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Miracles of Grace
(Sursum Corda) Fall 1996

Authors:


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 various dioceses.

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 lesser extent.

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 large response.

"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 as well."

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 renewal.

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 1980s.

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.

Contact:

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


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All contents © copyright, 1998-2014
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You are here: Articles > Pastoral Issues > Miracles of Grace  Back one page.

Home | New | FAQ | Search | Forum | Links


All contents © copyright, 1998-2014
The Catholic Liturgical Library
http://www.catholicliturgy.com