REDBANK, N.J. — Christmas has been called the first all-night adoration. Joseph and Mary did their time; the shepherds also got called for special nighttime duty adoring the new Savior.
Members of the Nocturnal Adoration Society imitate the Christmas watch, all year long — especially this year.
“We hope that the Year of the Eucharist generates new interest in Eucharistic adoration,” said Henry Ballasty, nocturnal adoration coordinator at St. James Catholic Church in Redbank, N.J., “and we hope that the NAS can be responsive to what the Pope has advocated in his proclamation.”
Ballasty has been a member of the society for more than 30 years. He was drawn to the group's mission to respond to the Lord's call to watch and pray.
“When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament,” he said, “we're reminded that the host in the monstrance on the altar was consecrated by a priest during Mass who followed the same ritual as Jesus did at the Last Supper, the night before he died.”
Each month, the organization's 122 chapters — with nearly 8,000 members — meet at parishes throughout the country to adore the Eucharist during the night, usually on the first Friday. During holy hours, they use the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, the society's official prayer book. Chapters set their own schedules, according to the abilities of their members; the average length of adoration is eight hours, with members taking hours that systematically rotate by month.
Why do members of the Nocturnal Adoration Society go out in the middle of the night to adore Christ in the Eucharist? To provide a fervent response to Christ's invitation to keep prayerful vigil with him, as written in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’”
“Adoring Christ in the Eucharist during the night gives you a chance to really meet with the Lord in quiet and without interference,” said Herman Casamatta, chapter president at St. Paschal Baylon Catholic Church in Highland Heights, Ohio, and a member since 1965. “It's very moving. It's the fastest hour of the night.”
‘Need It Badly’
The group's statutes list two additional reasons for nocturnal adoration: “To deepen the experience of communion with Christ Eucharistic, as he continues his self-offering and saving influence” and “to live more consciously and actively the full significance of the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity and unity for the Church and world.”
Father John Garrett, pastor of St. James Catholic Church, laments the fact that increasing numbers of Catholics doubt the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He sees the work of the Nocturnal Adoration Society as a testimony to the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist and applauds the way nocturnalists unite the needs of society and the universal Church with the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Any organization that brings that reality back deserves encouragement,” he said.
Membership is open to all Catholic men and women, and the conditions for membership are few. Members are welcomed into the society with a formal reception, and their names are inscribed in the chapter's official register. The group's principal obligation is to observe one hour of adoration before the exposed Eucharist during the night. There are seldom meetings outside of the monthly adoration hour. When a chapter does meet, it's usually for a social event or to encourage continued member participation and boost morale. The chapter arranges and attends a Mass for the deceased when a member dies. Members also receive a monthly newsletter.
The Nocturnal Adoration Society is headquartered at St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in New York and led by national chaplain and director Father Anthony Schueller, and a layman, Paul Monette of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lowell, Mass. Chapters elect their own officers, who take charge of sending out reminder postcards, collecting donations (there are no dues), organizing and moderating holy hours, and recruiting new members.
Monette took over the chair-manship in 2000. His wife, Gabrielle, and youngest daughter, Anne, help him with administrative duties. During the past three decades, he's seen the mission of the society grow in importance although its membership has declined. Older members have become too frail or have died. Younger people feel they haven't time in their busy lives for Eucharistic adoration. Monette is determined, however, to recruit new members.
“We need Eucharistic adoration in our culture so badly,” he said. “We're surrounded by moral pollution — pornography, divorce, homosexuality and a self-sufficient conviction that we don't need Christ.”
‘The Greater the Sacrifice’
Patricia Williams, chapter president at St. Helen Parish in Vero Beach, Fla., can testify to the benefits of Eucharistic adoration. “We receive so many blessings. Good things happen to you when you adore Christ in the Eucharist. The later the hour, the greater the sacrifice and yet the greater the blessings.”
The society is the inspiration of Father Giacomo Sinibaldi, a Roman priest who gathered groups of men to pray in the presence of the Eucharist in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Soon groups were meeting every night in the churches of Rome. The Nocturnal Adoration Society was established as an archconfraternity in Rome in 1810. From there, it spread throughout the world, coming to the United States in 1882. Today, there are more than 1 million members in 36 countries. Chapters are autonomous, and each must be canonically approved by the bishop of the diocese and have its own constitution. A chapter can be from either one parish or many.
“When we pray before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we're given graces, not just for ourselves, not just for our parish, but for the whole Church,” said Father Paul Clifford, pastor of St. Marguerite D'Youville Parish in Lowell, Mass.
Father Clifford is actively pursuing the formation of a chapter at his parish and encourages other pastors to do the same.
Like that first Christmas, he says it isn't just monks and cloistered nuns who are called to watch in the night. Like he did with the shepherds, he calls all of us, wherever we are, to come and adore the King.
Marge Fenelon is based in