Fr. McBrien v. Eucharistic Adoration

As noted (sardonically, of course) by Catholic Culture, the notorious* Fr. Richard McBrien has a new target in his sights: Eucharistic adoration, which he views as passé.

For those of you not in the know, Eucharistic adoration is exactly what it sounds like: the worship of the Eucharist outside the setting of the Mass. The Eucharist is put into what is called a monstrance, and people can meditate and pray quietly in front of Jesus Himself. Sometimes, it’s in silence, while sometimes there’s a ceremony accompanying it. The ceremony is generally either Latin chant (the beautiful Pange Lingua, written by St. Thomas Aquinas, is one of the most beautiful songs for this occassion), or modern praise and worship music — or, in the case of Christ in the City, a mixture of the two, to capture the varying emotions of being in the presence of God, from awe to joy. Another popular Eucharistic devotion is to pray throughout the night on the first Friday of every Month. On each hour, a different group of people will meet (usually, a small group of people commit to a certain time, while everyone else shows up whenever they’re free, or feel moved by the Spirit), and they’ll pray and sing Psalms together. In many places, there are perpetual adoration chapels, with sign-up sheets to ensure that around the clock, Christ’s Body is receiving the praise He and It deserve.

Now, while acknowledging that in the twelfth century, the Church saw Adoration “as a way of reaffirming its faith in the Real Presence and of promoting renewed devotion to it” in an age “when the Real Presence of Christ was widely rejected by heretics or misunderstood by poorly educated Catholics,” Fr. McBrein thinks that these days,

Notwithstanding Pope Benedict XVI’s personal endorsement of eucharistic adoration and the sporadic restoration of the practice in the archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere, it is difficult to speak favorably about the devotion today.

Now that most Catholics are literate and even well-educated, the Mass is in the language of the people (i.e, the vernacular), and its rituals are relatively easy to understand and follow, there is little or no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions. The Mass itself provides all that a Catholic needs sacramentally and spiritually.

Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward.

So far as I can tell, nothing of what Fr. McBrien argues is even defensible. First, regardless of whether Catholics are literate and “even well-educated,” they don’t know Catholic doctrines. Those that do know the doctrines don’t know why the Church believes as She does. And some simply refuse to consent to Her teachings. As a result, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University (US Catholicism’s Gallup Organization), finds that only 57% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, a sharp six point decline from even 8 years ago. To be fair, 91% of weekly-plus Mass-goers believe in transubstantiation (most of the 43% of non-believers don’t bother attending Mass frequently). But this hardly paints a picture of a Catholic society so much more knowledgable about its Faith that the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is needed to combat ignorance and misunderstandings. In fact, while 70% of “pre-Vatican II Catholics” (that is, Catholics who grew up before the Second Vatican Council) believe in the Real Presence, only 53% of the generation immediately following Vatican II hold to the same belief. Of course, it’s impossible to say what a similar poll taken in the Twelfth Century would say about Catholics then, but from what few sources we have (such as the writings of contemporaries), it seems that a strong and vibrant belief in the Eucharist was the norm, not (as is perhaps the case today), the exception.

So Fr. McBrien should maybe hold off patting modern Catholics on the backs for their intelligence just yet – in spite of reams of secular education, American Catholics remain embarassingly under-educated about their Faiths.

But let’s consider a more fundamental issue. The Eucharist is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ. Let’s say that an individual fully understands, appreciates, and believes the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist. Do you think that they’re then more or less likely to go and worship His sacramental Presence in their free time? Eucharistic adoration, regardless of what Fr. McBrien claims, isn’t primarily about educating yourself about Eucharistic doctrines. It’s about worshipping God. And he finds it “difficult to speak favorably about the devotion today”? On what grounds? He provides no cause other than that people today are educated. Talk to anyone who takes Eucharistic adoration seriously, and ask them if it’s been a step backwards for them spiritually.

I find it hard to understand how a man who claims to believe in the Real Presence, as Fr. McBrien does, can attack any Catholic for following that understanding to its logical end. If this really is the Body and Blood of Jesus, how can you tell me I can only worship Him an hour a day or once a week in the Mass? To attack certain parts of the Faith is to attack issues of prudential judgment: whether the Mass should be in Latin or the vernacular is a question with no right answer. But to attack perpetual adoration is to attack people worshipping God, and that this attack comes from a still-not-defrocked Catholic priest (and NCR columnist) is disheartening, particularly when he assumes (despite all evidence to the contrary) that adoration is just for uneducated idiots whose spiritual lives suffer as a result from it.

Diogenes, over at Catholic Culture, snarky replied to Fr. McBrien’s piece by saying that “people devoted to Eucharistic adoration find it difficult to speak favorably about McBrien.” And indeed, unless I’m missing something very fundamental, he’s just devoted a column to railing against worshipping Jesus in His Real Presence outside of regular Mass times. It’s hard for any orthodox Catholic to speak favorably about that.

*By notorious, I mean that one of the first things that Kansas City-St. Joseph’s bishop, Bishop Finn, did upon arriving was demand that the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Key, stop carrying Fr. McBrien’s column. For a priest (who isn’t even a member of the diocese) to attract that level of negative attention from an orthodox bishop is telling.


  1. I find Fr. McBrien’s comments about Eucharistic devotion to be rather offensive. He pretty much implies that those of us who practice this devotion are illiterate and uneducated. I try to go to Adoration every week, and I am certainly neither illiterate nor uneducated!

  2. It’s awesome that you go to Adoration every week, and I have got to agree with you: the arrogance of Fr. McBrien’s disdain for Catholics who actually live out their Faith (including by worshipping God in their free time) is equal parts infuriating and depressing.

    I can’t imagine what solid Catholic reason there could ever be for opposing Eucharistic adoration, but this is the same priest who once claimed that if you time travelled back one thousand years, no one would have heard of papal infallibility.

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