This could be remembered as the year of the Blessed Sacrament
In a memorable speech to World Youth Day Pilgrims in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI compared the effects of the Eucharist to those of nuclear fission. Transubstantiation, Benedict suggested, is “meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all.”
In these dramatic words, Benedict was describing a sort of butterfly effect, whereby the conversion of the heart can have unimaginable effects on individual Catholics and their families and communities. If he was right, there could be no better news for the Church in England and Wales than a rise in Eucharistic devotion.
Is such a thing taking place? At least visibly, it seems so. September’s National Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool, Adoremus, is hoping to host 10,000 pilgrims. And that weekend will have an impact beyond the North-West: Catholics in Plymouth diocese who can’t face the five-hour drive will be able to attend events closer to home. On the same weekend (September 7-9), at the request of Bishop Mark O’Toole, every parish will have a Eucharistic procession.
Christ the King Church in central Plymouth, meanwhile, will be a venue for hours of Eucharistic Adoration over that weekend, and has also been designated as a permanent shrine of the Blessed Sacrament.
Another new shrine, meanwhile, was officially inaugurated on Sunday, the feast of Corpus Christi – at the London church of the same name. In his sermon, Cardinal Vincent Nichols praised the “extravagant beauty” of the recently renovated church, adding that extravagance was the right way to express love for the Blessed Sacrament. “That beauty will call people into this sanctuary, into this glimpse of heaven, and speak to their hearts with its message of eternal comfort and calm, in a world so often lacking in both,” the cardinal said.
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth tells me that over the last 50 years the growth of Eucharistic Adoration has been “a major development” in many places. And it continues, Bishop Egan says: millennials, in particular, “have found it hugely helpful”, partly thanks to apostolates such as Youth 2000, whose festivals and retreats centre on Eucharistic Adoration.
In city centre parishes, one of the more successful initiatives has been Night Fever, a Saturday night Adoration event at which passersby are invited to join for a few minutes, and sometimes end up staying for an hour.
Some of the high points of Catholic life in recent years have centred on Adoration: those who were at Hyde Park in 2010 for Benedict XVI’s visit remember the profound silence of 80,000 Catholics kneeling before the exposed Host.
“This theme has always been a popular one in terms of what readers want,” says Fergal Martin, general secretary of the Catholic Truth Society (CTS). But the Eucharistic Congress has prompted the CTS to focus more on the subject: most notably, on August 1 it is publishing a 160-page book of Eucharistic devotions, aimed especially at parishes.
Martin suggests that Adoration answers a modern need for meaning.“Eucharistic devotion inevitably will mean the individual having also to face oneself; this requires reflection, and ‘entering into oneself before God’ – which in today’s hectic and information-sodden world can be refreshingly counter-cultural.”
It is also simple. Although a full-scale Eucharistic procession is a dramatic event – hymns, elaborate liturgy, traffic control – Adoration can be one person sitting quietly in a chapel. “It’s bread and butter,” says Bishop Egan, “not rocket science”.
And it works for all ages: the involvement of younger parishioners, he says, can be “a great inspiration” for older ones. Meanwhile, several schools in Portsmouth diocese have adopted a weekly half-hour of Adoration, for Year 5s upwards.
The bishop recommends that parishes introduce a Holy Hour before or (more conventionally) after Mass, a practice which has caught on in his diocese. There are many pastoral plans for renewing parishes and making them centres of evangelisation, and Bishop Egan is keen on this kind of planning. “But all of that hangs on personal time spent with Christ in the Eucharist,” he says.
Fr Alan Robinson, parish priest at Corpus Christi in Covent Garden, London, has prepared the way for the church’s official recognition as a shrine. On the first Thursday of the month there is a Sung Mass at which a visting preacher gives a homily on the Blessed Sacrament, followed by Adoration and Benediction. The parish Sodality of the Blessed Sacrament (sodality.co.uk) can easily be joined, even by those who live outside the parish, or even outside the country: the main requirement is just to join the parish in prayer.