Finding Jesus’ touch through eucharistic adoration

  • December 3, 2007

{mosimage}Twice a week Margaret Aitken can be found praying at 2 a.m. in a small stone church in the village of Rockwood, Ont.

As she sits in front of the Holy Eucharist for two hours meditating on Christ, Aitken offers up in prayer any struggles she has staying awake.

“I would say nine times out of 10 it’s a pure close uniting with our Lord,” the Acton, Ont., resident said.

Aitken is one of 80 people who volunteer at least one hour a week to sustain the 72-hour perpetual eucharistic adoration, beginning Tuesday morning after Mass until Friday morning, at Sacred Heart parish in the diocese of Hamilton.

“We feel it’s an awesome gift our small parish has been given,” said Aitken, who co-ordinates weekly adoration for the 150-family-strong parish.

In Canada there are 98 adoration sites, according to Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, headquartered in Chicago. Thirty-three of those offer perpetual eucharistic adoration.

Between perpetual adoration chapels, all-night nocturnal adoration, children’s holy hours, interactive-guided adoration sessions for youth, eucharistic adoration is catching on in a variety of forms for a variety of ages.

Eucharistic adoration is a form of worship in front of the Blessed Sacrament which is exposed in a monstrance on the altar. Some of the earliest examples of eucharistic adoration outside of the Mass date back to the late fourth century, when converts to the faith in some dioceses were to adore the Blessed Sacrament exposed for eight days after their Baptism, according to the late theologian John Hardon, S.J. in his scholarly article “The History of Eucharistic Adoration Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church.”

But Hardon wrote that it was not until after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) clarified and defined every aspect of the sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion and the real presence, that perpetual adoration began to develop on a worldwide scale.

In more recent years Pope John Paul II promoted belief in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist through various forms of worship including adoration.

“The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the church,” wrote the late pope in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

Perpetual adoration at Sacred Heart parish started three years ago — the same year Pope John Paul II designated the Year of the Eucharist. “It gave us momentum, definite momentum. His words were there to encourage us,” said Aitken.

The late pope also encouraged people to host holy hours to pray for vocations by blessing seven monstrances in 2004 with one designated to North America. The Canada Council of Serra purchased its own and had it blessed by Pope Benedict because they felt it would take too long for a monstrance to make its way across the border from the United States. Currently the monstrance is in Montreal.

“I guess vocations is everybody’s business and the Holy Father said the best way (to promote vocations) is prayer before the holy sacrament and that’s why we instituted this,” said Lee Hishon, past president of the Serra International Canada Council.

This practice is being encouraged particularly in Quebec leading up to the Eucharistic Congress next June. Young adults and Eucharistic Congress and World Youth Day pilgrims are invited to monthly adoration followed by supper and faith sharing at Montreal’s Mary Queen of the World Cathedral among other similar outreach events.

“There’s a strong tie between young people who stay a part of the church and practices like eucharistic adoration,” said Fr. John Lemire, director of the Diocesan Vocation Directors of Canada.

Lemire said he and other vocations directors they seeing an increase in eucharistic adoration on campuses and it’s one way young men are fostering their spiritual growth.

“The world is so busy, chaotic, noisy, especially for university students — so demanding with academic work and jobs (that) young people are looking for some moments of solitude and eucharistic adoration provides them with that.

“People are being drawn to a deeper awareness of the giftedness of the Eucharist. We as youth leaders, chaplains, pastors need to respond to that,” said Lemire, who holds adoration at his parish of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in New Liskeard, Ont., on the fourth Friday of every month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Toronto’s York University chaplaincy is among the campuses that have responded. It holds a weekly Mass followed by an hour of adoration that draws about 40 students.

“Many students will tell you (about) this experience of being touched by God, either feeling God’s love in a particular way that brings them to tears, or a lifting of a burden, or they sense God’s presence in a way that they feel a healing,” said York chaplain Fr. Roger Vandennaker, CC.

The hour is guided by mixture of contemporary Christian songs and silence.

“It just seems to be catching on in a lot of places.... This wasn’t something we invented, but it is fairly new. I would say that this is only in the last 20 years that I’ve heard about this form of adoration,” said Vandennaker, who first heard about this interactive form of adoration at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

Other Canadian youth ministries such as Raising Up An Army youth retreats in the Maritimes, NET Ministries Canada, Catholic Christian Outreach and Face to Face Ministries in the western provinces also incorporate adoration into their activities.

“We find that just giving people the opportunity to be before Jesus we see conversion,” said Ken Yasinski, who founded the Saskatoon-based Face to Face Ministries seven years ago. “We can see Jesus touch young people’s hearts. We’ve seen physical healings, spiritual healings — thousands of young people have experienced conversion during eucharistic adoration.”

Each Face to Face retreat has a series of talks leading up to eucharistic adoration. One of the main teachings is about the meaning behind reconciliation, then Yasinski encourages the youth to have an honest confession. “I feel that that prepares the heart to receive an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist,” said Yasinski.

During adoration the lights are turned off and candles are placed on the altar so that the total focus is on Christ. The Face to Face praise and worship band plays some slow meditative songs that lead people into a prayerful state, a youth reads a Scripture passage, followed by a time of silence. Yasinski challenges youth who have never committed their life to Christ in an adult way to stand up as a sign of that commitment. He also encourages young people who’ve already done so to extend their hands toward Christ and recommit their life to Jesus.

“When they encounter Jesus in eucharistic adoration their appreciation for the Mass greatly increases,” said Yasinski. “There’s a difference between knowing Jesus is present in the Eucharist and encountering Him in the Eucharist.

“In the churches we’ve been to it’s not a common practice to have eucharistic adoration and if it is done, it’s done in silence for an hour and typically a young person has difficulty sitting in silence for an hour — you have to work up to that point.”

Yasinski said church leaders may hesitate to embrace eucharistic adoration if they are inexperienced with this form of worship.

“You can’t lead people to a place you haven’t experienced yourself,” he said. “Sometimes a person just has to see this style of ministry to know it’s possible. They just don’t know that young people will sit before Jesus for a whole hour in a prayerful way.”

“Many priests may not realize fully the richness of the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament and I cannot blame them. I was in the same situation until I went into solitude,” said Fr. Donald Arsenault of Moncton, N.B., who founded the Canadian chapter of the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association in 1992 after spending nine years in a hermitage.

Arsenault said during that time Christ gave him the gift to realize the richness of His presence in the Eucharist.

“I fell in love with Him and it always stayed with me,” he said.

“It’s a matter of grace, unless the Lord gives it to you, and unless you ask for it, some people may not fully understand what a treasure we have in front of the blessed sacrament.”

Aitken said while perpetual adoration at Sacred Heart parish is a lay-run ministry, leadership from pastor Fr. John Pinsonneault, C.S.B., is key. She added one concern priests might have is that adoration won’t draw enough people to make it viable, which is why it’s necessary to work out the kinks beforehand.

Pinsonneault spent a year preparing parishioners ahead of time by putting information into the weekly bulletin and starting some hours of adoration prayer.

In order for adoration to run smoothly a eucharistic adoration committee at Sacred Heart started with an overall co-ordinator and division leaders who schedule a six-hour time slot. Volunteer adorers fill in for those who can’t make it to their time slot and everything is recorded in a sign-in sheet to be certain the hours are getting covered.

“Because the Eucharist is Christ and is the heartbeat of Christ, that is what our little parish is now centred on,” said Aitken, who added the adoration has strengthened the parish’s sense of community.

“Every Catholic Church should have eucharistic adoration because this is who we are. This is what Christ gave us from the cross — the Eucharist. And although there may be obstacles they can all be overcome.”

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