Holy Eucharist: March 2008 Archives

When a Priest Adores

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Reading the biography of Virginie Danion (1819-1900), foundress of the community of L'Action de Grâces de Mauron, I came upon this excerpt of a letter written to her in November 1855 by the Bishop of Lucon, Monseigneur Jacques-Marie-Joseph Baillès (1798–1873). It so moved me that I translated it from the French. There is nothing, I think, as compelling as the sight of a priest in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. In an age of locked churches, of churches opened only for "services" — ah! the Protestant ring of that! — it is a rare thing. And yet, there is no more effective way of communicating to souls the truth about the Most Holy Eucharist.

"I never go up into the pulpit without seeking to move [souls] to love of the Divine Eucharist, and I often recommend the visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Given that example speaks louder than words, I go habitually to recite Vespers, Compline, and later, Matins and Lauds before the Blessed Sacrament in the cathedral, and at nightfall I make a half-hour's meditation there. The Lord will, I hope, bless these efforts, by stirring up in a greater number of souls the desire to visit the Blessed Sacrament. I say this only for you, so that your heart may be consoled by it. Persevere in your holy undertaking, in the midst of difficulties and contradictions. The railway cars are overflowing with travelers while the avenues leading to churches where the Holy Eucharist resides are deserted. This is truly the hidden and unknown God. Apply yourself to making Him known, praised, loved, blessed and welcomed."

Adoration: March 27, 28, 29

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Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of this week, at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, 61 Burban Drive, Branford, Connecticut, there will be adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament from after the 11:50 a.m. community Mass until 3:00 p.m. Adoration will conclude with Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament at 3:00 p.m., the Hour of Divine Mercy.

The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed in a monstrance blessed by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, shortly before his death on the Vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy, April 2, 2005, for the worldwide movement of Eucharistic adoration for priestly vocations.

"The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass – a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain – derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species.

It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer”, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!

This practice, repeatedly praised and recommended by the Magisterium, is supported by the example of many saints. Particularly outstanding in this regard was Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote: “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us”. The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace. A Christian community desirous of contemplating the face of Christ in the spirit which I proposed in the Apostolic Letters Novo Millennio Ineunte and Rosarium Virginis Mariae cannot fail also to develop this aspect of Eucharistic worship, which prolongs and increases the fruits of our communion in the Body and Blood of the Lord."

Pope John Paul II
Ecclesia de Eucharistia

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This is the article by Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda in Kazakhstan that attracted considerable attention when it appeared in L'Osservatore Romano, 8 January 2008. I applaud His Excellency's well-documented argument. Would this not be another fruit of the "Year of the Eucharist" proclaimed by Pope John Paul II precisely to rekindle "Eucharistic amazement" in the Church?

1. In his last encyclical, the great Pope John Paul II gave the Church a strong warning which sounds like a real testament: "We must carefully avoid underestimating any dimension or requirement of the Holy Eucharist. We thus show our awareness of the greatness of this gift . . . there is no risk of exaggerating in respect for this Mystery."

Awareness of the greatness of this mystery is shown in the way in which Christ's Body is given and received. Being aware of the importance of the moment of Holy Communion, the Church in her bimillenary tradition has tried to find a ritual expression to testify to her faith, love and respect in the most perfect possible way. Thus, in the wake of an organic development, by at least as early as the 6th century, the Church began to give the Holy Eucharist directly into the mouth. This is testified in the biography of Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned from 590 to 604, and by an indication of the Pope himself.

The Synod of Cordova, which took place in 839, condemned the sect of the so-called Casians for their refusal to receive Holy Communion directly into the mouth. After this the Synod of Rouen of 878 confirmed the current practice of placing the Body of Christ on the tongue, threatening priests with suspension from their office should they give the Eucharist to lay people by placing it in their hands.

In the West the custom of kneeling and prostrating oneself before receiving the Eucharist was established in monasteries as early as the 6th century (e.g., in the monasteries of St. Colombanus). Later, in the 10th and 11th centuries, this custom became even more widespread.

At the end of the patristic age, the practice of receiving Holy Communion directly into the mouth became so widespread as to be almost universal. This organic development can be traced back to the spirituality and Eucharistic devotion of the Fathers of the Church. As early as the first millennium, owing to the highly sacred nature of Eucharistic bread, the Western and Eastern Church in unison and almost instinctively realized the urgency of giving the Eucharist to lay people in their mouth.

The well-known liturgist J. A. Jungmann explained that, thanks to the distribution of Holy Communion directly into the mouth, several problems were sorted out: the necessity for those about to receive the Eucharist to clean their hands, the even more serious problems of preventing fragments of consecrated bread from being lost, and the necessity of purifying the patens of the hands after receiving the sacrament. The cloth and later on the paten were expressions of greater respect for the Eucharist.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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