O Come Let Us Adore Him!
The busy weeks of Advent and Christmas might seem a most unlikely time to consider spending an hour or two in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. But the immediate rewards of eucharistic adoration might be just what we need in this hectic season.
by Paul Thigpen | Source:
"O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!" This ancient chorus of the grand Christmas hymn "Adeste Fideles" seems to echo wherever we go this time of year. The words call to mind images of worshipers gathered in awe around the manger in Bethlehem. Yet in that beloved refrain we should hear as well the invitation to gather around our eucharistic Lord.
The busy weeks of Advent and Christmas might seem a most unlikely time to consider spending an hour or two in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. What with gifts to buy and wrap, cards to address and mail, homes to clean and decorate, parties to plan and attend — to say nothing of children out of school for the holidays, how could anyone possibly squeeze another commitment into such a crowded schedule?
Nevertheless, if we consider some of the immediate rewards of eucharistic adoration, we might find them to be just what we need most in this hectic season. When it seems that the stresses of following a tight budget, preparing for house guests, and enduring long lines at the mall threaten to overwhelm us, we can find no better refuge from the holiday whirlwind than a few moments alone with Jesus. From frazzled thoughts about the colored lights still to be hung and the angel costume not yet assembled, we can turn our attention to the One whose coming we celebrate.
In the stillness of Christ’s presence, we can find a place of peace. We can regain a proper perspective on our activities, a vision of what is truly important. And the simple joy of the season can find its way back into our hearts.
Yet there are even more profound reasons for making visits to the Blessed Sacrament a priority this time of year. The term "advent", of course, means "coming," and in this season our spiritual focus is twofold, as the readings for Mass remind us.
On the one hand, we remember with gratitude Christ’s first coming as Savior more than 2,000 years ago: "The Virgin shall be with Child and give birth to a Son, and they shall call Him Emmanuel" (Mt 1:23). On the other hand, we look with hope to Christ’s second coming in the future, when he will return to judge the world: "Be patient, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord" (Jas 5:7).
The Eucharist, as Pope John Paul II has observed, bears a unique witness to both these advents. It is at once, he insists, both the "sacramental testimony" of Jesus’ first coming and a "constant announcement" of his second coming. We might even say that the Eucharist is itself a kind of daily "advent" in which Christ comes to us on the altar. When we adore the Blessed Sacrament, then, we celebrate Advent in a fitting way, because we worship the Christ "who was, and is and is to come" (Rev 4:8).
As Advent finds its glorious fulfillment in the octave of Christmas, the beauty of eucharistic adoration grows deeper still. I can recall how, as a little boy, I used to hold tightly the Christ child figure from the crèche in our living room, wishing I could have knelt in the hay on that first Christmas Eve. How my heart would have leapt to enter the stable in Bethlehem where God’s own Son lay in a manger!
As a Catholic adult I have come to realize that, in a sense, my wish has actually come true. When I kneel before our eucharistic Lord, Christ himself is there in his body, blood, soul and divinity, just as surely and wholly present as he was in Bethlehem so long ago. Instead of a manger, a monstrance or tabernacle holds him now. But the baby who slept quietly in his Blessed Mother’s arms is the same Jesus who waits today in silence for my visit — and my heart leaps to enter the place where he can be found.
Father Frederick W. Faber, a 19th century English convert, priest and hymn writer, put it this way: "The Bethlehem of that night...has never passed away. It lives...in the worshipful reality of the Blessed Sacrament. Round the Tabernacle, which is our abiding Bethlehem, goes on the same world of beautiful devotion which surrounded the newborn Babe, real, out of real hearts, and realized by God’s acceptance."
Would we like to visit Bethlehem, enter the stable, kneel at the manger? Do we long to worship the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us?
Then we should make our pilgrimage to the tabernacle at Christmas. There, like the awestruck shepherds of old, we will find "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). As we come to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we should remember that Mary and Joseph are with him, just as they were the night he was born. The Holy Family cannot be separated; they remain a circle of love, and they invite us to enter the circle. So we should ask Christ’s own mother and foster father to draw us close to their son.
Perhaps our faith may seem at an ebb, even in times of eucharistic adoration. Maybe doubts arise as we turn our thoughts to the sacred host. How could something so tiny, so fragile, so ordinary in appearance truly be God?
If this should happen, we need only call on our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph to intercede for us. We should remember that they, too, had to exercise great faith as they held the infant Jesus in their arms. How could someone so tiny, so fragile, so ordinary in appearance, truly be God? Mary and Joseph can pray for us with sympathy. They know what it means to worship a Lord whose divinity lies hidden under humble appearances.
Finally, in our eucharistic adoration throughout this holy season, we should remember the devotion of St. Francis of Assisi, the gentle friar to whose creativity and imagination we owe the lovely tradition of the Christmas crèche. Francis cherished the infant Jesus so passionately that he once grabbed the figure of the child from the manger and danced away with it, caught up in a rapture of love.
This saint’s heart burned fiercely for Jesus, not just in his nativity, but in his eucharistic presence as well. Someone once asked Francis, "What do you do during those long hours before the Blessed Sacrament?" The friar gave a simple reply that we would do well to remember.
"What does the poor man do at the rich man’s door, the sick man in the presence of his physician, the thirsty man at a clear stream?" he asked. "What they do, I do before the eucharistic God. I pray. I adore. I love."
Reprinted with permission of Columbia Magazine. All rights reserved. Paul Thigpen, a senior editor for Servant Publications and associate editor of Envoy magazine, has compiled a collection of prayers and meditations for eucharistic adoration entitled Jesus, We Adore You: Prayers Before the Blessed Sacrament (Servant, 2001).