Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 2, 2004
Pray our Lord's ancient prayer
Think about what goes on between 'The Body of Christ' and 'Amen'
The Shepherd Speaks
By ARCHBISHOP THOMAS COLLINS
Our Lord gave us the sacrifice of the Mass through which we are joined to his suffering, death, and resurrection. Only much later in the history of the Church did God lead Christians to realize the spiritual benefit of periods of watchful prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the tabernacle for Communion of the sick.
The celebration of the Eucharist is primary, and the prayer of Eucharistic Adoration depends upon it. That is why Eucharistic Adoration always must be connected to the celebration of the Mass, flowing from it and extending it over time in a spirit of contemplation. Similarly, when Mass itself is being celebrated, it is not allowed to have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the same church.
Reason for adoration
Why, then, do we spend time in adoration, apart from the actual time of the Eucharistic celebration?
For one thing, since God objectively transforms the bread and wine, so that they become the Body and Blood of Christ, present in a sacramental way and enduring as long as the appearances of bread and wine remain, it is most fitting to pray in physical proximity to the reserved Blessed Sacrament, offering worship to Our Eucharistic Lord.
We are meant to be in communion with Our Lord by receiving the Eucharist, but we can always at other times be in spiritual communion through our prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. But there is another reason for Eucharistic Adoration: it helps us to prepare for the Eucharistic celebration itself.
Our Lord says "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (John 6:53-56).
St. John reports that many disciples, when they began to realize what Jesus was saying, "drew back, and no longer went about with him." So it has always been.
The sacramental realism of the Eucharist is hard for people to accept, and they seek to replace it with a watered down understanding of the sacrament, one trimmed to the size of the human mind.
As with the disciples who walked away when Jesus revealed to them the powerful message of the Eucharist, it is easy for each of us to be blind to its intense reality. So easily we can fall short, and treat the Eucharistic celebration as more of a religious assembly than an act of God, and the Eucharist as "holy bread," only a reminder of Jesus.
But what we participate in at Mass is an act of God, and we need to become aware of the marvel of the Eucharist. Eucharistic adoration helps us to do that. It helps us more truly to celebrate the Eucharist.
Focus on the words
Imagine you are receiving Communion. The priest says "The Body of Christ" and the communicant replies "Amen," receives Communion, and moves on, often not fully focused on the awesome meaning of those words, or of what is happening either at the moment of communion or in the rest of the celebration.
Imagine that instead, after hearing "The Body of Christ," the communicant paused for an hour, meditating profoundly upon the significance of what was happening, joined to the Lord in silent adoration, in an inner dialogue of prayer.
Then the communicant would say "Amen" and receive Communion, deeply conscious of the significance of the Eucharistic celebration. Such a pause at the time of Communion is, of course, impossible. We cannot have each reception of Communion last an hour. But we can engage in that more lengthy experience of adoration at a different time, after Mass.
When we spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we not only are participating in the ancient prayer of watching with the Lord, so important in our distracted lives, but we are also extending in contemplation the reality of the celebration of the Eucharist itself, and are being prepared for the full, conscious, and active participation in the celebration of the Eucharist which the very nature of the liturgy requires.
Every hour of Eucharistic Adoration, no matter when it actually occurs during the day or night, most truly exists in the moment between "The Body of Christ" and "Amen."
(Fourth in a series)
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