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Vatican tries to revive Eucharistic adoration

c. 2011 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) For seven centuries, Eucharistic adoration — praying before an exposed consecrated Communion host — was one of the most popular forms of devotion in the Roman Catholic Church, the focus of beloved prayers and hymns and a distinctive symbol of Catholic identity.

Following the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the practice fell from favor, especially in Europe and the U.S. But over the last decade, under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the church has strongly encouraged a revival of the practice.

“No one eat this flesh, if he has not adored it before; for we sin if we do not adore,” Benedict said, quoting St. Augustine, in a 2009 speech at the Vatican.


Next week (June 20-24), the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome will host an academic conference on Eucharistic adoration, where the speakers will include six prominent cardinals, focusing on the rediscovery of the practice.

At the same time, however, some theologians object to adoration as outdated and unnecessary, and warn that it can lead to misunderstandings and undo decades of progress in educating lay Catholics on the meaning of the sacrament.

Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, said Eucharistic adoration by the laity originated in the 13th century as a substitute for receiving Communion at Mass.

At the same time, he said, the church often encouraged a believer’s sense of “personal unworthiness” to receive the sacrament — which Catholics believe to be the body of Christ — so many resorted to so-called “ocular communion” instead.


Eucharistic adoration was also used as a teaching tool to reaffirm the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a noted theologian at the University of Notre Dame.

For instance, McBrien said, devotion grew during the 16th- and 17th-century Counter-Reformation, in response to the arguments of some Protestant Reformers that the Eucharist was merely a symbol, not the actual body of Christ.

In the days when priests celebrated Mass in Latin with minimal participation by the congregation, the hymns and prayers associated with adoration gave lay Catholics an opportunity for public worship, Irwin said.

Liturgical reforms after Vatican II greatly increased the laity’s participation at Mass, which Irwin said satisfied the “felt need for participation in public prayer.” Irwin called that an “underlying reason” for the practice’s decline.


In his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), John Paul decried the rise of a “very reductive understanding of the Eucharistic Mystery” that discourages adoration. He and Benedict have unambiguously endorsed the practice.

In 2005, according to Vatican statistics, there were about 2,500 chapels around the world — including 1,100 in the U.S. — that offered so-called “perpetual” round-the-clock adoration. Many other parishes now offer “holy hours,” when the consecrated host is exposed for silent prayer or for services that include readings and hymns.

Adoration is also central to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, one of the church’s most dynamic and fast-growing movements, especially in the developing world.


American college students have proven particularly receptive to the revival of Eucharist adoration. Catholic University’s student chapel regularly draws 150 or more to its two weekly holy hours of adoration, according to the campus chaplain, the Rev. Jude DeAngelo.

“There is somewhat more of an intimacy” in prayer before the exposed host, says Brett Garland, a CUA undergraduate from Ohio who’s majoring in theology and religious studies. “There’s a difference, too, because you know others have come there for that same reason. It’s a call to prayer.”

Adoration appeals because it facilitates a “passive spiritual experience,” said Adam Wilson, a spokesman for the Virginia-based Cardinal Newman Society. “It’s a place where our Lord reaches out to the person, with the person having to do nothing but be present to our Lord,” Wilson said.


The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes a traditional sense of religious identity at Catholic colleges and universities, has sponsored a traveling campus exhibition on “Eucharistic Miracles” and recently released an online video promoting adoration among college students.

It is also appealing, Irwin said, as an “external manifestation of a unique Catholic identity,” much like other traditional practices that have regained popularity, such as meatless Fridays.

Irwin also noted adoration’s appeal to a growing number of divorced and remarried Catholics, who are forbidden to receive Communion but may participate in adoration. In addition, parishes that lack full-time priests are able to offer adoration as a form of communal worship in lieu of Mass.


McBrien acknowledged that some Catholics find adoration “spiritually enriching,” but said many liturgists see it is a “step back into the Middle Ages.”

“It distorts the meaning of the Eucharist,” McBrien said. “It erodes the communal aspect, and it erodes the fact that the Eucharist is a meal. Holy Communion is something to be eaten, not to be adored.”

For that reason, McBrien said, the practice should be “tolerated but not encouraged.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Christian Friends

    Adoration prepares me completely to receive Christ as Holy Communion & makes it intensely clear that the Eucharist is indeed the LIVING PRSENCE of CHRIST. I also benefit most abundantly from praying before the blessed Sacrament as Christ is unveiled and seen in all his glory with the assurance I am with you to the end of time becoming wonderfully alive & real.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Herein lies one of the greater differences between most Protestant and Catholic theologies. The very word “Eucharist” means beautiful (eu-) grace (-charis). This refers not to the thing itself but to the act it represents. Veneration of objects – any object, including relics from saints – teeters on idolatry, one of the no-nos from the Big Ten Tablet. The grace was Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s forgiveness through the resurrection. Focusing only on the crucifixion, which is what this ritul does, allows little time for the greater moment of hope and forgiveness. I have often wondered why so little was made of Jesus post-resurrection meals as found in the Gospels. They seem to have a more profound emphasis on God’s beautiful grace than the Last Supper, which highlights human guilt and frailty.

    Once more tradition trumps intention. Simply because that is the way it has been done for centuries does not make it the best choice for a modern culture. Connections to history and ancestry are important. However, this ritual is intended to look forward with anticipation, and not backward with an air of nostalgia.

    But this is why I serve a Protestant congregation. The RCC is free of course to worship as they will, as are we. It is the diversity that makes religion in America great and a lot more dynamic than in many European countries.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Does this mean they are praying in front of a wafer? Then after awhile they eat the wafer AKA as Jesus’s body? ICKKKY!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Katie Angel


    I almost always enjoy your posts and find them interesting and thought-provoking but your latest seems to show a surprising lack of understanding of the Eucharist. The celebration and concecration of the Eucharist is the rememberance of the Last Supper – the time when Christ declared that He is the fulfilment of the last Covenant between God and man. He commanded us to “do this in rememberance of Me” and it is the centerpiece of the Catholic Mass. No other meal that Christ shared with His disciples has that same grativas. The adoration of the Eucharist is not about the physical host, but about the Host that is enbodies into the wafer at the time of concecration. We are adoring the grace we are given each time we participate in Holy Communion and the Mass.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Katie Angel
    Thank you for your respectful and clear response. I agree in large part with your points. Our communion table even has the phrase “Do This in Remembrance of Me” in large letters on the front (the only surface of the table seen by most of the congregation – a touch of irony). I think if most folks shared your understanding the religious ritual would be more sensible.

    There is much more to the meal as described by the Synoptic Gospel editors/writers. Some discussion remain as to whether Jesus might have used the bread and cup of Elijah, signifying eternity and grace are one. Certainly the connection to the Exodus event, and thus to Passover, cannot be ignored. To be honest, each time I celebrate communion I use the tradition words of consecration.

    My role as a Protestant provocateur and ecclesiastical jester is to try and encourage people to think rather than simply accept. I find I agree with you on your final point – that we are adoring God’s grace in the meal. But was not the grace also known when Jesus fed the multitudes, when he shared a bite of breakfast after the resurrection, or a little bit of left-over fish by the Sea of Galilee? Making the meal a point of adoration seems like a foodie path to religion.

    I am no more likely to change our ritual that the Big Dogs at the RCC will change theirs (and yours). I simply think that a constant scratching the welt of our indirect historic guilt leads to an infection that Jesus Bandaids won’t heal. Focusing on the grace gets us beyond the centuries of guilt that has enhanced the control but not the benefit of the Bishop’s Seat. Shame will not set us free; joy and hope will lift us with Christ.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    you can’t expect a jester to be serious about covenant or the fact that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, its all just fun and games to a jester he only gives false witness through jest.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Ah, ck
    You only know one of the jester’s many faces. Many a truth is told in jest, making it more palatable. Some say Jesus was the King of Jesters – it was the solemn Priests and the pragmatic Romans who killed him. The people loved his stories and lessons that tugged the hems of the priests robes and tripped the stately centurions. Listen to a jester’s jibe and you will hear more truth between the smiles.

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