Friday, June 17, 2011

Vatican's Nostalgia for Eucharistic Adoration an Attempt to Return to "Ocular Communion"

The National Catholic Reporter yesterday posted Religion News Service coverage of Vatican attempts to inject new life into discredited practices of eucharistic adoration. It was heartening to read that several reputable theologians share my view that such devotions are inimical to a genuine understanding of the eucharist as a sacred meal. As a meal, it does not lend itself to being captured in a monstrance and worshipped as though it were a sacred thing or, even worse, the physical presence of Jesus himself.

Excerpts from the article follow. I eliminate paragraphs in which various right-wing Catholics try to defend eucharistic adoration. Those nostalgic for such theological claptrap can link to NCR's full coverage.

For seven centuries, Eucharistic adoration—praying before an exposed consecrated Communion host—was one of the most popular forms of devotion in the Roman Catholic Church, the focus of beloved prayers and hymns and a distinctive symbol of Catholic identity.

Following the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the practice fell from favor, especially in Europe and the U.S. But over the last decade, under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the church has strongly encouraged a revival of the practice.

Next week (June 20-24), the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome will host an academic conference on Eucharistic adoration, where the speakers will include six prominent cardinals, focusing on the rediscovery of the practice.

At the same time, however, some theologians object to adoration as outdated and unnecessary, and warn that it can lead to misunderstandings and undo decades of progress in educating lay Catholics on the meaning of the sacrament.

Eucharistic adoration by the laity originated in the 13th century as a substitute for receiving Communion at Mass, said Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America.

At the same time, he said, the church often encouraged a believer’s sense of “personal unworthiness” to receive the sacrament—which Catholics believe to be the body of Christ—so many resorted to so-called “ocular communion” instead.

Eucharistic adoration was also used as a teaching tool to reaffirm the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a noted theologian at the University of Notre Dame.

For instance, McBrien said, devotion grew during the 16th- and 17th-century Counter-Reformation, in response to the arguments of some Protestant Reformers that the Eucharist was merely a symbol, not the actual body of Christ.

In the days when priests celebrated Mass in Latin with minimal participation by the congregation, the hymns and prayers associated with adoration gave lay Catholics an opportunity for public worship, Irwin said.

Liturgical reforms after Vatican II greatly increased the laity’s participation at Mass, which Irwin said satisfied the “felt need for participation in public prayer.” Irwin called that an “underlying reason” for the practice’s decline.

McBrien acknowledged that some Catholics find adoration “spiritually enriching,” but said many liturgists see it is a “step back into the Middle Ages.”

“It distorts the meaning of the Eucharist,” McBrien said. “It erodes the communal aspect, and it erodes the fact that the Eucharist is a meal. Holy Communion is something to be eaten, not to be adored.”

For that reason, McBrien said, the practice should be “tolerated but not encouraged.”


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with McBrien. Have the guys at the Vatican ever studied Liturgy or Sacramental Theology?


TheraP said...

Thank you for this. :-)