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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eucharistic adoration and Baudelaire

- a monstrance from Holy Cross Monastery (Wikipedia)

There's a post at In All Things about eucharistic adoration By coincidence, I'm also reading a novel right now in which the main character is a sister in a convent that practices perpetual adoration. This subject really disturbs me. I've tried talking to a few other Catholic bloggers about it but nobody's been interested in discussing it, so I guess I'll just babble away to myself here and maybe get it out of my system.

I think there's something not quite right with the emphasis given by B16 to eucharistic adoration. I'm not sure I can articulate why I believe this, and maybe part of the problem is that I don't understand what adoration means, but I think adoring Jesus in the form of a wafer is weirdly reductive. Seeing him as physically present yet not intentionally present leaves out everything about him that makes him him -- what he preached, what he did, and any chance of interaction. It puts God in a box and objectifies him in a way that I worry allows people to believe that through devotions they can control their level of holiness.

There's a story at NCR on this issue, Vatican tries to revive Eucharistic adoration, but the In All Things post links instead to a story at The Christian Century on this, which is essentially the same as the NCR story. Here's a bit from The Christian Century ...

[S]ome theologians object to adoration as outdated and unnecessary, warning that it can lead to misunderstandings and undo decades of progress in educating lay Catholics on the meaning of the sacrament.

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

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 Richard P. McBrien, a noted theologian at the University of Notre Dame. .... According to McBrien, adoration distorts the meaning of the Eucharist: "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." ....

One of the comments at the In All Things blog post defends eucharistic adoration by stating that it's beautiful. I know beauty is one of the transcendentals, but it's the weakest one -- not all that is beautiful is good or true -- if a wafer in a gold monstrance in some rococo chapel is worth worshipping because it's beautiful, what then will one feel about that eventually crucified Jesus who trudged around first century Palestine with his ragged followers?

I guess I just don't get it, but this all reminds me of a poem by Baudelaire

I am as lovely as a dream in stone;
My breast on which each finds his death in turn
Inspires the poet with a love as lone
As everlasting clay, and as taciturn.
Swan-white of heart, as sphinx no mortal knows,
My throne is in the heaven's azure deep;
I hate all movement that disturbs my pose;
I smile not ever, neither do I weep.

Before my monumental attitudes,
Taken from the proudest plastic arts,
My poets pray in austere studious moods,

For I, to fold enchantment round their hearts,
Have pools of light where beauty flames and dies,
The placid mirrors of my luminous eyes.


Blogger PrickliestPear said...

I totally agree with you. I had never even heard of Eucharistic adoration until I was in university, and I was quite alarmed to learn that people still do it.

I don't think I've ever heard of it referred to as "ocular communion" before. That's pretty funny. "Take this bread, and look at it..."

7:58 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi PrickliestPear,

"Take this bread and look at it" :)

It's seems it's being pushed as a way for those who aren't allowed communion at mass to "almost" take communion.

1:09 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

You may be right, but somehow I doubt there's ever going to be much of an overlap between "those who aren't allowed communion at mass" and those who have any interest in Eucharistic adoration.

2:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

No, I agree. I think that's just one of the ways those who like adoration are justifying it .... divorced people and openly gays/lesbians can go to "ocular" communion and then the church doesn't have to feel guilty about denying them full communion.

2:51 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Adoration is a very important part of my spiritual life. It is a chance to meditate, visually and inwardly, on the covenant God has made and continues to call all people into. The Eucharist is a physical reminder of the historical and incarnate nature of our religion.It always calls us back to the Paschal Mystery that is at the heart of our Faith. The Eucharist is God's action that takes up our action into it, would we let it. What could be wrong with letting the heart and eyes feast on this moment where Christ gives His Body to the Body that he called out?

Adoration is a reminder and meditation on the fact that Christ abides with us always. It is a reminder that Christ is an eternal holocaust of self, always giving himself, loving unto the end. It constantly draws one back, in prayer, to the mystery at the heart of the Son, "I, who come from the Father and live by Him, exist also for you, have become a gift for you."

From consecration to consumption, the Eucharist vanishes in the Mass within 15 minutes. We get a few minutes of silence at most to just bask in this mystery, if the parish happens to permit silence.

Participation in Adoration was instrumental in returning me to Catholicism during my university years and some of my most intimate moments with the Lord have occurred in this context. I don't think it is strange at all, but a very legitimate, venerable and longstanding tradition within the Latin Church. It has given rise to some marvellous festivities and ritual practices, such as processions and the deeply consoling rite of Benediction. It is also virtually the only context where one will hear, today, the poetic hymns taken from Saint Thomas' office for Corpus Christ: O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo, which are a real joy to sing a capella with a small group of fellow Christians in Latin. That one can go from city to city, country to country, find a Benediction service and sing the same hymn in the same language with complete strangers is a powerful testimony of Catholic unity.

9:48 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for your comment. Apparently a fair number of people find eucharsitic adoration meaningful. I just don't get this, myself, though -- I can't see having any kind of relationship with a consecrated wafer, and relationship with Jesus is what Christianity is all about for me.

9:55 PM  
Blogger JD said...

It's para liturgical, so it doesn't have to be for anyone.

"I can't see having any kind of relationship with a consecrated wafer, and relationship with Jesus is what Christianity is all about for me.

Ok...but the belief is that, in the Eucharist, "the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained".

So, it's not really "a relationship with a wafer".

Again, I'm not saying you personally have to prefer or participate in Adoration, but the above characterization seems denigrating to the nature of the Sacrament.

I think a revival in Adoration is a good thing, though in itself it will be no cure to pedophilia and priestly corruption in Ireland or anywhere else. I think we can promote it without being superficial about it, as all right worship of God must be united to real Christian living. So, of course, the two need to walk together.

11:40 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Can I ask something? What is going on in people's heads/hearts when they are doing adoration?

I've been thinking about this all night, trying to figure out what about eucharistic adoration so bothers me. As you say, it's optional and many people like it.

Maybe part of what bothers me is that Jesus didn't intend this (I think) -- he said "take this bread and eat it" not "take this bread, put it in a monstrance, and worship it night and day".

And also part of what bothers me is the idea that God is sort of caught in the wafer and so we can worship him in that form. But that seems to say that God isn't already here with us all the time, always available, always listening, in all things, as Ignatius of Loyola would say.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Mary H. said...

Hi Crystal,
I understand your objections and I especially dislike the golden monstrance symbol - to me it says that Jesus only wants to be with us in richness, and it reminds me how many times our church has sided with the rich against the poor.
On the other hand, I have fond memories of my parents attending Eucharistic adoration in the early hours of the morning. I remember how close they seemed after that time away in the presence of Jesus. I'm sure the golden monstrance did not disturb them at all.

6:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mary,

I know what you mean about the gold monstrance, but I don't think it's so much the opulence that disturbs me - that's often the church interior/architecture too.

I think I'm afraid that Jesus in a wafer is thought to be more "there" (imminent?) than the Jesus I talk to in my prayer.That Jesus in a wafer "belongs" to the church -- he can't be there without a priest to change the bread, but the Jesus in my prayer is always around and vailble to everyone. I gues I don't want to think the Jesus I talk to is less Jesus, if that makes any sense :)

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal,

It’s been a while since we’ve chatted and/or since I’ve checked any blogs but I thought I’d drop by and say hello and see what you’ve been up to lately. I also noticed the PP has a new blog too – I’ll check that out soon too.

I’m a bit confused by what you wrote because you say “maybe part of the problem is that I don't understand what adoration means” and then you proceed to criticize something you don’t understand by saying “but I think adoring Jesus in the form of a wafer is weirdly reductive.” Sure you are entitled to your opinion but it seems to me that it lacks a foundation (both catechetical and human) and that seems out of character for you. Wouldn’t it be better to understand what the Church actually teaches about Adoration and about the Eucharist so that you can have an opinion that rests on fact? And I am talking about checking the CCC not the National Catholic Distorter – oops, I mean reporter.

Regarding your post, I see it as something very simple. If I am deeply in love with someone don’t I want to be in their presence and spend time with them? Do I have to say anything? Sometimes, but it’s not always necessary because simply being with my beloved fills me with inexpressible joy. That’s what’s happening in Adoration.

Hope you, your sister and cats are well. Pax!

2:32 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

It's good to hear from you again :) I hope you're feeling well.

I looked up the part of the catechism about the eucharist - will read it later.

Yes, if you love someone, you want to spend time with them. I don't think I can explain why spending time with Jesus in prayer (and you don't have to talk in prayer) seems more real and wholesome to me than spending time with Jesus as a wafer, but that's how I feel. My feeling is just a feeling and it doesn't mean I'm right, but Jesus as a wafer doesn't feel like Jesus to me.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Thanks Crystal - yes, I am better, thanks be to Christ - thanks for asking. How about you? Are you well?

But what if Jesus wants to be a "wafer" (to use your term) because He wants to be with us? We always focus on our desires, but what about His desires? Love is a two-way street after all.


4:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Yes, I'm the same - ok :)

But as to what Jesus wants, I don't recall any place in the gospels where he seemed to want to be "adored" or worshipped by his disciples -- they had a friendship. And he never implied, as far as I can tell, that the bread of the last supper was to be anything but eaten -- not used as a worship item or as a way to feel "with" him. If anything, he seemed to say that the holy spirit, the paraclete, will do that job of keeping us company once he was gone.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I always presume that your instruction in the Christian Faith was as in-depth as mine was since we are both converts but sometimes your comments remind me that it was not. I am not sure exactly what you were taught, but it’s clear to me that much was left out - and that’s sad because you’ve been cheated out of so much Beauty. Moreover, what does your certainty rest on if not the testimony of the witnesses of Christ - e.g., St. John, St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius, etc.?

But getting back to your latest comment, do you really believe that everything we believe about Jesus’ wishes is confined to the pages of the Gospels? If that’s what you are asserting, on what basis do you assert this?

For example, regarding your point, there are certainly places in the Gospels where Christ was worshiped (e.g., Matthew 14:33) but I don’t recall reading that He “rebuked” them for doing it - do you?

Moreover, even Pliny and Celsus - who were not friends of the Christians - acknowledged that the Christians worshipped Jesus as a god. Moreover, the writings of St. Paul, the Didache, the Church Fathers, etc., all make it clear that the Christians believed that Jesus was Lord. (And that word “Lord” is not an arbitrary word!)

Finally, regarding your assertion about the Paraclete, when a person receives Holy Communion, isn’t Jesus’ keeping them company? You might also want to read up on “Perichoresis”.

7:16 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


It's true -- my RCIA class either left out a lot or I managed to forget almost everything from it.

I think of the gospels as the best reference for Jesus, as they document (sort of) what he said and did while he was here. Ignatius and the others give testimeony about theur religious experience of the risen Jesus, but I'm not sure why their experience is any more valid than anyone else's, including mine.

It's not that I don't think Jesus is God - I do. But I'm just saying that the way he was with his disciples wasn't a relationship of a God and his worshippers, but more of a teacher and students, and a friend to a friend. He didn't expect the disciples to spend their time with him staring at him in worshipful, stunned awe -- he hung around with them. Or so the gospels mostly seem to show.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Crystal, if the Christian Faith is not a continuous contemporary encounter with an event — a Person — which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction then why bother being Christian at all? And that’s not meant to be a rhetorical question!

You write – “the way he was with his disciples wasn't a relationship of a God and his worshippers, but more of a teacher and students, and a friend to a friend.” But the Christian Claim is precisely that! That is, part of the Christian claim is that the relationship between Jesus and His disciples that you describe is precisely the way that a relationship between God and His worshipers should be because Jesus was, and IS, God incarnate. And since Christ is alive NOW, we also have the possibility to have exactly that relationship with Him NOW especially because He wants that as well. And so, spending time with Jesus in Adoration is a way to “hang out with Him” – to quote you.

While Christ may not have expected that “the disciples spend their time with him staring at him in worshipful, stunned awe” it’s clear that they did do that at times. After all, He did, and still does, things whose only spontaneous and adequate response is “wonder.” And it’s impossible for you not to have had that experience at some point otherwise you would not have converted and you would not continue to convert if that experience was not an ongoing contemporaneous event.

Of course, how and where that encounter takes place is where we most disagree – unfortunately.

Regarding what you did or did not learn in the RCIA class, you can rectify that lack of knowledge very easily if that's what you really want to do. FOr example, the Catechism or the Compendium of the Catechism are available for free on the internet. And that text describes what Catholics belive about the Faith and thus what they should know. Sure, you are free to dissent from it but you should know and understand what you are dissenting from, or at least it's accurate description and not a distortion.


8:27 AM  
Anonymous Jim McKay said...

The problem with Eucharistic adoration IMO is that it has the trappings od pagan worship. Christ is God, so let's treat him like we would Apollo or Thor. The whole thing seems incongruous.

The advantage of it is well expressed in your remarks. Bread, not gold, is what we worship. And not any bread, but bread that embodies the Spirit of Christ who makes Himself present to us not just for 15 minutes a day, but constantly. Not just on the cross, or in the tomb, but constantly.

The Body of Christ facilitates communion with God, which is a spiritual communion since God is Spirit. Eating or seeing, what is important is that God is loving. The divorced, non-Catholics, etc may experience spiritual communion more deeply then those who experience only bodily communion.

As an RCIA catechist, I try to encourage a focus on the things that last: faith, hope, and love. I would be thrilled to find someone who has heard that message as clearly as you have.

5:31 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for your comment :) Faith, hope, and love -- the increase of those are how Ignatius of Loyola thought we could tell we were going in the right direction -- I keep trying to remember that.

8:10 PM  

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