Washington Post on perpetual adoration

Yes, you read that correctly. The Washington Post! In the style section. Read it here.

H/T: MSW at NCR.


  1. We must describe what we call “transubstantiation” in words and experiences that the People of God can identify with and have some understanding. The Aristotelian/Scholastic language means nothing to the multitude and it never again will. I realize there are some persons of the higher echelons who want to canonize that way of thinking but it will not be effective. It does not make sense to the multitude and is nothing but a “head trip” for the persons who push that way of thinking.

    1. ^^This. The hocus-pocus (“hoc-est-corpus”) theory of eucharist is pretty much done with, although a few bitter old timers like the SSPX still bitterly cling to their incantations. If Vatican II has taught us anything, it’s that new ways of being church and eucharist cannot be denied. “God in a box” is simply not relevant to the masses anymore. The question of whether it should be “perpetual” or not is like asking how long a set the Titanic string quartet ought to play. 😉

    2. Have you ever read Jean-Luc Marion? He gives a fascinating defense of the term ‘transubstantiation’ as precisely antithetical to the notion of a ‘god in the box’.

      The ‘multitude’ encounter the sacrament primarily through ritual actions, the way that the holy gifts are handeled, dealt with, talked about, consumed, etc. If they are treated as merely bread and wine, then the ‘multitude’ will think of it as merely bread and wine.
      We’ve inhertied not just individual traditions concerning the blessed sacrament, but these traditions provide an implicit grammar for talking and thinking about the sacrament. I don’t see why that can’t be a starting point. One can learn more in many cases about what the praying church believes from a corpus christi procession, than a theological manual.

      1. I tried reading one of Jean-Luc Marion’s books because I’d heard he had an interesting pov on the eucharist but I honestly couldn’t understand what he meant to say. Can you summerize?

  2. Mr Schmidt, the People of God are not idiots, they have brains, they are capable of “identifying with” and “understanding” things outside their immediate personal experience, such as the Resurrection. It is grotesque for a Christian to speak of “the multitude” in such condescending terms. This wholly false opinion was very rightly condemned by Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Mysterium Fidei.

    46… (w)e have to listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. Her voice, which constantly echoes the voice of Christ, assures us that the way in which Christ becomes present in this Sacrament is through the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into His body and of the whole substance of the wine into His blood, a unique and truly wonderful conversion that the Catholic Church fittingly and properly calls transubstantiation.

    54. After the Council of Trent, Our predecessor, Pius VI, issued a serious warning, on the occasion of the errors of the Synod of Pistoia, that parish priests not neglect to speak of transubstantiation, which is listed among the articles of the faith, in the course of carrying out their office of teaching.

  3. All the Council of Trent said about transubstantiation was that it is a “fitting” term, but one needs to understand the medieval notion of “fitting” to understand this, but in the last analysis mystery always exceeds understanding…

    1. Could you explain what the medieval notion of “fitting” is so that I can understand what Trent means when it says that transubstantiation is a fitting term to describe the conversion of the whole substance of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood?

      I’ve understood it to mean that “transubstantiation” is an appropriate and accurate word to use, since it means “a change in substance”, which is what is being described: “the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into His body and of the whole substance of the wine into His blood.” It describes the reality in an objective manner, unlike words like “transignification” or “transfinalization” which (as I understand them) describe the change in a subjective manner, as we interpret the MEANING or PURPOSE of the change.

      1. The texts of the relevant session of the Council of Trent are available in English translation online, for example here: http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct13.html

        The Latin word is “aptissime,” which is (most aptly) translated “most aptly” in the J. Waterworth translation above. In Latin, this construction can mean “very fittingly” or “most fittingly.” The Thomistic language encourages us to understand “fittingly” or “aptly” in a Thomistic sense: as a comparison, for Thomas, the Incarnation is the “most fitting” way for God to save humans. God could have done it in another way (by omnipotence, by divine declaration), but this way is best suited to the needs of human beings.

        In the same way, one good understanding of the canon, I believe, would be to say that we (humans) need the eucharist for our salvation. We need to have an understanding of the eucharist, as well, and the one offered by transubstantiation is “most fitting” – most suited as a means of conveying the truth to our human needs. Of course, the incarnation is understood through and by other divine manifestations – sacraments and worship, Jewish and Christian scriptures, the cosmos itself, private prayer. Similarly, one might need other explanations, or other explanatory language, in order to understand transubstantiation properly.

        I think I agree with you, Jeffrey, that both transignification and transfinalization may also be subject to detrimental misunderstanding – though sacramental minimalism or reductive subjectivism was certainly not what the authors of those terms had in mind.

      2. Jeffrey, from an objective perspective the consecrated bread remains bread as does the wine remain wine.

        Using the term “transubstantiation” does make the change “objective” because you wish it so.

        The use of the term objective in dealing with this belief seems to me wholly inappropriate.

  4. Silvia, I must have hit a raw nerve. You and I are the multitude. Read the article in the TIMES. The descriptions lead credence to my point. I am not suggesting we change our faith. We need to teach in such a way and with concepts that the multitude can understand what is being taught. People do not think using Aristotelian/Scholastic concepts. We need to listen to the praying Church

    1. Seems that the praying Church was right there in the article, not worrying about “head trips”.

    2. People do not think using Aristotelian/Scholastic concepts.
      Which may explain why a large segment of the Catholic public has accepted the Zwinglian and Calvinist views of the Real Presence (like Calvin, God can’t be here because he’s up there?)

      Because Catholics don’t think of using Aristotelian/Scholastic concepts shouldn’t lead us to think they’re incapable of doing so. It’s quite possible most Catholics today may never have been exposed to Thomistic or Scholastic philosophy at any time in their education.

      There is evidence a growing number of Lutherans and Anglicans have no problem accepting transubstantiation and also worship Jesus in a golden box.

      1. Re: Dunstan Harding on August 30, 2011 – 9:45 pm

        I’m not sure if Anglican or Lutheran views on the Eucharist can be easily equated with transubstantiation. A brilliant Anglican priest I know (can Catholics have non-Catholic spiritual directors?) does not disagree that the Mass is the re-presentation of Calvary. He also does not doubt that the consecrated species are the Lord, body, blood, soul, and divinity. He has no problem saying the Roman Canon. What he disagrees with is the idea that the Mass can be reduced to Aristotelian-Aquinan mechanics. He is right to say that the medieval Church did not hold to transubstantiation in the Tridentine formulation. While I affirm the eucharistic dogmas of Trent, I respect his alternate position.

        Given the breadth of theologies which Anglicanism and perhaps Lutheranism accommodate, it’s better to ask each each priest or pastor what he or she thinks. I personally do not see a conflict between Luther’s eucharistic theology and the reservation of the Sacrament, for example. I’m sure that many pastors would disagree, however.

      2. What he disagrees with is the idea that the Mass can be reduced to Aristotelian-Aquinan mechanics.

        Nor does the Catholic Church (indeed, the very use of the word “mechanics” indicates a profound misunderstanding of the doctrine).

      3. Thank you, Deacon Fritz. I agree in ignorance and also in the “sin” of not reading ahead on the thread to your definition of transubstantiation.

        My ignorance stems, in part, from a stubborn clinging to the old “magic moment” idea that the Consecration is the summit of the Mass. Even almost fifty years after the Council, this has not disappeared.

      4. If the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission could agree, and the Pope and Abp of Canterbury could solemnly affirm that agreement, why would individual Anglican, Lutheran or Catholic pastors have a hard time agreeing.

        We believe that we have reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist. Although we are all conditioned by the traditional ways in which we have expressed and practiced our eucharistic faith, we are convinced that if there are any remaining points of disagreement they can be resolved on the principles here established.

  5. I did read the article in the POST to which this item refers; it makes no mention of transubstantiation. There is no reason why “the multitude” cannot or should not be taught to understand the term “transubstantiation”, and the philosophical basis for it. The use of it predates the influence of Aristotle in Western philosophy and theology. It is not a specifically Scholastic term either; the Orthodox, who were never interested in the Scholastics, enthusiastically embraced the Greek equivalent “metousiosis” (see the Wikipedia article on this word) centuries after the Scholastic period. The continued use of the term IS what the praying and thinking Church of West and East has determined is the best way to aid our incomplete understanding of this mystery, and we are not likely to invent a better one.

    1. Transubstantiation is philosophy, not theology.

      Christian theology is not based on any philosophical system, much less a single one.

      1. Gerard, this is simply false. Philosophy deals with what can be demonstrated through natural reason. No Catholic theologian has ever claimed this about transubstantiation. It is a word that is used to identify the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, nothing more and nothing less.

      2. It’s an irrelevant nonsense to state that no Catholic theologian has claimed that transubstantiation can be demonstrated through natural reasons. It’s rebutting a position which I don’t hold, and a non sequitur from what I’ve said. Very many theologians claim that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist can be explained in this way, which is a completely different matter.

        You are confusing the fact of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, – which theology doesn’t claim can be demonstrated through reason- with the how of Christ’s presence, – which some philosophical theology attempts to explain by the philosophical concepts of essence and accident.

        While Christians believe that Christ is present in the eucharist, how that presence comes about is a matter of finding one or more explanations which satisfy one’s intellectual curiosity. Thankfully no two people are required to hold the same view on how it comes about, precisely because transubstantiation depends on a particular school of philosophy, to which no Christian has to subscribe.

        Personally, I’m happy to leave the question of how it happens moot, other than to say it comes about through the action of the Holy Spirit.

      3. The only claim that a theologian like Thomas Aquinas, for example, makes about how Christ becomes present is that it is through the power of God. To quote Karl Rahner:

        “The doctrine of transubstantiation tells me no more than do the words of Christ, when I take them seriously. The function of this doctrine is not to explain the real presence by accounting for how it takes place, so that the manner of its coming, understood in itself as another process, would explain how the real presence came to be. Transubstantiation, as a dogma, means more than just any sort of real presence, but it does not affirm anything more than the real presence which is there when what is given is understood as the presence of the body of Christ” (“The Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” Theological Investigations IV, 302-3).

    1. Sylvia said it predates the influence of Aristotle, which is true. The metaphysical texts of Aristotle only became available in the west in the 12th century, while the terminology of transubstantiation gets thrashed out in the 11th century with Beregar et al.

      Also, it is not as if terms likes “substance” and “accident” were any more comprehensible to average folk in the 12th or 13th centuries. The point of the language of “transubstantiation” is to address the kinds of problems theologians have, not to explain the mystery of the Eucharist to the faithful.

      Finally, I’ll echo those who ask why we’re talking about transubstantiation at all, since it is nowhere mentioned in the (surprisingly wonderful) article linked in the post.

  6. Fritz, I realize all of that. The point i am making is how some might conceptualize the consecrated host. In looking at it you do not see the face of Christ, for example. Is there a clearer way of talking about this awesome presence than what we have now?

  7. I was wondering too how “transubstantiation” became a part of the comments since the Post article doesn’t write a word about it. I do know there are some in the Church who dislike adoration of the Blessed Sacrament whether in a perpetual chapel or in the main body of the Church. They’ll say that the Holy Eucharist is meant to be Food (Drink) to be consumed (drunk) not to be adored. Yet, I wonder how many of these same people watch the “Food Network” and their adoration of what is prepared wets their appetite to consume? We have a Perpetual Adoration Chapel in our parish and it is wonderful for many people and amazing to me that people come all hours of the day and night. It is indeed a blessing on many levels and for many people and for the parish at large.

  8. One thing that bothers me about perpetual adoration chapels as mentioned above is that it seems that people who visit them believe they can only be close to God by being in the vicinity of a consecrated wafer. In a weird way, a host kept apart for adoration reminds me of a saint’s relic.

      1. The icon of the Deesis comes to mind. Placing it over the tabernacle in the adoration chapel might help to place the reserved host within a larger liturgical dimension. By linking it to the icon of the heavenly liturgy or banquet.

      1. I’m making assumptions, of course, but I’m not sure why someone would make a trip to an adoration chapel to be with Jesus/God when, as St. Ignatius might say, we can find God in all things.

      2. We can find God in all things, but that does not mean God is present in all things in the same manner, or to the same degree. This is why Christians don’t worship trees or lions or other people, despite the presence of God in them.

        There are many methods of prayer and many forms of service. Some people find prayer in the presence of the Eucharist particularly powerful, moving, energizing, etc.

      3. crystal watson :

        I’m making assumptions, of course, but I’m not sure why someone would make a trip to an adoration chapel to be with Jesus/God when, as St. Ignatius might say, we can find God in all things.

        Ignatius teaches God can be found in all things, but he also gave us the Spiritual Exercises, which create a special time and space for finding God. Most of us, I think, need that special time and space. Maybe it’s in an adoration chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t seek God everywhere else, too.

    1. and too many adoration chapels are totally removed from the church and the liturgy of the eucharist itself. They resemble some of these horrible wedding chapels in Nevada,or an extension of the family playroom or dad’s den. Have we got to a point where that is the only way people can appreciate Christ’s presence in their midst? Jesus becomes an article of food, such as a convenient pizza ready to be popped into the microwave.

  9. The Sacred Host is not a relic, because It is not dead, and does not await the resurrection of the just as do the relics of the Saints.

    It is not an icon because It is not an image; Christ said, “This is my Body”, not, “This is an image of my Body.”

    It is not an idol, because an idol is not God. Christ, on the other hand, is God, and it is Christ our God and Savior who is truly present in the Sacred Host.

    1. Oh my, Silvia, I think you’ve managed to misunderstand almost everything said so far. You’re recklessly firing away at statements you misunderstand, seeing errors that aren’t there.

      Anything can become an idol for us weak human beings – including divine things such as sacraments.

      St. Paul calls Christ the “icon” or “image” of God, by the way.


      1. Oh my, Anthony, I am such a silly girl. When Mr. Schmidt said that transubstantiation “does not make sense to the multitude”, I thought that he meant that it does not make sense to the multitude, which is not true. And likewise, when he said that it is an Aristotelian/Scholastic term, (which he seems to believe is the reason why it makes no sense to the multitude), I thought that he meant that it is an Aristotelian /Scholastic term, although it is not specifically either. When Ms Watson said that the Host reminded her of a relic, I thought that she meant that It reminded her of a relic, although there is no reason why It should. When Fr. McDonald said that the Host would be better described as an icon, I thought that he meant that It would be better described as an icon, although It wouldn’t, because It is the Real Presence of Christ in a way that an icon is not, which is why Nicea II specifically condemned the iconoclasts for describing It as an icon. When Ms Watson asked why the Host is not then an idol, I thought she was asking why It is not then an idol, which It cannot be, because an idol is the object of false worship, and the Host is rightly the object of true worship. Were I not so devoid of understanding, I might add that St. Paul’s words describe the mystery of the Incarnation, not the Eucharist, why is why the Church has always referred them to the Incarnation, and not to the Eucharist. Silly, silly me.

      2. Silvia, Just to be clearer, I used Icon as St. Paul, since we’d have no Eucharistic Theology except for the Incarnation and our sacramental theology is based upon incarnational theology. At any rate, I thought Icon better than “Relic” to describe the Consecrated Host adored in adoration. Both terms fall short of the Reality of Whom is adored.

    2. The presence of the Lord in the sacred species is a sacramental presence. That does not diminish his presence. It merely enlightens us as to the form of that presence, which is different from the way other people are present to us.

  10. Well, I thought it was a nice article, and very respectful of people acting on their faith. I confess I am a bit envious: they all seemed connected and there is no doubt in my mind that they all enjoy the experience. I have never had the same fulfillment from my adoration, so I quit doing it. I think I may try again.

  11. Fr. McDonald, you are quite correct to say that the theology of the Eucharist is intimately connected to the theology of the Incarnation. However, not every statement that may be made appropriately about the Incarnation can also be made appropriately about the Eucharist, and vice versa. The Church avoids saying things like “The Eucharist was born of the Virgin Mary” for a very good reason. Likewise, the priest does not say “The Word Incarnate” to the communicants at Mass.

  12. Even the Washington Post recognizes that Catholics believe the consecrated host is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Can’t believe folks on this site want to equivocate about that.

    1. What do you see here as equivocating?

      Keep in mind, we’re talking about a mystery beyond human comprehension. Those who are overly certain about their understanding of the Eucharist could well be mistaken. In general, between the overly confident heresy-hunting of some conservative Catholics (I don’t know if that applies to you or not, Don Johnson) and the highly nuanced position of an Aquinas, a great gap is fixed.


  13. I’m a little late to the conversation but wanted to share my experience with Perpetual Adoration with Exposition. I loved having it in the parish. But I found that on those occasions when bad weather made it necessary to repose the Blessed Sacrament due to uncertainty whether adorers would be able to come or the morning after when we needed to decide when to expose the Blessed Sacrament people would ask whether we would be having adoration or when adoration would start. Their meaning seemed to be that it was only adoration if the Blessed Scrament was exposed. I was never really able to correct this. It is the main caution I have about Perpetual Adoration when Exposition is involved – are we mixing the two in a way that our Eucharistic theology is being distorted?

  14. I have not problem with perpetual adoration if it inspires people tolive better lives. However, too often, it becomes “cheap grace”. so easy to feel holy for spending an hour in front of the monstrance rather than going out to feed the hungry or visit the improsioned. Would god not be better served if we “prayed” before Him by helping those in need? I wonder how many of those “adorers” bother to reach out to others who are in need.

    1. In my experience, a lot of the people involved in adoration are also involved in apostolates of service. I find the assumption or suspicion that time spent in adoration is likely to be time wasted vis-a-vis time spent in service to be materialist and condescending. And I am a progressive who doesn’t spend much time devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as such (my form of contemplative prayer arises in other contexts, much more spontaneously), just to be clear about where this comment is coming from.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *