It hit me during a recent Holy Hour inside my parish church: Earthly clocks come to a standstill during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
During the evening in question, about a dozen young adults were present at Holy Hour for the first time, lowering the average age of a group that’s more typically composed of middle-aged Catholics on up. Yet instead of becoming more acutely aware of my pushing-50 status with the influx of young blood, I was struck by a profound sense of our respective agelessness as we sat there before Christ.
The Christ in our midst – so humbly and starkly present in the monstrance – was the same Christ of centuries ago, the same Christ of today, the same Christ of 50 years from now, the same Christ of all eternity.
How awesome it is that God incarnate makes himself fully and consistently available to his children, no matter where they are in their faith journeys – whether he or she is an 80-year-old still struggling to get right with God, or a teenager mature in faith beyond his years. Like the sandaled and barefooted throngs from every station of life that gathered around Jesus’ feet to hear him preach, we too are invited to spend time with the living Christ.
So why had I waited until age 48 to make this remarkable opportunity a regular part of my prayer life?
Perhaps adoration suffers from the misconception that it is only for “old-timers.” If so, it’s ironic that many Catholic Baby Boomers have the young church to thank for reminding them of its availability and power. My 17-year-old daughter had put adoration on my radar after becoming a semi-regular adorer through her CYO group, but I hadn’t paid close attention to the practice for years until I helped chaperon a mission trip for parish teens last June. In addition to attending daily Mass and doing hands-on service work, our group was invited to a candlelit Holy Hour by the pastor who provided us with lodging for the week.
Composed of Latin chants, a Gospel reading, a brief spoken reflection, adoration time, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, benediction and guitar-led hymns, the hour flew by, and I started craving the next opportunity to pour out my heart to Christ in this special environment.
When we returned to New Orleans, one of my fellow mission trip chaperons – a transitional deacon – mentioned that he had been asked by our pastor to lead the weekly Holy Hour during his five-month internship, and that the time for Holy Hour was being moved from Monday evenings to Wednesdays from 6 to 7 p.m. (Mid-week! Just when we need it the most!).
As an adoration novice, I’m no expert, but I have learned the following in my short time with it:
➤ The idea that adoration is “boring” or “passive” – that simply sitting in front of the monstrance will magically alter your life – is a myth. The truth is quite the opposite: Adoration is one of the most active forms of prayer available to Catholics. In many ways, it invites individuals to an even more personal and profound encounter with Jesus than the Mass, which tends to be more communal in nature.
In the same way the revised translation of the Creed has us say the more strident “I believe” (rather than the nebulous “We believe”), adoration forces the faithful into an extended, one-on-one encounter with the Lord. There’s no hiding behind your neighbors in the pews. Holy Hour also gives ample time for a thorough examination of conscience – something that is given just seconds at Mass during the Penitential Act. Consequently, the sacrament of reconciliation is commonly available during Holy Hour.
➤ Holy Hour is ideal for those whose schedules prevent them from attending daily Mass, but who still crave extra time in church to “be still and know that I am God.” One exits adoration quietly – in contrast to the bustle that usually accompanies the end of Sunday Mass – and I have found that the sense of peace lingers long afterward.
➤ This is not your grandmother’s adoration, especially when it comes to your knees. Obviously, one should maintain reverence and silence, but it’s OK, at least in my parish, to shift between kneeling and sitting, to mix traditional prayer with other forms of reflection, such as reading and writing. (Some parishes have begun incorporating contemporary music into their Holy Hours).
Your thoughts will wander – because you are human – but as the weeks go by your prayer will become more focused. One moment it might be a prayer of thanksgiving; other times of contrition; and still other times a request for someone going through a painful time. Your prayer has time to take root, and with Christ right there, intently listening to you and guiding you, your prayer will grow exponentially.
➤ Adoration helps you keep your worries in perspective. What is it about 21st century life that has everyone – even the so-called faithful – wringing his hands about everything? In his first Sunday homily after Hurricane Isaac, my pastor reminded congregants that even when things are maddeningly out of our control on the exterior, the interior heart can remain peaceful because God dwells there.
It’s up to each of us, though, to determine what rules our hearts: Is it chaos and anxiety, or a calm and a hopeful resolve “to love and serve the Lord”? Adoration pares away the extraneous and points us back to the only thing that matters: Christ’s love. Anxiety falls away. Christ desperately wants to inhabit our hearts, but we’ve got to make time for him!
➤ Finally, adoration is the perfect prayer for introverts – those of us who sometimes are drained by the company of others and who are drawn to more solitary endeavors. Conversely, adoration challenges extroverts – those who thrive on the presence of people – to sit still for a bit and to redirect some of their energy into getting to know the best friend they could ever have: Jesus.
So clergy: Invite your parishioners to avail themselves of this weekly opportunity to draw closer to the heart of Christ. Why not issue them personal invitations?
Fellow Catholics: Jesus awaits you beyond the Sunday Mass. Experience Holy Hour a couple of times, and I’m betting you’ll find yourself yearning for more.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.