By Connie Cissell
Much secular debate surrounds the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. What appears to Protestants and other denominations to be a thin, brittle piece of bread and a cup of wine holds a much more significant meaning to Catholics. When a priest consecrates the bread and wine it undergoes what is called transubstantiation. “We believe that the elements of bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine,” explained Father Joseph Scardella, director of the diocesan Office of Formation for Ministry, Liturgy and RCIA. “It is not just a memorial meal.”
Pope John Paul II gave the faithful a clear explanation of the Eucharist in his encyclical letter, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia.” The enormity of the Eucharist can be summed up in his simple first sentence, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.”
Each time the Eucharist is celebrated, the Lord is with those in the assembly. Subsequently the church can rejoice in His presence over and over and over, spanning the time since Jesus died on the cross. In chapter six of John’s Gospel Jesus proclaims he is the “bread of life.”
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51)
While it may not be a teaching that can be easily grasped by the secular world, the Eucharist is the very essence of the Catholic Church.
“At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it,” Pope John Paul II wrote.
Another aspect of the Eucharist touched on in the late pontiff’s encyclical is the universal dimension present when it is celebrated. Whether the altar is in a tiny country church, in a village in Guatemala or on the great altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, the celebration of the Eucharist unites everyone.
The prominence of the Eucharist within the Catholic faith leads to other outpourings of grace for those who believe. Eucharistic adoration, or prayer before the Blessed Sacrament — whether solitary or communal — is another experience where Jesus is truly present with his followers.
Bishop James Moynihan recently sent a letter to the priests of the diocese requesting that they make the devotion of Eucharistic adoration available to their parishioners. Bishop Moynihan wrote: “I have often asked that our people be given an opportunity to ‘watch and wait’ before the Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar in our parish churches, either by providing them the opportunity for perpetual adoration or at least adoration at stated times.”
A little more than 18 months ago Blessed Sacrament Parish in Johnson City began a weekly hour of prayer for vocations which includes Benediction, adoration, the rosary, meditation time and other devotional practices. The day and the hour vary to accommodate workers, retirees, students and others. Father Donald Bourgeois, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, has found that varying the schedule helps the faithful fit the devotions into their busy schedules.
“Through good weather and bad, we’ve had a faithful corps of prayerful people. Families come and we’ve scheduled several sessions for the benefit of our religious education students who can learn about Benediction and adoration and pray with us who are praying for their vocations,” Father Bourgeois said.
In the Eastern Region of the diocese, members of St. Agatha’s in Canastota met with other parishes in their cluster and embarked on implementing perpetual Eucharistic adoration. Previously the parish offered First Friday devotion, a monthly, 24-hour period of Eucharistic adoration. Today St. Agatha’s and St. Joseph’s in Onieda each offer perpetual adoration. Michael Seagriff, a parishioner of St. Agatha’s and a committed proponent of the practice, said that putting together perpetual adoration was really no more difficult than planning for a 24-hour period once a month.
“Once people realize how important adoration is, they are willing to sign up,” Seagriff said. Before beginning the devotion, the parishioners were educated about what adoration of the Blessed Sacrament entails and the history of the devotion. The Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament, an organization located in Plattsburgh, N.Y., helped the parishioners organize the devotion. The lay apostolate began 20 years ago with the intention of providing resources to people all over the world to help spread Eucharistic adoration. The Web site is www.acfp2000.com and it offers insight, resources and history of the devotion.
Seagriff produces a newsletter that keeps parishioners up to date on the devotion. In a recent copy, he collected testimonials from fellow adorers. They wrote: “I cannot imagine an hour better spent than with the Creator of the universe”; “I feel honored and fortunate for my hour”; “It is my one hour to be in complete peace — free from the stresses of the world”; “Eucharistic adoration has been a fantastic, incredible injection of faith for our family”; and “When you enter here a feeling comes over you that you cannot ignore. The warmth. The spirit-filled heart. He listens. He hears. He loves us.”
For Seagriff, Eucharistic adoration is a passion. “I, and everyone else I know who practices this devotion, has been immensely blessed,” Seagriff said. “It’s frustrating sometimes when people do not understand that this is the most important thing we can do as individuals. Sometimes we think we can solve all our problems and we can’t.”
More than 10 years has passed since Msgr. Eugene Yennock instituted perpetual adoration at St. Daniel in Syracuse. “Deacon Joe Celentano and his wife Diane schedule people to come and they come from all different places,” Msgr. Yennock said. “From all around the city and the county to pray.”
At St. Daniel the opportunity to educate about the devotion begins early. Children in the First Communion program come to the adoration chapel with their parents and receive an explanation of perpetual adoration. The same applies for those going through the confirmation program. Msgr. Yennock’s own introduction to the practice began when he was a child. The importance of the Eucharist is utmost in his own faith.
“The Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of our faith. It’s not something that fluctuates in and out of season. It is the center of our faith. Our bishop has always encouraged adoration, especially for vocations. I believe it is a powerful element in fostering vocations to the priesthood.” A testament to that belief can be found on the vocations Web site for the diocese. Currently, three of eight seminarians studying for the Syracuse Diocese come from St. Daniel Parish. Msgr. Robert Yeazel, Father Clifford Auth, Father Daniel Caruso, permanent Deacon Celetano and his son, Christopher, a transitional deacon who will be ordained in June, all call St. Daniel home.
Mary Barton and Mary Armstrong at Our Lady of Angels in Endwell are familiar with the work that goes into taking on responsibility for adoration in one’s parish. They’ve been scheduling adorers since October 1990. The church happened to be undergoing renovations then and there were plans for a meditation room in the works so that space became the Eucharistic adoration chapel.
“At that time it was Bishop O’Keefe who gave permission,” Barton said. “He had two requests: that there be security for those who come in the middle of the night and that the Blessed Sacrament is never left alone.”
Like St. Agatha’s, the people of Our Lady of Angels met with parishioners from churches within their cluster and now adorers come from all of the churches. And like Michael Seagriff, Armstrong and Barton sometimes struggle to fill the vacancies left behind by adorers who have passed away or who struggle with illness. They all agreed that once someone decides to come for adoration, it is very rare that he or she stops coming.
“For me,” said Armstrong, “it is just awesome. To think that Our Lord is present, physically there with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Mother because wherever her son is, she is — when I think about that I think, ‘Wow! What company I’m in!’”
Participants from all of the parishes also spoke of the many people who are not regularly scheduled adorers, but who drop in for even a few minutes at a time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
“We have one man who comes every morning,” Barton said. “He leaves his car running, comes in and kneels down for a few minutes to pray and then he leaves and comes back the next day.”
Our Lady of Angels pastor Father John Roock takes his own hour in the rotation. “The pastors take an hour in in the middle of the night on Saturday because they know they’ll always be there then,” Barton said.
“Somebody told me that our perpetual adoration chapel could be the greatest gift Endwell has,” Armstrong added.