Vatican tries to revive eucharistic adoration

For seven centuries, eucharistic adoration—praying before an exposed
consecrated communion host—was one of the most popular forms of devotion
in the Roman Catholic Church, the focus of beloved prayers and hymns
and a distinctive symbol of Catholic identity.

Following the
modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the
practice fell from favor, especially in Europe and the U.S. But over the
last decade, under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the church has
strongly encouraged a revival of the practice.

"No one eat this
flesh, if he has not adored it before; for we sin if we do not adore,"
Benedict said, quoting St. Augus­tine in a 2009 speech at the Vatican.

June, the Salesian Pontifical Univer­sity in Rome hosted an academic
conference on eucharistic adoration at which the speakers, including six
prominent cardinals, focused on the rediscovery of the practice.

some theologians object to adoration as outdated and unnecessary,
warning that it can lead to misunderstandings and undo decades of
progress in educating lay Catholics on the meaning of the sacrament.

adoration by the laity originated in the 13th century as a substitute
for receiving communion at mass, said Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, dean of
the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University
of America.

At the same time, he said, the church often encouraged
a believer's sense of "personal unworthiness" to receive the
sacrament—which Catholics believe to be the body of Christ—so many
resorted to so-called ocular communion instead.

adoration was also used as a teaching tool to reaffirm the doctrine of
the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist, said Richard P. McBrien,
a noted theologian at the University of Notre Dame. For instance,
McBrien said, devotion grew during the 16th- and 17th-century
Counter-Reformation, in re­sponse to the arguments of some Prot­estant
Reformers that the Eucharist was merely a symbol, not the actual body of

In the days when priests celebrated mass in Latin with
minimal participation by the congregation, the hymns and prayers
associated with adoration gave lay Catholics an opportunity for public
worship, Irwin said.

Liturgical reforms after Vatican II greatly
increased the laity's participation at mass, which Irwin said satisfied
the "felt need for participation in public prayer." Irwin called that an
"underlying reason" for the practice's decline.

In 2005,
according to Vatican statistics, there were about 2,500 chapels around
the world—including 1,100 in the U.S.—that offered so-called perpetual
round-the-clock adoration.

Irwin also noted adoration's appeal to a
growing number of divorced and remarried Catholics, who are forbidden
to receive communion but may participate in adoration. In addition,
parishes that lack full-time priests are able to offer adoration as a
form of communal worship in lieu of mass.

McBrien acknowledged
that some Catholics find adoration "spiritually en­riching," but many
liturgists, he said, see it as a "step back into the Middle Ages."

to McBrien, adoration distorts the meaning of the Eucharist: "It erodes
the communal aspect, and it erodes the fact that the Eucharist is a
meal. Holy Communion is something to be eaten, not to be adored." For
that reason, McBrien said, the practice should be "tolerated but not
encouraged." —RNS

Francis X. Rocca

Francis X. Rocca writes for Religion News Service.

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