I have a confession to make to you all: adoration used to really intimidate me.
As a young women participating in my first MCCW group and with no prior exposure to adoration, I remember listening to some of the other women talk about their time in adoration; about pouring their hearts out to Jesus, feeling filled with his love and peace, spending an hour or more just “being” with our Lord.
“Whoa,” I thought, “this seems pretty intense. And I’m not really sure how it works. What if I “adore” incorrectly?” Surely I was not devout enough to experience adoration like these women did. And, what the heck was I supposed to do for an hour, sitting in silence?
I was blessed to participate in adoration a handful of times during my years at that duty station and while I definitely had a better understanding of the magnitude of being in the real presence of Jesus, I still felt awkward and uncomfortable, unsure of what to think about, say or do.
It wasn’t until, four years later, when I had the opportunity to participate in weekly adoration on my own – not as part of a program or a retreat –I finally began to feel more comfortable with adoration. Each time I went to adoration, it became less intimidating, especially as I saw people “adoring” in a wide variety of ways. I slowly realized that I probably wasn’t going to do it “wrong” and began to enjoy my quiet time with Jesus.
I have also learned much more about adoration which has gone a long way toward “demystifying” this rich Catholic tradition. Here is some of what I have learned:
The History of Adoration
Adoration has its roots in the practice of “reserving” the consecrated Eucharist – just as our priests do each week after Holy Communion when they place the unconsumed Eucharist in the tabernacle for future use. This practice has been around nearly as long as the church and over time the understanding that Christ is as present in the reserved host as He is at the moment of the Mass led to the idea that Jesus could therefore be worshiped in the reserved host as He is during Mass.
Adoration, as a practice, grew out of this idea and the types of adoration we would most recognize today took shape around Europe between the 1200 and 1500s. The practice of adoration has continued to evolve over the years, reflecting both the needs of our world and the Church’s understanding of Eucharistic doctrine. Adoration is understood today to be a natural extension of the sacrifice of the Mass – a way for us to continue that worship and deepen our understanding of the mystery of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
For a complete history of both the tradition and doctrine of Eucharistic Adoration, check out The History of Eucharistic Adoration Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church on the EWTN website. A more brief history paired with information about the practice of adoration today can be found in In the Presence: The Spirituality of Eucharistic Adoration by Joan Ridley, OSB.
What if I “Adore Incorrectly?”
Turns out, this early fear of mine was pretty unfounded!
Though the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship has set out a fairly explicit set of instructions for adoration in the document “Holy Communion And Worship Of The Eucharist Outside Mass” most of the guidance is for our priests, deacons and other religious responsible for the exposition and reposition of the Eucharist. What aren’t there are many rules for those of us coming to adore our Lord. In fact, the only guideline specifically given for us is this: we should genuflect on one knee before the exposed Eucharist as we would before the Eucharist housed in the tabernacle. (Which also helps answer another common question about adoration – you do not have to remain kneeling for the entirety of adoration. Once you’ve genuflected you are welcome to sit, stand or kneel as you feel most comfortable.)
Also good to know – there is no specific timeframe for adoration. Sometimes adoration is done as a Holy Hour, a formal type of adoration with prayer for a particular intention. Other times, you may commit to covering a particular portion of time in a period of perpetual adoration. But, in general, you can spend time with Jesus for as long or short as you choose.
Another important adoration note: the consecrated Eucharist, when exposed, is never to be left alone. (Though I routinely leave my cell phone in my car during mass, I always take it with me to adoration, just in case I need to call the parish office for a “replacement” should I have to leave and there isn’t anyone else there!)
So, What do I do During Adoration?
This is one of the best parts of adoration – there is no correct answer to this question! While it is a continuation of the communal prayer that is the Mass, adoration has a deeply personal aspect to it. I like these words from a homily given by former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:
Communion and contemplation belong together: a person cannot communicate with another person without knowing him. Love or friendship always carries within it an impulse of reverence, of adoration. Communicating with Christ therefore demands that we gaze on him, allow him to gaze on us, listen to him, and get to known him. Adoration is simply the personal aspect of Communion. (Ridley)
Cardinal Ratzinger tells us what we ought to do: we should spend time with the Lord, looking at him, listening to him, communicating with him. And these activities can take many forms: formal or informal prayer, quiet listening, or spiritual reading; the possibilities are fairly endless.
We also shouldn’t feel discouraged if nothing amazing happens during our time in adoration. Sometimes you may have an experience of great peace or joy or feel that Jesus has answered a prayer that has been on your heart, but just as often adoration may just be a quiet time to “be” with Jesus. So, if you find yourself distracted or tired during adoration don’t worry – Jesus is just happy for your time. And, as a friend reminded me, St. Therese of Lisieux frequently fell asleep during adoration but was comforted by the knowledge that God could work through her whether she was asleep or awake.
Getting Started: Resources for Adoration
If you still aren’t sure how to approach adoration, know that there are countless resources out there for you to use during adoration. Consider the following:
- Read about the life of a favorite saint
- Read and contemplate the daily readings
- Recite a short prayer, like the Jesus prayer (O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner)
- Read from a book of adoration meditations like In the Silence: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration by Vandy Brennan Nies
“Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him” contributed by Kim Miller.