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Adoration is the answer

Charles Rice | Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Elsewhere, this is Easter Week. At Notre Dame it appears to be The Week of the Vagina Monologues. To the reader’s relief, this column will defer discussion of that production. Instead, we suggest a better way to spend your time these next few days and beyond.

One impact of the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a dramatic rise in the practice of Eucharistic Adoration in parishes and other venues throughout the world, including Notre Dame. What is it? And why is it such a big deal?

The Eucharist was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, fulfilling the promise he made as recorded in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. “In the … Eucharist, the body and blood, … soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained. This presence is called ‘real,’… not … to exclude the other types of presence … but because it is presence in the fullest sense … it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (Catechism, no. 1374) This is called transubstantiation because the substance of the bread and wine changes while the appearances remain the same. The distinction between substance and appearance is familiar. When the angel appeared to the women at the tomb on Easter, his appearance was that of a man but his substance was that of an angel. Mark 16:1-8.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is possible whenever the consecrated hosts are reserved in the tabernacle, as indicated by the lighted lamp near the tabernacle. The term, Eucharistic Adoration, however, commonly refers to adoration when the Sacrament is exposed to view on the altar. Such exposition is available at Notre Dame, in the Basilica on Friday from noon to 5 p.m., with Benediction at 4:45 p.m., in the Coleman-Morse chapel Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., with Benediction daily at 8:45 p.m. and at various times in some residence halls.

In his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love) (2007), Benedict XVI stresses “the inherent relationship between Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament …. The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. Indeed, ‘only in adoration can a profound and genuine reception mature. And it is precisely this personal encounter with the Lord that then strengthens the social mission contained in the Eucharist, which seeks to break down not only the walls that separate the Lord and ourselves, but also and especially the walls that separate us from one another’.” No. 66.”

Adoration of the Eucharist, therefore, is not some kind of sterile, self-centered devotion. Rather, it has a social impact. “[T]he sacrifice of Christ is for all,” Benedict said, “and … the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become ‘bread that is broken’ for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world … The union with Christ brought about by the Eucharist also brings a newness to our social relations [and] is social in character.”

Notre Dame emphasizes the importance of service to others. Benedict notes the role of Christ in the Eucharist as a motivator of such service and concern: “We cannot remain passive before certain processes of globalization which … increase the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide. We must denounce those who squander the earth’s riches, provoking inequalities that cry out to heaven (cf. Jas. 5:4)… The Lord Jesus, the bread of eternal life, spurs us to be mindful of the situations of extreme poverty in which a great part of humanity still lives: these are situations for which human beings bear a clear and disquieting responsibility.” SC, Nos. 88-90.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke often of Eucharistic Adoration as a source of power. “When the Sisters are exhausted, up to their eyes in work, when all seems to go awry,” she said, “they spend an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This practice has never failed to bear fruit: they experience peace and strength.” Mother Teresa was asked, “What will convert America and save the world?” She replied, “My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.”

When he was ordained a priest, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen promised that he would spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament every day. He kept that promise and described the “holy hour” as not merely a devotion but “a sharing in the work of redemption. He [Jesus] asked for an hour of reparation to combat the hour of evil; an hour of victimal union with the cross to overcome the anti-love of sin.”

So adoration of the Eucharist is a very big deal. But no one can cram it down your throat. We are free to accept it or reject it. If you are not convinced that is it true, it might still be worth a visit to check it out. There is no set formula. You don’t have to contact anybody. Just show up. Stay for as long or as short a time as you wish. You can pray, read or just think. If you fall asleep, don’t worry about it. Archbishop Sheen recounts the time in a church in Paris when he knelt down, promptly fell asleep and “woke up exactly at the end of one hour.” He wondered if he had made his promised Hour until he realized “that’s the way the Apostles made their first Holy Hour in the Garden.”

If you want to do something real for Notre Dame and for yourself, don’t waste your time on anything like the Vagina Monologues. Go instead to spend some time with the person who himself really is Truth. And Love.

Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the law school faculty. He may be reached at 633-4415 or at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.