Vol. XV, No. 7
Eucharistic Adoration – Encountering the Mysteries
by Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap.
Over the last decade or so there has been a renewed and ongoing growth in the practice of eucharistic adoration, that is, the practice of displaying the reserved sacrament for public worship. This has been especially the case within parishes, even to the point of instituting perpetual adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Eucharistic adoration is also becoming more common within the monasteries and friaries of male religious. Other than the monasteries of cloistered nuns whose vocation entails the adoration of the Eucharist, this trend is less evident within many of the convents of other orders of women religious. This is not the case among the newer and more forward-looking orders of women religious. What may not have kept pace with the renewed practice of eucharistic adoration is a revitalized theology of eucharistic adoration that would deepen and assist in fostering this authentic renewal. This essay is an attempt to contribute, in a small way, to a renewed theology of eucharistic adoration.
Eucharistic Adoration: Encountering the Real Presence of Jesus
Eucharistic adoration is doctrinally founded upon the belief that Jesus, the risen Lord and Savior, is truly present in the Eucharist — body, blood, soul and divinity. Within the Mass, the Host, upon which we now gaze in adoration, was transformed into the reality of the risen Jesus.
Without this belief in the doctrinal truth of transubstantiation, that the substance of the bread (and wine) has been changed into the substance and reality of the risen Lord Jesus, eucharistic adoration would be idolatry. Given the truth of the doctrine of transubstantiation, eucharistic adoration expresses a proper, holy and loving form of Christian piety, for we give praise, honor and glory to Jesus here present in our midst.
However, while we adore Jesus in the Eucharist, we may not always fully appreciate the doctrinal and theological implications of our adoration.
It is precisely because Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist that all of the mysteries that accrue to Him are also equally present. It is these mysteries, embedded within eucharistic adoration, that provide a spiritual depth and cultivate an even more robust form of eucharistic worship. When we adore Jesus in the Eucharist we are encountering not only the mystery of His eucharistic presence, but also the mysteries of His divinity, His incarnation, His public life, His death on the cross, His resurrection and ascension into heaven, His pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, His headship over His mystical body, the Church, and finally His Second Coming at the end of time.
How is this so? To answer this question we need to examine these mysteries within the context of Jesus’ eucharistic presence.
Eucharistic Adoration: Encountering the Son of God
The Jesus we adore in the Eucharist is the eternal Son of God, who is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten and not made, consubstantial [of the same substance or being] with the Father.”
Our eucharistic worship is founded upon the truth of Jesus’ divinity. It is Jesus’ divine presence in the Eucharist that demands and necessitates our worship of Him. We adore, praise and honor Him within the Eucharist because we believe that the One before us is truly the eternal Son of the Father. Thus, within our eucharistic adoration we encounter the divine Son and so are united to Him in our adoration of Him.
Moreover, in encountering the Son of God within our eucharistic adoration we likewise encounter the Father and the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus, as Son, is consubstantial with the Father, to encounter Him is to encounter the Father as well. “He who has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:9 & 11). “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). To encounter the Father and the Son within the Eucharist is to encounter the Holy Spirit who proceeds from both as their mutual and reciprocal love.
Our eucharistic adoration of Jesus gives us entrance, then, into the very mystery of the Trinity where we experience not only the divine presence of the Son, but the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (see II Cor 13:14). We are expressing and experiencing, in our eucharistic adoration, the reality of our baptism — that we were baptized into and so presently live within the triune life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (see Mt 28:19).
Eucharist Adoration: Encountering the Incarnation
Within our eucharistic adoration, however, we are not encountering the Son of God separated from His humanity. It is the incarnate Son of the Father whom we worship and adore. The Son of God became man and dwelt among us (see Jn 1:14). We are able to worship the Son of God within the Eucharist only because He first was present to us as man. His incarnational earthly presence is the prerequisite foundation of His eucharistic heavenly presence, and so it is the incarnate Jesus we still encounter in our adoration.
As the Son of God humbled Himself, not grasping after His divinity, but assuming the form of a servant and being born in our likeness so as to be present to us, so the Son of God incarnate continually humbly makes Himself present to us in the Eucharist (see Phil 2:6-7). Saint Francis and Saint Clare, and all of the saints, grasped that though He was rich in His divinity, the Son of God became poor in our humanity that we might share in the riches of His divinity (see II Cor 8:9).
In the Eucharist, the Son of God still becomes poor for us, and when we adore Him in the Eucharist, we come to share in the riches of His divinity. Men and women professed their faith in Jesus as the Father’s only Son while He was on earth — one whom they could see, hear and touch. Today we follow our faith-filled ancestors expressing our faith in Him who is present to us in the Eucharist — the One whom we can still see, hear and touch (see I Jn 1:1-3). With Saint Peter we profess that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
Eucharistic Adoration: Encountering the Public Life of Jesus
Encountering the incarnate Son of God within our eucharistic adoration means that we also encounter Jesus in His public life. In His public ministry Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of salvation. He taught and instructed the people, for example, through His Sermon on the Mount. Through His human words and human deeds He revealed that He was truly the Son of the Father.
Through His humanity Jesus manifested His divine love, mercy and compassion. He was the shepherd who had pity upon His sheep. He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, forgave sinners, miraculously fed the hungry, etc. When we adore Him in the Eucharist, we are still encountering Jesus in all these facets of His public earthly ministry as He speaks and acts from His glorious heavenly throne.
Thus, when we come before Jesus eucharistically present, we encounter the Jesus who wishes to instruct us in the ways of the Gospel. He continues to reveal himself to us as our Savior and Lord. He continues to teach us how we are to live as priests and religious, as married couples and parents, as children and young adults, as grandparents, as widows and widowers, and as single people serving His kingdom. He hears our petitions and answers our pleas just as He did during His earthly existence. He pours out His compassion and mercy upon us. He continues to heal the sick, to bind up the broken-hearted, to forgive sinners and to nourish those who hunger for Him.
In our eucharistic prayers of repentance and acts of faith, Jesus, as He did of old, fosters our virtuous life and nurtures our holiness. In our Eucharist adoration Jesus continues to be our Good Shepherd who has pity on us and leads us, in His Spirit of love, to our heavenly Father. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6).
Eucharistic Adoration: Encountering the Cross
In the Mass we unite ourselves to the one sacrifice of Jesus, the offering of Himself to the Father on our behalf. In our eucharistic adoration we continue to unite ourselves to that saving sacrifice. We acknowledge that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us (see Jn 10:11). We thank and praise Jesus for dying on our behalf, for us who continue to be sinners and so still in need of His forgiveness. We express our gratitude for freeing us from our guilt, embarrassment and shame and so reconciling us to the Father. We revere Him as our one Savior and only Redeemer. In His name alone do we obtain salvation (see Acts 4:12). We pour out our love for Him for He loved us to the end — humbly being obedient to the Father even unto death, death on the cross (see Phil 2:8).
When we come before our crucified Savior in the Eucharist He continues to pour forth from His pierced heart His cleansing blood, the blood of the New Covenant, and the living water of the Holy Spirit (see Jn 19:34). Through our worship, we place ourselves within the very human heart of our crucified Savior so as to experience, in the Holy Spirit, the divine love of the Father. Thus, in our eucharistic adoration, we encounter the saving cross of Jesus, and in so doing our love for Him is renewed, deepens and grows. In each church that Saint Francis entered he would pray: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, here and in every church throughout the world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world”.
When we encounter our crucified Lord in the Eucharist, we also bring before Him our own trials and sufferings, the concerns of our family and friends, the needs of the Church and of the world. We especially place before Him our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world who are suffering and dying for the sake of the Gospel.
In our eucharistic contemplation we continually unite ourselves to the cross of Jesus so that, together with Him, we offer ourselves to the Father, in the love of the Spirit, for the salvation of all. We complete in our own flesh “what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). It is, then, in our eucharistic worship that we conform ourselves, as did all of the saints, to the crucified Jesus, willing to die to sin so as to live sacrificial lives of holiness. Our eucharistic prayer becomes then a sacrifice of praise — an offering of praise to Jesus for all that He has done for us. Such a eucharistic sacrifice of praise gives rise to heartfelt joy and inner peace for we have become one with Him who has conquered all evil — sin and death itself.
Eucharistic Adoration: Encountering the Resurrection
While we adore Jesus who died for us, we adore Him presently as the risen Lord of glory. We adore Him as the one who has ascended into heaven and now reigns at the right hand of His Father as the Lord of lords and the King of kings. On the cross the Son, as man, died and shed His blood and it is now the Son of God in His risen humanity — with His risen body and blood — whom we receive in Communion, and it is the Son of God in His risen humanity — with His risen body and blood — that we adore and worship in the Eucharist.
In our eucharistic worship we encounter and so enter into the risen life of Jesus. We are assured that even though we may suffer many trials, burdens and even death, we will rise, for we have partaken of the risen Lord whom we now worship in this reserved sacrament. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54). Already our life is hidden with Christ in God, and to this heavenly realm, with all of the saints and angels, we raise our hearts and minds when we come before Jesus (see Col 3:3,4).
In contemplating the risen Lord Jesus, we do so as members of His Mystical Body, the Church. At Pentecost, Jesus, the Lord of life, sent forth His Spirit of life and so gave birth to the Church for which He died. Through our faith and baptism we too have received this Spirit of life and so become members of that Church. As living stones, with Christ as the corner stone, we are being built up, through our eucharistic adoration, into a Spirit-filled temple in which we give praise and honor to the Father (see I Pt 2:4-5). In the unity of the Spirit with Christ our head, we are entering more deeply into the very mystery of His Body of which we are all living members.
This means that to worship and adore Jesus as head of the Body of which we are all brothers and sisters, we are also, in a real sense, extending honor to our brothers and sisters in Christ, those in heaven, those in purgatory and those on earth — the totus Christus, the whole Christ. We are rejoicing in Him and in one another — who are His brothers and sisters. This is a marvelous mystery, one filled with wonder and awe.
Eucharistic Adoration: Encountering Jesus’ Return in Glory
In contemplating the crucified and risen Jesus in the Eucharist we are anticipating His coming in glory. His presence in the Eucharist is a foreshadowing of His coming at the end of time. Now we worship the One whom we see through the eyes of faith, as in a glass darkly, when He comes again in glory, we will adore Him whom we see face-to-face. In contemplating in all His brilliance, glory, power and might the risen Lamb who was slain we ourselves will be transformed and transfigured completely into His own risen image — a likeness that we progressively assumed through our eucharistic communion and in our eucharistic adoration. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn 3:2).
While our present earthly eucharistic liturgy is a foreshadowing of the heavenly liturgy, when Jesus comes in glory, the heavenly temple will become a full reality and we will worship Jesus in the heavenly Jerusalem. Here the Body of Christ finds its full maturity in the Spirit and, in that Spirit of love, will experience fully, in Christ, the love of the Father. Moreover, we will love and rejoice in one another as Christ has loved us.
Through and in our adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist we foster our longing, expectancy, anticipation and desire for Jesus to return in glory. We await anxiously the day when every tear will be wiped away, when justice and truth shall kiss, when Satan and all of his cohorts will be forever vanquished and death will eternally lose its sting.
In contemplating Jesus we grow in our earnest yearning for our own resurrection so that we can live forever in the heavenly courts of the Lord, the New Jerusalem and celestial household of God, with our royal, holy and priestly brothers and sisters (see I Pt 2:4-10).
Above all, we look to the day when Jesus will finally receive all of the glory, praise, honor and adoration that He rightly and properly deserved and never fully received in the long course of the world’s history. For at His coming in glory, all men and women, of every nation, race, and people, of all cultures and epochs, some in fear and trembling and others with hearts full of the Spirit’s love and gratitude, will proclaim in unison on bended knee that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:11). On this day our present eucharistic adoration will find its everlasting realization and jubilant fulfillment.
Adoration Deepens Love for the Sacramental Presence of Jesus
By way of conclusion, I would merely like to make four points. First, I have attempted to provide the biblical and doctrinal basis for the various mysteries that form part of our eucharistic adoration. Each of the mysteries I have treated could easily be scripturally expanded and doctrinally developed. Nonetheless, I think I have provided the theological foundation from which this further advance can begin.
Second, while I have presented many mysteries that accrue to Jesus and so form part of our eucharistic adoration, there are other mysteries that I have not treated, such as Jesus’ role in the act of creation and His providential governance of the world.
Third, it is not possible, nor even desirable, to focus on all of the mysteries of Jesus in each individual period of eucharistic adoration. I would recommend, in our contemplation of Jesus in the Eucharist, that we concentrate on one or two, and maybe the same ones over a period of time. This will allow us to deepen our understanding and love for these mysteries, as well as foster our appreciation of the other mysteries as well.
Lastly, our adoration of the Eucharist will deepen our love for the Mass and for receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Moreover, it will deepen our appreciation of the sacraments we have already received — baptism, confirmation, marriage and ordination — for we will strive to live out more fully these sacraments in our daily lives. Such adoration of the Eucharist will also intensify our repentance and so our indebtedness to the Sacrament of Penance.
As we grow in our love for the Eucharist, we are preparing ourselves for receiving Him when we are seriously ill within the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and so readying ourselves for our final reception of Jesus in viaticum — this last reception is but the prelude to our full reception of Jesus when we enter into His heavenly glory.
Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., is Executive Director for the Secretariat for Doctrine, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.