The Truth about Eucharistic Adoration
August is the month of the Eucharist, and I have noticed an increase of materials on that topic in our parish vestibule. One printed item features the headline, “What Has Happened to My Devotion?”. The article proceeds to explain favorably the new community-centric experience of Christ that has replaced Eucharistic adoration.
A Sound Parish
In my parish, I can take this sort of thing with a grain of salt. As I read this “Catholic Update” leaflet, written in 1992 by Thomas Richstatter, OFM and published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, I was well aware that if I turned and walked through the inner doors into the church I would find the monstrance on the altar and Eucharistic adoration in full swing. But not everyone is blessed in this way.
The frustrating thing is that the theology in this explanation of the shift in Eucharistic piety is actually pretty rich in many ways. Richstatter talks about the fact that Christ is made present in the Eucharist for the express purpose of animating His mystical body, the Church, so that the ultimate crown of Eucharistic understanding is the unity and charity of the Christian community. Thus while many Catholics might have once regarded Forty Hours Devotion as a high point of Eucharistic celebration, new insights have shifted our focus to the Easter Vigil, at which fledgeling Christians are welcomed into the fullness of ecclesial life.
There is nothing wrong with what is being said here. The problem lies in what is left out.
Christ at the Center
The emphasis on the community’s response to Christ—indeed the community’s impenetration by Christ—is certainly important. Union with God is most convincingly demonstrated by the bonds of charity. But emphasizing this at the expense of devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is both philosophically backward and spiritually ennervating. The community cannot be both the recipient and the source of God’s transforming power. To emphasize the gifts that the community has received in a way that deemphasizes the source of those gifts is a reversal of the proper order.
Moreover, one must ask how to best actualize the grace we receive in the sacraments. The answer is that we become increasingly aware of grace and increasingly able to respond to it by consciously developing a direct, personal relationship with Christ in private prayer. For these reasons, private prayer before the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the single most effective means of deepening that union which unleashes the power of the Eucharist in the life of the whole Church.
Closely related to these two points is the fact that no matter how much emphasis is placed on the action of Christ in the community, one cannot behold Him directly there. Christ’s presence in the community is a direct presence only in the interior life of each individual Christian. Taking the community as a whole, this presence is mediated through the personhood of the other members. The obligation of charity is real, but we cannot obtain direct access to Christ in the body of the Church without the risk of idolatry. This is what many find so disturbing in modern liturgical music which is preoccupied with celebrating the community, that is, celebrating ourselves. It quickly degenerates into the celebration of self.
The New Pelagianism
Again I want to emphasize that the problem is not with the understanding of the profoundly social dimension of the Eucharist, which forms the one body of the Church from the many grains which are her members, and which has profound implications for how we treat each other and how we act as a community for the good of others. It is only when this understanding is upheld at the expense of the direct experience of Christ in the Eucharist that we are tripped up. Our Lord gives Himself to us in communion, body, blood, soul and divinity; He waits for us in the tabernacle; His Presence is most reliably, directly and publicly perceived in Benediction.
When we focus on the community at the expense of the direct presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we forget the source of the community’s power, and so our own sources begin to take over. We find ourselves evaluating community action according to prevailing social theories, or the interpretations of the mass media, or simply the fashionable ideas of the day. The community’s likes and dislikes, chosen causes, policies and prescriptions come not from the spirit of Christ but only from some broken or even alien community spirit which has been psychologically detached from its origin in Christ. What we try to do, in effect, is to save ourselves. Religion becomes horizontalized and Pelagius becomes our unnamed hero.
Even worse, should someone attempt to emphasize magisterial principles or traditional spirituality, he will be accused of going against the spirit of the community, which now becomes self-referential. The truth of things must be read in the community and nowhere else, as if the reception of the sacraments alone guarantees that Christ will be unfailingly visible in every portion of His mystical Body. Without question, the community that begins by becoming the exclusive focus of a truncated spirituality will always end by becoming the exclusive standard of truth.
Action and Identity
But the real truth is that we must work hard to stay in touch with Christ everywhere He can be found. Certainly we can experience Christ in the community, just as we can witness to Him there. But we can also experience Christ in the reading of Scripture, on which we should meditate; in the Catholic Tradition, which we should study; in the Magisterium of the Church, which we should heed; in the sacrament of Penance, which we should frequently receive; in the preaching of sound pastors, to whom we should give ear; in the Sacred Liturgy, by which we should be formed; and especially in the reception of the Eucharist, for which we should make ourselves worthy. And with this last comes the worship of Christ in the Eucharist, because we cannot worship Him visibly anywhere else.
No, we cannot worship Christ in the community, because the community is not Christ; nor, for the same reason, can we worship Him in the Bible, the Tradition, the Magisterium, the confession of sins, the finest pastors, or the beauties of the liturgy (though the action of the liturgy itself is the profoundest worship, in which we can join). But we can always worship Him whole and direct, concrete and visible, in His Real Presence in the Eucharist, because He is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is He. That is why, in contrast to every other kind of presence of Christ—and there are many kinds—the Church calls this one alone by the name of “Real”.
Every other manifestation of Christ will fail in its purpose if our understanding of it obscures rather than heightens our appreciation of His Real Presence in the Eucharist. This is just another way of saying that any focus on the action of Christ is useless if it leads us away from Christ Himself.
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