Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Eucharistic adoration builds parishes

Is perpetual adoration “THE solution”?

You keep reading Catholic blogs long enough, and you start amassing a load of anecdotal evidence for any number of antidotes to the illnesses besetting the stateside Church: getting rid of the EMHCs, restricting the post of altar server to boys only, reverting to chant and sacred polyphony, even getting rid of the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and going back wholesale to the 1962 Missal. Certainly it seems that the closer a parish gets to Catholic orthodoxy and traditional emphases, the more likely it is to start flourishing again.

Now, I have an ingrained, constitutional suspicion about magic cure-all elixirs, especially when it consists of drastic policy changes sprung on unprepared, unsuspecting congregations. Again, working from anecdotal evidence, it seems to me that most such things work best when the pastor works enthusiastically to get the parish movers and shakers on board and introduces the changes gradually.

Of the long-term approaches, one I favor is switching parish schools to a classical curriculum as has been done by a few already, such as The Atonement Academy at Our Lady of the Atonement parish in San Antonio, St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, MD, and St. Pius X Classical Academy in Nashville. The other is the re-introduction of perpetual adoration.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan wrote yesterday about the role of perpetual adoration in reviving a New York parish and changing it into a dazzling example of a successful parish:

“What makes this place tick?”  I quizzed the exuberant pastor as he showed me around the parish, renowned for its high rate of Sunday Mass attendance; first-rate school; excellent religious education for kids, teenagers, young adults, and adults; remarkably effective stewardship; and successful initiatives of social justice, pro-life efforts, evangelization, and neighborhood presence.
I wanted the “recipe” so I could bottle it and send it around! …
“We’ve had perpetual Eucharistic adoration now for four years,” the pastor whispered.  “We started slowly, about seven years ago, first with a day-a-week, then seven days, twelve-hour-a-day, until we had a well-oiled system in place.  For the last four years, it’s been 24/7, with at least two people assigned every hour, all volunteers, and with many, many more during the waking hours.  Our prayer hotline is legendary.  I’m convinced this Eucharistic adoration is the key to the vitality, growth, and effectiveness of our parish.”

This isn’t the first piece I’ve read where a parish has sprung back to life through the introduction of adoration, merely the most recent. And, taking into account once again that this is purely anecdotal evidence, nevertheless I’d like to give you my reasons why I believe it does work.

First and foremost — as if we need any other reason — Eucharistic adoration puts the Real Presence of Christ front and center, right back where it belongs in Catholic worship. If you believe that the Eucharistic meal is merely a symbolic action, then there’s no real benefit to sitting with a flour-and-water wafer for an hour or so.

If, however, you believe Christ is really present — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — in the consecrated Host, then an hour with Him is definitely a challenge. It’s not just a core Catholic belief but the single belief that distinguishes the Catholic Mass from most Protestant communion services. It’s the difference between “worshipping” by being preached at for an hour (more or less) and worshipping God come into tangible, sensible form in the midst of His worshippers.

The thing is — and this is what I believe gets omitted in these parish resurrection stories — you can’t just ask for some volunteers and expect it to work of its own accord. The parish priest needs to be enthusiastic enough about adoration to do the preaching that must accompany its introduction. He’s got to be the one to fire up the troops by reminding them, over and over again, that the Real Presence isn’t just a theory but a dogma of faith.

This means the pastor must get the parish leadership behind him, not only backing him up but talking adoration up and participating themselves to the best of their ability. Especially important is getting the religious educators on board, for many a plan to renew a congregation has died without a coordinated and coherent plan of catechesis. If the parish has an active Knights of Columbus council, they can generally be counted on to provide support. And adoration isn’t just for adults; children too should be taught and encouraged to spend time with the Lord.

And that’s another reason why it works. Integrating adoration into parish life and building it to perpetual adoration becomes an “all hands on deck” evolution. By the time it does become perpetual, it has encouraged the congregation not only to participate but also to extend their activities to other parish ministries.

Above all, though, Eucharistic adoration sets the context for the recovery of Catholic identity. Once an authentically Catholic understanding of the Eucharist is re-established, it’s easier to “sell” other changes, such as reducing or eliminating Extraordinary Ministers, reintroducing sacred polyphony and/or chant, and restricting altar service to boys. Given enough time and change, it can even lay the groundwork for adding a Latin Mass to the weekend schedule.

The “selling” is the big difference. Other changes can be imposed top-down, without consultation or consensus: Fr. Joe Schmuckatelli can just announce, “No more EMCHs” or “No more girl altar servers” at the ambo one fine Sunday morning, and the parishioners would have to like it or lump it … at least in theory. Of course, such an abrupt and authoritarian move is as likely to alienate potential allies as it is to drive away the liberals and the lukewarm, but Fr. Joe could do it.

Father Joe, however, can’t force parishioners to participate in perpetual adoration; he must therefore persuade them. And if he can persuade them to reinstitute Eucharistic adoration, he can persuade them to make all other necessary changes.