Priestly Adoration of the Eucharist
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying…(Jn. 1:35-39, RSV)
“Come and see” where He dwells. We know, of course, that God dwells among us even now in the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Adoration allows us to “come and see” Him present there. It allows us to extend our daily communion into a time of meditation, and “see” Him once again throughout the day, present in the little white Host. The opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, then, are privileged ones during which we can dwell with Him Who dwells with us. This is an important aspect of the Catholic faith for all involved, but in a particular way, for priests, who have pledged their lives to divine service.
It should be obvious why adoration is part of priesthood, and also part of spiritual fatherhood: prayer is an essential part of these. The priest, after all, is the one who prays and offers sacrifice to God for the people. Let’s take some time to rediscover the beauties of prayer in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
In order to talk about this, I would like to call upon the writings of one of the great saints of our time, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He of course wrote and spoke so much about adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, particularly by means of making a daily Holy Hour, that I cannot possibly hope to cover all that material here. As such, I will focus myself to the main reasons he gave for making Holy Hours himself, as found in the chapter called “The Hour that Makes My Day,” found in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay. I will, however, also refer to some further explanations in The Priest is Not His Own [Priest] and Those Mysterious Priests [Priests]. I should note that, while what he says was mainly addressed to priests, it can also mostly be applied by religious and the laity. He did not excuse anyone from spending time with our Lord, whether before the Blessed Sacrament, or at least at home with the Scriptures! We are all made priests by our baptism, and so to spend time is prayer is essential to all of us as well by virtue of that baptismal priesthood.
Let’s start off with a biographical note. We learn from the good Archbishop that he promised two things early on in his priesthood. He said:
On the day of my Ordination, I made two resolutions:
- I would offer the Holy Eucharist every Saturday in honor of the Blessed Mother to solicit her protection on my priesthood….
- I resolved also to spend a continuous Holy Hour every day in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Read again to that second promise: to spend a continuous Holy Hour every day in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Continuous. Hour. Every day. IN THE PRESENCE. We could say that those were the four qualities to his preaching on adoration. We know, too, that he was faithful to this promise every day of his priesthood, to the point that the Lord even granted his desire to die in the adoration of the Eucharist.
So, let us now move on to Fulton Sheen’s reasons for the Holy Hour. He is rather blunt about why we should make it: “Because it is time spent in the Presence of Our Lord Himself. If faith is alive, no further reason is needed” (Priest, 230). If we were all saints I would end this article there and we would be done for now! But we are all, please God, on the way to sanctity, and have not yet made it. So let us go into further depth.
First, a point on the sacrifice it may mean: “The Holy Hour. Is it difficult? Sometimes it seemed to be hard; it might mean having to forgo a social engagement, or rise an hour earlier, but on the whole it has never been a burden, only a joy.” Sheen was constantly reminding priests that they are not only priests who offer the sacrifice, but that, like Christ the High Priest, they are also victims who are offered. In relation to the Holy Hour then, if that means we have to sacrifice some enjoyable thing or other, we are living that priest-victimhood. I am sure our Blessed Lord had more “enjoyable” things to do than undergo His Passion, but He did it for “His hour had come.” So too when our daily Hour comes, we go to it with the zeal of Christ. God has to come first, always and everywhere. So too with regard to our prayer, we cannot let other things take over our time of adoration. If it means we have “to forgo a social engagement, or rise an hour earlier,” we do that, because, quite honestly, as soon as we stop that, the well dries up. We live in the desert, and we know that, barring a Moses-like event, you can’t get water from a sand pit or a rock. Similarly, without regular prayer and contact with the divine, we cannot draw the strength we need.
Every sick call, every word of counsel in the parlor, every catechism lesson taught to children, every official act in the chancery flows from the altar. All power resides there, and the more shortcuts we take from the tabernacle to our other priestly duties, the less spiritual strength we have for those duties. If all the sacraments, if all our preaching, confessing, administrating and saving start with that Flame of Love, then how can we refuse to be sparked by it an hour a day (Priest, 231).
Fulton Sheen lived this. He practiced what he preached, and we can see the effect in his preaching and writing. How many clever and insightful ways did he find to explain the Gospel? How powerful were his words from the pulpit? It was all because he made the Hour. And he knew it too.
Next, Sheen gives a theological reason for the Holy Hour: “the Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. [… Christ] asked for an hour of reparation to combat the hour of evil; an hour of victimal union with the Cross to overcome the anti-love of sin.” By simply making a Holy Hour, we fulfill what our Lord asked His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: to watch an hour with Him (cf. Mk. 14:32-42). In typical Sheen style, he points out that by making this Hour, we combat that other hour which the Gospel of John always relates to the powers of darkness. By making the Hour we help Christ to conquer the hour and power of darkness so that His Day can shine. “The Devil has his hour; God His day” (Priests, 175).
In this way, we share in Christ’s redemption of the world, and extend it by our prayer to our parishes and our people. We exercise our priest-victimhood in union with Christ so that His love may shine through in this world which so desperately needs it and even rejects it. We spend time with Him for those who won’t. This is priestly! For here, as we combat the power of darkness on our knees in prayer before Him Who destroyed death and sin and the devil’s power over us, we “stand in the breach” for those who cannot or will not (cf. Ez. 22:30). “The Holy Hour helps us make reparation both for the sins of the world and for our own. […] Who will be Abraham for Sodom, a Mary for those who have no wine? The sins of the world are our sins, as if we had committed them” (Priest, 233). For “[w]hose guilt is it? If we have the Christ-mind, it is ours—we priests are guilty” (Priests, 181). Therefore, “shall not we priests atone for the sins of the world, and be faithful? If judgment thus starts with the sanctuary [cf. 1 Pt. 4:17], then so shall mercy. Thus can the world be saved. […] The alleged superiority of being ‘in the chancery’ or the alleged inferiority of being ‘only an assistant’ dissolves before the tabernacle,” and we see ourselves on the same battlefield, all fighting under the same banner, for the same King, as brothers, as men of Christ, as priests and spiritual fathers.
Like Moses, then, we intercede for our people over and over and over again, pleading for mercy upon them, for their conversion, for their deepening faith. Or perhaps sometimes we are a bit more like Jonah, unexcited about the whole thing, not wanting to go to prayer, not wanting to intercede for those “who do not know their right hand from their left” (Jn. 4:11) …but we still go. For we are priests and fathers. And we do not have a break from that, from caring for our people and our flock. Thus, we make the Hour. Daily.
The second reason Fulton Sheen gave for the daily Holy Hour of Adoration is linked again to Gethsemane. He says that “the only time Our Lord asked the Apostles for anything was the night he went into his agony. […] Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.” On this we can say two things.
First, the daily Holy Hour is a matter of obedience, so to speak. Our Blessed Lord has asked for time of prayer with Him. Now, of course this isn’t a strict matter of obedience. Our Lord didn’t exactly say “Could you not spend one continuous Holy Hour of Adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament with Me?” But He did ask for an Hour of time, and we did promise to pray at our ordination. I suppose this is what makes the connection of the two quite beautiful. It is a voluntary obedience, one that isn’t required. It is devotional obedience. Here’s Fulton Sheen:
“The Holy Hour is personal prayer. […] The priest who limits himself strictly to his official obligation and adoration is like the union man who downs the tools the moment the whistle blows. Love begins when duty finishes. […] we do not have to make the Holy Hour—and that is just the point. Love is never compelled…” (Priest, 236).
And this is the second point: it is not out of compelled love, but rather out of filial love, out of devotion and piety, that we want to spend time with the Beloved. He has asked for just that, against all sorts of activism in the priesthood. Sheen pointed this out: Jesus asks for time spent with Him, not simply doing things for Him. In other words, the Hour is meant to foster our relationship with Christ, simply by being with one another.
The purpose of the Holy Hour is to encourage deep personal encounter with Christ. The holy and glorious God is constantly inviting us to come to Him, to hold converse with Him, to ask for such things as we need and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with Him. When we are first ordained it is easy to give self entirely to Christ, for the Lord fills us then with sweetness, just as a mother gives candy to her baby to encourage her child to take the first step. This exhilaration, however, does not last long; we quickly learn the cost of discipleship, which means leaving nets and boats and counting tables. The honeymoon soon ends, and so does our self-importance at first hearing the stirring title of “Father.”
The Hour then helps to keep the fires aflame as we continue in the weariness of this world. In Pauline terms, it helps us to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in [us] through the laying on of hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). This is particularly important when we are stressed, anxious, tired, lonely, angry, and afraid, for “meditation keeps us from seeking an external escape from our worries and miseries” (Priest, 237). It is important when we are questioning the various realities of our lives. It is important when we wonder if we have done the right thing, especially in these days when priesthood itself stand on trial. In all sorts of difficulty, the daily Hour reminds us Whom we serve and why, for it places us in His very Presence each day, and helps us to draw strength from the fountainhead. This allowed Fulton Sheen to say that the Holy Hour “will restore our lost spiritual vitality. Our hearts will be where our joys are. One reason why many fail to progress after many years in the priesthood is that they shrink from casting the whole burden of their lives upon Our Lord. They fail to seek their joy in the union of their priesthood with the victimhood of Christ” (Priest, 234). On the other hand, those who make the Hour, says Sheen, can be assured of the opposite:
So the Holy Hour, quite apart from all its positive spiritual benefits, kept my feet from wandering too far. Being tethered to a tabernacle, one’s rope for finding other pastures is not so long. That dim tabernacle lamp, however pale and faint, had some mysterious luminosity to darken the brightness of “bright lights.” The Holy Hour became like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world. Even when it seemed so unprofitable and lacking in spiritual intimacy, I still had the sensation of being at least like a dog at the master’s door, ready in case he called me.
A daily Hour of companionship, then, keeps us from wandering far from Christ, and keeps us rooted in His Truth. This leads then to the Archbishop’s third reason for the daily Hour. He says:
The third reason I keep up the Holy Hour is to grow more and more into his likeness. As Paul puts it: “We are transfigured into his likeness, from splendor to splendor.” We become like that which we gaze upon. Looking into a sunset, the face takes on a golden glow. Looking at the Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain. Something happens to us similar to that which happened to the disciples at Emmaus. On Easter Sunday afternoon when the Lord met them, he asked why they were so gloomy. After spending some time in his presence, and hearing again the secret of spirituality—“The Son of Man must suffer to enter into his Glory”—their time with him ended and their “hearts were on fire.”
The companionship of the Hour transforms us. It makes us like Him Whom we “come and see.” An old prayer to the Sacred Heart says “Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.” Implicitly, that is what we ask when we come in to make the Hour: even if we are not conscious of it, for stepping into the Presence of God, we ask Him, among our many petitions, to make us like Him. For are not our hearts restless until they rest in Him? Are we not lost like Israel when we are not for Him? And are we not false, especially as priests, if we are not like Him to Whom we have been conformed? The Holy Hour is the remedy to all these. Through it, we can rest in Him, be for Him, and continually be transformed into a more perfect likeness of Him, all by basking in the Son each day, even to the point that our weaknesses and temptations are lessened: “The virus of our sins cannot long exist in the face of the Light of the World. […] Our sinful impulses are prevented from arising through the barrier erected each day by the Holy Hour. Our will becomes disposed to goodness with little conscious effort on our part” (Priest, 235). For these and like reasons, Sheen thus called the Holy Hour the “hour of truth,” where “[a]lone with Jesus, we there see ourselves not as the people see us—as always judging us to be better [or worse] than we are—but as the Judge sees us,” that is, as we truly are (Priest, 235). Consolingly, Sheen also says in this regard: “It is not conceivable that a priest who has sanctified each day with its Holy Hour will ever be rejected by the Judge” (Priest, 251).
There is a particular aspect of this which applies to us priests. Sheen put it this way: “revelations made by the Sacred Heart to saintly souls indicate that still unexplored depths of that Heart are reserved for priests. There are veils of love behind which only the priest may penetrate and from which he will emerge with an unction and power over souls far beyond his own strength” (Priest, 232). My brothers, Jesus has a special place in His Heart for us – He has special secrets waiting just for us – and all because we are His priests! Imagine the great and profound things He has waiting for each and every one of us, if we but spend the Hour with Him each day. Can you imagine, if each priest did this, how this would renew the priesthood today? We would all rediscover our first Love. We would rediscover ourselves in that Love. We would be conquered by that Love, and He would conquer again through us. And all simply because we are His priests and friends!
This is important, for this worldview changes the Hour from a mundane 60 minutes to a cherished meeting with a friend which we do not want to end:
At the end of the Holy Hour “our eyes are opened.” Veils are lifted. We are conscious of His Presence. The Tabernacle is a “Thou” place. The Real Presence is more like Easter than the Mass. The Sacrifice of the Mass principally but not exclusively centers on Calvary. The Sacramental Presence is related principally but not exclusively to Easter, when Christ appeared only to those who knew Him in some way—to Magdalene, Peter, John, all the disciples. But He never appeared to Pilate, Herod, Judas, or Caiaphas. The extra Presence is only for friends who want to become better friends. […] He bids us remain the Hour, and at the end, we hate to leave for our hearts are still with Him (Priests, 192-3).