On February 11th 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes,the world awoke to the news that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping aside to make way for his successor. Then on the evening of February 28th the faithful all over the world gathered in front of their television screens to look on as an intellectual and spiritual giant disappeared from the world stage. Many tears were shed, especially by those who understood just how instrumental this great man of God had been in restabilising the Church after the tempest of the post-Vatican II era. One of the Pope’s collaborators said that from now on he would be like Moses on the mountain, interceding with arms outstretched for the people of God who would obtain the victory thanks to his prayers. (Ex. 17:11) Then as now the battle depended not so much on activity as on intercession, and this is something that Pope Benedict had always understood so well. He wrote many beautiful things about prayer and its necessity, but above all about the mystery of the Eucharist and adoration. One of his greatest fears for the Church was the activism that had entered into the priesthood, depriving it of spiritual fruitfulness, and he saw adoration as the remedy. He was also the first pope in history to specifically request the establishment of perpetual adoration in dioceses all over the world. Pope John Paul II had already done much in this regard, instituting all-day silent adoration in the major basilicas of Rome and in the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Poland. However he had stopped short of explicitly asking for the establishment of adoration, day and night, throughout the Universal Church. It is for this reason and because of the many extraordinary things he said about the Eucharist that I will always remember Pope Benedict XVI as the Pope of Perpetual Adoration. In this article I would like to recall just a few of Benedict’s key teachings on the mystery of Eucharistic adoration. It is important to meditate on the great treasure of wisdom this pope has left us, while at the same time thanking God for the gift of his pontificate.
Personally I feel that I owe a great debt of gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Through his example and ministry God has blessed me abundantly. When I was a seminarian it was the theology of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger that nourished my faith and helped me to recognize certain dangers that were present in the thought of a lot of modern theologians. Amidst much theological confusion I believe that the Lord used his writings to help me to stay faithful to the theological tradition of the Church. In the famous “Ratzinger Report” of 1985 he momentously called upon the whole Church to return to the simple practise of honouring the great Mother of God, so as to be freed from the evils of the age. Many say the publication of this interview was a turning point for the Church and especially for theologians. As supreme pastor his teachings became ever more powerful and enlightening.
In 2006 I had the opportunity to meet the Holy Father twice and converse with him very briefly. In spite of the fact that he has a true genius, a prophetic theologian who taught like a new Church Father, what struck me immediately was his remarkable humility, gentleness and also his charitable attentiveness to every person he meets. It was immediately clear that he was the very opposite of what the media would have us believe about him. In 2008 I had the great privilege of being candle-bearer for the Pope, as he adored the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi procession. I remember how amazed we were at the fact that he stayed on his knees, lost in adoration for the entire procession through the streets of Rome. In light of his age and the fact that the procession must have lasted almost an hour, his example of reverence gave us as clear a teaching on the real presence as did his words. Then in 2011, as a deacon, I had the even greater privilege of carrying the Blessed Sacrament for the Pope at the start and the end of the Corpus Christi procession.
That evening I asked him to pray for me in a special way on the day of my priestly ordination, which would take place a few days later on the feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated on the Sunday in France. I believe I received a very special grace from his prayers and the blessing he gave me for my vocation. In fact every time I came into the Pope’s presence my soul was deeply moved by grace and filled with the peace of the Holy Spirit, not only because of his Petrine charism but also, I believe, because of his own deep personal holiness. It was evident from all of these experiences and from my studies of his writings how great a love he has for the mystery of the Eucharist and how his dream was to see the entire Church prostrate in adoration before the Monstrance. The following is an outline of just a few of the ideas which reveal something of his interior attitude in relation to the Eucharistic Mystery.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen to be the Vicar of Christ in April 2005 and I will never forget the joy that accompanied his election for those of us who were in seminary and familiar with his Eucharistic theology. Almost immediately he began to speak very beautifully about the Blessed Eucharist in his homilies and teachings. One of his first major events as Pope was World Youth Day in Cologne and while he was there he told the German bishops that nothing in this world is more important than adoration. He said that before every activity and every attempt to change the world we must first adore the Lord. Adoration makes us understand God’s will for us as well as the true criteria for our action. Then at the Mass with the hundreds of thousands of young people who were gathered for World Youth Day he went on to give a striking homily on the mystery of Eucharistic adoration.
In order to explain Eucharistic adoration to the young people, the Pope analysed the root meaning of the word “adoration”. In Greek the word for adoration is proskynesis, which means submission before the omnipotence of God. We can think of the many instances of adoration in the Old Testament, where God drew His people to an awareness of His Divine Majesty and they would fall prostrate before Him, representing the total submission of their lives to His divine power. The Pope then looked at the word for adoration in Latin. He said: “the Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio – mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because He to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.” (Homily for World Youth Day 2005)
This second way of understanding adoration by looking at the Latin word for it is very important for those who wish to understand Eucharistic adoration in particular. Adoration is a dialogue of love with He who is Love. In the Eucharist we truly encounter Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word enfleshed. Our faith tells us that the God of all power and majesty, before whom Moses and the People of Israel trembled in awe, assumed our own human nature and walked the face of the earth. In the Person of Jesus Christ we have come to understand that the Creator God, whose name was too holy to be mentioned by the People of Israel, is a God of purest love. The God before whom Moses removed his sandals in fear, would one day take the “form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) and after removing the sandals of His apostles, would humbly wash their feet. How magnificent it is to meditate on the loving abasement of Almighty God in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Eucharist this Incarnate God is still alive and present in the world; and in the Eucharist the abasement and love of God have been taken to the furthest possible extreme. The God who hides Himself behind the poverty of the Eucharistic veil does so in order to prove to us the infinite love of His Sacred Heart. This is why adoration must have the two dimensions mentioned above. There must be a humble submission of our entire lives before the Eucharistic Lord. We must approach Him with the utmost reverence, but we must also approach Him with hearts filled with love. Our desire must be to respond to the infinite love of the Heart of Christ, with the gift of our own love. Adoration must ultimately lead to the union of two hearts.
In the same homily, the Pope left the young people with another profound idea, which he would take up again a couple of years later in the document called Sacramentum Caritatis. The mystery of the Eucharist is a mystery of transformation. The Eucharist makes present the Sacrifice of Calvary, in which hatred was absorbed by the Heart of Jesus and transformed into love, in which death was transformed into life, and sin into sanctifying grace. On the Cross Jesus uses the cruel violence that is being inflicted upon Him as the means of immolating His life in love. This sacrifice He offers even for the very people who are torturing Him. The outpouring of hatred is being overcome by an even greater outpouring of love. His interior attitude completely changes the nature of what is happening.
In the Eucharist there is also the transformation whereby the bread becomes the living Body of Christ and the wine becomes His Precious Blood. Both the sacrificial transformation and the sacramental transformation are designed to bring about the transformation of our souls. Through participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion and Eucharistic adoration, our hearts are gradually changed and we become the saints we are called to be. This Eucharistic transformation which we can already observe taking place in individual souls will ultimately lead to the complete transformation of the universe at the end of time. However all of the divine power which transforms our souls and ultimately the world is already contained in the Eucharist and was already contained in the first consecration of the Eucharist by Jesus Christ in the Cenacle. The divine glory and power contained in the little white Host are nothing less than the glory and power which will one day be manifest for all the world to see, but for now faith alone can pierce this mystery. This is how the Pope explains the extraordinary chain of Eucharistic transformations:
By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, (Jesus) anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence – the Crucifixion – from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. I Cor 15: 28). In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life. Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word. (Homily for World Youth Day 2005)
The Pope then went on to explain the power of the Eucharist by way of an interesting analogy taken from the world of science :
To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being – the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world. All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption: what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened,and we can enter into its dynamic. This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But it must not stop there; on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood… (Homily for World Youth Day 2005)
Thus adoration is not just about interior union with God but also about our own transformation. We are called to let ourselves be interiorly transformed and then this transformation is called to pass out through us and end in the transformation of the entire world. The Eucharist already contains the transforming power which will ultimately lead to the transformation of the entire universe at the end of time. The heavenly power is already there but not yet fully unleashed. The analogy with nuclear physics is worthy of consideration. Nuclear fission is a process which was discovered in the 1930’s whereby the nucleus of an atom is split and multiplies, leading to a release of great energy which has been harnessed so as to produce nuclear power. The splitting of the atom can be channelled in such a way as to cause a nuclear chain reaction and ultimately a powerful explosion. By this analogy the Pope wanted to make us understand the extraordinary spiritual energy contained in every single consecrated Host; so that we might allow ourselves to be drawn into the chain reaction of transformations that will ultimately culminate in an explosion of love sufficient to transfigure the entire universe on the Last Day. It is as though the “Divine Scientist” split the atom at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist and some day this atomic bomb of transforming love will explode and all things will be made new. So the next time somebody asks us how to explain the mystery of the Eucharist, we might simply respond that it is an atomic bomb of divine love waiting to explode!
The Greatest of all Treasures
A few months later in 2006 Pope Benedict visited Germany again and during vespers in Altötting he told the seminarians of Bavaria how important it was for them to do Eucharistic adoration. In that beautiful Marian shrine the Pope was delighted to discover that an ancient room, which was once filled with the treasures of that place was now being used for perpetual Eucharistic adoration. He immediately took up the Gospel theme of treasure in a field and applied it to the Eucharist. By way of introduction he spoke to the seminarians of the great harvest that could be reaped if only there were a sufficient number of labourers ready to offer themselves to Jesus. Then he told them how they might themselves become fruitful laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. The Pope said that seminarians are supposed to live like the Apostles who were called “to be with Jesus and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14). Being “with God” in Eucharistic adoration is the perfect preparation for evangelization. He said:
Eucharistic adoration is an essential way of being with the Lord. Thanks to Bishop Schraml, Altötting now has a new “treasury”. Where once the treasures of the past were kept, precious historical and religious items, there is now a place for the Church’s true treasure: the permanent presence of the Lord in his Sacrament. In one of his parables the Lord speaks of a treasure hidden in the field; whoever finds it sells all he has in order to buy that field, because the hidden treasure is more valuable than anything else. The hidden treasure, the good greater than any other good, is the Kingdom of God – it is Jesus himself, the Kingdom in person. In the sacred Host, he is present, the true treasure, always waiting for us. Only by adoring this presence do we learn how to receive him properly – we learn the reality of communion, we learn the Eucharistic celebration from the inside. Here I would like to quote some fine words of Saint Edith Stein, Co-Patroness of Europe, who wrote in one of her letters: “The Lord is present in the tabernacle in his divinity and his humanity. He is not there for himself, but for us: for it is his joy to be with us. He knows that we, being as we are, need to have him personally near. As a result, anyone with normal thoughts and feelings will naturally be drawn to spend time with him, whenever possible and as much as possible” ( Gesammelte Werke VII, 136ff.). Let us love being with the Lord! There we can speak with him about everything. We can offer him our petitions, our concerns, our troubles. Our joys. Our gratitude, our disappointments, our needs and our aspirations. There we can also constantly ask him: « Lord send labourers into your harvest! Help me to be a good worker in your vineyard ! » (Marian Vespers with the Religous and Seminarians of Bavaria, Altötting, 11th September 2006)
Benedict was keen to show the seminarians that the greatest of all the Church’s treasures is the Eucharist and if they were to become faithful apostolic priests they must spend long periods of time in adoration. He quotes Saint Edith Stein who says that for a person who has faith in the real presence and who thinks “in a normal way” Eucharistic adoration should be the most natural thing in the world. We should go and spend time with Jesus “whenever possible and as much as possible”. How can we not be drawn to the Holy Tabernacle when we have understood that Jesus of Nazareth still dwells there and that He is thirsting for our loving presence before Him!
The Perpetual Pentecost and the Eucharistic Springtime
With his capacity to create terms that become part of the Christian vocabulary, terms like the “Dictatorship of Relativism”, the Pope has left us several beautiful terms to describe Eucharistic adoration. Speaking to the youth of the world in July 2007, the Pope reminded them that they were baptised with a view to living from the mystery of the Eucharist. A “non-practising Catholic” is a contradiction in terms. From the beginning Christians have always been identifiable by the fact that they come together to worship Christ on Sunday, the Day of the Lord. The Holy Father then said that through the celebration of the Eucharist there is a “Perpetual Pentecost” in the world. (Message to the Youth of the World, 20t h of July 2007) The Holy Spirit is ever present through the Mass but also through the mystery of adoration. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and in the Eucharist the pierced Heart of the Son continues to beat in the world. From His Heart there flows out rivers of Living Water, the torrent of the divine love of the Holy Spirit. When we do adoration we have an experience similar to that of the apostles in the Cenacle on the day of the Resurrection. Christ breathed upon them and touched their hearts with His Holy Spirit, bestowing upon them the peace and joy of the Resurrection. (Jn 20: 20–24) In adoration we also come into the presence of the Risen Christ and the better our hearts are disposed the more we will experience the effects of the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. It is because of this that we often leave the chapel after adoration completely rejuvenated and filled with the enthusiastic joy of the Spirit.
In his catechesis on St Julianna of Mont Cornillon, the saint behind the celebration of Corpus Christi in the Church, the Pope spoke of his great joy at seeing the rediscovery of adoration in the Universal Church. On several occasions he had already spoken of how much hope he had received in observing that all across the world people were beginning to adore the Eucharistic Lord and in this catechesis he referred to this renewal as a new “Eucharistic Springtime” in the Church. (Catechesis 17t h of November 2010) After the long hard spiritual winter of recent decades, new life is starting to flower all over the Church through the rediscovery of the mystery of the Eucharist. Chapels of perpetual Eucharistic adoration can now be found in almost every country in the world and all of this is a sign of something new that the Lord is accomplishing in His Church. Perhaps this new zeal for adoration is the first sign of the “triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” which Benedict spoke of in Fatima in May 2010. We have not yet seen the full effects of the Eucharistic Springtime but we can be certain that all of the adoration being done throughout the world, at every moment of the day and night, will bring forth a great harvest of new life in the Church.
Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration
The year 2007 was a time of great grace for those who love the Eucharist. During this year the Congregation for the Clergy wrote to all bishops asking them to establish sanctuaries of perpetual Eucharistic adoration in every diocese in the world, and also to consecrate priests for the ministry of promoting adoration. The Church desired to see the entire world covered in a powerful wave of unceasing Eucharistic and Marian prayer so as to bring about a renewal of the priesthood. We are still waiting to see this happen in many places, but such a holy desire expressed so urgently by the Church will undoubtedly come to fruition before long. In the same year Pope Benedict published his magnificent exhortation on the Eucharist called Sacramentum Caritatis. In this document the Pope gave us a beautiful spiritual theology of the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration and asked that chapels of perpetual adoration be established all over the world, especially in densely populated areas. ( Sacramentum Caritatis no. 67) This momentous request from the Vicar of Christ was another clear sign of the only remedy that the Holy Spirit is giving us in order to overcome the crisis in the Church. The all-powerful Risen Lord is alive in the tabernacle and only by turning to Him will the Church be clothed with power from on high once again. The Holy Father also asked that children be formed in adoration, especially as a part of their preparation for first Holy Communion. Adoration is the only way to discern and recognise the personal presence of Jesus in the Host and it is this recognition alone that can lead to a fruitful reception of Holy Communion, in which a true personal encounter with Jesus takes place. ( Sacramentum Caritatis no. 66) The Pope also reiterated the need for regular Confession as a necessary preparation for Holy Communion, as well as the practice of spiritual communion for those who are not able to receive the Eucharist. The Pope wanted to make it clear that the Blessed Sacrament cannot be treated as a dead object, but rather must be respected as an encounter with a living Divine Person, and such an awesome encounter requires a preparation of the heart. Without the necessary dispositions, without deep faith, reverence and love, the reception of Holy Communion would show a serious lack of respect for the Lord. “Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist.” ( Sacramentum Caritatis no. 55)
The Freedom of the Children of God
Benedict grew up in a world that was plagued by various powerful false ideologies, each of which had the end result of enslaving human beings and depriving them of the great freedom Christ won for us. From Nazism to Communism, to the false freedom and practical atheism of the postmodern world, the Pope looked on with sorrow as humanity distanced itself ever further from worship of the One True God. When creatures cease to worship the Creator they invariably resort to some other form of worship, which can only be called idolatry. Benedict sees one great remedy to all of this idolatrous enslavement and it is: Eucharistic adoration! When the Church prostrates herself in adoration of the Eucharistic King, Jesus takes up His reign in the world and destroys the domination of evil in its various disguises. Also when a human being personally discovers that Christ is really present in the Eucharist and begins to adore Him faithfully, Jesus gives the particular grace necessary to be totally liberated from the idolatry of grave sin. With the discovery of adoration authentic holiness becomes possible. According to the Pope it is adoration of the Eucharist that brings us the glorious freedom of the children of God. In his homily for Corpus Christi 2008 Benedict spoke powerfully about the liberating power of adoration:
Adoring the God of Jesus Christ, who out of love made himself bread broken, is the most effective and radical remedy against the idolatry of the past and of the present. Kneeling before the Eucharist is a profession of freedom: those who bow to Jesus cannot and must not prostrate themselves before any earthly authority, however powerful. We Christians kneel only before God or before the Most Blessed Sacrament because we know and believe that the one true God is present in it, the God who created the world and so loved it that he gave his Only Begotten Son (cf. Jn 3: 16). (…) Adoration is prayer that prolongs the celebration and Eucharistic communion and in which the soul continues to be nourished: it is nourished with love, truth, peace; it is nourished with hope, because the One before whom we prostrate ourselves does not judge us, does not crush us but liberates and transforms us. (Homily C orpus Christi 2008)
The homilies of the Pope Emeritus for the solemnities of Corpus Christi were always particularly beautiful and this is perhaps linked to the fact that from his childhood Benedict had a deep love for this celebration dedicated to the real presence of Jesus Eucharistic. Perhaps the greatest of all of the homilies the beloved pontiff left us was given just a few months before his retirement, on the solemnity of Corpus Christi 2012. In this homily the Pope truly spoke from his heart and from the depths of his deep love for the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. These words will always sum up for me the gift of his pontificate for the Church. It is no secret that Pope Benedict had been deeply troubled by the misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council in many countries throughout the world. Perhaps no country was more sorely afflicted than his own beloved Germany. Largely because of errors taught by prominent theologians, confusion spread throughout the ranks of the clergy and trickled down into liturgical celebrations of the Eucharist, as well as the spiritual lives of the faithful. Preaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist began to fade away and consequently tabernacles remained perpetually abandoned all over the world. Benedict had been present for the wonderful event of the Council and knew very well that this disrespect for the Eucharist was far from the intention of the Council Fathers. If anything they were hoping for a great renewal of love and devotion towards the mystery of the Eucharist in all of its dimensions. In this homily for Corpus Christi 2012 the Pope wanted to correct the error of certain theologians who were opposed to Eucharistic adoration. He highlights the false notion that Vatican II had sought to focus on the celebration of Mass alone and no longer on adoration outside of the Mass. To this theological lie the Pope responded from his own knowledge of the truth of what the Second Vatican Council really wanted to accomplish:
This imbalance has also had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, by concentrating the entire relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus in the sole moment of Holy Mass one risks emptying the rest of existential time and space of his presence. This makes ever less perceptible the meaning of Jesus’ constant presence in our midst and with us, a presence that is tangible, close, in our homes, as the “beating Heart” of the city, of the country, and of the area, with its various expressions and activities. The sacrament of Christ’s Charity must permeate the whole of daily life. Actually it is wrong to set celebration and adoration against each other, as if they were competing. Exactly the opposite is true: worship of the Blessed Sacrament is, as it were, the spiritual “context” in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this inner attitude of faith and adoration can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value. (Homily for Corpus Christi 2012)
The Pope clearly wanted to put an end to the abandonment of tabernacles throughout the world, so that the Eucharist might be recognised as the “beating Heart” of our cities and parishes. Then he went on to respond to this error, not from a theological or magisterial perspective but from the depths of his heart and his own experience of a life spent in constant communion with the silent God of the Eucharist:
The encounter with Jesus in Holy Mass is truly and fully brought about when the community can recognize that in the Sacrament he dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offer them to the Father. (Homily for Corpus Christi 2012)
This last statement is worthy of meditation and resembles a thought that could be found in the spiritual teachings of the greatest of Eucharistic saints. Benedict has fully understood what St. Peter-Julian Eymard, Apostle of the Eucharist, had always taught; namely that Jesus Christ is active in the Blessed Sacrament! Day and night He is calling us to Himself. He is perpetually interceding for us before the Face of God the Father. He is uniting our “spiritual sacrifices” to Himself, purifying them and offering them to the Father on our behalf. Rarely has a magisterial statement spoken with such clarity about the living personal presence and activity of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Only a few months before he devoted himself to a life of prayer, our beloved pontiff gave us a little glimpse into his own spiritual life and pointed out to us the path to holiness, the path to heaven. It is the luminous path of deep and constant intimacy with the living Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.
A theologian in Rome once said to me that Pope Benedict has the intelligence of several great theologians combined, but somehow he has managed to retain the humble piety of a child who is making his first Holy Communion. It is through the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of the humble abasement of the Lord of Glory, that Jesus transmitted His own unfathomable humility to this faithful servant of the servants of God. In another one of his Corpus Christi homilies, Benedict once said that we shouldn’t really be surprised at the widespread lack of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; it has been this way since the first time that mystery was preached by Jesus Christ Himself in the synagogue of Capernaum. (Jn. 6) Back then it was only Saint Peter and those with him who managed to stay faithful to the Lord when everybody else walked away, scandalized by such a difficult teaching. In this article I have attempted to give a sample of some of the Eucharistic teachings of an extraordinary successor of Saint Peter. I encourage the reader to go now and study the writings of this great witness of the Eucharist, so as to be able to stay faithful to the Eucharistic Lord while many others continue to walk away.
Fr. Sean Davidson, MSE