-call from the daughter of a woman who was dying half way across town. I made my way to the house, as you have done so many times before, blinking furiously to try to awaken my body. I anointed the woman, gave her viaticum and prayed with the family for a short time, after which, by the grace of God, the woman died. As I drove back to the rectory I knew I would not be able to fall asleep again right away, so I went to the adoration chapel.
I entered and knelt down behind an old man who was praying from a tattered devotional. He got up and left and was replaced by a giant of a man. In early middle age, this man had the shoulders of a Green Bay Packer (or should I say Denver Broncos) and enormous hands–rough and leathery and swollen from years of hard physical labor. In soiled work clothes he had obviously just come off second shift and was stopping by the chapel for his hour of prayer.
As he knelt there, he placed his head in those swollen hands and did not move for the next hour. All I could hear was a slight muttering of prayer, an echo of his intimate conversation with the God in whom he found his only rest.
I could multiply that story by a score or more. I could tell you of the drug addict who built the handicapped ramp to the chapel as an act of love, working nights to raise the money for the materials. I could tell you of the estranged families who were reconciled after extended prayer, or the homeless kids who would go sit in the corner in the early morning hours when they did not know what else to do. I could tell you of the social action ministries which grew from hearts in deepening love with Christ to hands more willing to do his work. I could tell you all those stories, but let it suffice to say I know that the Holy Father’s words are true: that the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament "stimulates the faithful to an awareness of the marvelous presence of Christ, and is an invitation to spiritual communion with him."
All this is not to say that there are not cautions one should observe or pastoral dangers to be avoided in consideration of the practice of eucharistic adoration in a parish setting. I urge you to carefully observe the Church’s wise teachings on the means of Eucharistic adoration. Always and everywhere, we should seek to worship as the Church has taught us, taking from her store room forms old and new and ever embracing the Christ who is her Lord and Savior.
"Care must be taken," Pope Paul VI reminded us, "that during these expositions the worship given to the Blessed Sacrament should be seen, by signs, in its relation to the Mass." This means that Eucharistic adoration can never be a replacement to Mass, but must be a preparation for more effective celebration of the Mass.
All the liturgical norms of the Church must be carefully observed in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We must remember that it is forbidden to celebrate Mass in the presence of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Likewise, the place of exposition must never hinder the liturgical or pastoral life of the parish Church. Everything must be done "To encourage a prayerful spirit, including readings from Scripture together with a homily or brief exhortations to develop a better understanding of the Eucharistic mystery."(5)
Likewise, eucharistic worship must always lead us to the Mass. "The plan of the exposition should carefully avoid anything which might somehow obscure the principal desire of Christ in instituting the Eucharist, namely, to be with us as food, medicine and comfort."(6)
Thus I stand before you, pastor and liturgist, and recommend the adoration of the Eucharist as a wonderful source of grace. It is not the only means to grace, but it was, in my experience, a great benefit to the pastoral unity and mission of Mary, Queen of the Rosary parish.
So I return to where I began: to my beloved Parish of Mary, Queen of the Rosary in Spencer and to that blessed New Year’s Eve when we celebrated without picket or controversy the victory of unity over division, of charity over selfishness and of Christ over all.
On that night, after the liturgy was over, I remember standing in that same vestibule where I had first heard words of anger. Angie, another woman of some years and a regular worshiper in the chapel came up to me and said, "Oh, Father, isn’t it wonderful!" "Congratulations, Angie," I said, it’s you who’ve done it." "No," she said thoughtfully. "No, he did it!" she said, pointing to the altar upon which the Eucharist had just been offered.
It is my prayer that the worship of Christ may form the heart and meaning of your parish communities, and that in the fullness of time, all may be one in him.
1) Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, number 1.
2) See Sacrosanctum Concilium, number 7.
3) Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, number 6, citing Mysterium Fidei, number 55.
4) See Sacrosanctum Concilium, number 14.5) Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, number 95.
6) Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, number 82.