Sacred. Transformational. Powerful. Holy. If you heard about a tradition that evoked thoughts such as these, how would you respond?
Eucharistic Adoration is described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a way that perfectly captures the transcendence of this long-standing practice. The truth, beauty and goodness that are encapsulated by Adoration are outlined in CCC paragraph 2628.
“It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil,” the Catechism states. “Adoration is the homage of the spirit to the King of Glory, respectful silence in the presence of the ever greater God.”
Interestingly, what is excluded from this description is any mention of the time during which Adoration takes place. At Mundelein, it has been a privilege to witness the beginnings of Nightwatch, a weekly overnight period when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adorers to come and spend time with the Lord. Examining the history of night-time Adoration, seeing its development at Mundelein and reading the words of proponents of Adoration has allowed me to reflect more deeply on my experience with Nightwatch.
Overnight Adoration as its own practice began in Rome in 1810 and was first picked up by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1882, which soon blossomed into multiple cities along the East Coast implementing this devotion. Their original mission was a simple one: “to provide ‘adorers for our Eucharistic Lord during the lonely hours of the night … to atone for the coldness and indifference of so many Catholics … to atone for the many sins committed during the night.’”
After developing its roots in Rome, overnight Adoration has surely developed into a unique experience wherever it is celebrated, and the same can be said at Mundelein. There is now a roster of students who have signed up to cover one-hour shifts from 8 p.m. on Thursdays and ending at 7 a.m. on Friday. Adoration begins with solemn exposition of the Eucharist, during which the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance and fully displayed on the altar in the Deacon Recreational Hall Chapel while opening prayers and hymns are proclaimed. Then begins what most men have come to experience: silent contemplation in front of our Lord.
For the next 11 hours, at least one student is present at all times, but generally there are two or three men in the chapel for Nightwatch. During this time of prayer, I have not always found it to be easy. In fact, I have found it to be quite challenging, plenty of times nodding off or feeling afterwards as if I didn’t grow much spiritually during that time. However, I think that Jesus is calling us to look exactly in those difficulties, because He will be present there the most.
After discussions with a spiritual director, I have found that Jesus is simply calling us to be present to Him, not necessarily “doing” anything, but just basking in His presence, adoring Him and His love. What’s more, in the context of overnight Adoration, we have the unique opportunity to grow in virtue as we make the sacrifice of getting up in the middle of the night to be with Jesus and develop a deeper longing to be with Him, patiently listening for His words to move in us.
I am still growing in my faithfulness to the devotion of overnight Adoration, but I am continually inspired by the witness of my classmates who are devoted to spending time with Jesus in the middle of the night. The combination of sacrifice with the calm and stillness uniquely afforded by the darkness of night gives an essence to Adoration that is not found during the day.
I am moved as well by the words of the author of In Sinu Jesu, who wrote on Nov. 12, 2012, that Jesus said to him, “Visit Me, and remain with Me by night, and I will work for you, and with you, and through you by day.” Like the shepherds in Luke 2:9 who were “keeping the night watch over their flock” when the angel of the Lord appeared to them to announce the birth of Jesus, maybe we can use their example as motivation to spend time at night anticipating the arrival of Jesus into our own hearts in the form of prayerful Adoration.