National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  December 12, 2003

Devotion enjoys resurgence in parishes

Church historians hold that perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began in the Middle Ages as a response to heresies. The cathedral in Lugo, Spain, is reported to have maintained eucharistic adoration for more than 1,000 years -- begun in reparation for the heresy of the Priscillians, a Gnostic sect that was condemned by the Spanish bishops.

After French King Louis VII cruelly defeated the Albigensian sect in 1226, he summoned his court to offer thanksgiving to the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Avignon. Reportedly the crowds were so vast that the bishop allowed adoration to carry on in perpetuity. The practice continued without interruption until the French Revolution, and was resumed in 1829.

The establishment of the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264 helped spread eucharistic devotion across Europe. The solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for 40 Hours was popularized in Italian city-states in the mid-16th century.

In the United States, religious orders took up the practice of perpetual adoration in the late 19th century, and continued it for several decades.

Practice of the devotion waned in the decades following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The fact that some “overzealous priests” dropped eucharistic adoration was a “misunderstanding of Vatican II,” said Cistercian Fr. Roch Kereszty, a University of Dallas theologian. The council’s liturgical reforms were designed to have the faithful more fully participate in the eucharistic celebration rather than using Mass as a time for private devotions -- largely the practice before Vatican II, he told NCR.

In 1986 the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy stated: “Outside of a religious community perpetual exposition is not permitted.” But when the Pontifical Council of the Laity approved the statutes of the Association of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in 1991, the lay group and others like it were free to promote the practice.

Today, a resurgence of devotion to Christ’s eucharistic presence is happening in parishes around the country, because “people are clamoring for it,” said Fr. Robert Goedert, a Chicago-based Dominican who crisscrosses the land promoting it.

According to Goedert, clerical resistance to eucharistic adoration has changed in the last decade through the efforts of the newly ordained priests who “saw how the faith was being destroyed by seminary theologians” who do not favor such pietistic practices. Once in a parish, Goedert said, new priests find like-minded Catholics who relish a return to adoration. The rewards are not only stronger parish life -- renewed faith, more vocations, restored marriages, increased attendance at Mass -- but also larger contributions in the collection basket, he said.

For Fr. Robert Kinkel, the problem with perpetual adoration comes when it overshadows the celebration of the Eucharist. The challenge to all liturgists is to bring people deeper into the mystery of Christ’s real presence on the altar at Mass, he said.

Kinkel, pastor of Spirit of Christ Church in suburban Denver, which does not have perpetual adoration, has found that often those attracted to it “want to spend their whole life doing it.” He said the experience of spending time with the Lord should lead to going out and serving the Lord: “Otherwise we’re navel-gazing.”

In a pastoral letter released on the feast of Corpus Christi in 1997, Bishop James Garland of Marquette, Mich., said that parishioners should not “feel less generous or guilty if they are unable to maintain perpetual adoration.” He suggested that parishes limit adoration to one or two days per week. “To think God’s generous blessings are due to our maintenance of 24 hours of prayer a day is offensive to God’s goodness and his gratuitous grace,” he said.

Garland said the practice of perpetual adoration should lead Catholics to gratitude for God’s love and “a response of reaching out in the spirit of love to their neighbors and the community, especially to the poor.”

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, December 12, 2003

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