If you haven’t noticed, the traditional practice of Eucharistic Adoration is making a comeback. Many were given the impression in the seventies that adoration was passé, a relic of pre-Vatican II spirituality. But all the Popes since the Council have emphasized its importance, and in this year of the Eucharist we see more and more parishes organizing regular, even perpetual, exposition and adoration.
But what do you do when praying before the Blessed Sacrament? First, let me point out what not to do. There are two extremes to avoid. At one end of the spectrum is hyper-busyness. This happens when a person feels so uncomfortable with quiet that they fill up every minute of adoration with nonstop reading or talking to God; this leaves no room for silent attentiveness to God’s voice. The other extreme I’ve encountered is the idea that it’s inappropriate to do anything except gaze on the Eucharist and be still. The problem here is that most of us aren’t equipped to walk in from our busy life, sit still, and be focused. Our minds are everywhere but on the presence of the Lord.
So how does one pray before the Blessed Sacrament? Since Eucharistic adoration is essentially a matter of lingering over the mystery of the Mass in a moment of contemplation, everything that happens at Mass is appropriate to do during adoration. In fact, church documents on the subject teach that we should take the Mass as our guide.
Notice that at Mass, we don’t jump into Communion right away. We prepare ourselves with repentance, with listening to God’s word in Scripture, with offering praise and thanks in prayers like the Gloria and the Eucharistic Prayer. We intercede for the needs of all. Finally, we receive the Lord and rest in his presence, giving ourselves to him and enjoying a deep union with him.
Each of these types of prayer is suitable for our times before the Blessed Sacrament. Certainly, there’s no obligation to always use them all or to follow the exact sequence in which they appear in the Mass. At the same time, our adoration should culminate as the Mass does, with simple resting in the arms of the Lord.
Silently repeating a word or short phrase can be a great aid in keeping us focused as we gaze on the Lord. One great tradition in the church is to repeat the name of Jesus or the well-known Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Also, certain Scriptures are especially effective in helping us recall that we’re in the Lord’s magnificent presence. One of my favorites is Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Another is Psalm 63, which speaks of thirsting and pining for God as in “a dry and weary land” and goes on to evokes the joy of gazing on God “in the sanctuary” and being filled, as with a banquet (verses 1-8). This, of course, is truly what happens in adoration: it’s a spiritual communion that fills our soul, as with a banquet.
For me, adoration is like spiritual sun bathing: I put myself in the presence of the Lord and allow myself to bask in the healthful rays of the Sun of Righteousness. I’ve spent many moments in adoration over the last thirty years and have received tremendous grace and healing of some very significant wounds. The Lord has also used these times to guide me in some remarkable ways. It was in front of the Blessed Sacrament that I discovered my vocation to become a theologian.
I must also confess that there have been many times when my adoration has wandered off into daydreams, distractions, and even sleep! Not every moment before the Blessed Sacrament is glorious, I’ve discovered, but if you persevere, you will have moments when the Lord touches you profoundly. They make all the struggles worthwhile.