Book Excerpt: What’s The Smoke For? Part Three

whatsthesmokeforPray Tell is pleased to share excerpts of Johan van Parys’ latest book, What’s the Smoke For: And Other Burning Questions About the Liturgy. In the book, published by the Liturgical Press, Johan answers questions from parishioners and other interested readers about Catholic liturgical practices. 

The next excerpt is related to perpetual adoration.

Dear Johan,

I think every parish should have perpetual adoration, but our pastor refuses. His excuse is that we are not set up for it. Moreover, he argues, since the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle in the church, there is nothing to stop people from praying there. I think that’s a cop-out. Do you think I should go to the bishop?

Gentle Reader-

What has become of us? Does everything have to be a power struggle? Please do not go to the bishop, but rather in all humility continue your conversation with your pastor.

This kind of situation often happens when we cannot see the liturgical forest for the trees or even the one tree. Your quest for perpetual adoration cannot be undertaken in a vacuum fanned by the temptation of a divisive and regrettable one-issue mentality. Rather I would advocate for a much broader approach in which perpetual adoration may or may not have a place depending on the specific circumstances of your parish.

Let me start by assuring you that devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is an essential part of our Catholic faith. It is necessarily rooted in and directed toward an ever deeper relationship with Christ. Unless this relationship exists, all the rest is nothing but intellectual gymnastics and ritualistic posturing.

The celebration of the Eucharist is undeniably the primary locus of our encounter with Christ and, therefore, of the greatest importance for the development of our relationship with Christ. In the Eucharist we encounter Christ in the assembly gathered for prayer, in the celebrating priest, in the word of God that is proclaimed, and in the Body and Blood of Christ broken and poured out for us. The culmination of the Eucharist and the apex of the encounter with the Body of Christ happen at the time of Communion. That is why ample time for silent prayer following Communion is strongly encouraged. Flowing from this encounter with Christ in the Eucharist is a desire to be ever closer to Christ. It is this desire that calls us back to church Sunday after Sunday and sometimes day after day. It is this desire that also calls us to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to engage in eucharistic and other devotions. Because of their closeness to the celebration of the Eucharist, eucharistic devotions such as adoration and benediction are the highest among all devotions and should be engaged in regularly.

At the same time as our liturgical encounters with Christ nourish our relationship with him, study of the Scriptures and tradition ought to deepen our knowledge of him, which in turn makes our liturgical encounters more fruitful.

Nourished by the Eucharist and inspired by our studies, we are sent out to encounter the Body of Christ in our poor, broken, and often hurting world.

The task of your pastor is to balance all this and to make sure that the Body of Christ is encountered in the Eucharist and related prayer, is contemplated through the study of Scripture and tradition, and is honored through service of the Body of Christ in the world. Perpetual adoration may or may not fit in this overall plan for your particular church. If it does, that is great. If it doesn’t, the lack of perpetual adoration in and of itself does not make your parish less Catholic. After all, even Jesus did not call for it. He did, however, command us to celebrate the Eucharist and to wash one another’s feet.

What’s the Smoke For: And Other Burning Questions About the Liturgy is available for purchase from the Liturgical Press, with an option that includes a CD containing bulletin inserts for parish use.


  1. Unfortunately, the initial question posed by this reader (and his/her attitude) seems to be common in various parishes with which I am familiar. I personally have no problem with the concept of Perpetual Adoration–what a blessing for parishes that can offer this! However, I think the average parishioner does not have an understanding of the logistics required to do this.

    If a parish is located in an inner-city area where there is a large homeless population or high crime, a pastor has to account for people wandering in and out of buildings all the time (sometimes without permission). Not every parish can safely offer PA if it would be a security risk for “adorers” to arrive at 3:30 AM to a poorly-lit area. Further, he has to ask if any current Adoration events are filling all their slots, or are there times when the Blessed Sacrament is left unattended, either innocently or intentionally. With parishes closing in many places, it’s hard enough to get people to attend Mass, let alone show up for a self-led prayer event, especially if the church is several miles from their home. This is just scraping the surface.

    On a side note, I think the last sentence by the reader and the first part of the response is highly instructive of where we have arrived as Catholics. Over time, I have been approached by many people with this type of attitude regarding specific issues (music choice, inclusion of various devotions, chosen options for rubrics, etc.). Often I feel compelled to defend the pastor’s decisions, even if I don’t know all of his reasoning at the time.

    How does everyone else handle these types of questions/demands from parishioners? Do you simply refer these individuals to the pastor or do you tackle these situations in some other way?

  2. In theory there is (or should be) no such thing as perpetual adoration, in accordance with no. 52 of Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (1973) repeating the instructions of Eucharisticum Mysterium (1967).

    During the exposition of the blessed sacrament, the celebration of Mass is prohibited in the body of the church.

    So any church which has perpetual adoration can never have Mass celebrated. I don’t know of a single instance where this is true.

    In addition:

    If exposition of the blessed sacrament is extended for an entire day or over several days, it is to be interrupted during the celebration of Mass.

    So perpetual adoration would cease for the celebration of Mass.


    Mass may be celebrated in a chapel distinct from the area of exposition if at least some members of the faithful remain in adoration.

    Once again, I don’t know of anywhere where this happens. If Mass is being celebrated, that’s where people go.

    1. @Paul,
      I don’t know of anywhere with perpetual adoration where it’s not done in a separate chapel in compliance with Eucharisticum Mysterium.

  3. I guess Pope Francis needs to be educated:

    “The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life.” Evangelii Gaudium

    Of course, he then goes on to whack “a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity”.

    Never expect liturgical exactness from a Jesuit.

    Then again, Pope Saint John Paul II, in his letter On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist (1980), wrote: “The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic adoration. Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of His love. In the opening prayer of the Perpetual chapel in St. Peter’s – Vatican the Pope prayed for every parish in the world to have perpetual adoration.

    Irrelevant, of course… thirty-five years ago!

    An then there is…. “In this regard, I encourage the initiative known as “Burning Bush”, promoted by Renewal in the Spirit.
    This involves perpetual adoration, day and night, before the Blessed Sacrament; it is an invitation to the faithful to “return to the Upper Room”, so that, united in contemplation of the Eucharistic Mystery, they may intercede for full Christian unity and for the conversion of sinners. I warmly hope that this initiative will lead many to rediscover the gifts of the Spirit, whose original source is Pentecost. ” 29 May 2004, First Vespers, Pope Saint John Paul II…..

    Again…. irrelevant …. It was 11 years ago! …..

    But somehow a reference from 1973 document from the SCDW is the controlling ?

    Ironically, I am not much if favor of it myself…. but for entirely other reasons.

    With that said, it seems the mind of the Legislator is the controlling element here, and we can see it pretty clearly.

  4. Todd, thank you for directing me to John Paul II’s memorable letter on the Mystery and worship of the Eucharist. It has been many years since I last read it, and I was grateful for its reaffirmation that the apex of the Eucharistic celebration is in the prayer rather than in the reception of Communion as claimed in the article above.

    I am a little surprised that I was unable to find the passage you seemed to quote. The highlighted section is obviously not part of the letter sent out in February 1980, since the dedication of the chapel at St Peter’s happened in December 1980.

    The other part might be in there, but it may not mean what you think. When he begins to describe Eucharistic worship, he explains that he means ” both in the celebration of Mass and in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.” The former is the primary subject of this letter, so it would be odd to quote this passage as referring solely to the latter.

    What is even more ironic is your attempt to set this up as if it were in opposition to the 1973 document from the SCDW[sic]. Several paragraphs of JP II’s letter commend that instruction and call for it to be followed!

    I’ve made mistakes like this before, so I’m not criticizing you for the,. I am just trying to understand your point, which is even less clear to me after reading your suggested sources. (and I haven’t even gotten to your suggestion that there is a lack of “liturgical exactness” in Francis’ writing…)

  5. Jim:

    CCC 1380 was my quick point of reference. I made a mistake in not closing the quotes after “sacrament of love”.

    The reference to the Perpetual adoration chapel should have been its own paragraph. Mea maxima culpa.

    I actually agree with everything you have written. I never said that it’s in opposition to the SCDW document from 1973.

    I guess my ironic proof-texting in response to what I perceived to be classic proof-texting did not come across the proper way, so I apologize. (It sometimes happens with seven kids, little sleep, a 4:30 am swim practice, and a long work day 🙂 )


    I firmly agree the prayer and the propitiatory sacrifice is the centrality to the Mass – the “apex”.

    With that said, and for that reason, is chiefly the reason that I am not a big fan of perpetual adoration myself.

    However, the four ends of the Mass include adoration, and I see that as the most proper environment to give it – not to exclude exposition, but perpetual adoration is not my thing.

    With that said, my own parish has it in a separately erected chapel, separated from the body of the Church. I occasionally stop in there for a visit.

  6. I would recommend praying that Jesus incline the heart of your pastor to allow Perpetual Adoration, and perhaps volunteer some inconvenient time and pray/work to find others that would be willing to step up. The pastor can’t have Perpetual Adoration if not enough adorers can be found. I don’t know if every parish can do it, but it’s a great blessing where it exists, and think it would be lovely if all Catholics were close enough to a parish (not necessarily their own) to stop by and make a visit to Our Lord.

  7. Growing up Roman Catholic in the pre-Vatican II days I enjoyed and found great comfort in the Eucharistic Adoration that took place at Opus Dei house in Milwaukee and in my parish church.

    It seemed to have gone away after The Council, at least in my recollection.

    Fast forward many years and I am a Lutheran Pastor. I learned that the Eucharist is for eating and drinking, not for adoring; Jesus never intended for us to adore, etc….

    During the Papacy of St. John Paul II I rediscovered that Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass was back at my neighboring Roman parish in Tucson. OK, I spent some great prayerful time in disguise…no collar anyway.

    A few weeks ago my wife and I were in Milwaukee for my brother’s funeral and we visited the Basilica of St. Josephat and there was….yep, Eucharistic Adoration taking place. My wife grew up Lutheran and had never experienced this devotion, but she asked if we could stay. Of course I agreed. We had a very devout time of prayer and just resting in the Real Presence of Jesus in a, for her, new way.

    I likely…OK, I won’t start EA in my Lutheran parish back home in Phoenix, but it was nice to introduce my wife to this devotion and renew it in my own life. Praise God!

  8. The first question when asked for a parish Perpetual Adoration practice should be “is this sustainable?”

    A well meaning couple fights for it, establishes it and schedules and promotes and facilitates and then gets transferred to another town for work.

    While Perpetual Adoration is a tremendous prayer experience and habit, I feel for pastors who are left scrambling when the leadership and enthusiasm go a different direction. Some parishes have remodeled, installed security cameras, increased security drive bys, redone parking lot lighting, rearranged Mass Schedules and then… It can’t be sustained. Yet sometimes it does live and the parish has a boost in its understanding of Christ’s presence.

    If the word Perpetual gets used then sustainability should give caution to a pastor.

  9. John Mann @Paul, I don’t know of anywhere with perpetual adoration where it’s not done in a separate chapel in compliance with Eucharisticum Mysterium.

    I know of a number of churches where there is no separate chapel as such, and so the “separate chapel” used for adoration is in a side aisle, and thus part of the same “space” as the main body of the church.

    This is also frequently found in churches where the adoration is not perpetual but certainly lengthy and even daily, and can be a source of considerable dissension between adorers and cleaners, musicians and others who need to use the church for other purposes. When adoration, whether perpetual or not, causes irritation in the community, then I think we really need to ask whether this devotion, however much it may appeal to some individuals, is helping the life of that community.

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