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BY Joe Cullen
The Master Is Here: Biblical Reflections on Eucharistic Adoration by Brian McNeil (Veritas, Dublin, 1997 Through Ignatius Press 95 pages, $9.95)
Letters to a Brother Priest by Msgr. Josefino Ramirez (Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament, 1995, 81 pages, $9.95)
As Father Brian McNeil, CRV, points out in the introduction to his book on the subject, “All over the world today, we are experiencing a quiet but very vigorous flowering of Eucharistic adoration.”
In The Master Is Here, Father McNeil briefly examines the history and theology that has led to the current popularity of extended adoration before the exposed Eucharist, and responds to objections, heard less and less, to its practice. His primary objective is to offer personal testimony of the experience of adoration and the spiritual power and contemplative fruits that come with it.
Ordained in 1985, Father McNeil had more experience of adoration—once common in many religious communities—than most religious and seminarians of his generation. And, like many who have experienced adoration as a weekly or monthly act of piety, he knew it mostly as a dry exercise best spent in spiritual reading. “No one ever suggested to me that adoration could take the form of a simple, prolonged act of looking at the host.”
As a young priest, he writes, “I began daily silent Eucharistic adoration because people whom I respected recommended it to me.” For Father McNeil, adoration soon became his preferred venue for meditation, offering the full range of experiences—from dryness and distractions to “unutterable joy, the union of love with Jesus”—that are given to those who set time aside for genuine prayer.
But adoration is more. It is a oneon-one meeting that is deepened by familiarity, transforming the one who looks upon the actual Jesus and converses with him. “By concentrating our gaze on Jesus in the host and opening ourselves to this personal encounter with him,” says Father McNeil, “we expose ourselves to him, to the power that emanates from him now as it emanated while he was on earth.”
Our wasted thoughts, distractions, and feelings of aggression, resentment and even lust can be especially powerful in the stillness of prayer. While at times troubling, these normal tendencies need to be exposed to “the irradiation of Christ's love from the host,” says Father McNeil.
A school of humility and reparation, adoration is an excellent opportunity to make intercession for others and to achieve “a configuration to Jesus that takes the form of a true compassion which offers hope to the suffering world.”
Father McNeil compares the forms of adoration now practiced with those prior to the Second Vatican Council and sees the current eucharistic movement as a manifestation of healthy lay initiative, and as a vehicle for achieving Vatican II's forceful reminder that all Christians are called to live truly holy lives.
“One could have felt pretty safe in prophesying, 15 years ago or so, that Eucharistic adoration would … simply disappear,” recounts the priest. “This development is surprising—to put it mildly!”
Forty Hours devotion, First Friday adoration and the frequent practice of having Benediction after the Stations of the Cross and novenas were downplayed after the Vatican Council in order to emphasize the reformed and more accessible Mass in the vernacular.
While one occasionally hears about a comeback for this or that old-time devotion, this is not what has occurred with veneration of the Blessed Sacrament. At least in some places, adoration is now actually more accessible—and convenient—than in the pre-conciliar period, thanks especially to perpetual adoration programs and those with extended hours.
Christ-centered and scriptural, today's eucharistic devotion does not substitute for the liturgy but is an extension of the Mass.
While traditional books of piety, devotional pamphlets and prayer cards abound at the average adoration chapel, Father McNeil observes, “the contemporary flowering of silent adoration offers each member a specific possibility of growing in the love of Jesus Christ” through prayer of the heart.
Like Father McNeil's book, Letters to a Brother Priest showcases scriptural passages that are easily related to prayer before the Eucharist, and both books are ideally suited for use during adoration itself.
The New Testament, especially the Gospels, is all about encounters between men and women and the living Christ. In adoration, it is easy to relate to characters such as the woman at the well, Zacchaeus—who climbed a tree to be able to see Jesus—and the woman who suffered from a hemorrhage who drew physically close to the Lord in hopes of a healing that was, indeed, granted her.
In his Letters, Msgr. Josefino Ramirez writes to a much younger priest, Father Thomas, urging him to begin perpetual adoration in his parish in the Philippines as a way to deepen his own spiritual life and that of his parishioners.
In each letter, the author offers a different insight about the value of adoration by drawing lessons from the Gospels, the lives of the saints and everyday occurrences such as being reminded of the lyrics of an old song to make the point that “Christ waits for us in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Joe Cullen is an assistant editor of the Register.