A Sursum Corda! staff report
The Unheralded Revival in Eucharistic Adoration
The deplorable ignorance among many Catholics concerning the Blessed
Sacrament-a complaint that 25 years ago was dismissed as the deluded assessment
of a few conservative malcontents-has in recent years been acknowledged as a
serious problem. Opinion polls attest to the dearth of understanding of this
most central aspect of the Catholic faith. A recent front?page article in the
New York Times, for example, showed that only 3 out of 10 Catholics could
identify the doctrine of the Eucharist when given a multiple choice question;
the numbers are even more disheartening among the young faithful. All too few
Catholics are aware that the Sacred Host is the very Body, Blood, Soul and
Divinity of Our Lord and Savior. And since the Blessed Sacrament is the very
life of the Church, it would appear that the Church has one foot in the grave.
It would appear.
But the grace of God continues to be offered and, in spite of this grim
picture, there is what can only be called a miracle of grace in several American
dioceses: a revival in Eucharistic piety and devotion. The form of this revival-
Adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in large measure outside of
weekly Mass obligations.
While there are national organizations promoting perpetual adoration, such as
the Apostolate for Perpetual Adoration in Mt. Clemens, Michigan and
-preeminently- the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, an international group based
in Los Angeles, several examples we looked at grew out of local efforts within
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that 300 parishes
around the nation-nearly two per diocese-have adoration chapels, some of them
open 24 hours every day.
Perhaps the most impressive of these is in the Diocese of Bridgeport,
Connecticut. Not only is Bridgeport dwarfed by the neighboring Archdiocese of
New York; it cannot even claim to be the largest diocese in the state of
Connecticut. Yet in this diocese of only about 350,000 Catholics, there are at
present three different locations where there is perpetual adoration 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week - and numerous parishes where adoration is practiced to a
Take the diocesan seminary residence in Stamford. The brainchild of
Bridgeport's ordinary, Bishop Edward Egan, the St. John Fisher Residence
provides men with an opportunity to discern whether they have a calling to the
priesthood. The current rector of the seminary residence, Fr. Steve DiGiovanni,
with the blessing of Bishop Egan, initiated perpetual adoration in a specially
constructed chapel in September 1995.
When his seminarians sought volunteers to man the chapel, the 44-year-old Fr.
DiGiovanni was not expecting any miracles.
"I didn't have a specific number in mind," he says, "but I didn't expect to
get as many as we did."
He got 700, with typically 450 worshipping weekly at any designated hour.
Father DiGiovanni started perpetual adoration at St. John Fisher with the
expressed intention of fostering vocations through prayer. By spring 1996, the
diocese had over 50 seminarians either in the "minor" seminary in Stamford or
completing studies for the priesthood at another institution. In a 12-month span
ending this past May, the diocese ordained 13 men to the priesthood-more than
neighboring New York, seven times its size. Sixteen more candidates began their
studies at St. John Fisher last fall when perpetual adoration started at the
seminary, while another I I entered last January.
Father DiGiovanni says that not only the quantity but the quality of priestly
candidates has risen since perpetual adoration has been instituted: "There is
very definitely a connection. "
On the other side of the MasonDixon line, in the Diocese of Atlanta, stronger
devotion to the Blessed Sacrament must be linked to the new Archbishop, John
Francis Donohue, who instituted perpetual adoration at the Cathedral of Christ
the King itself. To inspire his flock to begin the practice, the Archbishop
"wrote extensively" in the diocesan newspaper and encouraged his pastors to
preach on the topic.
There was no specific theme like Bridgeport's attached to its introduction.
According to diocesan spokesman Msgr. Peter Dora, the primary reason for its
institution was the "pent-up demand on the part of the faithful."
While he didn't have specific figures, Msgr. Dora said there was "no problem"
in getting "guardians" to keep watch for each hour. And while he hesitated to
quantify the effects of adoration, he did say that it has "enlivened" spiritual
life in the diocese, and the effects have been "noticeable."
And as impressive as all this is, it is actually only a preliminary action on
the part of the diocese. Starting June 9, the feast of Corpus Christi,
Archbishop Donohue began an official year devoted to adoration of the Eucharist.
His long range plan alms to get the individual parishes involved in such
practices as Eucharistic Benediction on first Fridays, and Forty Hours devotion.
We ain't seen nothin' yet, in Dixie.
But the spread of adoration is not
confined to the East Coast. In the nation's heartland there has also been a
"It's the wave of the future," says Fr. Steven Relske, chancery official for
the diocese of Fargo, North Dakota. "It is growing by leaps and bounds."
Father Reiske estimates a 30%-50% increase of this devotion in parishes
within the past couple of years. And the cause? While there has been no formal
diocesan program put into place, Fr. Reiske credits Bishop John Sullivan's 11
years of preaching on the topic as an inspiration. This can be seen by such
actions as the three-day Eucharistic Congress held in the diocese two years ago.
In fact, a second one is being planned, due primarily to lay petitions.
"I would say that 80%-90% of the time where it has been established, the
laity come forward with the request," says Fr. Reiske.
This is all the more impressive in light of the sparse populations of several
plains states. Fargo's neighbor to the south, the Diocese of Rapid City, South
Dakota, is made up largely of ranches and farms. With a Catholic population of
35,000 in an area covering 43,000 square miles, the diocese has more miles than
parishioners. Some of the parishes are without resident pastors, though they
generally have a priest available on the weekend. With the missions attached to
the parishes, however, the distance is too far for the pastor to get to all of
them each Sunday for Mass.
"That's the way It is on the prairies," says Sean Innerst, the diocese's
Director of Religious Education.
Nevertheless, Bishop Charles Chaput's diocese does manage 45 hours of
adoration weekly at the Cathedral, while four parishes practice adoration one
day a week. Modest perhaps by others' standards, but the diocese can currently
claim 14 seminarians studying for the priesthood. That's as many as Milwaukee.
"The increase in men in the seminaries has actually put a strain on our
budget," says Innerst. "So either we have to cut back or begin to pray for money
Devotion to the Eucharist outside Mass was popularized in the Middle Ages and
largely continued in parishes until the 1960s. The typical parish had
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on a monthly (some weekly or even daily)
basis, as well as Forty Hours devotion each spring. Adoration throughout the day
on first Fridays or first Saturdays was also a common feature. But the practice
of perpetual adoration had previously fallen under the purview of religious
orders. Thus, with the drastic decline in vocations beginning 30 years ago,
there was a corresponding decline in the practice of perpetual adoration in the
Church. Its rebirth, consequently, could be accomplished only with action on the
part of the laity. Here, perhaps, we can see that most effective response to the
call by Vatican 11 for an increase in lay involvement in the life of the Church.
An irony, and another example of the mystery of God's grace, is the role that
some diocesan buildings, formerly the thriving residences of religious orders,
have played in the rebirth of Eucharistic adoration. For in many instances it is
these empty buildings, a painful sign of a decline in the spiritual life of the
Church, which serve as a site for worship of the Eucharist, a means of a
When did this resurrection of Eucharistic devotion outside of Mass begin
after its waning in the 1960s and 1970s? It is difficult to say, though some
point to Pope John Paul II's encouragement of perpetual adoration in the early
There has been some testimony to physical heating connected with Eucharistic
adoration due to prayers of petition. But the more common miracles" are the
growth in love and devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, and a general increase
among the faithful in spiritual practice and sacramental life. Several pastors
have witnessed an increase in confessions and daily Mass attendance along with
the increase in Eucharistic exposition, Fr. Reiske of Fargo notes that in a
diocese of only 25,000 Catholics, you will typically find better than a hundred
at a weekday Mass. This has a special significance since some have expressed
fears that Eucharistic devotion would tend to "privatize" worship and decrease
attention to Mass as the center of Eucharistic life. The opposite has occurred.
At a time when churches are typically locked unless an organized function is
taking place, Catholics can often find an adoration chapel open for prayer. And
at a time when the Holy Father has preached the need for silence at Mass to
"allow God to make his voice heard," an increasing number are finding God
speaking to them in hushed chapels.
For information on Eucharistic adoration for your parish, the largest
organization, with more than a decade of field experience, is Perpetual
Eucharistic Adoration. Many bishops, including several members of the college of
cardinals, serve on its advisory board. It publishes a newsletter outlining the
progress of adoration efforts here and abroad. Write them at:
P.O. Box 84595
Los Angeles, CA 90073