An Interesting Question
In the Diocese of St. Petersburg,Florida, the Office of Worship, under the leadership of Bishop Robert Lynch, has recently placed severe restrictions on the practice of Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist.
One can't help but wonder why.
The document is dated June 1 and is available for your perusal here (sorry, but they only have it available for download in a pdf format - very irritating, and very strange)
The point is simple: the most appropriate "reverencing" of the Eucharist is done in the setting of the Eucharistic liturgy. If there is to be Exposition and Adoration, it should take place only for limited times in ritual contexts.
Now, what if a parish wants to institute Perpetual Adoration, a practice currently experiencing a real resurgence in the Church, thanks in part to the efforts of various associations and movements? The parish at which Michael and I were married, St. Joseph's in Lakeland, Florida (not in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, by the way) instituted the devotion a couple of years ago. Our parish here in Indiana has a Perpetual Adoration chapel. It's a rather nice privilege to be able to walk your daughter to school, then slip into the chapel for a prayer.
But if your parish wants to do it in St. Pete, tough luck. The document does its best to discourage the practice, quite frankly, all wrapped up in the guise of a bunch of conditions and obstacles so particular as to be impossible to meet.
"Parishes seeking to inaugurate or restore eucharistic devotions should reflect on their practices during the communion rite and their commitment of time and money to social services. Are they as respectful and reverent towards Christ's presence in the gathered Body, the Church, as they are to the presence of Christ in the Sacrament?...Does the eucharistic bread look like bread? Does the parish carefully prepare enough communion for the gathered assembly instead of routinely going to the tabernacle? Do the eucharistic ministers reflect the parish, i.e., inclusive of age, ethnicity and gender? ....Is the Eucharist being brought to members of the parish who cannot gather on Sunday because of sickness or advanced age? When these issues have been addressed, then the deeper understanding of communion that Christ intended in the Eucharist will be achieved...."
Now, there's a legitimate concern here. Of course our Eucharistic devotion should be centered on the Mass. Of course that should be at the center of the parish's priorities. Of course our Eucharistic catechesis should be holistic, emphasizing exactly why Jesus gave us Himself in Eucharist - not to sit back in self-satisfied contentment, but to be strengthened to go out and live and spread the Good News.
Of course, Eucharistic adoration wasn't exactly born with Pentecost and was, in part, a reaction to that medieval conviction of extreme unworthiness for reception of Communion that resulted in lots of silly and even harmful practices and a distortion in some peoples' sense of Eucharist.
But there's something missing in this document. Of course, it's the perspective of those who value the devotion, not only the laity who actually engage in this type of devotion, but those scholars and thinkers who've studied it from a sympathetic perspective. (For example, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, the author of two books which I've linked below)
The implication of this document is clear and supremely snide, reminiscent to me of the attitude of a priest who referred to a group of mainly female, mainly elderly parishioners who remained after daily Mass to pray the rosary as "the crazies." The assumption here is that those who value Perpetual Adoration do so because they devalue the liturgy. The implication is that those who value Perpetual Adoration are a bunch of self-involved individualists with no interest in following Christ, only sitting in front of His Presence in a monstrance, then shuffling home and bitching about Father's homily last Sunday.
Well that's just silly. Yes, Eucharistic Adoration can be abused, but you know what? So can concern for gender and ethnic inclusivity among Eucharistic Ministers or any aspect of Church. So can the desire to balance our reverence for Christ in "the community" with the reverence for Christ in the Eucharist. So can any blather emitting from a diocesan office of worship.
But here's the thing. I'd love to challenge the author of this document to go into any Perpetual Adoration chapel at any time of the day and talk to the people there (after they're finished praying, of course). Ask them what they do with their time. Ask them their opinions of their fellow human beings. Ask them if they value the Sunday liturgy. Do you really think you're going to hear Scrooge spouting misanthropic speeches, anti-liturgical screeds? Get real. I suspect they'd be in too much of a hurry to get off to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or Birthright to even explain themselves too much.
It's an interesting document, yes indeed. Those all-important lines-between-the-lines absolutely scream "power struggle!", and I'd love to know the scoop. I suppose the authors and the bishop think they're doing the right thing - trying to channel devotion to Christ in the Eucharist towards the Sunday liturgy with no side streams. They're doing their time-honored very Catholic job of keeping a sharp eye on individual devotions.
But what they've failed to give any good reasons, beyond the latest Notre-Dame-Summer-School-of-Liturgy twist on theological principles, as to why this should be so - why our love for Christ should be constrained (into decidedly clerically-controlled settings, by the way) rather than allowed to flow where it will.
Sensus fidelium anyone? Anyone?