It's not that long ago that we had a situation where, every time Catholics came together for anything, they expected to "have Mass". It was as if our collective memory had forgotten all the other things that we could do together, whether the Divine Office, Taizé prayer services....well, you get the idea. A priest looking after more than one church, and arriving for a Wednesday evening meeting at a secondary church would be greeted with "Oh, father's here. Now we can have Mass" — never stopping to think that his purpose in being there might be something rather more prosaic than presiding at Eucharist.
The whole situation was rather rudely described as "Mass and Chips". We had Mass with everything, no matter what.
Well, now it seems the trend is moving in the direction of "Adoration and Chips". Increasingly it seems that people cannot get together without having an extended time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, frequently exposed. I have just been reading about a church whose parishioners have decided to tack on a half-hour of adoration before celebrating the Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent. It's symptomatic of a trend to have concatenations of devotions strung together, as if just one were somehow insufficient.
Every time young people get together, it seems that all we provide for them is Adoration. How can we expect them to develop and mature in other practices of the faith, let alone getting out into the world and doing good works?
The number of churches where they now have "perpetual adoration" — effectively preventing the church from being used for other practical purposes, even cleaning, not to mention music practices and organ tuning — is on the increase. At one time, perpetual adoration was confined to a small number of convents who specialised in it. Now it's running rife! The "adoration police" are out in force!
It's also true to say that the word "Adoration" has become confused with "Exposition". At one time, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was considered enough. Now, the host has to be exposed in a monstrance. Why? Is there a kind of anthropomorphism going on here which thinks that Jesus needs to be let out of the tabernacle?
What is going on? Can it be that people are not "getting enough" out of the celebration of the Eucharist, so that they desire other nourishment? (I'm reminded of those rosary groups who, almost before the last notes of the closing hymn have ended, launch into loud recitations of umpteen decades, almost as if they were saying "Yes, that was all very nice but this is the real thing.")
Are we moving towards a point where devotionalism is becoming excessive, even a mark of being "a good Catholic"?
It's at this point that I always find myself wanting to remind people of some of the provisions of the official rite of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass (1973), many of which have clearly been forgotten, if indeed people even knew of them. For example:
In other words, exposition is not to be given for its own sake but to remind us that the principal way we meet Christ is by being fed in Holy Communion at Mass.51. ....This kind of exposition must clearly express the cult of the blessed sacrament in its relationship to the Mass. The plan of the exposition should carefully avoid anything which might somehow obscure the principal desire of Christ in instituting the eucharist, namely, to be with us as food, medicine, and comfort.
Notice also the interesting phrase "the plan of exposition". What plan? See below.
These provisions are routinely ignored. The monstrance is exposed without either candles or incense.54. For exposition of the blessed sacrament in the monstrance, four to six candles are lighted, as at Mass, and incense is used. For exposition of the blessed sacrament in the ciborium, at least two candles should be lighted, and incense may be used.
Exposition in the ciborium (where there is no monstrance available) has given rise to petty questions. Should the ciborium be veiled or unveiled? If unveiled, should the lid be on or off?
All of which means that "perpetual adoration" is not envisaged as a norm and may not take place without the permission of the diocesan bishop.This [lengthy] kind of exposition, however, may take place, with the consent of the local Ordinary, only if suitable numbers of the faithful are expected to be present.
56. For a grave and general necessity the local Ordinary may direct that a more extended period of supplication bet ore the blessed sacrament exposed take place in churches where the faithful assemble in large numbers.
This often-overlooked stipulation means that, far from having an extended period of silent gazing at the tabernacle/ciborium/monstrance, the time of adoration is to be punctuated by sung and spoken texts, aimed at focusing the adorers on the mystery they are contemplating. Many parishes already have this kind of thing during the time of Watching at the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday evening, and yet the same people raise objections when it is pointed out that the Church assumes that this is standard practice for times of adoration in general.58. Shorter expositions of the eucharist are to be arranged in such a way that the blessing with the eucharist is preceded by a suitable period for readings of the word of God, songs, prayers, and sufficient time for silent prayer.
Volume 3 of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass contains large appendixes of material suitable for use during times of adoration/expopsition, including sample "plans", suggestions for scripture and music, sample texts such as litanies and other prayers, and so on. These are intended to give people ideas about how and what to do in their own situations.
All of these provisions are routinely ignored in everyday practice in our churches. We have, quite simply, started to take adoration for granted. Adoration and Chips, once again.60. The ordinary minister for exposition of the eucharist is a priest or deacon. At the end of the period of adoration, before the reposition, he blesses the people with the sacrament.
In the absence of a priest or deacon or if they are lawfully impeded, the following persons may publicly expose and later repose the holy eucharist for the adoration of the faithful:
a) an acolyte or special minister of communion;
b) a member of a religious community or of a lay association of men or women which is devoted to eucharistic adoration, upon appointment by the local Ordinary.
Such ministers may open the tabernacle and also, if suitable, place the ciborium on the altar or place the host in the monstrance. At the end of the period of adoration, they replace the blessed sacrament in the tabernacle. It is not lawful, however, for them to give the blessing with the sacrament.
61. The minister, if he is a priest or deacon, should vest in an alb, or a surplice over a cassock, and a stole. Other ministers should wear either the liturgical vestments which are used in the region or the vesture which is suitable for this ministry and which has been approved by the Ordinary.
The priest or the deacon should wear a white cope and humeral veil to give the blessing at the end of adoration, when the exposition takes place with the monstrance; in the case of exposition in the ciborium, the humeral veil should be worn.