March 5, 2019

Why All the Fuss about Adoration?

Eucharistic Adoration: Contemporary Liturgy


When I was a young man, I decided to live out my Catholic faith in a more determined and intentional way. Some truly mystical encounters with the love of God rerouted the path of my life, but these were not during communal prayer, eucharistic liturgy or prayer meeting. Surely those experiences were to come later, but my inner spiritual awareness began on a very personal level. As time passed, I learned that it wasn’t about “me and Jesus,” and eventually, I connected with my new faith family: the Body of Christ. I also slowly discovered that the source and summit of this new-found Catholic faith is the Holy Mass. I learned that the eucharistic liturgy is the central experience of the Christian life.

I also came to realize that I was growing up in the “shadow” of the Second Vatican Council. It was during this period of time that Masses across the United States were brimming with vibrant new music; music that stylistically “spoke” to me, homilies that related the Gospel to everyday living, reception of the Eucharist in a personal way (in hand) and, of course, everything spoken in a language that I could understand — in the vernacular. So, my becoming more spiritually-focused led to me becoming Catholic, and being Catholic led to a liturgical spirituality, which then gave way to ministry as a lifestyle. And for the first twenty years of my professional ministerial life, that seemed to be everyone’s way of thinking in the Catholic Church. But about 10 or 15 years ago, I began to see a shift, especially in the ministerial organizations that focused on young people (ages 13 to 21). I continued hearing more and more about Adoration, Holy Hour, XLT (a contemporary-styled Adoration gathering) and a focus on the Eucharist, as opposed to the eucharistic liturgy.

To be honest, it was almost disconcerting for me when this shift happened. Why all the fuss about Adoration? I mean, I get it: the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ! This is an amazing and unbelievable gift, and it should stop us in our tracks! St. John’s Gospel is quite clear that the Blessed Sacrament is symbolic and yet, more than symbol as well: “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink”(Jn 6:55). Yet, how does this happen? How do the bread and wine become the body of Christ? I remember attending a Catholic youth conference, and the Mass seemed to be a casual “we need to do this as Catholics” routine. But Eucharistic Adoration later that night was seemingly the high-point of the entire weekend. At the Mass, I witnessed young people receiving the communion host in an almost mundane and habitual manner, but later they became completely engaged and enthralled during Adoration and Benediction. It was beautiful, it was powerful, and it was an experience that certainly seemed to be reaching the young people on a very deep level. But, was there was something wrong? Are we more excited about the egg than the chicken? I admit, this is a horrible analogy, but I trust you get my meaning: without the eucharistic liturgy there is no Eucharist — and in the Holy Mass we actually consume the host, not just adore it.

I now realize that I was missing something! I had forgotten my own experience and process of conversion. We first encounter the love of the Lord, then we negotiate that encounter: Was this encounter real? Who is Jesus? What do I do now? What in my life needs to change? Who is God, who am I, and how shall I now live?

Adoration is a beautiful encounter with the Lord. Personal? Yes! But also a somewhat “safe” for young people to approach, question, listen and ponder — and maybe, to just be safely near the Lord. It is a real encounter with the real presence of Jesus Christ, and those of us who were so “Mass-focused” in our spirituality might need to rethink what is happening here. We might need to more deeply consider this generation and their needs! We might need to remember that there has been so much change, so much scandal and an end to the liturgical experimentation of Vatican II. The eucharistic liturgy has been tightened in terms of ritual creativity. Young people (and all of us) have adapted to the new GIRM, and in some circles, a push back of contemporary music in the Mass. The clergy sexual abuse crisis has been center stage in Catholic news for years now, and the conversation from a small, but vocal minority, about returning to the Tridentine Mass has also been a part of our reality. All of this makes for an uneasy transition to becoming a part of the Catholic worshiping community.

It seems to me that Adoration, in many respects, is a “judgment-free” zone. It is safe and judgment-free to play different styles of music during Adoration, along with contemporary songs, that speak to the heart and mind of the young believer, and more vintage/traditional songs as well. It is safe and judgment-free to bring a friend to Adoration; truly all are welcome in this setting! Anyone can adore the Lord (Catholic or non-Catholic), and there is no need to explain to a visiting friend or family member whether or not they can receive Communion. Also, in many Adoration experiences, people other than the clergy are allowed to share their faith in Jesus Christ; in this respect, it is safe and judgment-free to simply be the people of God.

I was recently asked to address a distinguished group of composers of liturgical/sacred music on the topic of contemporary music in worship. My presentation took me to this very conversation concerning Adoration: the arc of the younger believer towards Adoration as a somewhat primary prayer style. Here is some of what I shared at that gathering:

The ritual that young people are formed in tends more to be Adoration, rather than eucharistic liturgy. In Adoration, there is a perceived freedom for creativity and the ability to express themselves. They have seen the Mass become more strict (depending on the diocese or the pastor), self-contained and immovable. Where most of us were formed in the liturgical renewal of Vatican II, the past couple of generations have been discouraged from any such experimentation and creativity, and have thus migrated towards a para-liturgy — or liturgical moment that permits their own expression, language and prayer style. This way of “doing” Adoration addresses their hunger and brokenness; all done in their own musical style.

Water always flows downhill and finds the next place where it can pool and gather itself. In doing so, it carves out a place of personal expression. If we tell a group of (young) people that they cannot gather or be themselves in our space, they will find their own space. Movements or bodies of people who allow the young and the “growing edge” into their midst will grow, expand and have continued influence in the future. Those who do not, will perfect their own “echo chamber.” The good news about contemporary, modern worship music is that it reflects the young people’s desire to assemble and pray! The bad news is that many have decided that they need to find ways outside of the eucharistic liturgy to do so. They have either not been invited, don’t feel like they belong or don’t perceive that the ritual relates to them.

A lot of the current music being written by Catholic “worship Leaders” (their term) is rooted in the wider arena of “worship of God,” sometimes Adoration/Benediction, but not necessarily for the eucharistic liturgy. So, we will hear songs about the eucharistic host, but not so much about the eucharistic meal. We will hear songs about the valiant saints, but not so much about the human struggle that led to that valor. We will hear songs about the divinity of Jesus, but not so much about the humanity. It is not bad or wrong — maybe just a step in the journey. But it is a vital, artistically valid, beautiful and important step in the journey! Remember, they have had to deal with more changes from 2001 to the present than, it would seem, any other generation. In their most impressionable years, they have had to deal with the clergy sexual abuse crisis, planes flying into buildings, a rampant new wave of racism and prejudice, the all-encompassing smart phones, near weekly mass shootings, ever-present social media, and a new way of doing politics in our country that has many people worried and unsure of our future.

Adoration is a gift and one of the many ways to pray and experience the healing love of God. So, why all the fuss? Because human beings all over the world are hungry for God and especially hungry to experience God’s love!

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

In Adoration we see goodness, and in Holy Mass, we taste that goodness.


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Tom Booth

Tom Booth
An incredibly gifted composer and musician, Tom Booth has written countless songs for prayer, worship, liturgy and personal reflection. He has composed and performed songs for Mother Teresa and Pope Saint John Paul II. He brings his powerful performing style to concerts, parish missions, conferences and youth events, mixing story, song and prayer to create unforgettable experiences for audiences around the world.