I'm going to start with the second, or Vatican Council II. One of the many problems tackled by the Vatican Council was how to work for Christian unity, or how to heal the divisions in the church that Jesus established. This included the division between the east and west, the Catholic and the Orthodox that goes back over a thousand years and the more recent division between Catholic, Protestant and other religions that call themselves Christian.
In the Council's decree on ecumenism, the council tried to get Catholics to see how much we have in common with other Christian churches, to emphasize the beliefs we agree on rather than to concentrate exclusively on our differences in belief and practice. This was a good idea, but I think an unforeseen problem developed. With the effort to see what we believe together, there arose a tendency to water down Catholic beliefs, to dilute Catholic dogmas, to overlook differences, to pretend that they were not there in order to look friendly, more acceptable to non-Catholic Christians. The result, as many of us know was lukewarm Catholics. Catholics were saying things like: "it doesn't make any difference what you believe as long as you're sincere" or "as long as it makes you feel good".
Some Catholics, seduced by self-declared theologians began to hold that there are no absolute truths. There's no right or wrong, black or white. Everything is gray. It can be anything you want it to be. Incidentally, when I refer to Catholics, I am not restricting it to just laity. With such an approach, that of `no-restrictions, no-obligation invitation', we should have expected to see a great flow of other Christians into the Catholic Church.
We did not see any such flow, but we did see a tremendous flow of Catholics out of the ranks of truly believing and practicing Catholics. We saw the tragic drop in Sunday Mass attendance, from over 75% to less than 25%. Something went drastically wrong.
It's still good for us Catholics to know what beliefs we hold to in common with other Christians, but now, it has become more urgent that we Catholics know how we are different; to recognize the treasures of faith that we have; treasures rejected or abandoned by other Christians. Today, we will concentrate on the principal Catholic belief that makes us Catholics different – different from the great majority of other Christians. That, of course, is our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
We Catholics are different because we take Jesus Christ at His word. We believe that Jesus gave us His own body and blood in the special sacrament we call the Holy Eucharist. We Catholics actually believe that Jesus is really present in this sacrament! For us Catholics, the Holy Eucharist is not just a symbol. It is not just a memory. It is not just a promise. It is really Jesus Christ. The Holy Eucharist is not some ‘thing’. It is some ‘one’. It is Jesus, our Lord and our God. This is what we mean by the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is why we call the Holy Eucharist "the Blessed Sacrament".
All the sacraments are blessed! All the sacraments give us the grace of Jesus but this sacrament gives us Jesus himself. This is what we Catholics believe.
Why do we believe this? Not because some theologians say so, not even because the Church says so. We believe this for only one reason, because Jesus Christ says so, and we believe Him.
Many who try to follow Jesus do not believe this, as we Catholics do. This fact should not surprise us any. Jesus had the same problem with some of His own disciples. When Jesus first told His own followers that He would give His body and blood as food and drink as spiritual nourishment for the soul, many of His followers – His disciples – would not accept that. They could not believe Him, so they left Him. Jesus did not try to call them back. He didn't say, "Now, wait a minute! You misunderstood me! I was only talking symbolically". No! He let them go. If they could not believe Him, they could not be His disciples. It was that simple.
Then Jesus asked His apostles if they wanted to leave Him too. He was ready to let His apostles go also. We know that Peter, speaking for the group said, "Lord, to whom should we go? We know that you only, have the words of eternal life".
The apostles took Jesus at His word, and we do too.
This sacrament of the Holy Eucharist comes to us through the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass. This is evident because the Mass is the renewal of Jesus' death on the cross. In this sacrifice He gave up His human life, His physical body and blood, for our salvation. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the sacrament and sacrifice.
It was the night before He died. Jesus knew that He soon had to leave His friends. Friends He loved so much. He wanted to leave them something to remember Him by, but He did much better than that, He left Himself.
At the Last Supper, Jesus was looking ahead to the next day when He would die on the cross. This is why He said, "This is my body, which will be given up for you. This is my blood, which will be shed for you". Then He commanded "Do this in memory of me". We fulfill that command every day. As Jesus at the Last Supper was looking ahead to Calvary, so we in the sacrifice of the Mass, look back to Calvary.
This is why St. Paul could say: "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord". It's the same sacrifice on the cross and in the Mass –the same sacrifice.
Jesus chose this very special way to remain here with us. It was not just an empty promise when Jesus said, "I will be with you all days, even to the end of the world". He meant that! Jesus remains here with us today in the Mass as our Savior, in Holy Communion, as our spiritual food and in our tabernacle as our friend. Jesus died on the cross to give us this sacrament of His presence among us. This is the sacrament of Jesus' love for us.
I like the way Blessed Mother Teresa put it. She said, "When we look at the cross, we know how much Jesus loved us. When we look at the tabernacle, we know how much Jesus loves us now".
Some Catholics think, that we can share in the Eucharist and gain grace from the Eucharist only in the Mass by receiving Holy Communion. This idea limits the power and the love of Jesus too much. Certainly participation in the sacrifice of the Mass and receiving Holy Communion is the most powerful source of grace for us, but it is not the only source of Eucharistic grace. After the sacrifice is completed, the sacrament continues on. Jesus, in His sacramental body and blood remains here with us as our friend, just as He promised. This is why Eucharistic Adoration is so important.
This is why we should visit our friend, Jesus, in the Blessed Sacrament, to return His love for us and to draw spiritual strength and nourishment and encouragement from that love.
Unfortunately, there are many in the Church today who do not see the need or the value of Eucharistic Adoration. Some even oppose it, claiming that adoration of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist is out of date in today's modern church
That's why it is so important for us today to realize that Eucharistic Adoration is very much in accord with the teachings of the Church, and especially of Vatican II.
One of the main points of Vatican II was to emphasize the importance of the Eucharistic liturgy in the worship of God and in the development of our own personal spiritual life. The Vatican council strongly advised us that the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, should be the principal expression of our faith, and that all other devotions should spring from the Mass and leads us back to the Mass. Eucharistic Adoration does exactly that.
All experience shows that private prayer and adoration of our Lord in the Eucharist causes more frequent and more intense participation in the Mass.
Despite this teaching of Vatican II, about the Holy Eucharist, almost immediately after the Council, we began to see a steady tragic decline in respect for the Holy Eucharist. In some cases, the Mass seemed to be transformed from the worship of God to the entertainment of the people, then, to the worship of each other.
Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament diminished. Genuflections expressing our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus almost disappeared. Prayerful silence in our churches gave way to socializing.
For many, the church became a social hall instead of a sacred place for prayer and worship. The sacrifice of the Mass was often used as a vehicle for political statements. Eucharistic devotions were ridiculed as "old church", and almost disappeared from the Catholic scene. Today we have a generation or two of young Catholics who have never even seen benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Any document of Vatican II or any statement of the Church directed none of this decline. It's contrary to the faith and practice of the Church. This is why Pope John Paul has led the counterattack to restore the Holy Eucharist to its rightful place in the worship and spiritual life of the Church.
Every year of his pontificate, Pope John Paul has written a pastoral letter about the Holy Eucharist to all the bishops and priests of the church. In these letters, the Holy Father demanded a stop to the abuses being committed against the Blessed Sacrament. He pleaded for a return to the reverence and traditions of the past, especially for the adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Father reinforced his words with action. In 1991, Pope John Paul began perpetual adoration of the Eucharist in St. Peter Basilica in Rome.
In 1991, the Holy Father approved the canonical establishment of the lay association for perpetual Eucharistic adoration to promote adoration in every Catholic parish throughout the world. This is the lay association that I work for. Shortly after the Air Force retired me, this lay group recruited me and for the past twelve years they have been sending me to parishes all over our country to promote Eucharistic Adoration.
Listen to what the Holy Father says. Pope John Paul says this: "The Church and the world have a great need of Eucharistic worship". Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration. Notice how the Holy Father is asking you to be generous with your time. He is not asking for your money but something much more precious – your time.
A few years ago at the International Eucharistic Congress in Spain, the Holy Father in his remarks at the opening of the Congress said – first, he thanked all the parishes and people who had promoted adoration of the Eucharist in preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress. Then he prayed that such perpetual exposition and adoration of the Eucharist would be established in every Catholic Church throughout the world.
There is no question or doubt about where Pope John Paul stands with regard to adoration of the Holy Eucharist.
During these past twelve years I've been in parishes all over our country and beyond preaching on Eucharistic Adoration, often helping parishes start a program or helping them give a boost to a program already established. I've learned a lot. I've learned, particularly, of the great benefits from the people who participate in Eucharistic Adoration. They tell me what it's done for themselves and their families.
I've learned from pastors, too, about the growth of spirit and spiritual life in their parishes. They've told me about the increase in attendance at Mass on Sundays and weekdays, stronger marriages and happier families, and about the increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. One pastor told me that since his parish began perpetual Eucharistic adoration, his Sunday and weekday Mass attendance has doubled and the Sunday collection has tripled!
Of course I've also heard some objections to Eucharistic adoration. Some complain that Eucharistic adoration is too private, too personal and even too quiet. This complaint seems to be based on the idea that our worship of God must always, always be a community exercise. It must always involve a lot of people, with much activity and maybe even lots of noise. Prayer does not always have to be that way. Jesus himself showed us that. Look at the examples in the life of Jesus. Throughout His life as a good, practicing Jew, Jesus faithfully participated in the public worship of God by attending the services in the temple at Jerusalem, or in the local synagogues.
Just as we assist at Sunday Mass, we are following the good example of Jesus, but Jesus also frequently went off by himself to pray – in the desert, up on the mountains, to be alone with his Father, to communicate with his Father privately to pray quietly, to worship, to thank, to ask for help and strength, especially before major events and decisions in His life. Jesus prayed in private for forty days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. Again, before he chose the twelve apostles, from among his disciples, Jesus spent the whole night in private prayer. The night before he died, Jesus prayed alone to his Father asking for the strength to bear the suffering that He knew that was coming to Him the next day. We should follow this example of Jesus also.
Another problem we often hear is the lack of time, especially with so much work to do for God and His people. Some ask, "Can we really justify the luxury of spending time in private prayer? Wouldn't it be better to spend that time, say, visiting the sick"? To answer that question, let me turn again to Blessed Mother Teresa. You can see I'm a great fan of Blessed Mother Teresa, but then who isn't? The whole world knows that Blessed Mother Teresa's sisters devote their lives to seeking out and caring for the most helpless and abandoned of the poor, the sick and the homeless. Most of the world knows and admires the work of Mother Teresa's sisters, but I doubt that many know about the prayer life of their community.
Each day, before they go out into the streets to find the sick and the dying, Blessed Mother Teresa's sisters spend two to three hours in prayer, assisting at Mass and in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Once a well-meaning critic asked Blessed Mother Teresa how she could justify her sisters' spending so much time in private prayer instead of using that time to serve the sick and the poor. Blessed Mother Teresa replied, "If my sisters did not spend so much time in prayer, they could not serve the sick and the poor at all". Their prayer before the Holy Eucharist is the source of the strength and all that is needed to carry out their extremely difficult apostolate.
The love of God must be expressed and strengthened so that love of neighbor might flow from it.
One time when Blessed Mother Teresa was visiting in our country, a group of American women asked her what they could do to help her in her work. Blessed Mother Teresa replied, "The greatest help they could give her would be to spend one hour each week in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament". That is good advice for us too.
Sometimes those who object to Eucharistic adoration complain that adoration is too much "Jesus and I". They charge that adoration intends to be selfish, turning our thoughts and attention inward instead of reaching out to others. Again, an obvious response is to look at Blessed Mother Teresa's sisters and just to mention the time they spend in private prayer and adoration. I doubt that anyone can match their concern for their neighbor, especially for the most desperate of the abandoned. Who would dare to call their work selfish? Any pastor who has Eucharistic Adoration in his parish will testify that the regular adorers are among the most active members of his parish. From my own experience, preaching in many parishes, I know that active adorers are very often, also the most active pro-lifers in the parish. If we could get adoration going in every Catholic parish, perhaps we could at least get Catholics out of the business of killing babies.
In 1996, Pope John Paul wrote a letter commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Forty Hours devotion. He wrote this: "Closeness to the Eucharistic Christ in silence and contemplation does not distance us from our contemporaries but on the contrary, it makes us open to human joy and distress, broadening our hearts on a global scale. Anyone who prays to the Eucharistic Savior draws the whole world with him and raises it to God". Obviously, there is nothing selfish about Eucharistic Adoration.
Some of the mistakes about Adoration and all other personal devotions and private prayer, I think, are rooted in a misreading and misunderstanding of Vatican II.
One of the main thrusts of Vatican II was its emphasis on the social nature of man, and consequently of the church. Man is a social being. He lives in a community – the family, parish, city, nation, and world. The church, too, is social. In the "Constitution of the Church in the Modern World", Vatican II declared that the role of the church is not to oppose the world, not to conquer the world but to work with the world to improve it. Carrying this social concept into the realm of worship, Vatican II issued the Constitution on the Liturgy, emphasizing the social and community nature of the worship of God.
This document with the subsequent decrees implementing it directed the changes, which were probably the most visible results of Vatican II, had the greatest impact on the everyday Catholic. These changes were all aimed at a greater understanding and participation in the liturgy by the faithful. Community participation has always been the ideal but it was not easily accomplished. Despite the difficulties in the early days after Vatican II, I think we can say that now, the social nature of the worship of God and community participation in the liturgy is generally acceptable.
With participation in the liturgy and the emphasis on the Mass as community worship, a new problem has arisen, an unfortunate side effect. Some Catholics now have the idea that there is no longer any need for personal, private prayer. Even at non-liturgical devotions such as the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Novenas, and Benediction, that all these are now obsolete. Some even go so far as to say that such devotions are discouraged and even forbidden by Vatican II and that's utter nonsense.
There is nothing in Vatican II that supports any of these ideas. In fact, the Council said just the opposite. In the Constitution on the Liturgy, the Council says: "The spiritual life is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren but he must also pray to the Father in private". Long before Vatican II, we had the words and example of Jesus himself attesting to this need. Jesus constantly exhorted his followers to pray. As I mentioned earlier, He often went off by Himself in the desert or up on the mountain to pray. We always have a need for personal communication with God.
No matter how much community prayer we have, no matter how good the participation is, we all still need personal communication with God, which can be achieved only through personal prayer. Personal prayer is needed for its own sake as well as for the sake of liturgical community worship. Community worship depends on personal prayer. Trying to build community prayer without personal prayer is like trying to build a brick church without the individual bricks. Proper participation of liturgical worship (community prayer) can be achieved only by a soul prepared and energized by personal devotion and private prayer.
Those who habitually criticize the past and old ways often charge that Catholics at Mass concentrated on externals. But too often today, participation in the sacrifice of the Mass is just that, concentration on externals – music, banners, symbols, and novelties with no apparent realization of the great mystery and sacrifice being re-enacted at the altar. That realization only comes with personal prayer and meditation.
External worship, no matter how beautiful, is hollow, if not animated by internal worship. That's why community prayer needs and depends on personal prayer.
Personal prayer is needed for its own sake, also. It is true that man is a social being. He must live and worship as a member of the community, but first, as an individual. There are certain activities of his life that man must do himself, for himself. I think there is an apt analogy between the physical life of man and his spiritual life, between the needs of his body and the needs of his soul. The human body needs food, air and rest to remain alive. Each human being, to maintain normal human life has to supply these needs himself. No one can eat, breathe or sleep for you. You've got to do it yourself! Without the proper physical nourishment of food, air and rest, no man or woman can carry on physical activity and growth. The undernourished individual cannot fulfill his role in the community as a social being.
The same thing applies to the spiritual life. The soul needs the spiritual food of the Eucharist, the spiritual rest of meditation and the spiritual air of prayer. Without this proper spiritual nourishment the human soul cannot mature and flourish spiritually as an individual and consequently cannot fulfill his role in worshipping God as a member of the community. The individual can go through the motions of public prayers, singing, standing and kneeling, but it is only external worship. Missing is internal worship which results only from personal communication with God. Just as air is essential to physical life, so prayer is essential to spiritual life. When you stop breathing, you are dead physically. When you stop praying, you are dead spiritually.
Some of you might be wondering why I'm making such a big issue of this, why I think it is so important to be talking on this subject now. After all, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has been the heart of our Catholic faith, devotion and worship from the very beginning of Christianity. But, we all know also, the current symptoms in the church tell us it's time again to do some serious thinking about this farewell gift that Jesus gave to us. We're all familiar with the surveys conducted a few years ago that seem to lead to the conclusion that only about twenty-seven percent, I think it was, twenty-seven percent of Catholics believe in the Real Presence as the Church teaches it.
Personally, I think that the observers interpreted the result of that survey a little bit wrong. I don't think that it was only twenty-seven percent believed; it might have been only twenty-seven percent knew the teaching of the Church. That's our big problem, a case of simple lack of knowledge. Most of these Catholics just do not know what they believe, or what they as, Catholics should believe. They simply have not been taught the Catholic faith. Look at the condition of Catholic education for the past thirty-five years.
Fortunately the Catholic bishops have finally realized that it is a disaster. Most a few years ago, the Archbishop who headed the commission on education publicly declared that the Catholic religious education is a shambles and had been that way for at least thirty years. The result is two or three generations of young Catholics who know virtually nothing about their faith. They do not know what they believe or why they believe. The older generations have heard very little to reinforce what they have learned in their youth. Obviously, we have a lot of re-educating to do.
One final area must be considered. Spending time with Jesus in adoration should not strike us as unusual. It is really a very natural human activity. When two people love each other, they want to spend time together to visit, to get to know each other better. You cannot love someone you do not know. Adoration of our Lord in the Eucharist is your chance to know Jesus better.
One of the best aspects of Eucharistic adoration is this: how you spend your time with Jesus is entirely up to you. There is no one preaching to you, reading to you, telling you when to stand, sit, kneel, sing this or whatever. You are on your own. In most adoration chapels there are books available, some holy hour books, to help you get started if you need them. Most of us do at times but you're basically on your own. You spend your time with Jesus any way you want. You can pray your Rosary, you can read your Bible, or you can do some other spiritual reading. But I always say: remember, you are there to visit with your friend, Jesus.
Talk with Him; tell Him your problems, your needs or your concerns. Tell Him about your joys, too. Chances are He doesn't hear about those very often! Sometimes I think all Jesus hears from a lot of us is the complaints and the "gimmes". Lord, gimme this and Lord gimme that. But most important, is to stop and listen, let Jesus do some of the talking. He's been waiting for a chance to visit with you, but your life is so busy with work, family and school, your line is always busy. Jesus can't get through to you. It's time to give yourself a break. Take a little time out for a private visit with your best friend, Jesus. The whole purpose of our human existence is to live forever with the Blessed Trinity in heaven, to enjoy forever, the victory of Jesus over sin and death. We get a foretaste of that eternal happiness and peace when we visit and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
This is why thousands of people from all across our country will testify that one hour each week with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most peaceful, the most satisfying hour of their whole week.
So finally we go back to our subject entitled: "Why Eucharistic Adoration"? Why should you spend time visiting with Jesus in the Eucharist, simply because Jesus himself, your best friend, invites you. He said it so warmly, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened. Come to me and I will refresh you". Who could refuse such an invitation from your very best friend? God Bless You.
Copyright © 2003 by Fr. Robert Goedert, O.P.