The History of Eucharistic Adoration
Development of Doctrine in the Catholic Church
by John A. Hardon, S.J.
I. APOSTOLIC TIMES TO EARLY MIDDLE AGES…………….
II. BERENGARIUS TO ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI…………
III. MIDDLE AGES TO THE COUNCIL OF TRENT….
Before the Council of Trent….
The Council of Trent………..
IV. DEVELOPMENT OF EUCHARISTIC ADORATION…………
Forty-Hours Devotion ……….
Visits to the Blessed Sacrament….
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament….
V. WHY DEVELOPMENT OF EUCHARISTIC DOCTRINE…
Basic Premises of Doctrinal Development ………
Experienced Benefits of Eucharistic Adoration
VI. THE CHURCH’S MAGISTERIUM………….
Pope Pius XII…………….
Pope John XXIII…………..
Pope Paul VI……………..
Pope John Paul II…………
VII. GRACE THROUGH THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST…..
The phenomenal growth of devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in
the Holy Eucharist has puzzled not a few sincere people. Nocturnal
Adoration societies, Perpetual Adoration groups, national
associations of the faithful promoting organized visits to the
Blessed Sacrament, Holy Hours before the tabernacle, monthly, weekly
and even daily exposition of the Eucharist in churches and chapels,
in one country after another, have become commonplace.
What to make of all of this? Is this another form of pious
eccentricity, or is it founded on authentic Catholic doctrine and
grounded on the solid rock of Christian revelation?
It is authentic Catholic doctrine and it rests on the unchangeable
truth of our revealed faith. But it needs to be explained, and the
explanation is a classic example of what we call development of
By development of doctrine, we mean that some divinely revealed truth
has become more deeply understood and more clearly perceived than it
had been before. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ
promised to send to teach us, the Church comes to see more deeply
what she had always believed, and the resulting insights find
expression in devotion of the faithful that may have been quite
uncommon in the Church’s previous history. The whole spectrum of
Christology and Mariology has witnessed such dogmatic progress.
Adoration of the Eucharist, therefore, is simply another, though
dramatic, example of doctrinal development.
Always implied in such progress is that, objectively, the revealed
truth remains constant and unchanged. But through the light of the
Holy Spirit, the subjective understanding of the truth becomes more
clear, its meaning becomes more certain and its grasp by the
believing mind becomes increasingly more firm.
Our purpose in this short study is to show how the Real Presence of
Christ in the Eucharist has undergone a marvelous development over
the centuries. We are now witnessing what can only be described as
the work of the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ promised, “the Father will
send in My name. He will teach you all things, and bring to your mind
whatever I have said to you” (John 14:25).
APOSTOLIC TINES TO THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES
Belief in the real, physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist grew
out of the teaching of the evangelists and St. Paul. They made it
plain to the apostolic Church that the Eucharistic elements were
literally Jesus Christ continuing His saving mission among men.
John and Paul were especially plain. The skepticism of Christ’s
followers, when He preached the reality of His Body and Blood as food
and drink, made John record the fact that “many of His disciples
withdrew and no longer went about with Him.” Seeing this, Jesus asked
the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave me?” Simon Peter did not
understand any more than those who left Christ, but his loyalty was
more firm. “Lord,” he answered, “to whom shall we go?” (John 6:66-
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians rebuked them for making the Agape,
which should have been a beautiful sign of unity, into an occasion of
discord. He reminded them that the Eucharist is no ordinary food. It
is actually the Body and Blood of Christ according to “the tradition
which I handed on to you that came to me from the Lord Himself” (I
Corinthians II: 23-26).
At the turn of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to
martyrdom in Rome, had to warn the Christians not to be taken in by
the Gnostics–a good modern term would be “visionaries,” who denied
the Real Presence. Ignatius said these people abstained from the
Eucharist because they did not accept what true Christians believe,
that in the Eucharist is the same Jesus Christ Who lived and died and
rose from the dead for our salvation.
Under the impact of this faith, the early hermits reserved the
Eucharist in their cells. From at least the middle of the third
century, it was very general for the solitaries in the East,
especially in Palestine and Egypt, to preserve the consecrated
elements in the caves or hermitages where they lived.
The immediate purpose of this reservation was to enable the hermits
to give themselves Holy Communion. But these hermits were too
conscious of what the Real Presence was not to treat it with great
reverence and not to think of it as serving a sacred purpose by just
Not only did they have the Sacrament with them in their cells, but
they carried it on their persons when they moved from one place to
another. This practice was sanctioned by the custom of the
<fermentum>, that certainly goes back to as early as 120 A.D. The
rite of <fermentum> was a particle of the Eucharistic bread
(sometimes dipped in the chalice) transported from the bishop of one
diocese to the bishop of another diocese. The latter would then
consume the species at his next solemn Mass as a token of unity
between the churches. It was called a <fermentum> not necessarily
because leavened bread was used but because the Eucharist symbolized
the leaven of unity which permeates and transforms Christians, so
that they become one with Christ.
Already in the second century, popes sent the Eucharist to other
bishops as a pledge of unity of faith; and, on occasion, bishops
would do the same for their priests.
As monasticism changed from solitary to community life, the monks
received something of the same privilege of carrying the Eucharist
with them. They would have it on their persons when working in the
fields or going on a voyage. The species was either placed in a small
receptacle (<chrismal>) worn bandoleer-fashion, or in a little bag
(<perula>) hung around the neck under their clothes. Irish and
British manuscripts make frequent mention of the practice. It was not
only to have the hosts ready for Communion but also to insure safety
against robbers and protection against the hazards of travel.
The life of St. Comgall (died 601) tells how on one occasion he was
attacked by heathen Pietists while working in a field. On seeing the
<chrismal> around his neck, the attackers did not dare touch him for
fear of some retaliation since they surmised (as the narrator says)
that Comgall was carrying his God. The saint was so moved by the
experience that he exclaimed, “Lord, you are my strength, my refuge,
and my Redeemer.”
As early as the Council of Nicea (325) we know that the Eucharist
began to be reserved in the churches of monasteries and convents.
Again, the immediate reason for this reservation was for the sick and
the dying, and also for the ceremony of the <fermentum>. But
naturally its sacred character was recognized and the place of
reservation was set off from profane usage.
From the beginning of community life, therefore, the Blessed
Sacrament became an integral part of the church structure of a
monastery. A bewildering variety of names was used to identify the
place of reservation. <Pastoforium>, <diakonikon>, <secretarium>,
<prothesis> are the most common. As far as we can tell, the Eucharist
was originally kept in a special room, just off the sanctuary but
separated from the church where Mass was offered.
Certainly by the 800’s, the Blessed Sacrament was kept within the
monastic church itself, close to the altar. In fact, we have a poem
from the year 802, telling of a pyx containing the Sacred Species
reserved on the high altar of the abbey church at Lindisfarne in
The practice of reserving the Eucharist in religious houses was so
universal that there is no evidence to the contrary even before the
year 1000. In fact, numerous regulations are extant which provided
for protection of the sacred elements, as the wording went, “from
profanation by mice and impious men.” The species were to be kept
under lock and key and sometimes in a receptacle raised high enough
to be out of easy reach of profaning hands.
It is interesting to note that one of the first unmistakable
references to reserving the Blessed Sacrament is found in a life of
St. Basil (who died in 379). Basil is said to have divided the
Eucharistic Bread into three parts when he celebrated Mass in the
monastery. One part he consumed, the second part he gave to the
monks, and the third he placed in a golden dove suspended over the
This would suggest that, though we have less access to Oriental
sources, the Eastern monasteries were centuries ahead of the West in
reserving the Eucharistic elements in the monastic church proper and
not only in a separate place.
Among the treasures of Monte Cassino that seem to have been destroyed
during the Second World War were two small ancient tabernacles, one
of gold and the other of silver. They were gifts of Pope Victor III
(died 1087), who had been abbot at Cassino before his election to the
BERENGARIUS TO ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Toward the end of the eleventh century we enter on a new era in the
history of Eucharistic adoration. Until then the Real Presence was
taken for granted in Catholic belief and its reservation was the
common practice in Catholic churches, including the chapels and
oratories of religious communities. Suddenly a revolution hit the
Church when Berengarius (999-1088), archdeacon of Angers in France,
publicly denied that Christ was really and physically present under
the species of bread and wine. Others took up the idea and began
writing about the Eucharistic Christ as not exactly the Christ of the
Gospels or, by implication, as not actually there.
The matter became so serious that Pope Gregory VII ordered
Berengarius to sign a retraction. This credo has made theological
history. It was the Church’s first definitive statement of what had
always been believed and never seriously challenged. The witness came
from the abbot-become-pope, whose faith in the Blessed Sacrament had
been nourished for years in a Benedictine monastery.
Gregory’s teaching on the Real Presence was quoted verbatim in Pope
Paul VI’s historic document <Mysterium Fidei> (1965) to meet a new
challenge to the Eucharist in our day–very similar to what happened
in the eleventh century.
I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine
placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and
the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and
life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after
the consecration, there is present the true body of Christ which was
born of the Virgin and offered up for the salvation of the world,
hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and
that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from his
side. They are present not only by means of a sign and of the
efficacy of the Sacrament, but also in the very reality and truth of
their nature and substance.
With this profession of faith, the churches of Europe began what can
only be described as a Eucharistic Renascence. Processions of the
Blessed Sacrament were instituted; prescribed acts of adoration were
legislated; visits to Christ in the pyx were encouraged; the cells of
anchoresses had windows made into the church to allow the religious
to view and adore before the tabernacle. An early ordinal of the
Carmelites included the words “for the devotion of those in the
choir” when referring to the reservation of the species.
From the eleventh century on, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament
reserved in the tabernacle became more and more prevalent in the
Catholic world. At every stage in this development, members of
religious orders of men and women took the lead.
The Benedictine Lanfranc, as Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced
from France into England numerous customs affecting the worship of
the Real Presence.
St. Francis of Assisi, who was never ordained a priest, had a great
personal devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. His first
admonition on the Holy Eucharist could not have been more precise.
Sacred Scripture tells us that the Father dwells in “light
inaccessible” (I Timothy 6:16) and that “God is spirit” (John 4:24)
and St. John adds, “No one at any time has seen God” (John 1:18).
Because God is a spirit He can be seen only in spirit; “It is the
spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). But
God the Son is equal to the Father and so He too can be seen only in
the same way as the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is why all those
were condemned who saw our Lord Jesus Christ in His humanity but did
not see or believe in spirit in His divinity, that He was the true
Son of God. In the same way now, all those are damned who see the
Sacrament of the Body of Christ which is consecrated on the altar in
the form of bread and wine by the words of our Lord in the hands of
the priest, and do not see or believe in spirit and in God that this
is really the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It was this clear faith in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist that
sustained Francis during his severest trials. It was this same faith
which inspired a whole new tradition among religious communities of
women. Convents had the Sacrament reserved for adoration–apart from
Mass and Holy Communion.
Feast of Corpus Christi.
There was nothing startling, therefore, when Pope Urban IV, in the
thirteenth century, instituted the feast of Corpus Christi. When
establishing the feast, the Pope stressed the love of Christ who
wished to remain physically with us until the end of time.
In the Eucharist, said the Pope, “Christ is with us in His own
substance.” For “when telling the Apostles that He was ascending into
heaven, He said, ‘Behold I am with you all days, even to the
consummation of the world,’ thus comforting them with the gracious
promise that He would remain and be with them even by His bodily
presence” (August 11, 1264).
Urban IV commissioned Thomas Aquinas to compose the Liturgy of the
Hours for the feast of Corpus Christi, to be celebrated annually on
the Thursday following Trinity Sunday.
Three hymns which Aquinas composed for the feast are among the most
beautiful in the Catholic liturgy. They express the unchangeable
faith of the Church in the abiding Presence of her Founder on earth.
They also explain why the faithful adore Christ in the Blessed
Sacrament. All three hymns are part of the Divine Office. They are
best known by each of their last two verses, which have become part
of the treasury of Catholic hymnology.
* <O Salutaris Hostia> is an act of adoration of Christ the Saving
Victim who opened wide the gate of heaven to man below.
* <Tantum Ergo Sacramentum> is an act of adoration of the Word-made-
flesh, where faith supplies for what the senses cannot perceive.
* <Panis Angelicus> is an act of adoration of that Wondrous Thing
where the lowly and poor are fed, banqueting on their Incarnate Lord
Aquinas, like the Church, never separated the Eucharist as Sacrifice,
Communion and Presence. But, with the Church, he also realized that
without the Real Presence there would be no real sacrifice nor real
communion. Aquinas assumed that God became man so He might offer
Himself on Calvary and continue to offer Himself in the Mass. He
became man that He might give Himself to the disciples at the Last
Supper and continue to give Himself to us in Holy Communion. He
became man to live in flesh and blood in Palestine and continue to
live now on earth as the same Jesus Who died and rose from the dead
and is seated at the right hand of His heavenly Father.
MIDDLE AGES TO THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
Since Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi, the
bishops of Rome had been vigilant to protect the Church’s faith in
her Founder’s unceasing presence on earth in the Holy Eucharist. But
every time a new difficulty arose, it became a stimulus to making
this faith more clear and meaningful, in a word there was increased
development of Eucharistic doctrine.
Before the Council of Trent.
A variety of situations occasioned papal declarations of the
In the fourteenth century, the Armenians asked Clement VI for
financial assistance to pay the heavy subsidies laid on them by the
reigning sultan. Correspondence with the Armenian bishops made him
wonder if they professed the full Catholic faith. Among other
propositions he required them to accept was the statement that,
“After the words of consecration there is present numerically the
same (<idem numero>) Body of Christ as was born of the Virgin and was
immolated on the Cross” (September 29, 1351).
Twenty years later, a theoretical question was raised that had
serious practical implications. Some writers speculated whether
Christ still remained in the Eucharist when the sacred species were
desecrated. Pope Gregory XI demanded <rejection> of the following
If a consecrated Host falls or is thrown into a sewer, the mud, or
some other profane place, even though the species remain, the Body of
Christ ceases to be present and the substance of bread returns.
If a consecrated Host is eaten or consumed by a rodent or some other
animal, even while the species remain, the Body of Christ ceases to
be present under the species and the substance of bread returns
(August 8, 1371).
More serious was the problem created by the so-called Calixtines in
the fifteenth century. They claimed that the whole Christ is not
received unless the faithful receive Holy Communion under both forms,
including the chalice. This time, the General Council of Constance
decided to “declare, decree and define” as an article of faith that
“the entire Body and Blood of Christ are truly contained both under
the species of bread and under the species of wine.” This definition
was confirmed by Pope Martin V (September 1, 1425). The implications
for the exposition and adoration of the Eucharist are obvious.
The Council of Trent.
By the sixteenth century, the whole spectrum of Catholic belief in
the Holy Eucharist was challenged by the Reformers. As a consequence,
the Council of Trent treated this subject exhaustively. Every aspect
of the Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion and the Real Presence
was clarified and defined.
For our purpose, the Council’s teaching on the Real Presence was
historic. It was the dawn of the most significant development of
Eucharistic doctrine since apostolic times. Even a few sentences from
Trent are revealing.
The other sacraments do not have the power of sanctifying until
someone makes use of them, but in the Eucharist the very Author of
sanctity is present before the Sacrament is used. For before the
apostles received the Eucharist from the hands of our Lord, He told
them that it was His Body that He was giving them.
The Church of God has always believed that immediately after the
consecration the true Body and Blood of our Lord, together with His
soul and divinity, exist under the species of bread and wine. His
Body exists under the species of bread and His Blood under the
species of wine according to the import of the words. But His Body
exists under the species of wine, His Blood under the species of
bread, and His soul under both species in virtue of the natural
connection and concomitance which unite the parts of Christ our Lord,
who has risen from the dead and dies now no more.
Moreover, Christ’s divinity is present because of its admirable
hypostatic union with His body and soul. It is, therefore, perfectly
true that just as much is present under either species as is present
under both. For Christ, whole and entire, exists under the species of
bread and under any part of that species, and similarly the whole
Christ exists under the species of wine and under its parts.
Given this fact of faith, Trent could logically go on to declare
that, “The only-begotten Son of God is to be adored in the Holy
Sacrament of the Eucharist with the worship of <latria>, including
external worship. The Sacrament, therefore, is to be honored with
extraordinary festive celebrations (and) solemnly carried from place
to place in processions according to the praiseworthy universal rite
and custom of the holy Church. The Sacrament is to be publicly
exposed for the people’s adoration.” Approved by Pope Julius III
(October 11, 1551), these conciliar statements became the foundation
for dogmatic and devotional progress ever since.
DEVELOPMENT OF EUCHARISTIC ADORATION
As we have seen, there had been reservation and adoration of the
Blessed Sacrament since the early days of the Church. But with the
Council of Trent began a new era in the devotion of the faithful to
Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.
The Forty-Hours Devotion.
Before the end of the sixteenth century, Pope Clement VIII in 1592
issued a historic document on what was called in Italian <Quarant’
Ore> (Forty Hours).
The devotion consisted of forty hours of continual prayer before the
Blessed Sacrament exposed. Introduced earlier on a local scale in
Milan, the Bishop of Rome not only authorized the devotion for Rome,
but explained how it should be practiced.
We have determined to establish publicly in this Mother City of Rome
an uninterrupted course of prayer in such wise that in the different
churches [he specifies them] on appointed days, there be observed the
pious and salutary devotion of the Forty Hours; with such an
arrangement of churches and times that, at every hour of the day and
night, the incense of prayer shall ascend without intermission before
the face of the Lord.
About a century later (1731) his successor, Clement XIII, published a
detailed set of instructions for the proper carrying out of the
Forty-Hours’ devotion, for example:
* The Blessed Sacrament is always exposed on the high altar, except
in patriarchal basilicas.
* Statues, relics and pictures around the altar of exposition are to
be removed or veiled.
* Only clerics in surplices may take care of the altar of exposition.
* There must be continuous relays of worshippers before the Blessed
Sacrament and should include a priest or cleric in major orders.
* No Masses are to be said at the altar of exposition.
Gradually the Forty Hours devotion spread throughout the Catholic
world. Proposed by the Code of Canon Law in 1917, the new Code states
that in churches or oratories where the Eucharist is reserved, “it is
recommended (<commendatur>) . . . that there be held each year a
solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for an appropriate, even
if not for a continuous, time so that the local community may more
attentively meditate on and adore the Eucharistic Mystery” (Canon
The term “perpetual adoration” is broadly used to designate the
practically uninterrupted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The
term may mean several things:
* The adoration is literally perpetual, so that someone is always in
prayer before the Holy Eucharist.
* The adoration is morally perpetual, with only such short
interruptions as imperative reasons or uncontrollable circumstances
* The adoration is uninterrupted for a longer or shorter period, a
day or several days, as in the Forty-Hours devotion.
* The adoration is uninterrupted in one special church or chapel.
* The adoration is uninterrupted in different churches or chapels in
a locality like a diocese or a country, or throughout the world.
Some writers trace the first beginnings of perpetual adoration to the
late fourth century, when converts to the faith in some dioceses were
to adore the Blessed Sacrament exposed for eight days after their
baptism. It is certain, however, that even before the institution of
the feast of Corpus Christi, not only religious in convents and
monasteries but the laity practiced Eucharistic adoration.
After his victory over the Albigenses, King Louis VII of France asked
the Bishop of Avignon to have the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the
Chapel of the Holy Cross (September 14, 1226). The throng of adorers
was so great that the bishop decided to have the adoration continue
day and night. This was later ratified by the Holy See and continued
uninterrupted until 1792 during the
French Revolution. It was resumed in 1829.
It was not until after the Council of Trent, however, that perpetual
adoration began to develop on a world-wide scale. We may distinguish
especially the following forms.
<Cloistered Religious Institutes> were founded for the express
purpose of adoring the Holy Eucharist day and night. Some, like the
Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in
Austria (1654), took a solemn vow of perpetual adoration.
<Apostolic Religious Institutes> were started to both practice
adoration themselves and promote perpetual worship of the Eucharist
among the faithful. Thus began the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts
of Jesus and Mary, and of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament of the Altar. Formally approved in 1817, its aim is to
honor and imitate the four states of Christ’s life to be honored and
imitated by the exercise of adoration of the Eucharist.
<Men’s Nocturnal Adoration> societies began on an international scale
in Rome in 1810 with the founding of the Pious Union of the Adorers
of the Most Blessed Sacrament. They spread throughout Europe and into
North and South America. Their focus was (and is) on perpetual
adoration in the strict sense.
<Perpetual Eucharistic Associations> of the faithful go back to the
seventeenth century. One of the earliest was started by Baron de
Renty in 1641 at St. Paul’s parish in Paris. It was a perpetual
adoration society for ladies. At Boulonge in France (1753), the
parishes were divided into twelve groups representing the twelve
months of the year. Each group contained as many parishes as there
were days in the month it represented. Each church in every group was
assigned one day for Eucharistic adoration.
Among the apostles of perpetual adoration for the laity, none has had
a more lasting influence in the modern world than St. Peter Julian
Eymard. In 1856 he founded the Blessed Sacrament Fathers in Paris and
two years later, with Marguerite Guillot, he established the Servants
of the Blessed Sacrament, a cloistered contemplative congregation of
women. Peter Eymard’s published conferences on the Real Presence have
inspired numerous lay associations. They have taken his words
literally when he said, “In the presence of Jesus Christ in the Most
Blessed Sacrament, all greatness disappears, all holiness humbles
itself and comes to nothing. Jesus Christ is there!”
Visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
Not unlike perpetual adoration, so the history of visits to the
Blessed Sacrament is best known from the monastic spirituality of the
early Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century <Ancren Riwle>, or Rule
for Anchoresses, the nuns were to begin their day by a visit to the
Priests also, who had easy access to the reserved Holy Eucharist,
would regularly visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus the
martyr, St. Thomas a Becket (1118-1170), in one of his letters writes
to a friend, “If you do not harken to me who have been wont to pray
for you in an abundance of tears and with groanings not a few before
the Majesty of the Body of Christ” (<Materials>, V, 276).
By the fourteenth century, we read how the English mystic, Richard
Rolle, strongly exhorts Christians to visit the nearby church as
often as they can. Why? Because “In the Church is most devotion to
pray, for there is God upon the altar to hear those who pray to Him
and to grant them what they ask and what is best for them” (<Works>,
I, 145). Church historians tell us that by the end of the century,
the practice of people visiting the Blessed Sacrament became fairly
One of the sobering facts of the Reformation is to know what happened
when the English Reformers separated from Rome. At first they did not
forbid the clergy to reserve some of both species after the Lord’s
Supper ceremony–to be taken to the sick and the dying. But before
long, reservation of the Eucharistic elements became rare. This was
to be expected after the <Thirty-Nine Articles> (1571) declared that
transubstantiation was untrue and that the Eucharist should not be
worshiped or carried about in procession.
Three hundred years later, the Anglicans, who started the Oxford
Movement, restored continuous reservation of the Eucharist and
encouraged visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Credit for this return to
Catholic Eucharistic piety belongs to the Anglican Sisterhood of St.
Margaret, founded in 1854. The community records show that soon after
its foundation the Sisters were making daily visits to the Eucharist
in their oratory and, about the same time, Benediction of the Blessed
Sacrament was introduced.
In the Catholic Church, visits to the Blessed Sacrament have become a
standard part of personal and communal prayer. The first Code of
Canon Law urged the “faithful to visit the Most Blessed Sacrament as
often as possible” (Canon 1273). The new Code is more specific.
Unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, a church, in which
the Blessed Eucharist is reserved, is to be open to the faithful for
at least some hours every day, so that they can pray before the
Blessed Sacrament (Canon 937).
Members of religious institutes are simply told that each day they
are to “adore the Lord Himself present in the Sacrament” (Canon 663,
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
As with other Eucharistic devotions, Benediction, as it is commonly
called, began in the thirteenth century. It was strongly influenced
by the establishment of the feast of Corpus Christi. Two hymns,
especially <O Salutaris Hostia> and <Tantum Ergo>, composed by St.
Thomas Aquinas, became part of the Benediction service.
One aspect of the history of Benediction that is not commonly known
is its early association with devotion to the Blessed Virgin. This
was already expressed- in the <Pange Lingua> for the First Vespers of
the Corpus Christi liturgy, saying, “To us He was given, to us he was
born of a pure Virgin.” Except for Mary, there would have been no
Incarnation, and except for the Incarnation there would be no
As related by historians, by the early thirteenth century there were
organized confraternities and guilds in great numbers, whose custom
was to sing canticles in the evening of the day before a statue of
Our Lady. The canticles were called <Laude> (praises) and were often
composed in the vernacular or even the local dialect of the people.
In the hands of such people as the Franciscan Giacopone da Todi
(1230-1306), these hymns helped to develop a native Italian
literature. The confraternities were called <Laudesi>.
With the stimulus given by the Feast of Corpus Christi, these Marian
canticle meetings were often accompanied by exposition of the Blessed
Sacrament. What began as a practice to add solemnity to the Marian
devotions became, in time, a distinctive form of Eucharistic piety.
In France these Marian canticle sessions were called <Salut>, in the
Low Countries <Lof>, in Germany and England simply <Salve>. They were
gradually combined with exposition of the Eucharist, especially when
the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession and/or the sick were
blessed with the Holy Eucharist. When people made out their wills,
many included bequests for the continued support of these evening
song-fests honoring Our Lady and would specify that the Blessed
Sacrament should be exposed during the whole time of the <Salut>. The
generations-old practice of blessing the sick with the Holy Eucharist
at Lourdes is merely an extension of this combining of Benediction
with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As public demonstrations of faith in the Real Presence, local
Eucharistic congresses go back to the Middle Ages. But the first
international congress grew out of the zeal of Marie-Marthe Tamisier
(1834-1910) a French laywoman who from childhood had an extraordinary
devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She called a day without Holy
Communion her Good Friday. Having several times tried unsuccessfully
to enter a religious community, she spent much of her life spreading
devotion to the Real Presence. Inspired by the conferences of Peter
Julian Eymard and directed by Abbe Chevier of Lyons, she first
promoted pilgrimages to shrines where Eucharistic miracles were
reported to have taken place. Finally the first international
Eucharistic Congress was held at Lille in 1881. At the fifth Congress
at Toulouse in 1886, over fifteen-hundred bishops and priests, and
thirty-thousand of the laity participated.
By now international congresses have been held on all the continents,
including Africa, Asia and Australia. Pope Paul VI attended the
thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth Eucharistic congresses at Bombay in
1964 and Bogota in 1968. Pope John Paul was to have attended the
centenary congress at Lourdes in 1981, but was prevented because of
the assassination attempt on his life on May 13th of that year.
National congresses have become widespread. During one of these, at
Bogota in 1980, Pope John Paul II synthesized the role which, in
God’s providence, a Eucharistic congress is meant to serve.
The Eucharistic Congress is first and foremost a great community act
of faith in the presence and in the action of Jesus in the Eucharist,
Who remains with us sacramentally to travel with us along our ways,
so that with His power, we can cope with our problems, our toil, our
From this moment let us unite round the consecrated Host, the divine
Pilgrim among pilgrims, eager to draw from Him the inspiration and
strength to make ours the needs and aspirations of our emigrant
The Eucharistic Congress should demonstrate particularly and
highlight the fact that the People of God here on earth lives by the
Eucharist, that it draws from It its strength for everyday toils and
for the struggles in all spheres of its existence (June 30 and July
More than a century of experience has verified this judgement of the
WHY DEVELOPMENT OF EUCHARISTIC DOCTRINE
We now move from considering development of Eucharistic adoration to
progress in Eucharistic doctrine. The two forms of development are
related, but they are not the same.
We may say that, historically, the growth in devotion led to
development of doctrine. But saying this is not yet proving it. And
our purpose from here on will be to show how the blessings
experienced by the faithful from their worship of the Blessed
Sacrament led, under the Church’s guidance, to a phenomenal growth in
understanding the Real Presence as a marvelous source of grace to
those who believe.
Basic Premises of Doctrinal Development.
The Second Vatican Council will go down in history as the Council of
dogmatic progress. It was exactly four hundred years since the close
of the Council of Trent (1563), when the Second Vatican Council
During these four centuries, one after another of the cardinal
mysteries of the Christian faith had grown immensely. The essential
deposit of faith has remained the same, of course. But the meaning of
this faith had developed to a degree that has scandalized many, been
misunderstood by others and, we may say, is recognized by relatively
It is not surprising, therefore, that Vatican II should have laid
down the basic principles for dogmatic development. After declaring
that divine revelation, found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, has
been entrusted for safekeeping by the Church, the Council goes on to
say that there is more to the Church’s role than just preserving
revealed truth. Her mission is also to provide for growth in
assimilating this truth. The revealed deposit “that comes from the
apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy
There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are
passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the
contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their
hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which
they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who
received, along with their rights of succession in the episcopate,
the sure charism of truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church
is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until
eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her (<Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation>, II, 8).
Among the ways that the Church has grown in her understanding of the
Sacrament of the Eucharist, we shall concentrate on only one, namely
Experienced Benefits of Eucharistic Adoration.
The Council of Trent declared that Christ should be worshiped now in
the Eucharist no less than He had been in first century Palestine.
Why? Because in the Blessed Sacrament “it is the same God Whom the
apostles adored in Galilee” (<Decree on the Holy Eucharist>, chapter
5). The adorableness of the Eucharistic Christ, therefore, is an
article of the Catholic faith.
What has become increasingly clear, however, is that Christ in the
Eucharist is not only adorable but entreatable. He is not only to be
adored, like Thomas did, by addressing Him as, “My Lord and my God.”
He is also to be asked for what we need, like the blind man who
begged, “Lord, that I may see,” or approached like the woman who said
to herself, “If I can even touch His clothes, I shall be well again.”
By now countless believers have begged the Savior in the Eucharist
for what they needed, and have come close to Him in the tabernacle or
on the altar. Their resulting experience has profoundly deepened the
Church’s realization of how literally Christ spoke when He promised
to be with us until the end of time.
The experience has been mainly spiritual: In giving light to the mind
and strength to the will, in providing graces for oneself and others,
in enabling weak human nature to suffer superhuman trials, in giving
ordinary people supernatural power to accomplish extraordinary deeds.
Sts. John Fisher (1469-1535) and Thomas More (1478-1535) were
strengthened in life and prepared themselves for martyrdom by fervent
adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In one of More’s prayers,
published after his death, we read, “O sweet Saviour Christ, by the
divers torments of Thy most bitter Passion, take from me, good Lord,
this lukewarm fashion or rather key-cold meditation, and this
dullness in praying to Thee. And give me Thy grace to long for Thy
Holy Sacraments, and especially to rejoice in the Presence of Thy
blessed Body, sweet Saviour Christ, in the Holy Sacrament of the
Altar, and duly to thank Thee for Thy gracious visitation therewith.”
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) after preaching and baptizing all day
would often spend the night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi (1566-1607) was a Carmelite nun from the
age of seventeen. She recommended to busy people in the world to take
time out each day for praying before the Holy Eucharist. “A friend,”
she wrote, “will visit a friend in the morning to wish him a good
day, in the evening, a good night, taking also an opportunity to
converse with him during the day. In like manner, make visits to
Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, if your duties permit it. It
is especially at the foot of the altar that one prays well. In all
your visits to our Savior, frequently offer His precious Blood to the
Eternal Father. You will find these visits very conducive to increase
in you divine love.”
St. Margaret Mary (1647-1680), a Visitation nun, found before the
Blessed Sacrament the strength she needed to endure what witnesses at
her beatification process declared were “contempt, contradictions,
rebukes, insults, reproaches, without complaining, and praying for
those by whom she was ill-treated.”
St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), patron saint of confessors, wrote
a whole book on visits to the Blessed Sacrament. He advised,
“withdraw yourself from people and spend at least a quarter of an
hour, or a half-hour, in some church in the presence of the Blessed
Sacrament. Taste and see how sweet is the Lord, and you will learn
from your own experience how many graces this will bring you.”
St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars (1786-1859), told his people, “Our
Lord is hidden there in the tabernacle, waiting for us to come and
visit Him, and make our requests to Him…In heaven, where we shall
be glorious and triumphant, we shall see Him in all His glory. If He
had presented Himself, before us in that glory now, we should not
have dared to approach Him; but He hides Himself like a person in
prison, who might say to us, ‘You do not see Me, but that is no
matter; ask of Me all you wish and I will grant it.”‘ The Cure of Ars
spent most of his long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
During his homilies, he would often turn towards the tabernacle,
saying with emotion, “He is there!”
So the litany of witnesses to the power of the Real Presence went on.
By the time of the first international Eucharistic Congress in 1881,
the evidence was more than sufficient for the Church’s magisterium to
speak extensively on the subject.
THE CHURCH’S MAGISTERIUM
It was no coincidence that international Eucharistic Congresses came
into existence because of the experience of the faithful. As
mentioned before, it was a laywoman, Marie-Marthe Tamisier, whose
personal awareness of the spiritual energy available from the Real
Presence that Providence used to bring about the first international
Eucharistic Congress at Lille, in France, in 1881.
In the papal brief which Leo XIII addressed to those attending that
Congress, he spoke of the “great joy” he had in commending the
bishops who organized the assembly. He approved its purpose, namely
“of repairing the iniquities wreaked upon the Most Holy Sacrament and
of promoting Its worship.” He praised the laymen for “the great
extension of the work of Nocturnal Adoration” and for the report of
“how this salutary institution is taking root, progressing and
bearing fruit everywhere.”
The key factor, according to Pope Leo, is that Eucharistic Adoration
is bearing supernatural fruit wherever the practice is nourished by
the faith of the people.
St. Pius X’s devotion to the Real Presence, biographers say, was at
the heart of his historic promotion of early and frequent Holy
Communion. On the day of his canonization, Pope Pius XII identified
the source of his predecessor’s apostolic genius: “In the profound
vision which he had of the Church as a society, Pope Pius X
recognized that it was the Blessed Sacrament which had the power to
nourish her intimate life substantially, and to elevate her high
above all other human societies” (<Quest’ ore di fulgente>, May 29,
Anticipating the publication of his decree on frequent, even daily,
Communion (December 20, 1905), Pius X requested that the
international Eucharistic Congress that year should be held in Rome.
It was the sixteenth in sequence and the first one in the Eternal
City. The Pope opened the Congress with the Mass which he celebrated
and then participated in the procession with the Blessed Sacrament.
Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI carried on the papal tradition of
encouraging adoration of the Holy Eucharist, and prayers of expiation
and petition to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
It was Benedict XV who issued the first Code of Canon Law in 1917
which legislated the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in “every
parish or quasi-parish church, and in the church connected with the
residence of exempt men and women religious” (Canon 1265, #1). It was
this same Code which encouraged the private and public exposition of
the Holy Eucharist.
Pope Pius XI associated the worship of Christ in the Blessed
Sacrament with expiation for sin. St. Margaret Mary had been
canonized in 1920, just two years before Achille Ratti was elected
Pope. In 1928, he wrote a lengthy encyclical on Reparation to the
Sacred Heart. Its whole theme is on the desperate need to plead for
God’s mercy, especially through the Holy Eucharist. During her
prayers before the Blessed Sacrament, Christ revealed to Margaret
Mary “the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of
a mourner.” The Savior said, “Behold this Heart which has loved men
so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless
love has had no return but neglect and contumely, and this often from
those who were bound by a debt and duty of a more special love.”
Among the ways to make reparation to the Heart of Christ, the Pope
urged the faithful to “make expiatory supplications and prayers,
prolonged for a whole hour-which is rightly called the ‘Holy Hour”‘
(<Miserentissimus Redemptor>, May 8, 1928). It was understood that
the Holy Hour was to be made even as the original message was
received by St. Margaret Mary, before the Holy Eucharist.
Pope Pius XII.
With Pius XI’s successor, we begin a new stage in the Church’s
teaching on the efficacy of prayer addressed to Christ really present
in the Sacrament of the altar.
A year before his election to the See of Peter, Cardinal Pacelli was
sent as papal legate to the international Eucharistic Congress at
Budapest in Hungary. It was 1938, a year before the outbreak of the
Second World War. The theme of Pacelli’s address at the Congress was
that Christ had indeed left this earth in visible form at His
Ascension. But He is emphatically still on earth, the Jesus of
history, in the Sacrament of His love.
Pius XII published forty-one encyclicals during his almost twenty
year pontificate. One feature of these documents is their reflection
of doctrinal development that has taken place in the Catholic Church
in modern times. Thus, development in the Church’s understanding of
herself as the Mystical Body of Christ (<Mystici Corporis Christi>,
1943); in her understanding of the Bible (<Diving Afflante Spiritu>,
1943); in her understanding of the Blessed Virgin (<Deiparae Virginis
Mariae>, 1946), proposing the definition of Mary’s bodily Assumption
The Encyclical <Mediator Dei> (1947) was on the Sacred Liturgy. As
later events were to show, it became the doctrinal blueprint for the
Constitution of the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.
Nine complete sections of <Mediator Dei> deal with “Adoration of the
Eucharist.” This provides the most authoritative explanation of what
the Pope describes as “the worship of the Eucharist,” which
“gradually developed as something distinct from the Sacrifice of the
It seems best briefly to quote from these sections and offer some
1. <Adoration of the Eucharist>. The basis for all Eucharistic
devotion is the fact that Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is the Son
of God in human form.
The Eucharistic Food contains, as all are aware, “truly, really and
substantially the Body and Blood together with the Soul and Divinity
of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is no wonder, then, that the Church,
even from the beginning, adored the Body of Christ under the
appearance of bread; this is evident from the very rites of the
august Sacrifice, which prescribe that the sacred ministers should
adore the Most Holy Sacrament by genuflecting or by profoundly bowing
The Sacred Councils teach that it is the Church’s tradition right
from the beginning, to worship “with the same adoration the Word
Incarnate as well as His own flesh,” and St. Augustine asserts that:
“No one eats that flesh without first adoring it,” while he adds that
“not only do we not commit a sin by adoring it, but we do sin by not
adoring it.” (<Mediator Dei>, paragraph 129-130)
Everything else depends on this primary article of faith: that the
Eucharist contains the living Christ, in the fullness of His human
nature, and therefore really present under the sacred species; and in
the fullness of His divine nature, and therefore to be adored as God.
2. <Dogmatic Progress>. There has been a deeper grasp by the Church
of every aspect of the mystery of the Eucharist. But one that merits
special attention is the growing realization, not only of Christ’s
sacrificial oblation in the Mass, but of His grace-filled presence
outside of Mass.
It is on this doctrinal basis that the worship of adoring the
Eucharist was founded and gradually developed as something distinct
from the Sacrifice of the Mass. The reservation of the Sacred Species
for the sick and those in danger introduced the praiseworthy custom
of adoring the Blessed Sacrament which is reserved in our Churches.
This practice of adoration, in fact, is based on strong and solid
reasons. For the Eucharist is at once a Sacrifice and a Sacrament:
but it differs from the other Sacraments in this that it not only
produces grace, but contains, in a permanent manner, the Author of
grace Himself. When, therefore, the Church bids us adore Christ
hidden behind the Eucharistic veils and pray to Him for the spiritual
and temporal favors of which we ever stand in need, she manifests
living faith in her divine Spouse who is present beneath these veils,
she professes her gratitude to Him and she enjoys the intimacy of His
The key to seeing why there should be a Eucharistic worship distinct
from the Mass is that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ. No less than His
contemporaries in Palestine adored and implored Him for the favors
they needed, so we should praise <and> thank Him, and implore Him for
what we need.
3. Devotional Development. As a consequence of this valid progress in
doctrine, the Church has developed a variety of Eucharistic
Now, the Church in the course of centuries has introduced various
forms of this worship which are ever increasing in beauty and
helpfulness; as, for example, visits of devotion to the tabernacle,
even every day, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; solemn
processions, especially at the time of Eucharistic Congresses, which
pass through cities and villages; and adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament publicly exposed. Sometimes these public acts of adoration
are of short duration. Sometimes they last for one, several and even
for forty hours. In certain places they continue in turn in different
churches throughout the year, while elsewhere adoration is perpetual,
day and night (132).
To be stressed is that these are not merely passing devotional
practices. They are founded on divinely revealed truth. And, as the
Pope is at pains to point out, “these exercises of piety have brought
a wonderful increase in faith and supernatural life to the Church
militant upon earth.”
Are these practices liturgical? “They spring from the inspiration of
the Liturgy,” answers Pius XII. “And if they are performed with due
decorum and with faith and piety, as the liturgical rules of the
Church require, they are undoubtedly of the very greatest assistance
in living the life of the Liturgy.”
Does this not confuse the “Historic Christ” with the Eucharistic
Christ? Not at all, says the Pope.
On the contrary, it can be claimed that by this devotion the faithful
bear witness to and solemnly avow the faith of the Church that the
Word of God is identical with the Son of the Virgin Mary, Who
suffered on the Cross, Who is present in a hidden manner in the
Eucharist and Who reigns upon His heavenly throne. Thus St. John
Chrysostom states: “When you see It (the Body of Christ) exposed, say
to yourself: thanks to this Body, I am no longer dust and ashes, I am
no more a captive but a freeman: hence I hope to obtain Heaven and
the good things that are there in store for me, eternal life, the
heritage of the Angels, companionship with Christ” (134).
Among other forms of Eucharistic devotion recommended by Pope Pius
XII, he gave special attention to Benediction of the Blessed
Sacrament. He spoke of the “great benefit in that custom which makes
the priest raise aloft the Bread of Angels before congregations with
heads bowed down in adoration and forming with It the sign of the
cross.” This “implores the Heavenly Father to deign to look upon His
Son who for love of us was nailed to the Cross and for His sake and
through Him willed . . . to shower down heavenly favors upon those
whom the Immaculate Blood of the Lamb has redeemed” (135).
Pope John XXIII.
Unlike his predecessor, John XXIII did not publish any extensive
documentation on the Eucharistic Liturgy. But he took every occasion
to urge the faithful, especially priests, to pray before the Blessed
In the life of a priest nothing could replace the silent and
prolonged prayer before the altar. The adoration of Jesus, our God;
thanksgiving, reparation for our sins and for those of all men, the
prayer for so many intentions entrusted to Him, combine to raise that
priest to a greater love for the Divine Master to whom he has
promised faithfulness and for men who depend on his priestly
With the practice of this enlightened and fervent worship of the
Eucharist, the spiritual life of the priest increases and there are
prepared the missionary energies of the most valuable apostles.
All the while that he was urging priests to pray before the altar,
the Pope reminded them that “the Eucharistic Prayer in the full sense
is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” (Encyclical <Sacerdotii Nostri
Primordia>, August 11, 1959). After all, without the Mass there would
be no Real Presence. We might say that Christ’s abiding presence in
the Holy Eucharist is an extension of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
On the eve of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John participated in
the Corpus Christi procession of the Blessed Sacrament in Rome. On
that occasion, he composed an earnest prayer for Christ’s blessings
on the forthcoming Council.
O Jesus, look upon us from your Sacrament like a good Shepherd, by
which name the Angelic Doctor invokes you, and with him Holy Church.
O Jesus, good Shepherd, this is your flock, the flock that you have
gathered from the ends of the earth, the flock that listens to your
word of life, and intends to guard it, practice it and preach it.
This is the flock that follows you meekly, O Jesus, and wishes so
ardently to see, in the Ecumenical Council, the reflection of your
loving face in the features of your Church, the mother of all, the
mother who opens her arms and heart to all, and here awaits,
trembling and trustful, the arrival of all her Bishops (June 21,
Words could not be plainer. They could also not be more
authoritative. The Vicar of Christ was teaching, by example, how
effective prayer to our Lord in the Eucharist can be not only for
ourselves personally, but for the whole Church of God.
Pope Paul VI.
Although Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council and lived
through its first session in 1962, he did not promulgate any of its
sixteen documents. That was done by his successor, Pope Paul VI.
The first conciliar document issued by Paul VI was the <Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy> (December 4, 1963). Less than two years later,
just before the last session of the Council, he published the
encyclical <Mysterium Fidei> (September 3, 1965). It is a remarkable
document in several ways.
* It was issued during the Second Vatican Council.
* It opens with a glowing tribute to the Council’s Constitution on
* It praises those who “seek to investigate more profoundly and to
understand more fruitfully the doctrine on the Holy Eucharist.”
* But then it goes on to give “reasons for serious pastoral concern
and anxiety.” Specifically, Paul VI says that opinions are being
spread which reinterpret “doctrine already defined by the Church,”
and in particular “the dogma of transubstantiation” (I).
Most of the encyclical, therefore, is a doctrinal analysis of the
Real Presence. By all accounts, it is the most extensive and
penetrating declaration in papal history on two articles of the
Catholic faith: the corporeal presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed
Sacrament and His communication of grace through this Eucharistic
presence now on earth.
1. The Real Presence. If we are to understand the sacramental
presence of Christ in the Eucharist, “which constitutes the greatest
miracle of its kind, we must listen with docility to the voice of the
teaching and praying Church.” What does the doctrine and devotion of
the Church tell us? This voice, which constantly echoes the voice of
Christ, assures us that the way Christ is made present in this
Sacrament is none other than by the change of the whole substance of
the bread into His Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into
His Blood, and that this unique and truly wonderful change the
Catholic Church rightly calls transubstantiation. As a result of
transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on
a new meaning and a new finality, for they no longer remain ordinary
bread and ordinary wine, but become the sign of something sacred, the
sign of a spiritual food. However, the reason they take on this new
significance and this new finality is simply because they contain a
new reality which we may justly term ontological. There is no longer
under the species what had been there before. It is something
entirely different. Why? Not only because of the faith of the church,
but in objective reality. After the change of the substance or nature
of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, nothing
remains of the bread and wine but the appearances, under which
Christ, whole and entire, in His physical reality is bodily present
Of course this presence is beyond our comprehension. Of course it is
different from the way bodies are naturally present and therefore can
be sensibly perceived. Subjectively, we cannot see or touch the Body
of Christ in the Eucharist. But objectively (in reality) and
ontologically (in His being) He is there.
2. Communication of Grace. Once the Real Presence is properly
recognized, it is only logical to conclude that we should worship the
Savior in the Blessed Sacrament. It is equally logical to expect Him
to confer blessings on a sinful world by His presence among us. Three
passages in <Mysterium Fidei> make this conclusion perfectly clear.
In the first statement, Pope Paul recalls the teaching of St. Cyril
of Alexandria (died 444) who had been so active in defending the
physical union of Christ’s humanity in the Incarnation as well as in
the Eucharist. The reason is that the Eucharist is the Incarnate Son
of God who became, and remains, the Son of Mary.
St. Cyril of Alexandria rejects as folly the opinion of those who
maintained that if a part of the Eucharist was left over for the
following day, it did not confer sanctification. “For” he says,
“neither Christ is altered nor His Holy Body changed, but the force
and power and revivifying grace remain with it” (VI).
Once the elements of bread and wine have been consecrated and
transubstantiation has taken place, the living Christ remains as long
as the Eucharistic species remain. Then, because Christ is present,
His humanity remains a source of life-giving grace.
In his second statement on the Eucharist as a channel of grace, Pope
Paul carefully distinguishes between the Eucharist as Sacrifice and
Communion, and the Eucharist as Presence.
Not only while the Sacrifice is offered and the Sacrament is
received, but as long as the Eucharist is kept in our churches and
oratories, Christ is truly the Emmanuel, that is “God with us.” Day
and night He is in our midst, He dwells with us, full of grace and
truth. He restores morality, nourishes virtues, consoles the
afflicted and strengthens the weak (VI).
These verbs–restores, nourishes, consoles and strengthens–are all
forms of divine grace which Christ confers by His presence in the
In his third statement on the efficacy of the Real Presence, Paul VI
adds the final touch to his teaching. No doubt the living Savior in
the Blessed Sacrament is there “full of grace and truth.” But there
must be a responsive faith on our part.
Anyone who approaches this august Sacrament with special devotion,
and endeavors to return generous love for Christ’s own infinite love,
will experience and fully understand–not without spiritual joy and
fruit–how precious is the life hidden with Christ in God, and how
great is the value of converse with Christ. For there is nothing more
consoling on earth, nothing more efficacious for advancing along the
road of holiness (VI).
The important word in that last sentence is “efficacious.” Provided
we approach the Real Presence with believing love, Christ will
perform wonders of His grace in our lives.
Pope John Paul II.
Building on the teaching of his predecessors, John Paul II has come
to be known as the Pope of the Real Presence. In one document and
address after another, he has repeated what needs repetition for the
sake of emphasis: “The Eucharist, in the Mass and outside of the
Mass, is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and is therefore
deserving of the worship that is given to the living God, and to Him
alone” (Opening address in Ireland, Phoenix Park, September 29,
But the Pope has done more than merely repeat what had been said
before. He placed the capstone on the Eucharistic teaching of the
magisterium that we have been examining. He did so by explaining in
the most unambiguous language that there is only one Sacrament of the
Eucharist. Yet this one Sacrament confers grace in three different
ways. Each manner of giving grace corresponds to the three forms in
which the Eucharist has been instituted by Christ.
It is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-
Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament (Encyclical <Redemptor Hominis>,
March 4, 1979, IV, 20).
The revealed foundation for this conclusion is the fact of Christ’s
abiding presence in the Eucharist. It is the “Redeemer of Man” who by
His Passion and death on the Cross merited the grace of our
salvation. But it is mainly through the Eucharist that the same Jesus
Christ now channels this grace to a sinful human race.
It is in this comprehensive sense that we can say, “the Church lives
by the Eucharist, by the fullness of this Sacrament.” This fullness,
however, spans all three levels of its sacramental existence, where,
by “sacrament” the Church means a sensible sign, instituted by
Christ, through which invisible grace and inward sanctification are
communicated to the soul.
The Mass is the Sacrifice-Sacrament of the Eucharist. As the Council
of Trent declared, the Sacrifice of the Mass is not only an offering
of praise and thanksgiving. It is also a source of grace: “By this
oblation, the Lord is appeased, He grants grace and the gift of
repentance, and He pardons wrongdoings and sins,” the blessings of
Redemption which Christ won for us by His bloody death on Calvary are
now “received in abundance through this unbloody oblation” (September
Holy Communion is the Communion-Sacrament of the Eucharist. As the
same Council of Trent defined, Christ present in the Eucharist is not
only spiritually eaten, but also really and sacramentally. We
actually receive His Body and Blood, and we are truly nourished by
His grace. It was Christ’s will “That this Sacrament be received as
the soul’s spiritual food, to sustain and build up those who live
with His life.” It is also to be “a remedy to free us from our daily
defects and to keep us from mortal sin” (October 11, 1551).
The Real Presence is the Presence-Sacrament of the Eucharist. How?
The Real Presence is a Sacrament in every way that the humanity of
Christ is a channel of grace to those who believe that the Son of God
became man for our salvation.
GRACE THROUGH THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST
The underlying theme of the Church’s Eucharistic teaching is the fact
of “Christ’s consoling presence in the Blessed Sacrament. His Real
Presence in the fullest sense; the substantial presence by which the
whole and complete Christ, God and man, is present” (Pope John Paul
II, September 29, 1979).
Once this fact of faith is recognized, it is not difficult to see why
prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so efficacious. Indeed it
explains why, without a second thought, Catholics have simply
referred to the Real Presence as the Blessed <Sacrament>. It is a
Sacrament, or better, it is the one Sacrament which not only confers
grace but contains the very source of grace, namely Jesus Christ.
As we read the Gospels, we are struck by the marvelous power that
Christ’s humanity had in effecting changes in the persons who came
into contact with Him. Already in the womb of His mother, He
sanctified the unborn John the Baptist the moment Elizabeth heard the
voice of Mary. At Cana in Galilee, at His Mother’s request, Jesus
told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the steward
tasted the water, it had turned into wine.
Jesus spoke with human lips when He preached the Sermon on the Mount,
when He taught the parables, when he forgave sinners, when he rebuked
the Pharisees, when He foretold His Passion and told His followers to
carry the cross. Jesus touched the blind with human hands, and healed
the lepers by speaking with a human voice. On one occasion a sick
woman touched the hem of His garment. “Immediately,” relates St.
Mark, “aware that power had gone out from Him, Jesus turned round in
the crowd and said, ‘who touched My clothes?”‘ The woman was
instantly healed. Significantly, Jesus told her, “your faith has
restored you to health.”
All through His public ministry, the humanity of Christ was the means
by which He enlightened the minds of his listeners, restored their
souls to divine friendship, cured their bodies of disability and
disease, and assured them of God’s lasting peace. That is what St.
John meant when, in the prologue of his Gospel, he said, “though the
Law was given through Moses, grace and truth come through Jesus
Christ.” Why? Because Christ is the only-begotten Son of God who
became flesh, and not only lived but, in the Eucharist, continues to
live among us .
In order to draw on these resources of infinite wisdom and power,
available in the Eucharist, we must believe. In the words of the
<Adoro Te>, we can say: “I believe everything that the Son of God has
said, and nothing can be truer than this word of the Truth. Only the
Godhead was hidden on the cross, but here the humanity is hidden as
well. Yet I believe and acknowledge them both.”
Those who can thus speak to Christ in the Eucharist will learn from
experience what the Church means when she tells us that the Real
Presence is a Sacrament. It is the same Savior Who assumed our human
nature to die for us on Calvary and who now dispenses through that
same humanity, now glorified, the blessings of salvation.
<This study of the History of Eucharistic Adoration was done by a
professional theologian. It is part of a planned series on the
doctrinal foundations of the Sacrifice, Communion and Presence-
Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
In an age of widespread confusion and disbelief, this document offers
unprecedented clarity in the most important element of our faith. I
recommend that it be prayerfully studied and widely circulated. It is
thoroughly researched and well-documented, and promises to enlighten,
instruct and inspire countless souls to an undying love of our
Bishop Jerome J. Hastrich Gallup, New Mexico U.S.A.