Pray 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.
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?
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.