Eucharistic worship, a practice rooted in the medieval church, is now an integral part of ministry to young Catholics.
It has become a staple of youth retreats and campus ministry activities, pulling young Catholics away from wired connections for quiet reflection in front of the exposed Eucharist.
Kimberly Belcher, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, studied students from three Catholic campuses in the Midwest who regularly engaged in Eucharistic worship. She has found that much of its appeal on campus is due to the special constraints placed on students.
In a generation connected to social networks, the absence of connection to the world is at the heart of the call to Eucharistic adoration.
University students who pursue a life of prayer, she said, often find it difficult to concentrate amid the din of dorm life. Eucharistic adoration, she said, âsets aside time and space where they will not be interruptedâ.
In a generation connected to social networks, the lack of connection to the world is, conversely, at the heart of the call to Eucharistic worship, according to Michael St. Pierre, executive director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association.
âThere is a lot of silence and a complete lack of technology,â he said.
Much has been written about ânunsâ – those Catholics among the 40% of Millennials in America who, according to the Pew Research Center, no longer identify with a particular religious community. In contrast, the practice of Eucharistic adoration is increasingly popular among young Catholics who publicly embrace their faith. According to Pew, about a third of American millennials are regular practitioners.
Eucharistic devotions made a comeback after being vigorously promoted in the 1990s by Saint John Paul II.
Dr Belcher noted that Eucharistic devotions were to fade after the liturgical reforms of Vatican Council II placed emphasis on attending Mass. have remained a staple of youth and young adult ministry.
Devotion has its roots, according to Anthony Ruff, OSB, professor of theology at St. John’s University and the School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minn., In the late Middle Ages. It grew as the Protestant Reformation challenged the Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
“A chance to stop and reset”
Two campuses where Eucharistic worship has been particularly popular are the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
At the Catholic University, there is public worship on Wednesday evenings and private devotions on Thursday.
âIt’s always a chance to stop and reset and spend time with the Lord in a tangible way,â said Brian Rhuda, 24, a recent Catholic University graduate. Worship events regularly attract hundreds of students.
âIt’s something they grew up with,â he said of the students. “For many of them, for those who have a deep spiritual life themselves, this is an opportunity to spend time with the Lord.”
For Lauren Garger of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Eucharistic adoration provides âan immediate feeling of peaceâ.
For Lauren Garger, a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Eucharistic adoration provides âan immediate feeling of peace. You realize it’s more than a piece of bread. It’s Jesus.
The experience, she said, offers “more intimacy, a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus.” On the Steubenville campus, Eucharistic adoration is available 24/7 during the academic year. It also has a social justice dimension: a Eucharistic procession in the town of Steubenville last year included a plea for unity in church and nation and an end to racism.
Christian Arellano, senior at the Franciscan University, makes Eucharistic adoration part of his daily routine. He is in a university chapel almost every day for an hour every morning. He is part of a discernment group for the Franciscans, considering a possible priestly vocation. He is not alone. He said there are times in Steubenville when the chapel is filled with hundreds of silent prayers.
Mr. Arellano said it is part of a long Catholic tradition.
âOne cannot become a saint without having a life of Eucharistic prayer. “
âYou cannot become a saint without having a life of Eucharistic prayer,â he said.
Dr. Belcher watched the students who attended worship once a week. She found that the practice attracted a variety of students, including young Catholic social activists immersed in environmental and social justice issues.
In follow-up discussions with young people over a decade, Dr Belcher found that many have retained their progressive political views, while their participation in Eucharistic worship remains a marker of Catholic engagement.
‘A sense of belonging’
The bishops uniformly support the practice. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has participated in Catholic Underground Services, during which each month thousands of the faithful, mostly young people, flock to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. (The program was on hiatus for much of the pandemic.) There, in front of the exposed Eucharist, there is a steady rhythm of guitar music mixed with sometimes passionate readings and sermons from members of the Franciscan Brothers of the Renewal. , who is organizing the rally.
Young people who participate in Eucharistic adoration are part “of a new minority which gives so much hope to their bishop”, declared Cardinal Dolan in a passage quoted on the site Catholic Underground.
Bishop Michael James Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas, served in campus ministry at Texas A&M University in the 1990s and early this century. He said he instituted Eucharistic worship at the request of the students, who were accustomed to the practice of youth retreat programs and thanks to the encouragement of Saint John Paul II. The enthusiasm was so high that he made a point of cutting off devotion during the night hours so that the students could get the necessary sleep.
The young people who take part in Eucharistic adoration are part âof a new minority which gives so much hope to their bishopâ, declared Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
âIt’s a refuge. It’s like an oasis in the desert, âhe said.
The practice has also nurtured the community among Catholic students. âBy doing something that other young Catholics were doing, they felt a sense of belonging,â he said.
Paul Jarzembowski, deputy director of youth and young adult ministries for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been involved in youth ministry work for more than two decades. He sees Eucharistic worship as an antidote to much of what afflicts modern young adults.
âA lot of things that have to do with the world of young adults are very loud, competitive and stressful,â he said.
Eucharistic worship can serve as a badge of Catholic identity, especially for a generation in which so many young adults have abandoned the practices of the faith.
âIdentity is part of the young adult’s journey to find out who you are and who you belong to,â Jarzembowski said. Eucharistic adoration, a particularly Catholic practice, can serve as a cultural marker, as a means of communication: âI belong to the tribe, I belong to this community.
A Catholic marker
Theresa O’Keefe, a professor at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, said she has seen the practice of Eucharistic worship increase during her 15 years at the school. When she arrived, few students had the experience, but now most Catholic students come with the experience through youth retreats in their home dioceses.
She said her older colleagues in the theology department, who came of age as Eucharistic worship faded immediately after Vatican II, were initially suspicious, fearing that student interest was a sign of backward Catholicism.
But Dr O’Keefe said today’s students come to the office with a whole different attitude. They were brought up in a culture where Catholicism is not part of the mainstream culture. Eucharistic adoration is now frequently seen as a Catholic marker.
This is not, she said, an indicator of conservative politics, at least on college campuses.
There are some concerns: âThey tend to put God in too small a space, and that is the tabernacle.
âThey tend to have a broader interpretation of what is pro-life,â she said, noting that students she knows are concerned with issues such as racial justice and the environment.
âIt’s not a bad thing,â she said of devotion, but she has some concerns, including that it may promote a limited view of God.
âThey tend to put God in too small a space, and that is the tabernacle,â she said, noting that healthy Catholic sacramental life sees the presence of God not only in the formal signs of the church. but also in the world in general.
Barbara McCrabb, deputy director of higher education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that Eucharistic worship has an impact on large lay campuses, including the University of Maryland, University of California, South, University of Missouri and Johns Hopkins. It also provides a cultural unifier among minority Catholic ethnic groups, including Filipinos, Vietnamese and Koreans, as well as those in Africa.
For Father Ruff, Eucharistic adoration is an indicator âthat in a busy world people want a place of peaceâ. He warned, however, that the appeal of Eucharistic adoration among young Catholics may be an indicator that there needs to be more effort in the Mass itself to make this central ritual more attractive.
For Catholic ministers, it is difficult to argue against the intense experience of prayer nourished by Eucharistic adoration.
âIt’s a big church,â said Donald R. McCrabb, director of the US Catholic Mission Association, former campus minister and husband of Barbara. âWe have a big tent. We try to provide many different ways to awaken the Divine within us.