Catholic doctrinal and religious practices which conflict with our separated brethren are now over five hundred years old. I have observed that most dialogues with non-Catholic Christians in online blogs, chat rooms, on radio call-in shows and articles, result in salt getting poured in the wounds of people on all sides. Civility suffers and tempers flare over disagreements and misunderstandings.
Normally, one would not suggest that a good solution is to stop talking. However, in a manner of speaking, I am suggesting exactly that. What might happen if we began an outreach program and invited some of our separated brethren to join us in Eucharistic adoration, to have them experience its peace and beauty?
Adoration is a ritual but not a sacrament, so there is no obstacle to overcome in inviting other Christians. The concept would simply be an expansion of the Church’s effort since 2003 to “rekindle . . . ’amazement’ ” among its own membership. Pope Francis has also encouraged “everyone” to attend frequent Eucharistic adoration, even daily, if possible.
Mindfulness is a popular concept in today’s world. The term refers to meditative practices which help people reduce stress. If attending Eucharistic adoration cannot be a focused Catholic religious practice for other Christians, it can definitely produce a spiritual mindfulness experience while they pray or meditate in their own faith tradition. My point is not to diminish the profoundness of adoration. Rather, it is to invite others to join us in a form of worship acceptable to both.
For Catholics who might tend to balk at this whole idea, recall that three Catholic popes have visited Muslim mosques as gestures of respect and goodwill, (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis). I think there is a good chance that inviting willing other Christians could bring them together with Catholics as they have in recent decades on some political matters. Evangelical Christians have truly worked side by side with Catholics on pro-life efforts. That, in turn, has led to their uniting with Catholics on religious freedom issues.
The Goal in Inviting other Christians
The objective would be to have visitors achieve at least the kind of encounter similar to the comment made by one non-Catholic adoration attendee:
As a part of a Protestant tradition where the bread and wine are seen as symbolic, not real, I have to admit I didn’t feel the special spiritual connection experienced by my Catholic friend, who believed he was in the actual presence of Christ. But I did feel a sense of peace and rest in that sacred space. And that can never be a bad thing.
If we offer our separated brethren Christians the opportunity to attend Eucharistic adoration, we offer them a worldly experience. It will be difficult, however, for them not to also perceive a piece of the transcendent therein. A program could involve simply a few individuals, a parish or an entire diocese. It might last a short time, over Lent or Advent or summer or continue through the year. The bottom line is that this could be a step toward eventual Christian reunification, even if not fully realized within our lifetimes.
Why Invite Them?
Inviting other Christians to adoration is ecumenical because it promotes Christian unity. It is nonverbal evangelization so it avoids theological arguments. Remember the exhortation attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” Inviting non-Catholic Christians to adoration is an act of spiritual neighborliness which obeys the command to love one another. In a few cases, over the long term, it might eventually lead to actual conversion. Primarily, it can lead to a fundamental mutual spirituality and understanding. At the very least, it may contribute to a kind of religious détente between Catholics and other Christians.
Enticements: Peace, Beauty and other “Fruits”
Stepping into a Catholic Church anywhere is unique. Attending Eucharistic Adoration inside a Catholic Church is unparalleled. I am unaware of the complete panoply of meditation exercises and spiritual practices that people engage in today. My overall impression, however, has been that these are largely inward exercises. The person meditating intentionally distances him or herself from the environment.
In contrast, we should advise those we are inviting, that adoration makes brilliant use of the environment to help one’s interior soul commune outwardly toward God. Explain how the surroundings are during adoration. The lighting is the church is kept typically low to enable reading and to highlight the monstrance on the altar. Daytime adoration allows the streaming light to come in through the stained glass window scenes. The faint scent of burning candles conveys an ancient contemplative atmosphere. The sound of nothing more than pages turning, the creak of a pew when someone shifts position or the rustle of a visitor removing a jacket is striking.
Catholics might also tell the invited about the vastly reported fruits of Eucharistic adoration. In general, the experience draws the worshiper closer to God. At a minimum, people most often state a feeling of peace. People have offered their testimonials of spiritual enrichment. Some non-practicing Catholics who attended adoration in Badalona, Spain have found “peace, silence and welcoming space and they end up developing a regular and assiduous prayer life.” People have credited adoration as helpful in fighting depression, addictions, family problems, ailments of the soul, breaking a struggle with pornography, even in contributing to a dramatic reduction in murders Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Prefatory Talk Outside or in the Narthex of the Church
An outreach person could be one individual or a program could use individualized person-to-person sponsors. Either way, the visitors need to hear or read some prefatory comments. Perhaps the outreach person could even draft an informational sheet or pamphlet to hand out. Before arriving at the narthex of the church, some type of brief meeting ought to review some basic points before the visitors enter into the church sanctuary, such as the following:
A good icebreaker might be to say we are not trying to convert the visitors but, down the road, should they see a strange bright light and feel a strong interest, we would gladly help.
Catholic belief & teaching are that since the Last Supper, we regard the Eucharist as the present body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Lord. Adoration dates from about the 13th century. We acknowledge their different beliefs but ask them to respect our practices.
Catholics typically genuflect and cross themselves upon entering and leaving a pew. As an accommodation, visitors may be asked to stop outside the pew, turn their thoughts to Jesus and bow their heads as they enter and leave.
During adoration, everyone should remain silent. Cell phones and electronic devices should be turned off.
Reading scripture or spiritual writings, praying or meditating while sitting or kneeling are all acceptable. Writing in a journal is fine. Catholic convert Steve Ray graphed out eight ways to adore the Eucharist.
If the visitors have never been inside a Catholic Church, advise that there are a number of statues which are reminders of holy saints but we do not worship them.
The value of a program would surely be measured by whether visitors return to Eucharistic Adoration. For those who do, we may be able to offer them references which explain the biblical development of the Eucharist. For those who have favorable experiences and wish to return, they may be amenable to reading more detailed information about the Eucharist. For example, The Didache, a first-century document, a kind of restatement of faith and practices, cites to taking the Eucharist, (paragraph-chapters 9-10 specifically reference the “Eucharist”). A Denver Catholic article which masterfully pulls many threads together from the Bible and writing of the Church Fathers can supply a non-Catholic with the reasons why Catholics believe in the real presence. For the most open and inquiring minds, if return visitors genuinely wish to understand more deeply, we can point them toward The Catechism of the Catholic Church (whole text is accessible free online).
A successful method of charitable outreach which has been undertaken by St. Vincent de Paul charities for over a hundred and fifty years has been “home visits”. Vincentian laypersons go into the homes of the poor, in more than a hundred countries, to help their needs and this has proven to be a mutually warm and welcoming tactic. I believe the foundation for the success of an outreach Eucharistic adoration program would be a similar person to person approach.