In encouraging people to come, I have been saying that tonight would include Exposition. We have Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance on the altar. I said this hour would include scripture. We just listened to readings from scripture. We began with music and will have more.
I have also been saying our holy hours would include a talk by me on the Eucharist and here it is. In one sense this might seem simple to do. In another, there is so much to the Eucharist where does one begin. After all, as Bishop Matano said in his pastoral letter, and can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law, and the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Lumen Gentium, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith.
In selecting a starting point I would like to look at the title I have given to tonight. On the front cover of the program you will see the title “Why Are We Here for Adoration?”
Why are we here?
I suspect this might be the first time some of you have ever attended a holy hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Maybe you are just curious. After all, we have our diocesan Year of the Eucharist going on and maybe you want to see what it is all about.
If you are thinking this way, you might think we are having these holy hours because of the Year of the Eucharist. While the timing is related, this is something I have been thinking about since I came last year.
I’ve been thinking about it for two reasons. First, a couple of parishioners have asked about having holy hours. They have experienced it before and desire it again.
Secondly, my own experience with holy hours prior to coming here is somewhat extended. I want to share my experience with you to help you understand why holy hours are important to me.
The last parish I was in had a long tradition of monthly holy hours and I was happy to keep the tradition going. The holy hours included readings, psalms, a reflection, and quiet time.
Prior to that the other parishes I served in did not have holy hours but in seminary I attended a weekly holy hour but even that was not my first experience with holy hours.
The parish I attended almost twenty years ago had a long tradition of monthly exposition ending with a communal holy hour. I was intrigued by the thought of sitting before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I found the holy hours “packed with prayers.” By packed, I mean they said prayers continuously for an hour and said them quickly. That was great for them but it wasn’t affecting me the way I expected.
I was seeking God for as our psalm response says, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” There’s also the words in our opening prayer that come from the writings of St. Augustine, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
I was looking for the presence of God in my life. We have many forms of prayer. After trying the communal holy hour, I tried some private time before the Blessed Sacrament where I could pray in a way that suited me. Quite honestly, I sat there expecting to be “overcome with grace” but nothing seemed to happen.
When I went to seminary and found out there was the opportunity to go to a weekly hour, I found myself skeptical based on my prior experiences. The last fifteen minutes of the hour was Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours but the first 45 minutes was mostly quiet time. The first time or two I went, I continued expecting to be “overcome.”
I wasn’t. I knew my soul was thirsting for God. Jesus was right there in the Blessed Sacrament. Why didn’t something amazing happen?
So, I went one more time. I say to God this was my last try. If nothing happened, I won’t go again. I went not expecting anything. That meant I relaxed and opened myself to God in a new way. I let God be God.
It ended up being the best prayer experience I had in months. I had always gone with my expectations instead of just being open to God.
We can find God in many different forms of prayers and devotion. That’s why tonight includes readings from the Bible, music, and a reflection. To give us different opportunities to let God in, to be aware of God’s presence in his Word, in me as the preacher, in our music, and in the Eucharist present on the altar.
Tonight is about being in the presence of God.
We know God is present everywhere. We also know that sometimes it is very hard to be aware of his presence in the ordinary moments of our lives. This is nothing new. This is why we have churches as places dedicated to the presence of God.
As Moses led the Israelites through the desert for forty years, there were no “churches.” For them, the central point of experiencing God’s presence among them was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. The Commandments were the basis of the covenant between God and the Israelites. The Ark was a very holy object symbolizing God’s presence.
The first reading I selected tonight symbolizes what the Ark of the Covenant meant to them. Moses has died and the Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader.
To enter they had to cross the Jordan River. That meant crossing the water. God gave Joshua very specific instructions how this would happen. Priests were to lead the way carrying the Ark of the Covenant. As soon as their feet touched the waters it ceased to flow, halting in a single heap. This signified God’s presence and that he was the one who halted the waters.
Over time, the Israelites fell away from the practice of their faith and the Ark of the Covenant was lost. Only God knows where it is today.
The Ark is lost but we continue to feel, as we sang in our first song, “Our foes press on from every side.” Where do we turn to receive God’s aid and strength?
What did I say was the source and summit of our faith?
What is before us in the monstrance on the altar?
It exists in the form of bread but it is not just bread. It is Jesus.
How can this be? It looks like bread. It certainly doesn’t look like a person. From our statues, our crucifixes, and paintings, we know Jesus was a human being like us. How could it be Jesus in the monstrance?
Not all Christians believe it is Jesus. Those who don’t think that Catholics have corrupted the faith. Those who are Christian but do NOT believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist often stress the importance of the Bible. They will tell you that you must read the Bible.
They are right about the Bible. YOU MUST READ THE BIBLE. It is God’s Word. It is what we call “Salvation History,” the story of how God has been present to his people.
You have to read the Bible because it is in the Bible that we learn the bread and wine become the Body of Blood of Jesus. Our second reading this evening comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where Paul tells them that the Eucharist is a tradition he received from Jesus.
Jesus said, “This is my body…This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” He doesn’t refer to it as bread and wine. We don’t know how it is changed but it is.
As we will sing in a song later (“Tantum Ergo”), “Faith declares what none dare fathom; Faith reveals what none may see.” We cannot fathom how the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus but we can believe from the Bible, not just here in Paul’s letter but also in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as they recall what Jesus did at the Last Supper. There’s also the Bread of Life discourse in John’s Gospel identifies himself as the Bread of Life.
Jesus also said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We celebrate the Eucharist over and over because Jesus tells us to. Remember, it’s in the Bible. We come to pray before the Eucharist tonight because Jesus tells us it is his Body.
It is Jesus. It is the Lord for whom our souls thirst. It is Jesus who we are created for. We keep watch for this one hour with Jesus.
Wow! It is a lot to reflect on.
In a moment (but not yet) I will stop talking and allow for some quiet time. The quiet time is intentional for each of you to be able to pray in your own way. I could have added more that we would all do together but I didn’t.
Honestly, this is partially because I am being selfish with the quiet time. By “selfish” I mean that I want the quiet time for myself. Yet, I also do it realizing that we each have a favorite way of praying. I plan to use the quiet time for myself to simply to try and be quiet to hear what God wants to say to me.
You might choose to do the same or you can choose to read over the Bible readings we heard earlier. They are writing down for you in the program. You might choose to pray a rosary. You might choose to open up a hymnal to your favorite song and think about what the words mean for you. You might think about what the Eucharist means to you. It is your choice.
Then, at about quarter of, I will invite us to all stand for our intentions. Then, we will say the Lord’s Prayer together followed by Benediction. The high point of that is when I will lift up the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance and bless you, making the Sign of the Cross to which you make the Sign of the Cross as you would at Mass.
We will end with a hymn and then everyone is invited downstairs for a light reception. At the reception I encourage you to share your experiences of tonight or the Eucharist in general and I will be there if you want to ask me questions.
For now, we quietly pray on our own.