I think I was 19 years old the first time I went to eucharistic adoration. It wasn’t regularly offered at my parish, and my family never lingered after Holy Thursday Mass.
When my college chaplain informed us he was going to start offering it each week, I had to ask him for a tutorial. I was pretty uncomfortable during my first few visits. An hour seemed like an eternity to be looking at the host.
Though my dorm room was in Aquinas Hall, I had no idea St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the “Tantum Ergo.” I also had no idea what “tantum ergo” meant. When you grow up Catholic, you have a sense that you’re part of something really old. I just hadn’t known how old before this point.
To add insult to injury, there was a group of musicians that played praise and worship music during the hour of meditation. My peers started singing along without looking at the music sheets.
I soon learned that everyone who had gone to a Jesuit high school had been through the ropes before at these things called Kairos retreats. The others had done this in Toronto with the pope at World Youth Day. There I was in the back pew wishing for a Marty Haugen hymn.
But in all of the strangeness, there was also something deeply familiar. The more I went, the more I looked forward to it each week. An hour went by in the blink of an eye. I learned the prayers of benediction. When I didn’t know what to say to God, the music offered me a starting point.
I liked going to adoration alongside others with whom I shared a class or some beers the night before. It was transformative to see that real people — ordinary people — did these things, not people who are already saints.
When I moved to a new city after graduate school, I randomly picked a parish to attend. Upon discovering that it offered perpetual adoration, I decided to sign up for one hour per week. Life was getting a lot noisier: there were social media accounts and smartphones, and the workweek was spilling over into weekends. A little bit of set time for silence on a Monday night seemed like a good idea.
Silent adoration was startling: It was just me and Jesus. I felt like I had to do all of the legwork. If I didn’t talk, there would just be … silence. So I talked to God about everything ordinary in my day: troubles and successes at work, whether or not to stay in romantic relationships, the difficulty I had communicating with a friend.
This is not to say each hour has been easy. I’ve gotten angry with God, used foul language (not audibly) and cried so hard that I had to begin wearing waterproof mascara. I’ve daydreamed about everything from crushes to clothes, and I’ve even fallen asleep (although a priest reminded me that the apostles did this, too).
St. Edith Stein wrote, “It is most important the holy Eucharist becomes life’s focal point … that every day is received from his hand and laid back therein; that the day’s happenings are deliberated with him.”
Priests often preach about the need to cultivate time for prayer outside of Sunday Mass. One way to help is to offer their parishioners adoration. They might need to explain the incense and the intonation, but once that’s done, there’s no telling what God will do.
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Elise Italiano is executive director of communications at The Catholic University of America.