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Adoration When Mass Is Being Celebrated

Date: May 23, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Our parish has Eucharistic adoration, but it does so in a chapel that adjoins the main church. Hence, each day, even on Sundays and solemnities, adoration continues while Mass is being celebrated. There is a "stained glass" barrier, but it is still transparent enough that the celebration of the Eucharist can be seen right into the sanctuary. Also, the Mass itself can be heard clearly, all of the prayers, the readings, the homily, the Eucharistic Prayer, etc. It was my understanding that the Eucharist should be reposed and that such adoration during Mass, even though it is a separate room, is actually inappropriate. The priests at my parish disagreed when I shared this concern. Please know that I am a devoted Eucharistic adorer (not daily but at least three times a week), so this question is not in any way a detraction to devotion to the Eucharist outside of Mass. However, it is my understanding that the celebration of the Eucharist is the "summit of our faith" and that proper respect for the Eucharist requires reposition under this particular circumstance when there is not a separate building for it, etc.

A: The norms from the Rite of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass say the following:

“52. During the exposition of the blessed sacrament, the celebration of Mass is prohibited in the body of the Church. In addition to the reasons given in no. 6, the celebration of the eucharistic mystery includes in a more perfect way the internal communion to which exposition seeks to lead the faithful.

“If exposition of the blessed sacrament is extended for an entire day or over several days, it is to be interrupted during the celebration of Mass. Mass may be celebrated in a chapel distinct from the area of exposition if at least some members of the faithful remain in adoration.”

The guidelines provided by the U.S. bishops’ conference in its document “Built of Living Stones” indicates the following with respect to the Chapel of Reservation:

“77. The diocesan bishop may direct the parish to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel separate from the nave and sanctuary but ‘integrally connected with the church’ and ‘conspicuous to the faithful.’ The placement and design of the chapel can foster reverence and can provide the quiet and focus needed for personal prayer, and it should provide kneelers and chairs for those who come to pray.

“78. Some parishes have inaugurated the practice of continuous adoration of the Eucharist. If, for some good reason, perpetual exposition must take place in a parish church, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has directed that this take place in a separate chapel that is ‘distinct from the body of the church so as not to interfere with the normal activities of the parish or its daily liturgical celebration.’”

This directive of the Holy See was in a 1995 response of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments Regarding Perpetual Exposition of the Eucharist published in the June 1995 issue of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' BCL [Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy] Newsletter, p. 21:

"Because perpetual exposition is a devotional practice of a religious community or a pious association, it should normally take place in a chapel of that religious community or association. If for some good reason perpetual exposition must take place in a parish church, it should be in a chapel distinct from the body of the church so as not to interfere with the normal activities of the parish or its daily liturgical celebration. When Mass is celebrated in a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, the Eucharist must be replaced in the tabernacle before the celebration of Mass begins.”

Although “Built of Living Stones” seems to widen the scope of the congregation’s response, the general principle that the adoration should not interfere with normal parish activities holds good.

It does not address the question regarding the normal parish activities interfering with the devotional practice of adoration, but the principle would seem to work both ways, and this would also favor the use of a separate chapel distinct from the body of the church.

While there would always be some leeway for interpretation, and not knowing the concrete chapel described by our reader, I would say that if the adoration cannot be continued in silence and commanding the full attention of those dedicated to the pious practice, it would be best to reserve the Blessed Sacrament for the duration of Mass or a longer period if several Masses are to be celebrated with brief intervals.

It also, as our correspondent point out, shows proper respect and veneration for the Eucharistic celebration as the purpose of adoration is not an end in itself but to lead us to fully participate in the celebration. As the introductory numbers of the Rite of Eucharistic Worship Outside Mass remind us:

“1. The celebration of the Eucharist is the center of the entire Christian life, both for the Church universal and for the local congregations of the Church. ‘The other sacraments, all the ministries of the Church, and the works of the apostolate are united with the eucharist and are directed toward it. For the holy eucharist contains the entire spiritual treasure of the Church, that is, Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his flesh, made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men, who are thus invited and led to offer themselves, their work, and all creation together with him.’

“2. ‘The celebration of the eucharist in the sacrifice of the Mass,’ moreover, ‘is truly the origin and the goal of the worship which is shown to the eucharist outside Mass.’ Christ the Lord ‘is offered in the sacrifice of the Mass when he becomes present sacramentally as the spiritual food of the faithful under the appearance of bread and wine.’ And, ‘once the sacrifice is offered and while the eucharist is reserved in churches and oratories, he is truly Emmanuel, “God with us.” He is in our midst day and night; full of grace and truth, he dwells among us.’

“3. No one therefore may doubt ‘that all the faithful show this holy sacrament the veneration and adoration which is due to God himself, as has always been customary in the Catholic Church. Nor is the sacrament to be less the object of adoration because it was instituted by Christ the Lord to be received as food.’

“4. In order to direct and to encourage devotion to the sacrament of the eucharist correctly, the eucharistic mystery must be considered in all its fullness, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the sacrament which is reserved after Mass to extend the grace of the sacrifice.”

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