Thursday, March 8, 2012

Eucharistic Adoration-- the Opposite of Entertainment

My parish church is holding Tuesday evening sessions (if that is the right word) of Eucharistic Adoration all through Lent. It did the same in Advent. I do my very best to make it to every one.

I'm always surprised by the number of people that attend Eucharistic Adoration. It seems the least likely "draw" there could be. And nothing seems more guaranteed to provoke the scorn of the rationalist; here is a bunch of people kneeling and staring at a wafer on a table, the long silences only punctuated by a few hymns and the wafting of incense (at the last one I attended, the priest was unable to get the incense to rise, which brought some comedy into the solemnity).

Eucharistic Adoration doesn't even have the stimulating aspects of the liturgy-- no homily, no Scripture readings, no litanies. And yet, strangely, people seem enthusiastic about Adoration in a way that they are often not about the Mass. And Adoration is not obligatory, as at least some Masses are.

I understand that this is partly down to novelty value. Eucharistic Adoration has become more popular in recent years. We are not as accustomed to it as we are to the Mass. It feels "special" in a way the Mass does not (although the Mass is special beyond words).

But I think it is more than this. I think Eucharistic Adoration is so utterly counter-cultural that many people find it a blessed tonic.

First of all, there is the silence. Silence is not a feature of contemporary life. We are continually bombarded with pop songs, advertisements for washing up powder, television screens perched in pubs and waiting rooms, car engines, burglar alarms that screech on indefinitely.

But it's not just silence per se. As everybody knows, silence is not just the absence of sound; there are different sorts of silence. The silence of a graveyard is very different to the silence of a deserted beach.

And there is nothing like the silence of a church. I love the line in "Church Going" by Philip Larkin in which he describes the atmosphere inside a church; the "tense, musty, unignorable silence brewed God knows how long." Brewed! That's exactly it. When it has the chance, silence accumulates, deepens, thickens. And the silence of a church is pregnant with the memory of years upon years of prayer and reverence.

The silence of Eucharistic Adoration is a shared silence. That, too, changes its nature. To share silence with somebody, most of the time, is a sign of acceptance and love. We may not know the person kneeling next to us in the pew at Eucharistic Adoration, but there is a kind of love in the silence we share.

But the funniest thing about Adoration is that the very lack of entertainment and diversion has a deep appeal to us. In our consumer society, we are saturated with entertainment from our earliest days. And now, with i-phones and MP3 players, the entertainment doesn't have to let up even when we are away from a TV or computer screen. In the sublime words of TS Eliot, we are "distracted from distraction by distraction." We learn to crave novelty and variety to the extent that bonds-- whether to our past, our heritage, our religion, or our family-- begin to feel onerous, rather than precious. Instant rather than deferred gratification becomes the goal. Nobody reads poetry, because poetry requires too much mental effort and patience.

And the strangest thing about this non-stop flow of entertainment is that it makes us utterly, hopelessly bored. The addict requires stronger and stronger doses, and in the end nothing is strong enough.

Paradoxically, staring at a consecrated Host for long periods of time becomes an antidote to boredom.

I know that I haven't even mentioned the supernatural aspects of Adoration. I know that is not simply a form of therapy or relaxation, but an audience with our Blessed Lord and a channel of grace.

But I don't think I can do justice to such an exalted theme. Nor do I feel the action of grace during Adoration; I have no doubt that is happening, but I am not aware of God speaking to me in the moment. I have never had a thought or a decision sail into my mind with all the force of revelation.

No, my topic here is a humbler one-- how strange and wonderful it is that people will willingly leave their busy lives, their TVs and their DVD players and tennis clubs, to kneel in silent adoration before what the secular world sees as nothing but a white wafer, but the eyes of faith perceives as the body of Our Blessed Lord.

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