Do you know where the greatest place to be is?

In a mostly empty church, before the Blessed Sacrament.

Just got back a little while ago from Adoration. One parish nearby has it during the week for a few hours, and I always try to make that, but another parish, a few towns over, has Nocturnal Adoration once a month, from 9PM to 6:30AM, and I always try to get there for it.

Some background:

Adoration is what we Catholics call it when the Blessed Sacrament is displayed in a Monstrance, (which is also called an Ostensorium, (from ostendere, “to show”) specifically so that we may adore and worship Christ, Present in the Holy Eucharist. The host is displayed in a monstrance to protect it, but also to raise it so that you can adore from anywhere in the church.

This is a VERY big deal for faithful Catholics. We take our cue from Christ in Gethsemane, when Jesus asked the apostles to wait with him, while he prayed. And yes, sometimes I do doze off, like Peter and the rest, but it sure feels like a holy and sweet rest, when I do!

So, we “watch” with Christ, usually for an hour at a time, and it is a time of great sweetness, consolation and awe. Speaking for myself, my prayer before the Blessed Sacrament usually begins with a plea for help, as I pour my heart out and remember all of the people for whom I have promised to pray. Then it becomes very quiet. Inside, I mean, in my heart, a wonderful stillness forms and grows, and then love comes in on the stillness, until my heart fills with such a swell of awe and gratitude that my closing prayer becomes a kind of mental litany of all the names of Jesus. Key of David, Daystar, Strong One of Jacob, Holy One, Mighty One…it seems that by then all I can do is praise and praise Him in all of his names.

And you hate to leave. I mean, two in the morning, and I hated to leave, even though I was very tired.

There are different sorts of Adoration. There is the informal sort that my nearby parish hosts, they expose the Eucharist, light the candles and let people wander in and out as their schedules permit and the spirit moves. At night, they have Benediction and it’s over until the following week.

Some parishes have a more formal and liturgical Adoration, called Nocturnal Adoration, which is what I participated in, tonight. People volunteer to watch for specific hours, and they show up in time to take up were the previous group is finishing. People sit on both sides of the aisle, and read aloud from the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, in a sort of call-and-response, dexter and sinister manner, modeled on the recitation of the Divine Office in monastic houses. An hour will consist of three psalms, a reading from scripture (my hour had Hebrews, 9), a lesson from a Father of the church (we had John Crystostom, tonight), and some time for quiet, reflective prayer. It’s not as quiet as the first, but it is very rich.

Nocturnal Adoration goes on all night, and ends with Benediction, before the morning’s mass.

Very lucky parishes have Perpetual Adoration, with an entire small chapel held in reserve for constant exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, 24/7. Usually members of the hosting parish and people from surrounding parishes will commit to specific hours, every week, and so someone is always “watching with Christ.”

So, anyway…that’s the greatest place in the world to be. You sit there, you look, you listen, you talk. Jesus looks back, talks, listens.

I like what Sr. Briege McKenna says about sitting before the Holy Eucharist: “it is like sitting out in the sun. You may not feel the effect at the moment, but a little while later, you KNOW you were exposed.”

It is a treasure of the church which got rather pushed aside in the 1970′s when the progressives were busy throwing out babies and bathwaters left and right “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

Thankfully, it is being re-discovered and re-embraced. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is powerful, raw and real; it is a tremendous part of my life. I can’t imagine not having it, and I am SO grateful whenever I CAN take part in it.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Matteo

    Nice coincidence that you post this now. My parish has had 24/7 adoration for ten years and I’ve been participating monthly for those ten years since before I became officially Catholic. Guess where last night 3AM to 5AM found me?

    It doesn’t happen often (and didn’t last night), but I sometimes have something similar to your litany experience, in which I feel like a kind of seraphic sanctuary flame. I don’t try to chase such feelings or make them happen again, but they are much appreciated (I think that part of my penance for my dope-addled past is to walk the walk without a lot of “special effects”, so such experiences are pretty rare for me).

    24/7 has added tremendously to the life of our Parish, both for invisible spiritual reasons, and for the practical reason that it allows the Church to be open always, so that community is built up as people drop in any old time and serendipitously bump into each other. It really does turn the Church building into a “living center” of the Parish on a practical level. I’m always kind of bummed out when I find that a Church is locked…

  • Anne

    Very beautifully said Anchoress. When I was going through a tough time in my life and didn’t know where to go, I was drawn to the tabernacle. Sometimes I would have to call a babysitter so I could go NOW. The Divine Physician worked a great healing in my soul. Adoration is now an important part of my life. It is the best place to be …

  • William Bloomfield

    Thanks for reminding us of the value of Eucharistic adoration.

  • anniebird

    What a wonderful post! I was a child in the 70′s, and in that post-Vatican II era, this concept wasn’t emphasized in my church. I have been wondering about the experience, since you’ve mentioned it before…now I have just the morsel I needed to spur me on to have my own experience with Eucharistic Adoration. Thank you!

  • TommyG

    Around here in the Midwest, it’s known as 40 Hours Devotion – where the Blesses Sacrement is displayed for 40 hours and prayer takes place during that time. It used to happen a lot when I was younger – and probably when there was a priest in every parish.

  • peggy

    I watched for one hour this past Good Friday and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I wasn’t sure how I would fill the hour since it was a private devotion and so up to us. But I actually found that I could have gone longer. It was an amazing experience, particularly when, at the end of the hour, I went up and knelt right before the monstrance. I was totally lost to myself for a few moments in the sweetest feeling. It really was like basking in the sunshine.

    As a former Baptist who is still in the process of strenuously testing catholic traditions, I have to admit that I was by no means sure of the outcome of holding vigil with the Eucharist. But something happened to me nonetheless. I entered the church a neutral on the practice and left the church convinced of its value in a life of prayer.

    I only wish we did it more than once a year! But that may come with time as our parish grows in numbers and in orthodoxy.

  • peggy


    No offense to him but I think that Alan has no idea what we kind of feeling we are talking about does he?


    I am with you about being bummed by locked churches. Churches are the last place in the world that should be shut at any time. They are meant to be spiritual hospitals and places of unlimied hospitality. What is a person to do when they have a spiritual crisis outside of church “hours”??

    I have long admired the fact that only the Roman church has managed to keep at least some of its churches open at all hours or nearly so. All other denominations have pretty much given up on the practice but in very major city you can usually find at least one Roman church that has a chapel open all day long.

  • peggy


    I just keep thinking of things to say. Sorry.

    I don’t know if I can say this in a way that can be understood but there is a big difference between merely focusing and praying and or adoring the Eucharist. That difference is the difference between emptying a room of clutter and leaving it empty and emptying a room of clutter and re-filling it with something extraordinary.

    The peace we feel when we clear our lives of clutter through the exercise of our wills is only half of the story. We feel good when we clear our minds and focus on one thing. We think better and our health improves etc and this is entirely a positive. But for the Christian there is the further step of having that clear space refilled not with ourselves and our particular concerns but with a powerful vitality from outside ourselves.

    Its the difference between seeking oblivion or negative space as in the Zen tradition and glorying in spaces chock full of rich and orderly beauty like the Sistine Chapel. Something is poured into those who adore the Eucharist. It is not the case of simply focusing on something and clearing the mind.

  • karen

    I’m probably too late in the day to get read, but Peggy, you’re right. Focus goes with Hocus Pocus, you know? No offense to Allen. It may be perfect when you want to experience relaxation or peace, but it’s different. One of my best friends is learning massage therapy. Being Catholic cofuses her ability to adopt the doctrine that massage teaches, i.e. New Age whatever it is. I’ve got to call her and check up on her. You reminded me of her struggle of filling up the void spaces with God or with relativism.