Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary


by Paul Grutsch, Ph.D.


What does it really mean to "adore" the Lord? Dr. Paul Grutsch addresses this very topic by explaining first, the actual definition of adoration, second, the kind of interior posture that God seeks during adoration, and third, two prevalent problems that affect our adoration of God: familiarity with God and our misunderstanding of the true nature of Christ.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


46 - 50 & 52 - 53

Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, April 2005

C.S. Lewis opined that in Scripture, for those who encountered Jesus, one of only three reactions occurred: "hatred — terror — adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval."1 Some hated him because he exposed them for what they were — hypocrites. Others feared Jesus because of the crowds that followed him, thinking that a revolt by the people would be soon at hand. The only other group of people remaining were those who adored him.

No one who met Jesus just had a "ho-hum" response. If we believe we have truly encountered Jesus but find that we have a "ho-hum" response, then we have met an imposter! If we truly have experienced Christ in our life, adoration is the only acceptable response.

For those who "adored" the Lord, what did it mean? Words do mean something. At Christmas we sing, "Oh come let us adore him." During lent we pray during the Stations of the Cross, "We adore Thee O Christ and we praise Thee . . ." At Easter we sing, "Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee." We often find ourselves saying to the Lord "we adore Thee."

What does it really mean to "adore" the Lord? Is it certain words we say when we pray? Is it a particular feeling we have during prayer? Is it something that we only do in church?

Adoration is one of the four ends of prayer (also atonement, supplication, and thanksgiving). Have we adored the Lord if we read a pious book or beseech God for our needs while in his true presence before the Blessed Sacrament? Have we adored the Lord when we make time in our busy schedule to visit him at Church? When have we really adored the Lord?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC#2111) states: "Neither 'sacred' things nor deeds in themselves endear man to God but rather the intentions with which he plies or does them. Mere repeated religious gestures or words, bereft of interior values, are sham, even superstition." God forbid we be one of those who give "lip service," but that our hearts are far from what we say! To "adore" the Lord means more than just saying, "I adore You." True adoration involves a docile heart, an assent to God's sovereignty over our lives, a constant posture of humility before Him, and gifts of love offered in homage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "Adoration is the acknowledgement of God as God, creator and savior, the Lord and master of everything that exists as infinite and merciful love." (CCC #2096) "Adoration is homage of the spirit to the King of glory, respectful silence in the presence of the ever greater God." (CCC #2628)

The Concise Dictionary of Theology2 defines adoration as "the highest reverence to be offered only to God, our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier who alone should be worshiped and glorified." St. Thomas Aquinas3 stated: "Adoration is primarily an interior reverence for God expressing itself secondarily in bodily signs of humility: bending our knee (to express our weakness compared to God) and prostrating ourselves (to show that of ourselves we are nothing)." A Catholic Dictionary4 defines adoration thus: "Adoration is the word used to express those acts of divine worship which are directed to God only, and of which the characteristics are recognition of His perfection and omnipotence and our own complete dependence upon Him."

St. Elizabeth of Hungary remarked: "Adoration. This is a word from heaven. It seems to me that it could be defined as an ecstasy of love. It is love overwhelmed by the beauty, the strength, the immense grandeur of the Beloved. It falls into sort of a swoon, into a full deep silence, the silence that David spoke of when he cried out 'silence is thy praise'. And it is the most beautiful of all praise that is sung eternally in the bosom of the unchanging Trinity, and it is also the last effort of the soul as it overflows and can say no more."5

All of the definitions of adoration are consistent with the notion that adoration is a willing submission of self to God expressed interiorly as well as exteriorly by one's actions. It is an interior act of mind and will where the mind humbly admits that God's perfection is infinite, and the will beckons us to praise enthusiastically and worship this perfection in a manner that is applied to no one else. Without some measure of this interior attitude, adoration "in Spirit and truth" would be an empty gesture and false. Adoration is love and appreciation for God for all that he is — our goal, our joy, the One who leads us to himself and the banqueting table in heaven. If we lack an attitude of submission to God, then we have failed in adoring him. We may offer him praise with our lips, but if we do not voluntarily offer ourselves in submission, then we have failed to adore him because we have failed to acknowledge his right as God to be Lord of our life and in control of it. Mere presence before him and mouthing words of "I adore You" have a hollow ring if the disposition of our heart is wanting.

Adoration is the highest form of worship given to God alone, a worship known as latria. Jesus says that the Father looks for those who will worship him in "Spirit and truth" (John 4:23). This very statement of Jesus, that the Father "looks for those," suggests that what is offered as adoration may at times be defective due to an inadequate disposition of a heart which should have been stirred up by the Holy Spirit.

Scripture very clearly reveals that our offering to God in adoration of him can be unacceptable, as was Cain's. If we mouth words without acknowledging in our heart Who it is we are worshipping, we fail to adore God. If the interior disposition of our heart and mind is no different than that with which we address the angels and saints when we pray, then we are either adoring God incorrectly or are falsely adoring the angels and saints. Furthermore, adoration becomes more acceptable to God the greater our hearts are converted to his Word and the greater we desire to undergo that conversion which conforms us to the image and likeness of Christ. If week after week we go to adore the Lord without a genuine desire of conversion to a heart pleasing to him, then our adoration is deficient and defective, because it denies God's sovereignty over us.

If we are truly going to adore God in "Spirit and truth," then we have to know who God is. St. Augustine reminds us that "the essence of religion is to imitate the one whom you adore."6 It is possible to have a false image or understanding of God, one to our liking, and "adore" our own created image of God rather than the one true God as revealed to us through Scripture and Holy Mother Church. For adoration to be authentic, we must have a proper understanding of who it is that we adore, as well as possess the proper attitude of heart. Rev. Raniero Cantalamesa, OFM Cap., preacher to the papal household, remarked once that an atheist told him: "If I could truly believe that in this host the Son of God is truly present, I would fall on my knees and never stand up again."7 This is the kind of interior posture that God seeks.

Two prevalent problems that affect our adoration of God are what I will call our familiarity with God and our misunderstanding of the true nature of Christ. Regarding familiarity, Rev. Raniero Cantalamesa stated "the greatest danger with God is for us to become accustomed to him, to fall from awe into routine."7 If this happens, then we can slide into the other problem for those who err in relating to Christ as if he were a human person. Christ is one Person, a divine person, with a human and divine nature, but he is not a human person. There is a sense in which Christ is our friend, but we cannot relate to him as friend as if he were a human person, because he is only one Person, a divine Person, and must be related to as such — God!

The Psalmist tells us that we enter the courts of God with praise. Praise acknowledges God for who he is whereas thanksgiving acknowledges God for what he has done. All true praise of God is adoration if it acknowledges the claims and the authority of God and welcomes God as Lord. The quality of our adoration improves as our loving knowledge (who he is) of God grows and to the extent that our will becomes unwavering in serving him in selfless devotion. The more we will fully admit our absolute and total dependence on God, the more profound our adoration becomes. At this point adoration becomes a permanent attitude of the person, in the same way those who adored Christ did when he walked the face of the earth.

Adoration felt within will naturally seek outward expression. Throughout Scripture, adoration of God in divine worship was exclusively signified by sacrifice. Although Scripture mentions kneeling, falling prostrate, removing shoes, and bowing as forms of adoration, all of these were gestures used to show respect, on occasion, to human persons. It was sacrifice, however, that was reserved exclusively for divine worship.

The holy sacrifice of the Mass is the highest form of adoration that exists in the Church since it commemorates the greatest act of adoration by which Jesus gave himself to God the Father. At Mass, our adoration should be most profound. If we compare the angels to how some people on Sunday adore the Lord, we have a stark contrast:

"These angels, these pure spirits, shrink before the infinite holiness of God, and we allow vain, worldly, and even sinful thoughts to insinuate themselves into our mind in His presence. The angels tremble before His greatness, and we fear not to talk and laugh in His presence. The angels, those princes of heaven, are all humility and modesty, and we, the dust of the earth and miserable sinners, all impertinence and pride. The angels veil their presence before His splendor, and we do not even so much as to cast down our eyes . . . The angels bow down to the earth, and we will not bend our knee! The angels, full of awe, fold their hands upon their breast, and we allow ourselves every freedom of attitude and movement. What humiliating reflections! What an impressive lesson."8

Such adoration by the angels is not reserved to them alone. The wise men knelt down and worshipped Jesus when they saw him (Matt. 2:11). The leper knelt before Jesus when he sought healing (Matt. 8:2). The Jewish official knelt before Jesus asking for his daughter's healing (Matt. 9:18). Moses covered his face, being afraid to look at God (Exod. 3:6). All in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will kneel before him at his name (Phil. 2:10-11) . . . The Psalmist writes: ". . . with trembling, pay homage to Him" (Ps. 2:11-12).9

The Church teaches that the Blessed Sacrament contains "the Body and Blood together with the soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ," including "His physical reality, corporeally present."10 Because of the divine nature of Our Lord, the Blessed Sacrament is the only "reality" on earth that requires our adoration, since no other physical reality is divine in nature!

Adoration is not an option for holy souls only but a requirement for everyone, since all are commanded to adore the Lord (Ezek. 20:1-4). When we come to adore the Lord, we should be like the Magi, who came to adore the Lord bearing gifts. Adoration not only involves a proper disposition of mind and heart, but also calls for an offering appropriate to the One being adored. Thus, we should adore him with the gifts of a detached heart, virtues we have practiced which glorify him, and our daily sacrifices which we unite with his chief sacrifice of the cross.

Kneeling and/or genuflecting is an outward gesture of an inward attitude of adoration towards God. In Inestabile Donum, we read the following: "The venerable practice of kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, whether enclosed in the tabernacle or publicly exposed, as a sign of adoration, is to be maintained. This act requires that it be performed in a recollected way. In order that the heart bows before God in profound reverence, the genuflection must be neither hurried nor careless" (emphasis mine).

The trend today seems to be either hurried genuflections or none at all as people enter/leave church. Often genuflections are performed in the direction of the altar rather than Our Lord in the tabernacle when it is not located centrally behind the altar, as if the altar were more important than Our Lord in the tabernacle! Even worse, conversation and laughter seem common in many churches even in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament! Yet, we are exhorted in Canon 898: "Christ's faithful are to hold the blessed Eucharist in the highest honor (emphasis mine). They should take an active part in the most august Sacrifice of the Mass; they should receive the sacrament with great devotion and frequently and should reverence it with the greatest adoration." All the casual talk with bursts of frivolity hardly seems to show the "greatest adoration" for the Blessed Sacrament, especially when the tabernacle is present in Church. St. Augustine even reminds us "no one eats this flesh without first having adored it."

It is a sobering thought to hear of surveys which claim that only about 1/3 of Catholics actually believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist: that under the appearance of bread and wine is truly present the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Those 2/3 who do not believe correctly, and who then kneel during the consecration, materially commit idolatry, because they are kneeling to that which they do not consider divine!

Msgr. Peter Elliot, whose area of expertise is the liturgical life of the Church and who worked in the Vatican for over ten years, writes that the Our Father prayed during the Mass is an act of adoration. He notes it is inappropriate for the faithful to join their hands together during the Our Father at Mass: "As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2777-2865) explains, this greatest of prayers is an act of adoration of our transcendent Father, followed by seven petitions addressed to Him. This is why the celebrant extends his hands in praise and petition. But everyone "holding hands" does not reflect the meaning of this great prayer of adoration and petition. This is the wrong sign for this prayer because it is too "horizontal."11 Msgr. Elliot's contention is supported by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ". . . The first phrase of the Our Father is a blessing of adoration before (emphasis mine) it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize Him as "Father," the true God" (CCC #2781).

In other words, our first thought, when we come to pray, should be that God be known, loved, honored and served by the whole world. Jesus told St. Catherine of Siena: "Be you concerned about Me, and I will be concerned about you." True loving adoration, submitting to the desires of the Beloved, seeks those desires before its own.

As the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the highest form of adoration that exists in the Church and that we should reverence the Blessed Sacrament with the greatest adoration, we might wonder about the appropriateness of applause during Mass. More and more it seems that the choir receives applause, or some group is recognized for something during Mass. Applause suggests a performance rather than a sacred service offered to God to help the worshipping community enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ's love for us. The rubrics actually call for applause only on one occasion — that of an affirmation for a man about to be ordained to the priesthood. When Pope Pius X was applauded during Mass, he said that one should not applaud the servant in the presence of the Master!

Adoration is reserved for God alone. We do not adore the angels, the saints or even the Blessed Mother. No other is worthy of adoration but the three persons of the Trinity nor do we give this special reverence to anyone else at any time or any place. In Luke 4:7-8, when the devil tells Jesus that if he would prostrate himself before him, all the earthly kingdoms would be his. Jesus responds saying, "Scripture has it, 'You shall do homage to the Lord your God, Him alone shall you adore.'"

Though adoration is directed to a divine being alone, there should be no fear in adoring Christ's humanity, provided that the adoration is not directed to the human nature of Jesus, but to his divine Person. Human attributes may be predicated of Christ as God and divine attributes of Christ as man — the so-called communication of characters. When "the Word became flesh", there existed the union of full divinity and humanity in the one divine person of Jesus Christ (Hypostatic Union). St. John Damascene points out that we do not adore mere flesh, but the flesh as united to his divinity. Thus the Church adores the five wounds, the Sacred Heart, the Precious Blood, etc.

Each of the three Persons of the Godhead is distinct from one another. Since adoration involves a relationship between a divine Person and a human person, our focus during adoration should be on a particular Person of the Trinity, all the while remembering that each Person of the Trinity possesses the same divine essence. Thus, the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son.

Adoration is not only a matter of the heart. Scripture even calls us to "worship the Lord in 'holy attire'" (1 Chron. 16:29). It seems more and more frequently at Sunday Mass that we see people in shorts, low cut blouses, tight clothes that leave nothing to the imagination, and other immodest dress — unholy attire which is unfit for adoration at mass or in church. "Holy attire" isn't necessarily a suit, but it does suggest clothing fitting for worship.

If our heart is truly right before God, we will come to adore him not just because he commands it. We will come to adore him —

1. Because he is utter beauty — who or what is more beautiful than the Lord?

2. Because adoration is a foretaste of heaven — if we make it to heaven, experiencing the beatific vision, we will adore God with the angels and saints.

3. Because of his dignity — reverence is due to every degree of dignity. The dignity of God consists in his omniscience, since the name of God (Deus) is from "seeing" and this is one of the signs of divinity.

4. Because of God's bounty — we should worship only God because we receive every good from him. "When You open Your hand, they shall all be filled with good" (Psalm 103:28). We violate this truth anytime we put too much trust in someone other than God. "Blessed is the man whose hope is in the name of the Lord!"

5. Because of our baptismal promise — we have renounced the devil, and have promised fidelity to God alone. Jesus said: "Let your yes mean yes."

6. Because of the burden of serving the devil — in serving God we are told "My yoke is sweet, and My burden light" (Matt. 11:30). Jesus only spoke of two kingdoms, his and the kingdom of darkness. If we aren't in the kingdom of God, by default we are in the kingdom of darkness. The devil is not satisfied with leading us to one sin, but to many. In John 8:34 we are told that sin is slavery.

7. Because of the greatness of the reward — whereas Muslims are promised rivers flowing with milk and honey, and the Jews, the Promised Land, we are promised the "glory of angels." "They shall be as the angels of God in heaven" (Matt. 22:30).

Adoration is not just something we should do when in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or at Mass. We shouldn't view adoration as the particular hour we sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament on a certain day of the week. Adoration should be a 24/7 attitude of the heart. Perhaps the reason so many talk before/during/after the mass as if God wasn't truly present in the Blessed Sacrament can at least partially be attributed to the language used to express the obligation we have concerning Sunday worship. We are told that we must "attend" mass, or "participate" at mass. But neither one of these words expresses clearly the concept of adoration that should be present, especially during the holy sacrifice of the Mass. They fall far short in conveying the attitude of worshipping God with an adoring heart.

We should never forget that it is impossible to adore the Lord of our own doing, because it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can lift up our heart and mind to God. We should ask the assistance of our guardian angel in adoring the Lord, since he constantly beholds the face of God. Then, too, we should call upon the Blessed Virgin for help, since she looked upon the adorable face of Our Lord for years.

We should not try to adore God by will power alone. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the origin of love is twofold. Love involves both our affections and our reason. Love is governed by the dictate of reason when the person loves what he grasps with his mind. It is emotional when the person concerned is unable to live without the object of his love. We should adore God in both these ways, with our will and with a heart that is human, too.12 Thus, affective piety is entirely appropriate in our adoration. This would include things such as kissing a crucifix, singing a song we have composed out of love for him, giving a loving glance at a picture, smiling, etc.

But what if we find no pleasure in adoring the Eucharist? Carlo Carretto said it is precisely the renunciation of all desire to satisfy the senses that makes prayer strong and real. One meets God beyond the senses, beyond the imagination, beyond nature.

The element of "silence" cannot be overlooked in adoration. Mother Teresa would always say, "God is a friend of silence." Sometimes we become preoccupied with our words and thoughts during adoration, rather than allowing ourselves to be enveloped by the beauty, the "awesome majesty" of our God in reverential silence. In that silence we enter into the presence of God. The devil hates it when we are silent because he knows that we are either listening for him or focusing on him. The Cure of Ars would spend hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. When people would ask him what he would do or say during those hours, he would say: "He looks at me, and I look at him." Our adoration need not necessarily be filled with words.

We must always avoid the mistaken notion that we are "taking in" God during adoration . . . Rather, we "enter in" to the mystery of his greatness in our silence. We do not draw God to us in adoration. Rather, he draws us to himself!

End Notes

1. God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis.

2. A Concise Dictionary of Theology, Gerald O'Collins, S.J. and Edward G. Farrugia, S.J.

3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 84.2.

4. A Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater, editor, TAN, 1997.

5. St. Elizabeth of Hungary — Last Retreat.

6. The City of God, Bk 8, Ch 17: "cum religionis summa sit imitari quem colis".

7. Praise Him, January 2003, Vol. XXIX, No. 1.

8. The Blessed Eucharist: Our Greatest Treasure, Father Michael Muller, C.S.S.R., (Baltimore: Kelly and Piet, 1868; TAN 1994, p32-33.

9. In Ps. 98:9 (Douay Version).

10. Enchiridon Symbolorum (Denzinger), No. 883, 30th edition; Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, Sept. 3, 1965, No. 46.

11. Liturgical Question Box, Msgr. Peter J. Elliot, Ignatius Press, 1998.

12. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentaries on St. Matthews Gospel, 22, 4.

Dr. Paul Grutsch earned his B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in Chemistry. He is currently adjunct instructor in Chemistry at Athens Technical College in Atlanta, Ga. He is the author of more than fifty articles on various subjects of the faith. He has been accepted to the Aspirancy Phase for Diaconal Formation for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. This is his first article for HPR.

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