WelCom June 2018:
How we might pray
Elizabeth Julian rsm
‘Down in adoration falling …’: Pray before the Blessed Sacrament. ‘Nothing. I just look at Him and He looks at me.’
Apparently, St John Vianney said this when asked what he did sitting in the church. This article will recall briefly why we pray and how we might pray before the Blessed Sacrament individually and communally.
Why pray? The beautiful prayer section in the Catechism (Part IV) provides comprehensive answers. Basically, we pray to adore, thank, ask God for something, or to say sorry. It’s that simple. All prayer falls under those headings. However, even though we think it’s our work, it’s really God’s gift. God invites, we respond. As we pray:
You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace. (Preface IV Weekdays Ordinary Time)
We pray just as we are, with our everyday concerns, hopes and anxieties. Are our prayers answered? Our faith and experience say, ‘Yes’. How does this happen? We experience God/Jesus/Holy Spirit always in a mediated way. We have no hotline to God. Jesus works through our imaginations, memories and thoughts. An answer may come through an imaginary conversation with Jesus, or from a Scripture passage, or a sudden insight or ‘aha’ moment.
Our faith tells us that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. What do we do in the face of such an overwhelming, astounding reality? That is, what do we do during Exposition, when the Blessed Sacrament is displayed in the monstrance on the altar? Say rosaries, novenas, sing lots of hymns?
Successive popes have called for Eucharistic Adoration. Speaking to the Irish people (1979) Pope John Paul II said:
The visit to the Blessed Sacrament is a great treasure of the Catholic faith. It nourishes social love and gives us opportunities for adoration and thanksgiving, for reparation and supplication. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Hours, and Eucharistic processions are likewise precious element of your heritage – in full accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
In their pastoral letter (2004) the NZ Bishops wrote:
We want to encourage the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular. The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass has great value. Because Christ himself is truly present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honoured with the worship of adoration.
What do we do individually and communally during Exposition? If nothing is happening it’s easy to drift off and plan the shopping etc. When children are prepared for First Holy Communion they may learn an easy way to keep focussed on Jesus after Communion is to use silently the letters ALTAR as prayer prompts. For example:
A (adore): Jesus I adore you. Jesus, you are awesome, etc
L (love): Jesus I love you so very much, etc
T (tell): Jesus, I’m so happy/worried etc, because …
A (ask): Can you make my grandmother better etc?
R (repent): Jesus, I know you can help me be kinder, etc.
These prayer prompts can serve us adults well too. Seasoned
pray-ers, those with God-etched faces, probably get only as far as ‘A’, so completely lost in adoration are they! Indeed, silence is all they need and want.
Some pray more easily through singing silently – and we sing our theology. Perhaps the old Faber hymn says it best:
Jesus my Lord my God my all
Jesus my Lord my God my all
How can I love thee as I ought?
And how revere this wondrous gift,
So far surpassing hope or thought?
Sweet Sacrament, we thee adore!
Oh, make us love thee more and more (2X).
Other ‘Jesus’ song suggestions:
Use the well-known Be Still tune. Add suitable Jesus focussed words. For example, ‘Jesus, you are my Lord and my God’, ‘Jesus, you are the bread of life’.
Use the second verse of Father We Adore You. Use some verses of the Divine Mercy hymn. Write more, for example:
‘Jesus I adore you, Jesus I worship you’. (x8)
‘Jesus help me love you, help me love you more’. (x8)
What about Exposition for a culturally diverse community? How should we pray together?
The ‘Instruction on Eucharistic Worship’, (Sacred Congregation of Rites 1967) states:
Even brief exposition of the Blessed Sacrament…should be so arranged that before the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament reasonable time is provided for readings of the Word of God, hymns, prayers, and silent prayer, as circumstances permit. (#66)
There is room for variety then. We can also adapt the above suggestions, for community prayer. Although we can’t all be like St John Vianney and sit in silence, sometimes there is no silence at all! When different groups generously take responsibility for a particular period of time during Exposition there can be numerous rosaries, novenas and songs with very little silence. An overall coordinator could ensure a balanced, prayerfully enriching and culturally relevant experience.
Today [Sunday 3 June] is the Feast of Corpus Christi. In their letter (2004), the NZ Bishops wrote: ‘We call on parishes to make concerted efforts to revive Eucharistic devotions and to celebrate with particular devotion the Feast of Corpus Christi’. Furthermore, Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate (#162) describes Eucharistic adoration and works of charity as ‘powerful weapons’ in our path towards holiness (#162).
An idea for practical action from the 2017 Archdiocesan Synod suggests: ‘The Feast of Corpus Christi becomes a day when people are challenged to identify who they are called to serve in their local community.’ This challenge rightly links prayer and action –as Pope Francis does. We adore the Body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament while keeping in mind that we are the Body of Christ. Our Eucharistic adoration must flow out into action thereby giving evidence of a ‘Spirituality of Service’ called for by the Synod. Next year this day may be an occasion for a multi-cultural Corpus Christi procession!