As Catholics, we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The technical term is “transubstantiation“. The appearance (or “accidents” as Aristotle would say) of bread and wine remain, but the substance itself is changed to the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. More on that in a different post.
In Eucharistic Adoration, also called “Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament” the consecrated (transubstantiated) host is placed in a monstrance for the faithful to meditate with. In this way, the adorers spend time in person with their creator and redeemer – veiled in the accident (appearance) of bread, for mere man cannot look directly upon the Face of God.
Isn’t this idolatry?
This is dissimilar to the use of idols used in traditions like Hinduism, where gods are said to dwell temporarily in something that remains the same substance – rather based on the promises of Christ, as understood through a whole-scripture lens, and unpacked over centuries by theologians it is truly Christ made flesh.
So I’ve heard it called a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ. Does this mean Catholics re-crucify Him?
Much as the Jews that celebrate the Passover, Catholics have a particular understanding of the word remembrance. Just as the Jewish Passover sacrifice is a memorial – which is understood as being present at the original Passover. In a similar way, Catholics are present at the original sacrifice of Christ – but the resurrection makes possible a presence that transcends time and space. Just as Christ’s risen body can do things like pass through doors, his risen body of today is an un-bloodied (though one-in-the-same) sacrifice.
So if you eat the real body of Christ, doesn’t that make you a cannibal?
The Real Presence does not mean a finite presence. For instance, if I take and break a piece of a consecrated host, I don’t have a foot over here, and a hand over there. Similarly, if I’m an alcoholic and will not receive from the cup, I do not omit part of the Holy meal. His presence is total in every particle under either species (a term for the bread or the wine that has been consecrated).
So why do we adore?
Adoration as worship is reserved for God alone, so without the building block of the real presence, detractors would be quite right in calling it idolatry. But why spend time with the Lord in such a form? Didn’t Jesus say “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also”?
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once likened Eucharistic Adoration (spending time with The Son) to spending time in the sun. If you spend time in the presence of the sun, you can’t help but slowly over time be changed by it. Your body warms, your skin darkens in response to it. So too spending time in proximity to The Son. The graces that flow from Him do change lives, and communities. I myself can attest to that. Click this link to see why Archbishop Sheen did a “Holy Hour” before the blessed sacrament every day – the story is very moving, involving a young Chinese girl of tremendous courage.
Finally, what to do at adoration?
Many people have their own form of Adoration. Some pray personal prayers, or read from a bible or inspirational book; others write letters to their loved ones, and still others try to discern a tough decision, or pray the rosary. There’s even a story attributed to Saint John Vianney about a peasant that came to his church every day, never opening a book or moving his lips. When Vianney questioned the man what he did, he merely replied “I look at him – and he looks at me”.
For more on the historical side of Adoration, see The History of Eucharistic Adoration by John A. Hardon S.J. provided here by EWTN. And above all, give Adoration a try.